I was born Aniela Wawrzynczyk on the 13th November 1930 in a village in Eastern Poland called Turna, in the district of Slonim. The nearest town was Slonim and the nearest large city was Nowogrodek. This area was part of Poland from 1920 to 1939, when it became Byelorussia (prior to that it was Lithuania).
My mother was Ludwika Wawrzynczyk (nee Majkrzak) who was born in 30.9.1879 near Piotrkow Trybunalski, a city in the centre of Poland near Lodz and my father was Piotr Wawrzynczyk, who died when I was about 2 years old (in 1932) after we moved to Turna, Slonim.
My parents, my brother Janek (born 1906), my sisters Ewa (born 1914), Marta (born 1917), Leokadia (born 1923,) and Sabina (born 1925, were all born near Piotrkow Trybunalski, but I was born after we moved to Turna which was sometime between 1925 and 1930.
After the First World War, Poles were offered land at half price to encourage them to settle on the eastern borders of Poland and we bought a 3-bedroom farm and moved there. As far as I can remember we all lived on the farm including Piotr Kozak and Janek Zacharkiewicz my sister’s husbands and Janka, Piotr and Marta’s daughter who was born in 1937.
At the farm we kept geese and chickens and we also grew vegetables, potatoes and wheat. We had a horse and also some fields of pasture where we kept a few cows.
I went to school in Choroszewicze, which was 3 kms away, and I walked there and back daily. My best friend at school was called Helenka. My job on the farm was to look after the geese after school.
DEPORTATION to RUSSIA
In 1939 the Russians invaded Poland and declared the Polish settlers on the eastern borders to be “enemies of the Soviet state” and therefore criminals. Our Polish citizenship was revoked and we were sentenced to deportation to forced labour camps. On the 10th February 1940, 3 Russian soldiers came to our house at six o’clock in the morning and told us all to dress and quickly pack a small bag each. We were taken on horse drawn sleighs to Baranowicze where a train was waiting.
We were put into cattle cars, about 40 or 50 people in each one with no windows just a few gaps at the top of the carriage for air, a metal stove and a hole in the floor for a toilet. On each side of the carriage there were large wooden platforms, like big shelves, two high, (like bunk beds) with straw, and people sat on them by day and slept side by side on them at night. The carswere locked from the outside with padlocks.
We travelled about 1,000 miles in the train for over three weeks. It was winter and snow often blocked the tracks. The temperature was often minus 40 degrees C. When the train stopped, we were sometimes allowed to get off the train and barter for food with the locals. Once a day we got bread and a bucket with some gruel or soup from the Russian soldiers. Many people died on the journey, particularly babies and old people and their bodies were just left at the side of the tracks when the train stopped, as there was no time to bury them.
We finally reached Archangelsk on the White Sea, from where we travelled by sledges to the forced labour camp; I think that ours was called Shoksha. There were long open wooden barracks each with a stove in one corner and several families lived in each barrack. We were used as slave labour and had to work to earn money to eat. Everyone except my Mum and Marta, who had a young child each, worked in the forest. Piotr, Janek, Ewa (26 years old), Lodzia (23 years old) cut and hauled trees, Sabina (15 years old) stripped the branches and bark off the trees and burned them. I was only 10 and Janka was only 3 so we didn’t have to work in the forest and stayed with my Mum. The trees had to be hauled to the river and in spring were floated downriver to the sawmills to be cut into planks.
I went to school in the mornings and in the afternoon helped Mum to chop wood into kindling for the wood burning tractors, which we got paid for with a bowl of soup and some bread. When it got warmer we searched in the forest for nuts and berries and mushrooms for extra food. We were constantly hungry and cold and infested with lice and bitten by bed bugs. There was no medicine or health care and many people died. Each family cooked for itself so how much food they could get depended on how many were fit for work.
