A Short memoir about the inhuman survival of our family sent by Stalin to the Altaijski region in Siberia, Kyrgisia and Kazakhstan in the years 10.2.1940 – 15.05.1946
Early in the morning of 10th February 1940 at about 4 – 5a.m. we were awakened by a loud knocking and battering at the door of our house with screams of “Open the door!”
My father, Adam, jumped out of bed and went to the door ‘they’ were still screaming,
“Open the door!”
When he opened the door, he saw six to eight armed men. They were acquaintances - Ukrainian ‘Banderowcy’ – they were saying to Adam, “Everyone must leave. Take with you only necessary things that are ready to hand and food for several days and load everybody on to the sledge because you are being thrown out of our land, from ‘Independent Ukraine’”.
After we had loaded ourselves on to the sledge, they took us to the railway station at Kopiczynce and there, already in a cattle wagon were Leon and his wife, Jozef his wife Maria and son Mieczyslaw, Michal, Wladek, Magdalena, Janek and Staszek and we were attached to them. Besides our family in this cattle wagon there were other families, altogether more than 60 persons, women and children, old and young, middle aged men, and even people who were ill and who died during the trip and were taken off the wagon without a funeral like needless unimportant things.
The wagon doors were padlocked and were surrounded by Russian and Ukraine armed guards. There were about 100 wagons full of people at the station in Kopiczynce. The whole transport travelled for more than three weeks and from time to time, once per day, the train stopped for water and coal for the steam engine and at that time people were allowed out of the wagons to look for water and coal for the stoves, which were situated in the middle of the wagons. From the wagons, two or three people with buckets and pots for water and sacks for coal were released. In the corner of the wagon, people cut a hole in the floor through which they defecated. People sat side-by-side, thinking about what will happen to them in the future and how it will finish.
At last at some station in the Altai country in Siberia the train stopped and a wood-burning tracked bulldozer came pulling huge wooden floats, which were made from pine. At this time, we were given over to another convoy. They loaded us and other people on to the floats, altogether eighteen families, and they took us another seven days through the large and dense forest known as the ‘Taiga’ and frosts reached minus 63 degrees centigrade. Other people were taken to nearby wagons and taken in a different direction.
In the end, they brought us to a big wooden barrack, number 58. At this place in the barrack lived three native families, these were the supervisors and the Commandant, who took us from our convoy. Families were assigned very small rooms and those without their own room were placed in a big collective room with a few families.
The next morning a meeting was held and orders were given to start work. All men and strong young women were cutting trees, the felled trees were floated on the river, the rest, of the women, youths and children were cutting short logs for ‘Holc-gaz’ tractors, and they collected and burned the branches. Everybody had to work, the old, ill and even children because those who were working and doing their daily quota received 1kg of bread each per day (if it was available). Those who were not working had only 300 grams. There was nothing to eat apart from this bread and from time to time herrings.
There was not any sugar, flour, potatoes, cereals, absolutely nothing more.
Other barracks were located in this forest in different locations about 7,8,12 km from each other, but it was forbidden to go to them because those who tried to do it were treated as a fugitive. Those who tried to do it were arrested and went missing.
People died like flies one after another, in all families, from hunger and exhaustion. From our family Grandmother Maria, her daughter Magdalena her son Krzysztof, and her Grandson Mieczyslaw, son of Jozef and Maria, died in Siberia.
In 1941, General Wladyslaw Sikorski made an agreement with Stalin to create a Polish Army in the Soviet Union lead by General Wladyslaw Anders, in order to help beat the Germans. For Polish people exiled in Siberia it was a feeling of relief. They could leave Siberia for the south, but it was forbidden to go to Poland. They directed us to Kirgistan and to kolkhoz number 6, in Nowo Nikolajewka, oblast Frunze in the Tian-Szan Mountains below the Chinese border. Our trip from Siberia through Tadzekistan, Uzbekistan, to Kirgisia, was about one month and at our own expense.
After a short time, in 1942, Anders Army was created and Wladyslaw, Jan, Jozef and his wife Maria went to the army. They went from Lugavoy through Persia, Iran and Palestine to the Italian Campaign in Italy.
In 1943, the Polish Patriotic Union in ZSSR formed a second Polish Army led by Col. Zygmunt Berling (later promoted to General), but 70 per cent of the officers were Russian and so Poles were very reluctant to go to this army. They forced people to join the army and Michal, to avoid this, escaped from Kirgisia to Kazakhstan. After a short time, he met his future wife Katarzyna who hid him, and he lived illegally with her.
Stanislaw was caught and put into the army of Berling and sent to the front in Poland. After Stanislaw was put in the army, Grandfather Leon escaped from Kirgisia to Kazakhstan, to Michal and Katarzyna. In autumn 1943, father (Adam) was taken to Trudowoj army [a kind of civilian army] to build railway lines. In 1944, Adam had an opportunity to escape from this army to our house in Kirgisia and during the same night we escaped to Kazakhstan, to Michal and with Michal we were hiding almost until the end of the War.
In 1946, 23 April, after many great efforts, we were fortunate to leave Kazakhstan from Shu to Poland and on 15 May 1946 we crossed the border at Kowl-Chelm and via Lublin we settled in Milkow on 26 June 1946.