top of page


Anna Tomera was 9 when she and her brother, Alister, then 11, were sent to a children's shelter. Their youngest sister had just died of starvation.Tomera's mother was afraid the same fate could befall her other children so she kept only six-year-old Natly.


The year was 1 942. It was two years after the family had been forcibly deported from eastern Poland to the Siberia by the Russians. (The Russians had invaded eastern Poland two weeks after the Germans had invaded from the west on 1 September 1939. The Russians soon began their program of ethnic cleansling by four mass deportations in 1940 and 1941.)  "There was no food," says Tomera. "We were simply starving." More than 1.6 million Poles were likewise deported between 1939 and 1941 while the Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland.

9,000 of the Polish children, victims of starvation and harsh conditions, ended up in shelters / orphanages, first in the Soviet Union and later all over the world. Tomera's family was deported in 1940. She's not sure, but thinks they ended up near Gorky. It was a forested area, she remembers. Her father cut wood; her mother worked in a small shop.

In the fall of 1941, the Soviet Union declared an 'amnesty' for the exiled Poles, but by then all of Poland was occupied by Germany, so they could not go back there. In March of 1942, Tomera's family reached the staging point of the Polish Army in Uzbekhistan, a Soviet republic in central Asia. Her father joined the army and was never again heard from. The rest of the family lived on a collective farm for a few months. Tomera's sister, Justine, then 3, died about three weeks later.

Tomera says her mother put her and Alister in the children's shelter hoping that, when the ground thawed in the spring, she could grow enough food to feed them. She couldn't. Tomera says the harsh conditions took their toll on everyone, and many of the children in the shelters fell prey to disease and illness.

Anna Tomera was evacuated from the USSR when the Polish Army evacuated to Persia (now Iran),and it was decided to ship them elsewhere - away from any war zones. Tomera was sent to a Polish refugee camp in Uganda; Alister was sent to a Polish refugee camp in South Africa.

Alister joined Tomera in Uganda about three years later. For some reason, Tomera by then had forgotten she had a brother. When he joined her, she said, she had to get to know him all over again. Tomera says the two were constantly being moved to new orphanages. She doesn't know the exact number, but guesses at least 10.

They were mostly in Africa, including Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and Kenya. In 1949, the two stayed in a centre in Germany for a month. That August, they and some 150 other Polish orphans were sent to Canada.

Here, Tomera stayed in boarding schools run by nuns. Later, she studied nursing at Ste.Justine Hospital. In 1952, she met Edward Tomera at a Polish youth dance in Montreal. The two married and bought a farm in Mansonville and had two children.

In 1971, they retired from the dairy business. They sold 200 acres of their property, kept 13 for themselves and built themselves a new house. Until three years ago, Tomera and Alister didn't know that their mother and Natly were still alive. She had gone to Poland about 12 years ago looking for them, but there the Red Cross said she'd need more information for them to try to' trace her mother. "I didn't know where I was born or my mother's maiden name."


Three years ago, says Tomera, Alister got a letter from the Polish embassy. "My mother and my sister were looking for me and my brother." Tomera flew to Poland to meet them a few months later. "We cried all day." Despite the reunion, Tomera says she still suffers a sense of tremendous loss. "The past is the past," she says, trying to console herself. "Now," she says, "it's the future.".

Source & Copyright: Montreal, The Gazette, Sunday. March11,1990

bottom of page