Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Polish Holocaust victims living in poverty

Polish Holocaust victims living in poverty
By Jacky Rowland
Most of them were bore in Poland.
Question from Alex Bajan
where are the $100 billions from Germany and whre are the $10 billions from Switzerland
are all the funds go to buy all the latest and the best military supply and lobby the US Gov?
What about the people
and Poland will not pay more!

Click here to watch Jacky Rowland's report on the
Holocaust survivors' call for more support
The Israeli government has been criticised for "severe shortcomings" in its treatment of elderly holocaust survivors.

A report from the state comptroller's office blamed red tape for preventing effective assistance being provided and urged action to help the ageing victims.

Leopold Rosen measures the world by the pipe that connects him to his oxygen machine. He suffers from several chest complaints dating back to when he hid from the Nazis in a forest in Poland.

The German government pays him compensation every month and he gets a small pension from Israel, but he can barely pay for both his drugs and his food.

"I was born of the 5th of June, 1922. Do I have time to wait for help from the government? There are a lot of people in the same position. They don't have time to wait," he told Al Jazeera.

Holocaust survivors have been trying to embarrass the Israeli government into action.

At a recent event, protesters wore symbols from the Nazi-era to drive home their point.

There are about one quarter of a million Holocaust survivors in Israel and official figures say that one in three of them live below the poverty line.


"We don't need any charity. We need for people to live at the end of their life with some kind of dignity," Colette Avital, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, said.

"Even though the problem was not caused by the state of Israel, the state bears a responsibility to its citizens."

"Even though the problem was not caused by the state of Israel, the state bears a responsibility to its citizens"

Colette Avital, deputy speaker
of the Knesset
In many ways the experience of the Holocaust defines the state of Israel but until now there has never been a specific government allowance for survivors. That is something the government says it has been trying to address.

The first problem they encountered was that there was no real definition of a Holocaust survivor. So ministers commissioned a report which found that the state needed to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to help them.

"It's clear that if it rolls out over a few years, thousands of them will pass away," Isaac Herzog, Israeli welfare minister, said as the government continued negotiations with survivors' groups over plans to increase welfare payments.

"So our intention as a government, is to award a stipend of the highest level as soon as possible to the oldest echelon, that is 80 years or older," he said.

Holocaust survivors occupy a unique position in Israeli society so the government is under particular pressure to help them before time runs out.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Exile in the USSR (continued)

Exile in the USSR (continued)
Life there was awfully hard. We survived by selling some of the things we had brought from Poland. In summer we children would gather berries in the forest and we would sell them for a little money which helped us pay for our bread and soup. Summer in Siberia was very beautiful. After such a winter it was amazing that anything survived under the snow. There were beautiful flowers. One of my jobs was to gather the water from the Churga and bring it to the house. The path was so slippery and during the winter it was all ice. I don't know how I didn't fall into the icy water below. I do know that God looked after us. He didn't want us to die there.

Tadeusz Dobrostanski was just 6 years old when he was deported with his 36-year-old mother and 10-year-old brother to a settlement named Lobva, north of Svierdlovsk, in Siberia. He remembers it as:

a picturesque place in forest near a beautiful river. All the houses were log cabins. We were given half a house to share with a couple of Polish Jews and their son. Digging between the logs of the cabin, we found little rolls, like cigarette papers, saying that this log cabin was built in 1863 by Polish deportees after the 1863 uprising. Their names were recorded. So we were not the first Poles in that area. Very soon they organised work brigades and Mother was given an axe and hand saw. She became a wood chopper in the forest. This was the first physical work in her life because she was a dramatic actress; her life was theatre so this was very hard for her. Somehow, she managed to establish communication with our family in Lwów. We were allowed to send letters, all written in Russian and heavily censored. Through these letters to our family in Lwów she established a correspondence with my father, who had been deported to Rybinsk near Vologda, along with other Polish army officers. My father was trying very hard to get transferred to us, without success. I still have the original letters.

My brother and I were sent to a Russian school. To us it was a great adventure and we were quite happy. We never appreciated the seriousness of the situation. Very soon I was converted to a young communist singing Russian songs and drawing pictures of red stars and shouting 'long live Father Stalin'. They were brainwashing very young and vulnerable brains. My mother was very patriotic, like most of the mothers, and she wasn't too happy, but this was the only option for us because it was the only school and we had to go to school. But she was very particular to make sure that we also learnt Polish and that we would never forget that we were of Polish nationality.
ile in the USSR (continued)
Young Elizabeth Patro was only 5 years old when her family was deported to Siberia. She recounts how, after her father had been sent away to work:

Mother got orders from the authorities to send me to school before fall. She vehemently objected, claiming that I was too young - but no-one listened. I, on the other hand, could not understand why? After all I knew the Russian alphabet. I could count to a hundred and I even learned how to use the abacus. At last the day arrived. Loaded with a cloth school bag with two long handles, a perfectly planed pine board, two soft pencils, and an abacus I marched to school. At that time paper was very scarce, so the pine boards were used for writing. Almost every day after school it had to be re-planed and re-lined ready for the next day.

I did like school and tried very hard. A few weeks later I was called to the front of the class and the teacher informed me that I had become an atlicznica - an excellent student - and, with a great reverence, she handed me a small red triangular scarf, which was placed on my shoulders to the clapping of the class. In conclusion the class sang a lively Russian song, which I did not know. Greatly excited I ran home that day. Bursting through the door I suddenly stopped, my mother with tears in her eyes slowly pulled off the red scarf and told me very seriously never, never to bring it home again. 'Why?' I wondered. 'Why?'

Like Tadeusz Dobrostanski, Elizabeth Patro recalls the attempts to indoctrinate the children to Stalinist ways.

On 21 December 1940 when we were awaiting Christmas, the order came from the school authorities for all children to appear on time at the communal hall. Once there, we were separated. The Russian children were assembled near the fireplace and the Polish children at the opposite corner. The celebration of Stalin's birthday commenced with the hymn of glory of Russia, then one of the teachers came unexpectedly to the group of Polish children and asked, 'Do you believe in Christmas?' After a long pause some of us answered 'Yes'. 'Do you believe that God whom you call Father was born at Christmas?' No-one moved and no-one spoke. 'If you believe that there is a God', he continued, 'pray to Him for lollies'. 'The ones who do not believe in God can go and join the Russian children near the fire, they know there is no God', he continued. Only two slowly crossed the floor, while we watched.

Kneeling down in the middle of the cold Russian floor, on the cold Russian morning, the small group of cold Polish children prayed as they had never prayed before - and nothing happened. After a long pause the Russian children were asked if they believed in God and they shouted 'No!' They were asked if they believed in Batko Stalin (Father Stalin). 'Yes!' they shouted. 'So ask him for lollies', suggested our teacher. 'Batko Stalin, Batko Stalin give us sweets', they chanted and suddenly lollies fell from the ceiling all over the children near the fire. Somehow that memorable day in Russian school opened my eyes and even then, at six, I did know that I was witnessing a lie. God did exist, I was sure of it, and as for lollies, they did not count.
Helena Lancucka had been a 36-year-old school teacher in East Poland before she and her 4-year-old son Krzysztof were deported to Kazakhstan in April 1940:

The journey from Poland took about eleven days. It was a very heavy winter and they put us down in the fields where the snow was very, very deep. It was nearly twelve o'clock at night and there was a horrible, cold wind.

There were some Polish people who were resettled there before and they already had huts made of mud and grass. Each hut had two rooms where two families lived. There was nothing in the huts, just an earth floor where we put our belongings. In winter time there was no shelter and the snow would come down the chimney. It was hard to get out of that place in winter because the snow was so high. You had to dig your way out and we were mostly women and children so it was hard to cut a tunnel out of the hut. There was no wood for cooking so we had to collect grass to burn. There was hardly any room, especially no room for cooking but there was very little to eat anyway. We had some wheat and we exchanged whatever clothing we had for food but there was very little and there was nowhere to buy that stuff. At first we didn't have to work because we were told that we were brought there to die. But God helped us. It was God's will that we lived.

Wieslawa Paszkiewicz (nèe Wojtasiewicz) was twelve and a half years old when she arrived in Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. They were then taken by truck another 140 kilometres to a small Kazak kolhoz where they arrived on the first of May holiday. To celebrate the holiday, all the children were given lollies, courtesy of 'Father Stalin'.

Then they dropped us in a paddock and told us to go and look for some room to sleep. Kazaks have small huts made of mud and we had to pay for this because we were supposed to be rich people. They didn't take us for work. We just had to live on what we had. We stayed about nine months like this. When winter came, we had nothing to live on. They brought trucks and took us to another village, a Russian village. This was much better because the Russians had better houses.

By spring time we were told if we wanted bread we had to work. They took all the kids from twelve years of age to the steppe to cut the hay. I had never seen anything like that because I came from a big city, and I was an only child so I was not used to working. I had to learn how to drive the ox on the harvester. For our work we got 400 grams of bread and soup. The soup was cooked from oats, like the horses eat. It was very hard on your throat and when you went to the toilet you could see it wasn't good for you. There might be one piece of fatty meat in the soup but that was it. We worked all day and that was what we were fed all this time. Sometimes we might get some buckwheat. All summer was like this.

Nine-year-old Jerzy Mazak, along with his mother, grandmother and aunt, was also taken to a kolhoz in Kazakhstan.

They told us that we were to assimilate with the locals and the locals were told to take us into their houses, which were basically mud and peat huts. There were about 300 people at that collective farm. Not one single toilet and only one well to draw water. The climate was hot in summer and -50o C in winter. The only fuel available for cooking and warmth was cow dung and straw so all the women collected the dung and made it into bricks of about 40 x 20 x 20 centimetres. They were made in heavy wooden frames, sun dried and stacked for the winter. Later the children were involved in collecting the dung.

