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Antonina lives in a small village in the Jarosław district in Poland, and likes to talk about her past. There is a lot of hunour in her stories, despite the fact that the Second World War took away the best years of her youth. - she was 17 years old. Probably thanks to the fact that she was young, she managed to survive there. In Poland, there are about 50,000 Siberians, people of steadfast character, who on February 10, 1940, because of Soviet ethnic cleansing of the eastern borderlands, were deported deep into Russia.


The first deportation involved 140,000 people. Poles account for 70% of all deportees. Entire families are taken without exception. Antonina remembers this event perfectly.  It was in the morning, a Russian military officer entered their house with others, told them to get dressed and pack the most necessary things. They had heard rumors earlier that they would want to drive them out. She could speak a little Russian and kept asking where they were taking them. The commander couldn't take it anymore. She asked: "To Siberia?! Are you taking us there?!" "Da," he replied. They loaded their hastily gathered possessions onto a sleigh.


At the nearby train station, they boarded the train. The wagons were overloaded, they could not take all their belongings, most of them stay at the station. Antonina's family consisted of 8 people, they all leave. Most Poles suffered a similar fate. The average train consisted of over 50 freight cars, each of which held up to 30 people. When they were going through the Urals, it seemed to her that there was another train behind the mountain, as their train was so long. There were beautiful views in the mountains. You could see it through a crack in the wagon wall, The train with the exiles was headed deep into Russia along the Minsk - Moscow - Kazan - Omsk – Novosibirsk route. Along the way, the people are dropped off in various designated regions of the eastern part of the USSR. Antonina ended up in the Novosibirsk region.


The mortality of people from the first deportation is the highest. They ended up in settlements where there is a lot of work discipline and very difficult weather conditions, snow and frost. The exiles were logging the forest. There were iron single beds, and they couldn't all fit in. Antonina and one sister slept for a month under the bed on the bare ground. Later they were given a separate unit and things were better there. They were given frozen beetroots in the spring, half-rotten and gouged out eyes of a cow to eat. The resourcefulness and solidarity of people helped them survive difficult situations, they use their knowledge and experience in working on the farm. Antonina refuses to work on Sundays and together with her sister, she collects grain, which will help obtain at least a handful of crops next year. As a result, she is threatened with deportation to the eastern end of the USSR.

Antonina's brothers initially work together with family. Later, however, they are drafted to the army, as the Russian army needs soldiers to fight the Germans. They go to the front, fight at Lenino, operate an anti-aircraft gun, Franciszek, hit by shrapnel, is transported to the hospital, about Kazimierz they don't get exact news. Franciszek tries to find his brother, to no avail. They found out about her brother's fate only after returning to Poland. The wounded man ended up in a camp in Finland, according to a man from a neighbouring town.

Man can endure a lot; he can also adapt to new conditions. The work is hard, but the rigor is a little less. Friendships are made, a foreign language begins to be understood. In moments of respite, there is time for a story, songs, memories of Poland, everything that gives a shadow of hope for a better future. Antonina has a notebook that she keeps in a decorated wardrobe. The cover is already quite damaged, worn, but you can see that it is a valuable item. Drawings and sketches on yellowed pages. From that time, her greatest pleasure was painting and drawing. She and her sisters also did embroidery. Thanks to this, they survived the war and Siberia. When they got to Siberia, they didn't have much. In the drawings are landscapes from Siberia, animals, birds, portraits, the intricately made portrait of Kościuszko with the clear date "1944". She managed to ask the commandant for some paper and a pencil. and for that I managed to get bread or potatoes. Then she got a notebook in which she made drawings for herself. They even wanted to send her to Krakow to an art school, but somehow nothing came of it.

There are several paintings hanging in Antonina's room. An old painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa attracts attention. You can see that the frame is new, as it doesn't match the dirty picture. No need to wait for the next story. It seems that none of the items in Antonina's room were there accidentally, each has its own story. When they were told to pack, the sister took the painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa. She hid it in a box with things that they were allowed to take, and the commander who was watching us says: "Oh... God's Mother doesn't help you here." And her sister said: "Maybe sometimes she will help!" And then all their things were stolen and this box was left, they had hidden the most important things there.

Historians say that of the approximately 800,000 sent deep into Russia, 320,000 died in all four deportations. The exact number is difficult to determine due to incomplete information from the Russian archives. Most of the deportees returned to Poland and tried to rebuild their lives. The experience of freedom is priceless.  Antonina has said,” When we found out that we were going to go, we were so happy that I became completely weak, and I couldn't do anything, not at all. At that time, I was walking with a hoe to chop potatoes in the collective farm.”

SOURCE:  Feb 10, 2011 article in

Source: Article for Rzeszow TV - Text: Łukasz Sieńczak - Photos: Katarzyna Maryjka

Copyright: Chorzepa Family

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