Natalie Widomski, who resides at The Manor at Seneca Hill, recalled story after story of her life as a young girl living in Poland some 70 years ago during World War II when the country was occupied by the Germans. She shared her memories of how difficult life was during that time in history with tenth graders at the Altmar-Parish-Williamstown High School.
Widomski was invited to the area high school by Oswego County BOCES New Vision student Morgan Sobotka. The pair met during Sobotka’s clinical rotation at The Manor. “I just kept going back and seeing her and hearing her stories,” Sobotka explained. Soon afterwards, arrangements were made for Widomski to tell her stories to the APW students studying World War II.
Widomski didn’t leave many details to the imagination as she told the more than 100 students in the school cafeteria how she saw neighbors gunned down, had little food to eat, and that her family not only didn’t have proper outerwear, but also didn’t have the resources to properly heat their home.
For some 40 minutes Widomski recalled what life was like in the village of Kujawski, Poland. “The boys went to work in ammunition factories at just 13, 14 years old, younger than you are, for 12 hours a day,” she said. “They closed the hospitals and it’s where they did experiments on people. With no antiseptic, they injected them with germs and observed what would happen until they died.”
The family lived in constant fear, she said, and never knew when the Germans would come to the door looking for food. “They took what food we had, and what food we did have, we hid under the floor.”
In the early 1940s, Widomski told how at night the Germans gathered the older residents that were unable to work, put them on boats and after reaching the middle of the lake, then threw them overboard to drown. She explained in detail how 40 of the strongest men from her village and 40 from the neighboring village were rounded up and forced to dig their own graves. The men were lined up in rows, and after one row was gunned down, the next row of men buried those who had just died before being shot themselves. According to Widomski, that night the villagers returned to the graves and reburied the men in their respective town cemeteries. Despite questioning by the Germans the next day, she said the villagers refused to tell what had occurred during the night.
At one point during the war, her father and brother were forced to go to Germany where they built one of the country’s autobahns.
Another memory that stood out was being liberated by American soldiers. “They were so good to us,” she said. She said that soon after she and her family were examined by a nurse. “When the nurse turned to look at me, she had tears in her eyes,” Widomski said. “I was nothing but skin and bones and was so tiny I looked like a four-year-old.” Widomski said that even though she was ten years old, she weighed 24 pounds. Her father weighed 94 pounds and her mother, 65 pounds.
Widomski is hoping to someday have her experiences published. In the meantime, she shares her stories with others like the APW students.
Following her talk, many of the APW students gave Widomski a hug and thanked her for sharing the stories. The school’s administrators were equally impressed. “I still cannot believe I had the opportunity to shake the hand of a woman who lived through this time in history,” said APW High School Principal Jamie Coppola. “What a terrible thing to have been a part of as a child or for anyone for that matter. Touching her hand was like touching a time machine.”
Sobotka, who befriended Widomski at The Manor during a physical therapy session, presented her with a handmade afghan to enjoy when she returned to the skilled nursing facility.