We moved in with a Kazak family and soon after, on the 25th of May, Grandmother died of pneumonia. The coffin was taken by bullock and she was buried at the settlement.

There was Mustafa, his wife Minka and their young 7-year-old son. Their house consisted of an entry, on the left a barn with the sheep, and on the right their room, which had mud floors. In the corner of one room they had a big copper which was used for cooking. There were bugs and lice, and one would see women sitting de-licing each other. People survived by exchanging what they had. The locals did not have much, only a cow or some hens. We were here from May 1940 until April 1941.

Zbigniew Stanislaw Patro was 8 years old when he arrived with his family in Kazakhstan.

We were taken to a kolhoz, a collective farm. My grandfather and elder uncle worked on tractors, my younger uncle in the milk processing plant and my mother worked in the fields. My aunt and grandmother did not work. I went to school. All nine of us lived in one room. It was a very primitive existence.

Kazakhstan is very flat and treeless, and as far as one could see there was wheat and cattle pasture. I didn't see a tree all the time I was there. We had big stacks of straw and in winter we used this for fuel. That was the only thing available. There was no wood or coal except for the workshop. To make it warmer in winter we put about half a metre of straw on the floor and when it was crushed it was replaced. The winter was very cold, one night I remember it was -60 o C. One morning we woke up and opened the front door and the doorway was completely blocked by snow. The Russians were used to it, they shovelled the snow into big kettles, melting the snow, and then threw the hot water on the snow, making steps up as they went. I remember only the chimneys were sticking out of the snow when we finally went out that day.

Teresa Sosnowska was deported in one of the last transports to leave Poland for the Soviet Union.

We were sent past the Ural Mountains to Novorsibirsk, not very far from Kazakhstan and were put in a sofhoz. A sofhoz is like a main kolhoz: twelve kolhoz answered to one sofhoz. We were put in the old school building with about eight families from Pinsk, mainly young women with one or two children. My mother was put to work digging holes. There was no reason to dig these holes. They didn't bother about human beings because they knew that they had many more who would come and do the work so it didn't matter how many died. This was not only with Polish people. They did it to their own people as well.

My aunt had not been deported: she volunteered to come with us because she knew Russia. She had been deported there before when she was younger, and she thought my mother would never be able to manage the children as well as the work. Because she was a volunteer, and because she was too old, she didn't have to work, so she stayed at home to look after us. My mother had to work for all of us.

I was eight when we were deported but when that happened I grew up very quickly. I considered myself a grown-up and I became a little thief! There was another building where they stored sunflower seeds and we used to run up the stairs when no-one was watching, eat as much as we could and steal as much as we could hide. We also learnt how to steal cabbages from the carts. By the end of the season we had forty-nine cabbages stored in our little storeroom, as well as sunflower seeds!
Exile in the USSR (continued)
Other experiences of exile
Not all deportees were sent to kolhoz in Siberia or Kazakhstan, and others who were did not stay there long. For example, Janina Pienkos (nèe Huszczo) was only 8 years old when she was exiled, along with her sister, younger brother and 35-year-old mother, to the village of Volodarowka in Kazakhstan.

We were just dumped on the street at night time and that was it. A few families got together and we found a house. Later on people could chose to work on the railways so my mother and a few of her friends went to work there. From that time we lived in railway carriages, very similar to the cattle truck we came from Poland in. The carriages just travelled around Russia. I don't remember where we went. We lived and travelled, and slept on the floor of those carriages near a little fireplace. My sister was very sick. There was a lot of sickness. The adults used to shovel snow from the railway tracks and Mother had a very bad accident. She slipped on the ice, fell and hurt the lower part of her back. I remember there was a lot of blood. Sometimes we stopped in a station and then the train would just go. Whoever had left the carriage was left behind.

When we arrived in Kirghistan they took some people off that train and sent them to work on collective farms. The rest of us, about ten families, they just left at a China tea house. That is when typhus hit our group and everybody in my family except me was sent to hospital. When my mother got out of hospital and found me, the first thing she did was shave my hair because I was covered in lice. She had to carry my brother on her back because he had malaria on top of that. After that everybody was so weak they couldn't work.

Other groups were sent almost directly to the notorious cotton plantations in Kirghistan. Often referred to as 'the Soviet Louisiana' because of the harsh living and working conditions, these became a common destination for many Polish deportees after the amnesty (see Chapter 4), as they were waiting for an opportunity to leave the Soviet Union. Tadeusz Gruszka was barely 3 years old when his family was deported to Kirghistan early in 1940, so his first formative memories are of:

cold and hunger. I was with my whole family: my two brothers, myself, mother and father. I was the youngest. We ended up in Kirghistan at first. My family was working in the cotton fields and then my father, I think, was working in the mills. Before the invasion my father was a ranger in the forestry department. In Kirghistan he had to do whatever work they told him to. I was doing nothing: just waiting for my parents to get home, with my brothers. That's how it was. There was nothing to do for us.

The winters were very heavy and we did not have much firewood. I used to go with my brothers at night to get firewood from the cotton fields. This was illegal so we had to be very careful. I must have been about four and a half or five by that time. There was not very much food. My mother and father used to go to the forest to get green plums off the trees. My mother used to cook these into a vegetarian soup made with some things like leaves that the horses used to eat. We could survive but we didn't see meat for about two years. There was a lot of sickness also, due to malnutrition and the conditions of living. My mother and one of my brothers were sick for a while, but they survived. In that part there were maybe two or three other Polish families. I know in one of them, the father died of some disease. It was very bad.

Other families, such as the Smendas, were taken to the very far east of the USSR, near the Mongolian border.

We were not deported till 22 May 1941, not long before the amnesty. We were one of the last transports with around 700 or 800 people and we were taken to Krasnoyarsk on the River Yenisei, much closer to Manchuria and China than to Europe. From Krasnoyarsk they put us on a barge and we were taken further north and dumped in a place called Sowhobuzin which was a minor administrative centre. It was mainly timber mills. We had been sentenced to 'twenty years duress' - those were the precise words. We were not in jail but we could not move outside the boundaries of that settlement without the approval of the local NKVD and a pass.

Quite surprisingly the major of the NKVD turned out to be a very reasonable human being. There are exceptions everywhere. He helped us and tried to get my mother to work as a school teacher. He insisted that my sister and I go to school rather than work. My sister Teresa won Lenin's Prize for being the best student in her year in that primary school. My mother tore it up, which is a pity because it is part of your life. We were lucky compared to many others. We were not in the Soviet Union for very long. (Janusz Smenda)

The first stage of exile drew to an end as the winter of 1941 closed in. As Królikowski (1983, p.17) observed, 'The death harvest among the Poles was terrifying'. No reliable figures exist but it is estimated that anything between a third and a half of the deported Poles were dead by the time of Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 (Ascherson, 1987, p. 93). By the beginning of 1942, almost one-half of the deportees were dead. An estimated 20 per cent of the people sent to the taiga or the steppes died each year while 30 per cent of those who had been sent to prisons or labour camps had died (Królikowski, 1983, p.17). Scattered in small communities throughout Siberia, Kazakhstan, Kirghistan and Uzbekistan, groups of Polish deportees were desperate to leave before they too succumbed to the same
Chapter 4 - Amnesty and the Journey South
The status of Polish deportees in the Soviet Union began to change when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 in Operation Barbarossa. Ultimately it led to the announcement of an amnesty which released Polish exiles from their labour camps and allowed them to travel south in search of freedom and the Polish army. This was being reformed to help fight the German army which was rapidly advancing into Soviet territory.

The personal recollections of those who survived indicate the relief they felt when news of the amnesty reached them, but also detail the hardship they encountered in their efforts to escape. It was a period characterised by uncertainty, hunger, starvation, disease and daily confrontations with death, both of strangers and loved ones. These experiences have etched themselves into the minds of those who witnessed them and this is most clearly understood when their stories are recounted face to face: the written word sanitises the emotional reality because it cannot capture the pain in many people's voices as they recounted memories which, long ago, have been put behind them.

Each individual's story was an odyssey in its own right for, even within families, experiences varied as family members were frequently separated en route. Even where families managed to stay together, both experiences and perceptions of the journey varied according to the age of the story teller, although there were many common themes and a remarkable consistency between stories. There was a marked reluctance to dwell on some of the more disturbing events of the journey and many participants requested that the tape be turned off while they recounted events they thought no-one would believe. Many cried in the course of recollections they had told few, if any, people.

Over fifty years later, the joy of being told of the amnesty remains clear in the memories of all the Polish exiles. Halina Juszczyk described it as 'a miracle for us. Suddenly we found that we were free, but where could we go from Siberia?' Zdzislawa Wasylkowska explained how the people in her camp were gathered together and told that 'a terrible thing had happened. But we were really happy that there was a war because we thought that now something might happen for us'. While the German-Soviet war may have raised the hopes of Polish deportees who had relatives able to join the Polish army, for others it meant an immediate escalation in hardship. Women who had already endured so much in trying to care for their children, often without menfolk, found themselves having to call even more on reserves of strength, reserves which had already been stretched to the limits. This part of their journey often subjected them to more physical endurance, more sickness and more death.

Many Polish women were taken for compulsory work building railways. As Helena Lancucka said, without elaboration, 'It was very heavy work, moving sand for the tracks'. For other families, scattered in isolated kolhozes where little work had been available to them, war simply meant that the intermittent food parcels which had arrived from relatives in Poland could no longer get through to them. Urszula Paszkowska recalled how conditions deteriorated for them in Kazakhstan for this reason. Although her family was given a small garden plot in which they planted potatoes, her grandfather did not survive until the summer of 1942, when the family were finally rescued from the kolhoz by a relative.