A survivor wrote this description of her camp, which was similar to ours:
“The camp was a large enclosure surrounded by barbed wire fences with high towers for the guards at each corner. Inside were camp offices, kitchens, and the barracks. The prisoners would stay inside the barracks and sleep on bunk beds that were pieces of wood with no mattresses or coverings. The cold was intolerable, reaching temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Each day they were awakened at 5 o’clock in the morning and divided into groups of twenty. Clothed in rags, they had to walk for several miles in darkness and cold to reach a place where they would chop and haul lumber for twelve hours a day. The prisoners had to work regardless of weather. People would get frostbite; amputations (performed in primitive conditions) were common. Some died from trees falling on them: they were unable to escape because the snow was waist high. My mother had to haul and burn branches, which sometimes were as big as a large tree. No food was given to the prisoners during the day. Sometimes, as my mother remembers, she would bring a piece of frozen black bread, melt snow in a can over a fire, put bread crumbs in it and drink it. In summer, men had to stand knee-deep in water or mud for twelve hours. As my mother recalls, despite mild temperatures of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, there were swarms of mosquitoes that literally ate people alive-from their bites they were all swollen. “We used tar and gasoline. No medicine, no medical supplies, no soap. Appalling sanitary conditions. People were dying of starvation and exhaustion, and many went blind because of malnourishment and a lack of vitamins.”
Of the 1.7 million Polish people deported to labour camps in the north of Russia (Siberia, Kazakhstan etc) only about a third survived.
In 194, when the Germans went to war with Russia, the Russians wanted the Poles to fight with them against the Germans, so a Polish-Soviet treaty was signed (the Sikorski-Mayski agreement) and a decree of amnesty was issued on the 12th August 1941. Our Polish citizenship was returned and we had the right to leave the camps.
We heard that a Free Polish Army was being formed in the Southern States of Russia and all the men from the camp set off to enlist on a 1,000 mile journey, leaving the women and children behind. Piotr managed to get to Tashkent, Uzbekistan and enlisted in the 7th Division and came back to collect Marta and Janka to live near his army camp. I think that he got separated from Janek on the long journey to find the army, as it was all word of mouth about where it was being formed.
We (Mum, Ewa, Lodzia, Sabina and I) decided to try and get closer to the Polish army camps so got permission to travel and caught the first train going South and ended up in Uzbekistan. To get some food we lived at another labour camp working in the cotton fields for a few months and eventually Janek found us (again information about who was where travelled by word of mouth so it was incredible that he found us at all) and took Ewa back to his army base at Dzhalal-Abad, in Kyrgyzstan, where he had enlisted with the 5th Division.
Soon after we heard rumours that the Russians were stopping Poles leaving the labour camps and so Mum, Lodzia, Sabina and I ran away one night – we walked all night to the nearest railway line and jumped on the first slow train that passed and travelled any way we could as we had no official travel papers until we got to Dzhalal-Abad and managed to find Janek and Ewa. Janek registered us with the army as his dependents, so we got fed and housed.
About 41,000 soldiers and 74,000 civilians left Russia from March to August 1942, leaving about 115,000 people behind in Krasnovodsk.
We were the lucky ones. I was very young so remember little about this but here is someone else’s account of that time:
“Arriving at the army reception camps in Tashkent, Dzhalal-Abad, etc the refugees attempted to enlist in the Polish army, for which the Soviets had allocated some food and provisions. There was nothing, however, for the hundreds of thousands of hungry civilians, mostly women and children, who were camped outside the military bases. Instead of increasing provisions to the camps, the Soviets actually cut them. In response, the Polish army enlisted as many of the civilians as they could into its ranks, even children (regardless of age or sex) to save them from starvation. In the baking heat, dysentery, typhus, and scarlet fever became rampant. Communal graves in Uzbekistan could not keep up with the numbers who were dying.