Hopes that war would lead to a change for Polish deportees proved to be well founded. Under pressure from Britain, diplomatic relations between the London-based Polish government in exile and Stalin were resumed within a month of Operation Barbarossa. This was to be no easy coalition. The Polish government in exile found itself in alliance with a neighbour who still claimed an enormous part of their territory and who had, less than two years before, launched an undeclared war on their nation. The British and the Americans requested that Poland and the Soviet Union put the allied war effort first and deal with the issue of the frontier at a later date.

On 30 July 1941, a Polish-Soviet treaty was signed in London arranging for the formation of a Polish army on Soviet soil and declaring an 'amnesty' to all Polish citizens living in camps and prisons in the Soviet Union. As Królikowski (1983, p. 26) observed, 'A strange amnesty indeed when there had been no crime! We suspected that this word was meant to be Moscow's way of deluding the West, to camouflage the outrage that had been committed'.

The estimated quarter of a million Polish troops who had been 'interned' in the Soviet Union had been largely forgotten by the West. After their first dramatic appearance on centre stage at the beginning of the war they had fallen into a no-man's-land because, technically, they were not prisoners of war as the Soviet Union had never declared war on Poland. By the time of the Soviet-Polish agreement in July 1941, Stalin needed all the help he could get, and from August 1941 Polish officers were allowed to scour the USSR collecting their countrymen for the army. In the process, they contacted many of the Polish families who had been 'resettled' throughout the USSR.

Królikowski (1983, p. 30) describes how news of the amnesty reached many Poles indirectly, often by accident, and maintains that many impediments were placed in the way of those seeking identification papers which would give them the freedom to travel south. Thus, 'slowly and reluctantly, the gates of the Siberian and Asian camps swung open, and hundreds and thousands of Poles - soldiers, women, officials, priests and even orphaned children - began to make their way towards centres where the new Polish army was being gathered. Many had already died; many were not released' (Ascherson, 1987, p. 119).
Moving South
For those who had survived deportation and exile to this time, the next task was how to escape the encroaching winter and make the dangerous journey south. Their destinations were defined primarily by an 'instinct for self-preservation' which impelled them to leave the cold of the north and head south to the warmer regions of Central Asia where, rumour had it, the Polish army was gathering (Królikowski, 1983, p. 40). Teresa Sosnowska made the point that deportees were given permission to travel in the Soviet Union only if they could prove that they had a relative in the Polish army:

not everybody could be freed because not everybody had the means. We were only able to go because our cousins, three young people between eighteen and twenty-three, were strong and healthy and had some money. They paid our fare down south and we travelled together, south to Uzbekistan. Although the amnesty was in August, we were in that sofhos till October or November 1941. It was snowing when we left.

It is not easy to give a summary account of this great exodus. Królikowski (1983, pp. 41-2) describes how Poles, merging to form a 'great human stream', came from areas as far apart as Arkhangel'sk and Vladivostok. The first flood of Polish refugees moved 'like a swollen river blindly rushing ahead' (Królikowski 1983, p. 42) with no information about where they might settle or what they might expect. Many who came from the east moved along the edge of the Mongolian uplands, travelling towards Alma-Ata in south-east Kazakhstan. A few lucky groups managed to reach the Polish embassy in Kuybyshev by travelling along the Volga River. Most found their movements controlled by the NKVD which directed many train transports of Polish civilians towards the poorest regions of Turkestan, near the Aral Sea. Thousands of other Poles made it further south to the republics of Uzbekistan and Kirghistan. The whole region was plagued by endemic infectious diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and malaria.

The scale and horror of these journeys is clear from every account. Królikowski (1983, p. 30) summarised it ironically but effectively by noting that 'freedom often seemed harder than imprisonment'. The situation was further confused by the concurrent relocation of thousands of Soviet citizens from the war zones of the west to the southern republics.

As several participants noted, you had to see the conditions of travel to believe them. Irena Makowiecka, whose 16-year-old brother had died in Siberia, observed that people could only travel with the greatest difficulty: 'It was a nightmare, much worse than getting to Russia. Out of the thirty or forty Polish families who had been taken to our camp in Siberia, only eight families left. There were eight women with about sixteen children in our group and we did it by ourselves, and had to pay for our trip too.'

Some of the older participants in this project preferred to give only a brief account of how they left the Soviet Union. This may have been influenced by difficulties discussing these events in English. For example, Helena Lancucka, now in her nineties, recalled the episode in these words:

While we were working on the train line the Germans were getting close to Moscow. Stalin was afraid and he sent for our General Anders, who had been in a Russian prison, to tell him that he would free the Poles if he organised a Polish army to fight with the Russians opposite Germany. Anders said he would organise it, but only if the Polish army fought under British command. Stalin had to let us go from Russia. After that many Polish prisoners travelled around Russia looking for their families and that is how we heard about the Polish army. So we went to Dzhalal-Abad, in the Kirghiz Republic, where our army was. I was asked to organise a school for the Polish children and that was how I managed to leave Russia with my son.

Similarly, Maria Szuster-Nowak, now in her late eighties, conducted her interviews in a mixture of English and Polish which her daughter translated on the spot. Maria remembered her feelings about the amnesty and journey south clearly:

They told us we were free and could go where we liked but they didn't give us any means of transport. Some men made a raft so we could travel by river to the nearest train station. We all said, 'Never mind if we go down. We'll be finished but we must try to get away from this place'. And so we left on a raft. We lived off bread we had dried and put in bags for the journey. We would boil some water and dunk the dried bread in the water to soften it. That is how we fed ourselves and the children until we got to a place in the south where the Russian people were growing cotton. We worked there for a while until we got news that the Polish army was forming. Then we went by train to the place where the Polish army had a special post for all these people. I was very sick by then but they put me on the floor in the hospital tent because there were no more beds. The government fed the children when I was in hospital. After I recovered we were taken down south to Tehràn.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska) went into rather more detail:

We had no choice of where to go, we just went where they took us. All of us women were taken to a place near a railway. There I suddenly saw a soldier in a Polish uniform, with a Polish emblem. We knew little of what was happening as we had been so isolated so I ran to ask him information; it almost seemed to me that it was my husband. I asked, 'Do you know other officers, someone named Adamski?' He told me that the soldiers who were taken to Rustov had disappeared. I sought out my friend Tokarzewska, she was the daughter of General Tokarzewski's brother, who came from Poland. He told us where to stay so I went with her and her daughter. The road was so muddy and thick. We stayed in this place for a few weeks and from there we were sent to the Aral Sea, near the Syr-Darya River, which means the river of life. Here we were put on a barge to Nukus, south of the Aral Sea.

The journey took three weeks and it was very cold. To go to the toilet people had to stand on the edge of the barge. There was plenty of ice and many children slipped off into the river and were lost. From Nukus it was 100 kilometres to Uzbekistan. Many people were taken there by camels but my daughter and I went by bullock cart with another woman and her daughter. Here we worked the land which was very fertile. We grew djugara, a grain you had to grind. One day this other woman came shouting, 'They have come to take us home!' Her husband had found her. I was crying, frightened and praying because without his help I would have had to stay there. He said, 'You will come too as my wife's sister. At the moment they are not looking at documents'. He was not an officer but he had a position with some soldiers under him. I paid him by giving him my husband's boots. This is how I left Russia.

People who were younger at the time tended to give clear accounts about the mechanics of leaving their isolated settlements. For example, Boguslaw Trella, recalled how his family managed to leave:

My grand-aunt's son, who was in the army, came looking for us. He managed to get us out via Sharhrezyabz where his army unit was gathering. From the north to the south we travelled with my grandmother, my mother, my sister and myself and three other ladies that 'Uncle' managed to call cousins. The Polish government's relations with the USSR were deteriorating by this time so it had become very difficult to get the papers to get out. Uncle was a 'clever' fellow and he paid a lot of bribes to officials to get us out. At one station he bribed a woman supervisor of a carriage in a train carrying wounded Russian soldiers with an ounce of tobacco. She put us in the carriage and held back some of the soldiers.

Due to the remote locations in which many deportees had seen out the first years of the war, most had no immediate access to rail. Those brave enough, or desperate enough, set out by sledge, river craft or on foot, and there were many variations on the theme of the resourcefulness which the prospect of freedom fostered among the Polish exiles.

There was nothing organised when the amnesty came. People had to get to the Polish army as best they could, using their initiative. The mothers deserve all the credit for managing to get us out. It was very cold and we travelled by horse-drawn sleigh to the nearest station. When we got there everyone was pushing and shoving to get onto the train. Even to this day I am amazed when I think of the hardships Mother had to overcome to get my brother and myself to the southern regions where the army units were located. We owe our lives to her. (Ryszard Pawlowski)

Halina Juszczyk described her mother's situation when news of the June amnesty reached their settlement. The commandant of their camp informed them that they were free people who could now go where they liked and, six weeks before Christmas 1941, a transport was organised to take Polish women and children to the nearest station. The women had to work until the day before the transport left if they were to be allowed their ration of bread.

On the very last day Mother and Aunty went to work in the forest and about one o'clock we saw a sledge coming back from the forest with my aunty. She had broken a leg in two places. Just imagine the anguish of my mother! There she was, by herself with a family of four children and now Aunty, who had helped us survive, had a broken leg. What to do? Mother wanted very much to go with people she knew could help us on the journey but she decided we would wait until Aunty was better. Six weeks later-on Christmas Day 1941 - we left Churga settlement because the Commandant said it was our last chance to leave. Aunty's plaster was taken off but her leg was in a wood splint and she couldn't walk. There were only three sleighs leaving: Aunty was on one with my little brother and sister but my mother, older sister Krystyna and myself had to walk because we were older. I was nine and Krystyna was twelve. We had to walk about 30 kilometres in the snow through the night. Sometimes I would cheat a little and sit on the back of the sleigh but when the driver saw me he hit me. My shoes were in tatters and I had to rub my feet with snow to restore the circulation so I wouldn't lose my toes through frostbite.
Travelling by Train
Once the deportees had made it to a railway line, their troubles were far from over. Trains were redirected without notice, or failed to stop at certain stations and several people recalled a practice of detaching the last few carriages from the train, leaving the passengers isolated and without resources. Every participant had recollections of the uncertainty of train travel in wartime USSR. Boguslaw Trella explained:

If you were unable to obtain a ticket, or a permit for further train travel, you were stuck at the place where you found yourself. Your chances of reaching Polish centres in the south were small, and when Polish-Soviet relations worsened, you could find yourself in the same situation as before the amnesty.

Mietka Gruszka was not quite 5 years old by the time of the amnesty and her first memories include fears associated with train travel, of people being left behind, and stories about people whose legs were cut off because they fell under trains.

I remember things that were very emotional, or things that made a big impression. I can still hear the sound of those train whistles at night when we were standing at huge stations with miles and miles of tracks, and trains coming and going. I remember looking out of the window seeing the billows of smoke from the train engines and people rushing out of the train at the stations to see who was going to be first to grab hot water or anything that was available to buy. Also- it seems a strange thing - but I remember being put out of the little window with my seat out to go to the toilet. I was so afraid that I would fall out.

Bogdan Harbuz was 8 years old when his family left the kolhoz near Pawlodar in Kazakhstan to head south. He describes his memories of this period as 'pictures that come into my mind.' He recalled being 'packed like sardines' in cattle trucks, waiting for trains, sleeping on cold marble floors, catching a train only to be ordered off a few stations further on, and left to their own devices because the army had requisitioned the transport.

I was just a little boy, and on one of those trains an elderly gentleman asked me to sit on his lap. I sat on his lap and fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning that gentleman was dead. They took him by his feet and hands and threw him onto the platform and the train went on. At one of the stations, Mother went to find out where and how and when the next train was going and to try to get us tickets. One of my sisters went to get hot water and the other went to see if she could buy, steal or swap things for food. I was left guarding the bundles of our possessions and a big suitcase on the platform and a man came, pushed me away, grabbed the suitcase and ran. We saw some terrible things as a result of war.

Another common tale was that of being left behind when trains moved on without warning. Halina Juszczyk remembered her experience of this vividly:

It was after my younger brother and sister had died and mother was in great despair. She just sat there and didn't speak for a few days. Stations in Russia had great big boilers where you could get hot water but the trains usually stopped far away from the station. It was very hard to get on and off the train because there was a huge gap. We children jumped off but we couldn't jump back. I jumped out of the train and ran to get some water and I was almost back when the train started. There were steps in between the carriages and I was lucky to jump on one of these steps where I sat for hours, cuddled into the frozen corpse of a dead man so the wind wouldn't blow directly onto me. I was freezing but I wasn't afraid at all. I was afraid of living people but I was not afraid of the corpse. I knew I must sit there until the train stopped and then I must run to our wagon. As soon as the train stopped, I ran to the wagons at the front. Somebody opened the door and dragged me inside. My mother was crying. I had lost the little water bucket and was half-frozen myself, but all I wanted was to get back to the family.
Family Separation
Many families risked being separated in the hope of saving a member left behind. Some families were fortunate enough to be reunited within a relatively short time. For example, at the age of 14, Regina Tabaczynska was separated from her parents when her mother was left behind at a station while searching for food. Regina's father left her in the care of another Polish family while he went in search of his wife.

For well over a month I was on my own and I was sick. We went to Bukhara in Uzbekhistan and were sent to various kolhozes. After a few months, quite unexpectedly, my parents came. They were swelling with hunger. I was very sick, but I wasn't in that state. I wasn't starving. It was a miracle that they found me in all that chaos of the war because they couldn't find any trace of our transport until they began travelling with some Russian military men. One of them knew that the transport was sent to Bukhara. He even knew that I was on that train because people there were asking about my parents. So they went to Bukhara and there they met somebody from our transport who told them which camp I was in and with whom I was staying.

The Sosnowski family were separated at different times in this way. Kazimierz Sosnowski was 13 years old when he, his mother and two elder brothers left their labour camp in September 1941 because they were close to the battle lines.

I was left behind the train three times. One time it took me half a day to catch up. The next time, I got off the train to beg for some food and was left behind. I was trying to find where our transport had gone to and I was directed to a certain place. When I got there they wouldn't allow me to leave. They brought another six children from our transport and took us to a Russian orphanage. We made a big fuss. We didn't want to go to the orphanage; we wanted to join the Polish army. After a night-long argument they gave us breakfast and walked us to the station. One of the girl's mothers was waiting at the station and she took us to our train which was about seven kilometres from where we were. Then the third time it took me three days to catch up by catching different trains which were travelling faster. I don't know why our train was so slow. We finished in the Uzbekistan town of Bukhara. It took us three and a half months to reach the destination. It should have taken six weeks at the most, but that was the Soviet Union.

On Christmas Eve 1941, the three Sosnowski boys were sent to work on a kolhoz fifteen kilometres from Bukhara, where they could get food only by selling their few remaining possessions. By the middle of January 1942, they escaped to Bukhara, where they survived by begging for food at the town's cafes. After splitting up to look for food, the three Sosnowski boys managed to hitch a ride, illegally, on a train carrying Polish soldiers to Guzar. The eldest brother was old enough to register with the army and so left his two younger brothers at Karsi. In February, the second brother contracted typhoid fever, from which he died. At 13 years of age, Kazimierz Sosnowski was left on his own, like thousands of other Polish children, so he joined the cadets. Once under the care of the Polish army, he was sent to their rudimentary schools, fed and rested until August, when the cadets were railed to Krasnovodsk, marched five kilometres in the searing heat to the port and then shipped overnight to Pahlavi, where he met up briefly with his mother.

When Maria Sosnowska was separated from her sons, she was left with nothing but the canvas shoes and jacket she was wearing, and the meagre ration of bread she had managed to get from a Polish relief agency. She chased the train for two weeks, right down to the Chinese border and described searching up and down every train she came across. She travelled on foot, in the snow, still in canvas shoes, with only a piece of lepioshka, flat, unleavened bread, to sustain her through the journey.

I left at sunrise. As I was walking, the sole of my shoe came away so I had to walk barefoot until I came to a workshop where I hoped I might find some string or wire to tie my shoes up. The workshop was stripped bare and deserted, except for the caretaker, a Polish deportee of Jewish faith. He had a scarf around his neck which he took off to bind my shoe. That is how I got to Dzhalal-Abad before the sun went down. When I saw the Polish flags flying, I fell on my knees and kissed the ground over which the Polish colours were flying. There was a Polish priest running a relief centre for people like me. It wasn't much but they tried their best and advised me to leave that kolhoz and join the army before Easter, so I did and I finally left that part of the world with the army in August 1942.

In Pahlavi Maria found her youngest son in the cadets and from him she learned that her middle son had died. Maria was sent on to Tehràn with the promise that her youngest son would join her there. However, she was only in Tehràn three days before being sent to Ahvaz. Already ill with hepatitis and trachoma, there was nothing she could do except try to regain her strength before being sent to Karachi, where she launched an unsuccessful search for her eldest son. In February 1944 she was sent to Africa, to Makindu Camp in Kenya and then Tengeru Camp in Tanganyika where she was reunited with her youngest son Kazimierz in May 1944. In November, she received news from the Polish army that her eldest son had died in March 1941 in Guzar, soon after he had left his younger brothers.

Boy soldiers (junaks) 10 to 15 years of age, USSR, 1942
(Courtesy of Tadeusz Dobrostanski)

As is clear from the Sosnowskis' story, there was little assistance to be gained en route in the USSR and thousands perished on the way from starvation or disease. Those who survived travelled, stopped, slept on the stations or in parks, and tried to get food. The hot water available at most railway stations was about the only thing people could rely on. Aleksandra Wisniewska (nèe Rewaj), a child of 11 by the time the amnesty was declared, considered that for her the journey south was 'when all the trauma started. People were dying like flies from sickness and thirst. There was no regard for human beings. You only thought about yourself. Human beings are selfish in a way, especially when it is a matter of survival'. Her elder sister, Zdzislawa Wasylkowska, explained how her family lost all their identification papers on the journey south:

A friend of ours took all our papers to get bread for us-without the papers they wouldn't give you bread. This man missed the train on purpose. He just ran away leaving his wife and daughter in the carriage with us. We found out later that he had talked to the NKVD against my father, and that is why my father was arrested in Arkhangel'sk district. It was very hard after that and we were dreadfully hungry. We had to beg for bread or steal whenever we could. There were no washing facilities. There were lice everywhere and so many dead children. I saw many people thrown out from the train. It took us another month to get to Dzhalal-Abad, close to the Afghanistan border, but they did not want to take us. We moved on to Guzar where my mother and sister became sick with typhus.