The evacuation of Polish nationals from the Soviet Union took place by sea from Krasnovodsk, Turkmenistan to Pahlavi in Persia now northern Iran (today called Bandar-e Anzali) A makeshift city comprising over 2000 tents (provided by the Iranian army) was hastily erected along the shoreline of Pahlavi to accommodate the refugees. It stretched for several miles on either side of the lagoon: a vast complex of bathhouses, latrines, disinfection booths, laundries, sleeping quarters, bakeries and a hospital. Every unoccupied house in the city was requisitioned, every chair appropriated from local cinemas. Nevertheless, the facilities were still inadequate.
The Iranian and British officials who first watched the Soviet oil tankers and coal ships list into the harbour at Pahlavi on the 25th March 1942 had little idea how many people to expect or what physical state they might be in. Only a few days earlier, they had been alarmed to hear that civilians, women and children, were to be included among the evacuees, something for which they were totally unprepared. The ships from Krasnovodsk were grossly overcrowded. Every available space on board was filled with passengers. Some of them were little more than walking skeletons covered in rags and lice. Holding fiercely to their precious bundles of possessions, they disembarked in their thousands at Pahlavi and kissed the soil of Persia. Many of them sat down on the shoreline and prayed, or wept for joy. They were free at last!
They had not quite escaped, however. Weakened by two years of starvation, hard labour and disease, they were suffering from a variety of conditions including exhaustion, dysentery, malaria, typhus, skin infections, chicken blindness and itching scabs. General Esfandiari, appointed by the Iranians to oversee the evacuation, met with his Polish and British counterparts to discuss how to tackle the spread of Typhus, the most serious issue facing them.
It was decided to divide the reception area into two parts: an infected area and a clean area, separated from each other by a barbed wire fence. On arrival, those who were suspected of having infectious diseases were quarantined in the closed section for four days, or else sent to the camp hospital. 40% of patients admitted to the hospital were suffering from typhus. Most of these died within a month or two of arriving. At this time there were only 10 doctors and 25 nurses in the whole of Pahlavi. In the clean area, the arrivals were channelled into a series of tents where their clothes were collected and burned. They were then showered, deloused, and some of them had their heads shaved in the interests of hygiene. As a result, women began to wear headscarves to conceal their baldness. Finally, they were given sheets, blankets and fresh clothes by the Red Cross and directed to living quarters.
Food provision was inappropriate. Corned beef, fatty soup and lamb, distributed by the British soldiers, caused havoc with digestions accustomed only to small pieces of dry bread. They could not tolerate the rich food, and a large number died purely from the results of over-eating. (There are 639 people buried in the Polish cemetery in Pahlavi, and more than 3,000 in the 7 Polish cemeteries in Iran).
The refugees remained in Pahlavi for a period of a few days to several months before being transferred to other, more permanent camps in Tehran. A constant stream of trucks transported the exiles by awkward twisted roads from the Caspian to Quazvin, where they were put up for the night on school floors, before continuing their journey next morning to the capital.”
We met up again with Marta and Janka in Tehran. Piotr managed to get leave and visited her there. From Teheran our whole family group sailed to Karachi together. Another large contingent of refugees were sent to Africa. Many thousands of women and children were left behind.
My sister Sabina became very ill on the journey. They thought it was malaria or typhus but it was sunstroke and she died three days after landing and is buried in a cemetery in Karachi. She was just 18 years old.
REFUGEE CAMP IN INDIA
From Karachi we were taken to Valivade, near Kolhapur - there were 5,000 Polish refugees in the camp mainly women and children but some elderly men unfit to fight and priests.
The camp was divided into 5 districts. We lived in the 1st District. We lived in a barrack made of bamboo matting.
It was subdivided into 6 or 7 separate living quarters each one having 2 rooms and a kitchen. I lived with my Mum and Lodzia, and in the same barrack lived my sister Ewa, my sister Marta with her children Mietek and Janka, and Danusia Postek and her mother (she is now Gorska and lives in Reading) plus a few other families. Danusia was my best friend, we had met on the ship.