Soon after that, the Rewaj family were separated, placed in different communal homes organised by the Polish relief agencies or in hospitals where 'body after body' gave way to starvation and disease. Zdzislawa Wasylkowska joined the Junaks, an 'army school' for Polish young people aged between 12 and 17 and it was in this way that she finally left the Soviet Union. Her mother and sister also survived, although she was not reunited with them until reaching Tehràn. Her father succumbed to typhus on 15 April 1942:

That was the only day I didn't visit him. It was miles across the city, and I had been there everyday. I sold the few things that we had left so I had some money which l used to buy an egg. I had to search all around to find a little firewood so I could cook it before I took it to him. The day before he died he said that he was dying but I thought he was confused. I came the next day and I was given his death certificate. I don't know where my father is buried. In the hospital they just loaded body after body on to a cart. They couldn't care less and I didn't have time to worry about it. The main thing was my life. I felt my father's death when I got to Africa but not at the time. When you are in a situation like that you don't have the same feelings that you have in real life. You think differently altogether.

Irena Makowiecka (nèe Glowacka) was 9 years old when the Second World War started.

Irena Makowiecka (nèe Glowacka) was 9 years old when the Second World War started.

I was born in a small town near Tarnopol in eastern Poland and I spent the first seven years of my life there. My mother, who came from Warsaw, always said that she spent the happiest years of her life in Grzymalow. This part of Poland is called Podole. It is a very fertile land with black soil. My father was in the police force but we had a bit of land too. We used to go there for Sunday walks and I remember the orchard with cherries and apples, the bubbling brook, lots of forget-me-nots and the huge lilac tree under the kitchen window. In spring their fragrance was over powering. I have always associated lilac with Poland. My father didn't work the farm, somebody else did that. It was share farming but we would get fruit and, in autumn, potatoes and carrots. The wheat went to the mill and we would get a bag of flour or a bag of porridge oats whenever we needed. When the war started all those products were in the mill and we couldn't get them because all our property was confiscated. The shops were empty and we found ourselves without any food resources.

The Build-up to War
The Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933 and in March 1934 Pilsudski signed a treaty of non-aggression and friendship with Germany. This was far from an alliance since it intended to do no more than lessen the tension which had remained since the corridor to the Baltic and the creation of Danzig as a free city in 1918. Germany had consistently maintained its interests in land west of the corridor.

Hitler started to threaten Poland, demanding access to the Free City of Danzig and a corridor between Germany and Danzig through Polish territory. It was only an excuse to start the war. While Josef Pilsudski, the Polish marshal and a good politician, was in charge, he gave a feeling of security to the general public. When he died in May 1935 there was nobody of equal stature to take his place. There was a feeling of uncertainty, a feeling of doom. Everybody was waiting for the war to start. It seemed to be inevitable. Austria was taken by Hitler in March 1938, followed by Czechoslovakia in March 1939. We were next on the list. Poland didn't prepare for war because we were told not to provoke the Germans by arming, to be weak so they wouldn't have that as an excuse for attacking. That was the rationale of Neville Chamberlain: don't provoke anybody, cooperate with Hitler and he will cooperate with you. So, while war was in the air, no one expected Russia to attack Poland because we had a pact of non-aggression with Russia which Marshal Pilsudski had signed in 1934. (Irene Makowiecka)

By October 1938, when Hitler renewed his demands for the 'return' of Danzig and territorial rights in the Polish corridor it was clear that conciliation was not working. Over the following months the Polish government began to mobilise its armed forces. Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska at the time) remembered how her husband was called to duty three months before Germany invaded Poland.

It was part of a secret mobilisation in which many men, mainly professional men, were taken. For three months I did not know where he was; then he sent me a letter telling me that he would be free for two days. I received a telegram to meet him in Pinsk at the Hotel Pina. We expected to have these two days to ourselves. Two hours later he received a telephone call from his superiors calling him back. It was the sixth of September 1939. This was the last time I saw him.

Under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a defensive alliance signed by Hitler and Stalin on 23 August 1939, a 'secret additional protocol' agreed that the two powers would carve Poland up between them. The Soviet sphere of influence was to include Finland, the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, the Rumanian province of Bessarabia and eastern Poland while the German sphere of influence would include Lithuania and western Poland. Poland was thus divided along the Bug River - the Curzon Line of 1920. Hitler invaded the west of Poland on 1 September 1939. Urszula Paszkowska (nèe Trella), who was 12 years old when war broke out, recounted the situation which confronted her family at the time:

My father died as a result of post-influenza complications two weeks before war broke out and my mother moved us back to her parents in Drohobycz. Drohobycz was a district city in what was then eastern Poland. It was famous for the oil refinery which was the largest in Poland, and one of the largest in Eastern Europe.

As far as the war was concerned, we were all fearful of it. We knew that the Germans were encircling us. They were not only on the western and northern borders, where East Prussia was, but also in Czechoslovakia, so they were to the south of us. When we first heard about the war it was a shock to us, but we were hoping that our army would be able to withstand the German invasion. Little did we know the disparity in the armaments of both armies or that there was a secret clause in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which Russia and Germany had signed in August 1939. We did not know that the Soviet Union would attack us from the east.

The oil refinery in Drohobycz was bombed a few days after the beginning of the war. The oil burned for a few days and then they bombed our city a second time, not far away from where we were living. First of all the German army came into Drohobycz. They stayed there for about a week and in that time the lorries were transporting goods from the stores westward. Then on the seventeenth of September the Russian army crossed the eastern border of Poland and started to advance. The Germans moved back and the Russians came in and the same thing happened again. The lorries started going to the east.

According to historian Neal Ascherson (1987, pp. 90-1), at half past three in the morning of 17 September 1939, the Polish Ambassador in Moscow was informed that as the Polish state had ceased to exist (which was not true), steps had become necessary to protect the Ukrainian and Byelorussian minorities in the 'former' Polish territories. An hour later, Soviet troops crossed the frontier. There was little resistance to the invasion, the eastern border being almost unprotected. Irena Makowiecka, reflecting upon the situation as it appeared to many Polish civilians, elucidated:

The Russians claimed that they came as an ally, as helpers, but as soon as they came they disarmed the Polish army who were moving east, away from the German panzer divisions. The Soviets took the retreating army as prisoners of war. Only a small number managed to cross the frontier through Rumania and then on to France, following the Polish government.

As the Soviet forces moved across eastern Poland to a demarcation line along the Rivers Bug and San it became clear that a fourth partition of Poland was taking place. Some individuals from all the major political parties in Poland, including President Ignacy Moscicki, managed to escape via Rumania. These people reassembled in Paris where a coalition government under the lead of General Sikorski, also the head of the remaining Polish army, was formed. Seventy-eight tons of gold from the Polish state bank was also transported to the Rumanian port of Constanza, where it was then taken by a British ship to Turkey, by train to Beirut and from there transported to France by a French cruiser.

The new government was recognised by the British, French and Americans but not by the USSR, which had not yet declared war. Sikorski and his aides had to flee when the Germans attacked France in May 1940. They took up residence in London, which remained their headquarters for the remainder of the war. From this base the Polish government in exile operated for the duration of the war, financed by the state gold which had been smuggled out of Poland in September 1939.
Chapter 2 - Deportation
After the invasion of 17 September 1939, the Soviet Union proceeded to annex territory inhabited by almost 13 000 000 people and which constituted more than half of Poland's post 1918 territory (Królikowski, 1983, p.17). Around 5000 000 of these people were ethnic Poles, the rest were predominantly Ukrainians and Byelorussians. Many Poles, both at the time and even at the time of writing, saw this 'stab in the back' as 'the realisation of a coldly planned design, a natural expression of Russia's attitude to the existence of an independent Poland ever since the Russian state had been born' (Ascherson, 1987, p. 92). Events over the next few years justified the belief that Stalin hoped to 'obliterate the Polish nation both physically and culturally' (Ascherson, 1987, p. 94).

Deportation of Officers
The Soviet authorities carried out an immediate round of deportations and arrests, principally of Polish leaders and those in government posts. In 1948 the Ministry of justice in London estimated that 200 000 Polish soldiers were arrested between 1939 and 1940, with at least 180 000 ending up as Soviet prisoners of war. A further 25 000 were forcibly drafted into the Soviet army, or taken as forced labour (Ministry of Justice, 1949). More recent figures suggest that over the remaining months of 1939, the Red Army rounded up an estimated quarter of a million Polish army personnel and transported them to the USSR (Walters, 1988, pp. 275-6).

Map - Approximate routes of the Polish exiles

Out of that total, between 12 000 and 15 000 officers were interned in camps near Katyn, Ostaskow and Starobel'sk. Relatives received intermittent letters from them until the spring of 1940. The occupying German army in April 1943 discovered the Katyn officers in a forest graveyard. According to Ascherson (1987, p. 123), no trace of the 4000 officers at the Starobel'sk camp nor the 6500 prisoners at Ostaskow has yet been found. Although Polish research in the post communist years is bringing to light more information about localities where NKVD (the secret police, now known as the KGB) victims, including Polish officers, were 'buried', nothing appears to have been published in English. The silence and uncertainty which surrounded the fate of these Polish officers left an enduring, if often understated, impact upon their friends and relatives. Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska), whose husband had joined the army three months before war was declared, summarised the events surrounding his disappearance with simple candour:

I received a note from my husband from Rostov, in Russia, where he was taken with other members of the Polish army. The note was brought to me by a man who came back from Russia. The ordinary soldiers came home but all the others were kept in the Soviet Union. I received only one more letter from him asking for boots and a belt. I found out that he was dead after I arrived in Australia. My brother sent me a book from Poland with all the names of those killed, Lista Katynska, which I still have. My husband's name is there, Henryk Adamski.

Similarly, Helena Lancucka, a school teacher who had been born in southern Poland in 1904 but had moved to Polesie in eastern Poland with her husband, recalled:

Life was very unsettled in Poland before the war. My husband was called up before war started, so he was already on the front when war started. He said it was a very dangerous time and that I should stay together with my family - my Mum and my sister - because he had to go to the army. In February 1940 I had a letter from my husband saying that he was in Kosielsk camp. We sent a letter to that address but never got an answer. My husband was killed in Katyn. For a long time I did not know.

The disappearance of the Polish officers had no less an impact upon their children, even if they were very young at the time. The account given by Bogdan Harbuz, who was only a boy of 6 when war broke out, hints at a persisting sense of injustice and disbelief shared by many of the participants whose fathers 'disappeared' during the war:

During World War One, my father was an officer in the Polish army, so in the inter-war period he was a reservist. Just before World War Two started he was called up. First he went to Warsaw as general staff but when the general staff started being evacuated across the border he stayed in Poland as a front line officer. He was taken prisoner by the Russians, and marched to a place called Kozel'sk. There were three prisoner of war camps for Polish officers: Kozel'sk, Starobel'sk and Ostaskow. For the first few months he was allowed to send letters to us in Poland. Then, when we were taken to Siberia in April 1940, we lost contact with our father altogether.

In 1942 the Polish government in exile asked Stalin what happened to the officers but he could not give any definite answer. Then the Germans uncovered the mass graves in Katyn so at that time we found out that between some 12 000 and 15 000 Polish officers were executed by a revolver bullet to the back of the head. But we only found out after the war that our father was murdered there. For many years, even after the war, I still could not believe it - not until I saw his name on the list of officers that were killed there.

As the Red Army focused its attention on the 1939 'Winter War' in Finland, there was a pause in the deportations while a 'sovietisation' of Polish institutions was carried out. Rigged elections took place in November which produced dummy assemblies of Ukrainians and Byelorussians who voted unanimously for their incorporation into the Soviet Union. There was some land reform and nationalisation, and Poles were removed from official posts and often from their own homes.

By February 1940, Stalin turned his attention to Poland once again as the need to secure his western front became more pressing. Polish families in the occupied zones were driven from their homes and packed into unheated cattle trucks which slowly headed for Siberia and the Soviet far east. Figures produced by the Ministry of Justice in London in 1949 suggested that around 1660 000 Polish soldiers and civilians were deported to the USSR (Stalin and the Poles, Ministry of Justice, London 1949).

With the gradual opening up of Soviet archives since 1989, figures are being revised by Polish scholars. Zofia Ciesielska, in a 1992 article, cites the following as more accurate, but still tentative, estimations. Approximately 12 000 Poles were interned in camps in Latvia before being transported to the USSR. Under the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact 210 000-230 000 Polish citizens were automatically considered Soviet citizens and were incorporated into the Soviet Army in 1940-41. According to various sources, between 250 000-350 000 Polish civilians were arrested between 1939 and 1941 and were taken to gulags, hard labour camps throughout Siberia, Kazakhstan and Arkhangel'sk districts. Many of these people were lost without trace. Approximately 336 000 Polish refugees who were running from the German army were also deported to the USSR in June 1940.
Civilian Deportations
In addition, between 1200 000 and 1500 000 permanent inhabitants of eastern Poland were taken to the USSR in the process of four deportations. Members of the 'General Langfitt Group' were represented in all of these deportations. Halina Juszczyk, who was a child of eight, was in the first block of transports.

On the 17th of September 1939, the Russians crossed the border. As my family were living only sixty kilometres from the border they were at our place at six o'clock in the evening. My father said goodbye to us that day and he went to the little town Niechniewicze. He never came back because they arrested him and all the other ex-servicemen from our district, including our Uncle Ludwig Majcher, my mother's brother. They were in prison in Nowogródek for three months and then they were deported to Russia. We don't know where and we never heard from them.
We went back home and it was a dreadful time. We had soldiers coming into the house, putting my mother against the wall, wanting to shoot her. We children cried. We didn't know what was happening. Then my mother had a nervous breakdown because she couldn't go on alone. I remember her sitting on the bed staring blankly at the wall. We didn't know what to do. She didn't cook for us. But there was very little to cook because the Russian soldiers took most things. A few days after the Russians came my grandmother came to stay with us. She provided great support to us because my mother was in a state of despair and unable to perform her normal tasks.
Then at two o'clock in the morning on 10 February 1940 they came knocking on the door with guns. There were two NKVD people with guns and some local sympathisers. They told us to pack up and be ready in two hours. We were four children. My sister Krystyna was only eleven, I was eight and a half, my brother was four and my sister was two. We all cried. We didn't know what was happening. It was very cold.
The locals that came into our house that night took pity on us and wrapped some of our possessions into bed covers for us to take on the sledge. They told us that we were going to be transferred to another district but we knew that wasn't true. We travelled for a few hours to the nearest town of Baranowicze and waited there about three days for the whole transport to be gathered together. Then the train started to travel towards Russia. This was the very first transport from our district.
Elizabeth Patro's (nèe Nahajska) family were also sent into exile in the first round of transportations. Although Elizabeth was only an innocent child of 5, she has very distinct flashes of memory about the night of 10 February 1940 because it was the night which started an 'endless limbo of lost souls'.

It was an intensely cold winter night, through a slightly ajar door, floated a soft stream of candle light, voices of my father and Uncle Janek and the quiet sobbing of my mother. Iza, my elder sister, tossed restlessly in her bed, and further, near the large window, Tolek, my younger brother, was fast asleep.
I was fully awake. Laying scared and motionless I listened to the continuous howling of the dogs, wailing of women and screams of children. At first very faint and far, far away, then closer and closer, until the tumult was upon all of us. Screaming we jumped out of our beds and ran toward the kitchen.
There was a very loud banging on the entrance door, then a gruff voice in Russian: 'Otwieraj!' (Open). A gust of freezing wintry air filled the room at the entry of three burly 'Saldats'. One of them jumped toward my father, pushed him against the wall and thrust his bayonet under his chin. 'Stoi!' (stand still) he shouted.
The second soldier was ordering my sobbing mother to pack: 'You have fifteen minutes so hurry'. The third guarded the door. Suddenly our St Bernard, Sultan, appeared. With his huge bulk, bristled-up coat and ferocious look he was growling menacingly at the soldier. Very, very slowly the saldat lifted his gun, aimed and fired. 'Sultan, Sultan!' we screamed, the dog managed one step back, gave one long yelp then fell heavily into the soft white snow.
Mother slowly went to the bedroom, took a large quilt and threw it over the carcass of our beloved dog. She did not cry. We children just stood and watched as the white quilt and white winter snow became slowly stained by bright red blood.
Chapter 2 - Deportation (continued)
Kazimierz Sosnowski was 11 years old, but still remembers the episodes leading to deportation clearly:

In January 1940 the NKVD arrested my father three times for interrogation. The first time they released him after a few hours. The second time he was with them half a day, and the third time they kept him for a day and a half. When he came home he said he was not going back to them because they were trying to make him an informer. He took some clothes and escaped from Polesie to Warsaw on 15 January 1940.
On 10 February the NKVD came at around midnight with rifles to wake us up. They put all four of us against the wall and started searching the house for documents, arms, ammunition, anything. I remember looking down the barrel of the rifle wondering when the bullet would come out. When they finished searching, the house was in a shambles. Everything was upside down and all over the floor. They told us to dress and took us to a certain place for interrogation. There was no interrogation. They took us to a place where they were grouping people before taking them to the train. Everybody else had clothes and food. We didn't have any.
On the way to the station we had to pass our house and the Russian soldiers allowed Mother to go inside and pick up whatever she could. When she got inside, she found that one of the local Byelorussians had put all our hams and bacon on the bed. My mother said, 'These belong to me', but they were too heavy for her to carry. He said, 'Your reign here is over now. These belong to me'. They started arguing but a Russian soldier intervened and told the local to carry those things to the sleigh. Mother packed whatever she could in some bedding but we had no time to prepare ourselves for the harsh winter. We were very unfortunate. We struck bad people.
The second wave of transports, totalling around 160 trains, departed in April 1940 and consisted of an estimated 320 000 people, mostly the families of men who had been arrested because they were members of the intelligentsia or had once been in the Polish military. The Trella family were among this group:

Not long after the Russians arrived in our city the people had to vote to either approve the annexation of eastern Poland - they called it western Ukraine - or for approval of the communist regime. I am not sure which it was. Nobody really had any choice because they would be arrested straight away if they voted incorrectly.
On 10 February 1940, when the first wave of deportation was taking place, we heard that sugar would be available at a particular place so we went there in the middle of the cold winter night to queue. While we were waiting a cart came down the road and one of the women in it yelled, 'Why are you bothering? We are being taken to Russia and you will all be taken too'. That was our first inkling of things to come but we as a family never expected that we would be deported. Still, because of the rumours every night, I would wake up if a lorry went by and listen to see if it was stopping in front of our house.
Then, on 13 April, in the middle of the night I was dreaming that we were being deported and in the dream I heard the knocking on our door. In that instant I woke up and the knocking was real. There were about six people. The man in charge came into the bedroom and read the official communique which said that we were an undesirable element in eastern Poland and we were being transported to the Soviet Union. They never told us what part of Russia they were going to take us to. One of the ordinary soldiers came into the bedroom and stressed that we should take the warm things so my mother had a large wooden chest and she packed practically all our clothes. They gave us only an hour to get ready but as the lorry that was taking us took longer we had time to pack all our clothes and some food. The whole household was going, including my grandparents. My Aunt wasn't there, which was fortunate. She was able to send us food parcels in the first few months of our exile. (Urszula Paszkowska nèe Trella)
Wieslawa Paszkiewicz (nèe Wojtasiewicz) was twelve and a half years old when her father was arrested on 22 February 1940. He was a public servant and they never heard what happened to him. Three weeks later, Wieslawa and her mother Apolonia were deported from Lwów.