There was an Administration at the camp and we were given money from funds from England and I think America.
There were shops in the camp run by the local Indian population where we bought our food.
There was a hospital with Polish doctors and nurses. A Catholic Church with two priests and each district had a Primary school. There was also one Secondary School where children from all the districts went, technical college for teaching accountants and an agricultural college.
Two officers from the Polish army were sent to India to set up a Polish Scouting movement. Druh Pancewicz and Druh Rysio Peszkowski (who much later became a priest in America and became the Priest for the Polish Scouting movement worldwide).
Halina Szafranska was the main guide leader (Druzynowa) for the 1st District Primary School and Danka Pniewska was my pack leader (zastepowa). She made me her assistant (pod-zastepowa). Danka now lives in Ealing (she was the compere at the recent commemoration event at POSK). I took my guiding vows (Przyrzeczenie) November 12th 1943 at Valivade camp.
Jagoda Krolikowka was the main guide leader (Druzynowa) for the secondary school – she now lives in New York and is now Zwislowska and we talk on the phone sometimes.
My sisters Marta, Ewa and Lodzia were too old to be in the guides. Lodzia took a dress making course at the camp and worked in the sewing rooms.
INDIA TO ENGLAND
We were in India from 1943 and were there when the Germans surrendered in May 1945, but as “displaced persons” we then had to wait for permission to emigrate
Once the wives got permission to join their husbands in England, Ewa (33 years old), Marta (30 years old), Janka (9 years old) and Mietek (4 years old) sailed on the SS Empire Brent, which was travelling from Bombay and sailed into SOUTHAMPTON on the 26th September 1947 with 968 Polish displaced persons from camps in India.
Piotr managed to get a job in Sheffield when he was demobbed and they lived on Chipping house Lane off Abbeydale Road.
Janek Zacharkiewicz got a job on a farm not far from the camp we were in and lived there with Ewa and later they moved to Sheffield where they lived until they died.
My mother (68 years old), Lodzia (25 years old), and I (17 years old), sailed from India in the SS Ormonde which was sailing from Brisbane to London and picked up 245 Polish displaced persons from camps in India, arriving in TILBURY, London on the 8th January 1948. Oleg Zawadzki who had married my sister Lodzia by proxy, met her for the first time at Tilbury docks and took her to live on the farm where he was working near Basingstoke.
From Tilbury we were taken to a hostel in Daglingworth, Gloucestershire (near Cirencester) for a while and were then sent to Howberry Park, Wallingford. My Mum lived there while I was sent to boarding school at Stowell Park in Gloucestershire to study.
I met my husband Czeslaw in Howberry Park. During the school holidays, he used to visit his aunt Aniela Cymerman and cousin Danka Zychowicz who shared a bunker with my mother and myself. Danka and her sister Wanda had been orphaned in Russia, so were looked after by their Aunt Aniela Cymerman (nee Zychowicz) and had been in India too. Danka’s sister Wanda married an American GI she met in India so went to the States from there and later sent an invitation to her sister Danka who then went to America and met and married Pawel Marczak. They live in Linden, New Jersey with their family. Edward and Czeslaw Cymerman took their mother Aniela to Chicago when they were demobilised.
In 1949, I finished school and wanted to continue my studies, but Czeslaw wanted us to get married straight away. Ewa, Marta and Lodzia with their husbands were now all living in Sheffield, so Mum and I moved up there.
My mother didn’t want me to marry Czeslaw until he had a job, so he gave up his chance to go to college as an ex -serviceman and moved to Sheffield and got a job. We got married when I was 19 and Czeslaw was 23, on the 6th August 1949 at St. Maries RC church in Sheffield. Father Michael Szymankiewicz married us.
Source: Silo of Research documents ( https://silo.tipsdownloadaniela-wawrzynczyk-deportation-to-russia# )
Copyright: Wawrztnczyk family