On 13 April 1940 many thousands of mothers and children whose fathers had been arrested were taken. We only had half an hour to pack. The soldier who came told us that we would die in Russia but my mother put everything she could in sheets and blankets, packed like a swag. In one night six long trains went on to Russia from Lwów and in every single cattle truck there were fifty or sixty people. I don't know how many thousands went in just one night.
The third block of deportations took place over June and July of 1940 and consisted of some 240 000 people, including families of men who had been arrested and refugees from central and western Poland. For example, Tadeusz Dobrostanski's father, Jozef, was editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper, Kurier Baltycki in Gdynia on the Baltic Sea. Jozef was arrested in June 1940 and subsequently deported to Rybinsk near Vologda. Tadeusz Dobrostanski explained how his father attempted to enhance the safety of his young family against the advancing German army.

My father was a journalist, so he was very aware of the situation. Three days before the war started he sent my mother, brother and myself to our relations in Lwów, in south-eastern Poland. He thought we would be safer there because we were escaping the German blitzkrieg which started close to where we were living. My father joined the army and after the 1939 campaign was over, he survived and joined us in Lwów. When the Russians entered Poland on 17 September they started introducing Russian laws and regulations. The NKVD were very powerful: they knew everything and many people disappeared all of a sudden. One night at about one o'clock they knocked on our door and arrested my father because he was an officer in the Polish army. They gave him a short time and assured my crying mother it was only a short interrogation and that he would be sent home. Of course he wasn't and three or four days later, on a Sunday afternoon, as we returned from church, they came to arrest the three of us.
They gave us very little time to pick up our belongings. We were put on a lorry where there were other unfortunates already waiting. While we were driving to the station strange people, realising that we were deportees, were tossing whatever food they could on that lorry. We all shared that later on, on the train. We were taken to the railway station where they put us into cattle carriages, roughly sixty people in each. It was 26 June 1940 when we started the journey. We knew they were taking us east but that was all.
Finally in May and June 1941, just a short time before Germany attacked the USSR, the NKVD managed to round up another 200 000 families of men arrested after April 1940, as well as many city intelligentsia, railway workers and foresters. While these families had so far been 'saved' from the hardships of life in the outer reaches of the Soviet Union, Wladyslawa Smenda's brief account of life in Soviet occupied Poland speaks for itself:

When the war started in 1939 1 was left to teach but my husband was arrested by the Russians. He was in Stanislawow in prison and during these months I could visit him and give him small parcels and money so he could buy something in the prison. He was tried as an officer in a closed court because he fought in the 1921 war between Poland and Russia and was given the death sentence. The war was about the eastern border. I hired a lawyer who appealed and his sentence was changed to life with hard labour. This was in 1940. I don't know what happened to him but the last money I sent came back. That is all I know. I tried to find out if he was one of the men at Katyn.
A few months later, on 22 May 1941, the NKVD came at night and told us we were to be resettled. They took me and the children to Russia. My son, Janusz, was nearly ten, and Teresa was six. When we were in the cattle wagons, in the train being taken to Krasnoyarsk in Russia, the war between the Germans and Russia started. They broke the alliance between them. The train was needed for the soldiers, so we were unloaded and put in a field surrounded by soldiers. We were women and children. Lots of children. No men. Then we were taken to the station on lorries. It was awful.
Teresa Sosnowska (nèe Zebrowska) was the eldest daughter in a farming family in the Lomza district, east of the Vistula River, at the western point of the Russian invasion.
In 1939 when the war broke out our father was mobilised and was taken with the Polish army to Kozel'sk by the Russians. That was the camp where the officers, judges, and intelligentsia, were killed in Katyn. Only a very few were left. Father escaped by saying that he was not an officer, just a railway worker, so they let him out. A week after he returned home a neighbour told him that he was on the NKVD list so he went away. After that we never had a night's sleep because they were always coming around our buildings, interrogating my mother. Even my little three-year-old brother was questioned. My mother used to take us to her mother's place, quite a long way away, to visit father who was in that area. Only my elder brother and myself were allowed to see him, not my younger siblings, just in case they told the wrong people without understanding. We didn't see my father again after late 1940 or early 1941.
We expected to be deported one day because of our father and because there were a lot of people being deported from our area. We knew what to expect because my cousin's aunt was arrested and we had word from them. We were arrested in June 1941. We children were sleeping in the barn because it was a hot night. My elder brother escaped through a window. We had to go inside where they counted us. One of the Russians who came to arrest us had been billeted with us a few months before and thanks to him we were able to pack many more things than most people. He went through every little nook and told us what to take. We had ham and sausages and shpec4 because my uncle had slaughtered a pig not long before. They kept telling us not to worry, that we were going to join father. That made my mother very worried because she thought that he must have been arrested.
In the morning, they took us to the station where we were surrounded by Russian soldiers. They kept us there while they tried to find my brother and, because of that, my grandmother had time to bake us some bread and bring that to us, with a sack of potatoes. So we had a chance to say goodbye to my grandmother but they didn't find my brother. That evening, on 20th of June 1941, we were taken away. It was just two days before the war started between Germany and the Soviet Union.
These were among the last transports to leave Poland for the Soviet Union, where they joined many of their Polish compatriots as forced labourers in mines and lumber camps near the Arctic Circle, or to be dumped on the steppes of Kazakhstan. Over forty years later Ryszard Pawlowski reflected on the bemusement these events caused him as a child:

We were taken because my father worked for the government and because of his position in the army. He had also fought in the previous war against the Russians. I was only six or seven years old and my brother was younger. I don't see what harm we could have done to them and why they had to deport us but that was their policy. Who knows why it happened. It is really hard to understand why they were deporting children and women. I suppose we were just victims of war.
Chapter 3 - Exile in the USSR
The treatment of the Poles by the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1941 is still an unfamiliar story to many people. At the time, news of what was going on barely reached the west, and later in the war, when Britain and the United States became allies of the USSR, discussion of the episode was discouraged as tactless. Ascherson (1987, p.94) has observed that the true story only emerged in fragments in the post-war years, and has been 'overshadowed by the more spectacular and better-publicised savageries of the Nazi occupation of Poland and the rest of Europe'. Yet, it was no less brutal or cold blooded. As Anne Applebaum (1994, p.14) observed in an article in the Age:

Almost no one in the west considers (Stalin's) crimes to have been evil in the same visceral way that they feel Hitler's crimes to have been evil. Until recently, many argued that there was no way to commemorate Stalin's victims, because there was no proof of their identity or their numbers. This was always a somewhat disingenuous argument - witnesses and written memoirs abound.
Even if there is still a lack of interest in Stalin's victims there is much to be learned from those who survived their unwilling encouners with the regime, both for the knowledge of oppressive regimes which their stories offer and for an understanding of the sheer magnitude of human endurance in the face of war.

In particular, the strength of the women stands out. Faced with the forced removal of husbands, fathers and brothers, often without the opportunity to offer a farewell and fearing the worst for their future, they showed great courage. The loneliness, the seemingly impossible task of feeding and protecting their children, the desperation in losing contact with husbands and families, and the physical endurance needed to carry out work for which they were ill equipped are all things most of us can barely imagine. The children too were forced to take on tasks and responsibilities far beyond their years. That so many survived the brutal journeys which were ahead of them is a true testament of their faith and strength.

The Journeys to the USSR
The cattle trucks into which the Polish deportees were loaded were headed for different destinations thousands of kilometres away in the depths of the Soviet Union. The distances covered in the course of these transportations can be hard to visualise, even when they are plotted on a map of the former Soviet Union. All of the transportations took their human cargo to various kolhoz, or collective farms, west of the Ural Mountains into the forest, north into the Arkhangel'sk district, into the tundra and marshlands of Siberia and south west to Kazakhstan and Kirghistan on the steppes of Central Asia. Lucjan Królikowski, a young Polish seminarian who was transported to Arkhangel'sk, maintains that by deporting and dispersing the Poles over these vast territories, the intention of the Soviet government was 'to accelerate their assimilation into the local element and thereby make it impossible for them to organise' (Królikowski, 1983, pp. 16-17).

None of the deportees were informed of their destination beforehand or told how long they might expect to be cooped up on the journey. Bogdan Harbuz remembered how his family were driven to the station:

We could see thousands and thousands of other people in the same predicament. We were all loaded on to cattle trucks, which were then closed before the transport started off for Russia. At the same time hundreds of other transports from the different parts of Poland under Russian domination started towards the same destination - Siberia. Some people got there in a week or two weeks but our transport went at a very slow pace: the trip took approximately five to six weeks. In all that time we were given no food and very little water and, because of that, quite a few people died. At the sidings we saw heaps of bodies from the previous transports lying piled up under the snow.
Królikowski (1983, p. 17) summarised the situation, 'Hunger, disease, dirt and exhaustion decimated the exiles along the way. Most of the victims were among the weakest, the elderly, but little children also died en masse …' during these lengthy journeys. Several people described how deportees in the cattle trucks tried to bolster up their spirits as they left their beloved homeland. For example, Jerzy Mazak recounted the chaos at the station as crowds milled around outside:

there were people coming and going, noise and crying as families were separated. Then, a significant thing happened when the doors were shut. People started praying and singing hymns. That went on for the whole trip. We stopped for other wagons to join. It took seventeen days to reach Kazakhstan. During the trip people were sick and it was cold. When we made stops there was boiling water to make some tea and people were delegated to go out for provisions, bread and soup. We had very little food. At times we would pull up alongside another train which held prisoners of war and people would call out to find out who was on the train. People were looking for their loved ones. They were dramatic scenes. Being a child, I wouldn't have had the full understanding.
In a similar vein, Urszula Paszkowska recalled that when their train stopped in Lwów, they were greeted by an 'amazing sight'. The station was:

covered with a multitude of people, mainly youngsters, who had heard about the deportation. Many of the young Polish boys sneered at the convoys of Russian soldiers. The soldiers looked helpless because even if they had started shooting, they couldn't have shot the thousands of people who were there. We were given our first meal there, a bucket of hot soup, and then we proceeded eastwards. As our train started rolling, the whole carriage started singing religious songs. When we reached the border, the difference between the two areas was massive. In Poland the fields were small. The countryside looked like a chess board. When we crossed the border it was just vast areas of dark soil. In some parts there were beetroots or other crops still not collected from the previous year. The Polish countryside looked somehow cheerful where the Russian one was very depressing.
Memories of the train journey to the Soviet Union remain strongly etched in the minds of most people, unless they were very young or became sick on the journey east. Elizabeth Patro, reflecting upon a young child's memory of the journey east, has 'vague recollections of dark overcrowded wagons, pangs of hunger, the thirst and the stench, long endless journeys, pine forests, freezing cold, snow, snow, snow, then the strange country of Russia, its language, its people'. In a similar vein, Zenon Zebrowksi, who was barely 4 years old at the time his family were deported in 1941, describes his memories of these years as 'underexposed snapshots, dark, with not too much detail. There is no continuity. For instance, going to Russia I remember seeing the forests from the train, going through mountains and tunnels. There was no sign of habitation'.

The conditions of travel were uniformly abysmal, made worse by the length of time people were shut in the trains as they traversed huge distances across the Soviet Union. The time people spent locked in the confined, unhygienic trains varied according to their destination. In all reported cases, each cattle truck was loaded with fifty to sixty people, indiscriminately packed together in trucks lined with planks on which they sat and slept throughout the journey. In some transports there were complete families but for the most part the transports consisted predominantly of women and children. Generally, there were only small ventilation slots to serve as windows, and the carriages were frequently scaled until the train passed the border into the Soviet Union. Some cattle trucks contained a small stove, although fuel was scarce. A hole in the floor served as a latrine. When they were available, blankets or sheets were placed around the hole in an effort to maintain a degree of privacy, but this was not always possible.

It took us two weeks to reach our destination, Arkhangel'sk. I remember when they first opened the cattle truck and the guards said we could relieve ourselves, men women and children all together, squatting by the train. There was no shelter so it was very embarrassing but towards the end of the journey no one was paying any attention any more. It had to be accepted as it was. (Kazimierz Sosnowski)
The supply of food varied from transport to transport. Where the deportees were fortunate enough to be given food by the Russian authorities, it generally consisted of buckets of watery soup or the occasional cabbage pie. In many instances, no food or water was supplied and the deportees had to rely on whatever they had been able to pack in the brief hours before being taken from their homes.

They opened the doors perhaps twice, to give us a couple of buckets of drinking water and what they called a fish soup which was in fact boiled water with sliced onions and herring heads floating in it. We were really dependent on the food which we managed to take for that journey. That was it. (Tadeusz Dobrostanski)
Irena Makowiecka, who was deported in April 1940 with her mother and three siblings, recounts:

There were only women and children, very few men, because we were in a transport of families of the men who had already been arrested. We stopped at stations and were given hot water. Somebody had some beautiful, huge white onions and they tasted wonderful. This was luxury. I didn't realise how tasty onions can be until we went on the train! I don't remember that much from the travelling. You switch off and wait when you are frightened and when bad things happen to you; you just try to survive the best you can.
The final wave of transports left Poland just before war was declared between Germany and Russia in June 1941. Wladyslawa Smenda, who was deported with her 10-year-old son Janusz and 6-year-old daughter Teresa in May 1941, described how they were shut in the cattle wagons for nearly three weeks:

We slept on the bare boards. We were lucky because we had been allowed to pack a few things, so we had coats to lie on. Some people had nothing. There were only tiny windows and once a day they opened the doors and gave us soup and water. I never ate any. I was so numb that the people in the train were afraid I was going mad. They always put me by the window so I could look out. I didn't look out for my children but the other people gave them something to eat. Then, when we were north of Krasnoyarsk, by the Yenisei River, the war between the Germans and Russians started and the train was needed for the army. We were unloaded and put in a field surrounded by soldiers. We were women and children. No men. It was awful but I was better when they put me out from the train. I started to think then.
Also in the last wave of transports from Poland were the Zebrowski family.

We were taken away on the evening of 20th June 1941 and the war broke out on the 22nd. When we were in Minsk, on the Russian side of the border, the last two trucks on our train were bombed so we were very quickly whisked away from there. We didn't stop for a long time. It was very hot. There was a lack of water but my mother had baskets of eggs and we drank those raw eggs to help our thirst. I don't know how long we had been travelling for, but our bread was already mouldy. One night, we stopped at a station and Mother took one loaf of this mouldy bread and threw it from our truck. There was a woman in a beautiful coat and she grabbed it. You should have seen her face. It was covered with that mould but she was eating with such a hunger. My mother cried and said, 'Is that what my children are going to?' She didn't throw any more bread away. (Teresa Sosnowska nèe Zebrowska)
Chapter 3 - Exile in the USSR (continued)
Life in the USSR
The Polish exiles' experiences in the Soviet Union are difficult to encapsulate. All participants in this project had strong recollections of this time in their lives, and each account ranged across a diversity of themes, all pertinent to an understanding of survival. Together, their stories highlight the complex nature of human endurance in the face of extreme physical and psychological hardship.

Polish deportees were sent to a range of geographical locations for varying lengths of time, dependent upon the date of their arrest and deportation. Once in the Soviet Union, their immediate fate was largely determined by the people who controlled the local kolhozes.

Some adults, labelled as wrieditieli or 'undesirables', were left to their own devices, with no opportunity to work for food provisions. Others were forced into a variety of labouring jobs such as tree felling and wood cutting, digging holes, snow clearing, brick making, milking, shovelling grain, and cooking. Access to both accommodation and food varied from kolhoz to kolhoz, as did relations with the Soviet authorities and local inhabitants. Some families were able to establish limited contact with relatives back in Poland and were assisted by periodic parcels of food or money, others had to rely solely on the possessions they had been able to take with them. As many deportees had been given little time to pack, their ability to supplement meagre rations through the sale or exchange of personal possessions varied greatly.

Polish children deported to USSR after 1941
(Courtesy of Tadeusz Dobrostanski)

In some communities children were forced to attend Soviet schools, while in others they were left to their own devices. Occasionally children found paid work to help the survival of their diminished family units, in other families the eldest children aided family survival by undertaking the care of younger siblings, and by 'hunting and foraging' for additional sources of food and fuel.

All Polish exiles had to endure an attack upon their religious and political ideologies. As Roman Catholics forced to live under a communist regime they were subject to various degrees of religious persecution, as well as an enforced acceptance of a communal work ethic which allowed no room for the strong sense of individuality so cherished by Poles.

Perhaps the most effective way to illustrate both the diversity and the common experiences of deportation is to allow participants to speak for themselves. These edited excerpts give some indication of the conditions which had to be survived and the ways in which individuals managed in the face of adversity. For ease, they have been sorted into three sections, the first covering experiences of exile in Siberia, the second detailing experiences in Kazakhstan and the third covering other experiences of deportation. The stories are presented in order of age of the participant at the start of exile.
Life in the USSR
The Polish exiles' experiences in the Soviet Union are difficult to encapsulate. All participants in this project had strong recollections of this time in their lives, and each account ranged across a diversity of themes, all pertinent to an understanding of survival. Together, their stories highlight the complex nature of human endurance in the face of extreme physical and psychological hardship.

Polish deportees were sent to a range of geographical locations for varying lengths of time, dependent upon the date of their arrest and deportation. Once in the Soviet Union, their immediate fate was largely determined by the people who controlled the local kolhozes.

Some adults, labelled as wrieditieli or 'undesirables', were left to their own devices, with no opportunity to work for food provisions. Others were forced into a variety of labouring jobs such as tree felling and wood cutting, digging holes, snow clearing, brick making, milking, shovelling grain, and cooking. Access to both accommodation and food varied from kolhoz to kolhoz, as did relations with the Soviet authorities and local inhabitants. Some families were able to establish limited contact with relatives back in Poland and were assisted by periodic parcels of food or money, others had to rely solely on the possessions they had been able to take with them. As many deportees had been given little time to pack, their ability to supplement meagre rations through the sale or exchange of personal possessions varied greatly.

Polish children deported to USSR after 1941
(Courtesy of Tadeusz Dobrostanski)

In some communities children were forced to attend Soviet schools, while in others they were left to their own devices. Occasionally children found paid work to help the survival of their diminished family units, in other families the eldest children aided family survival by undertaking the care of younger siblings, and by 'hunting and foraging' for additional sources of food and fuel.

All Polish exiles had to endure an attack upon their religious and political ideologies. As Roman Catholics forced to live under a communist regime they were subject to various degrees of religious persecution, as well as an enforced acceptance of a communal work ethic which allowed no room for the strong sense of individuality so cherished by Poles.

Perhaps the most effective way to illustrate both the diversity and the common experiences of deportation is to allow participants to speak for themselves. These edited excerpts give some indication of the conditions which had to be survived and the ways in which individuals managed in the face of adversity. For ease, they have been sorted into three sections, the first covering experiences of exile in Siberia, the second detailing experiences in Kazakhstan and the third covering other experiences of deportation. The stories are presented in order of age of the participant at the start of exile