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Bronislawa KOWALSKA

Bronislawa was born to Wincenty and Anna on January 10, 1932, in Boleslawow, in Tarnopol province, in eastern Poland.  As a young girl, she attended a one room schoolhouse with her younger cousin, Stefania, which their grandfather had built.


The Germans invaded Poland from the west on 1 September 1939, and the Russians invaded from the east on 17 September 1939. They divided Poland between them. In the Russian-controlled area, the plan to ethnically-cleanse the area soon took effect with the first of four mass deportations to Siberia that were carried out in 1940 and 1941.

The family were forcibly taken from their home at gunpoint, by Russian soldiers. They had been given less than an hour to pack what they could, without knowing where they were being taken. They took what they could carry and had to leave the rest behind.

They were taken to the railway station and loaded into cattle cars with 50-60 other people. This included infants, toddlers, children, teens, adults, and seniors. Most of the adults and seniors were women. The cattle car had two shelves at either end, where people could sit or sleep – the rest had to make do with the floor. There was a cast iron stove, but they soon ran out of wood to fuel it. There was also a hole in the floor that served as a toilet.

They travelled like this for weeks, and were given some water, stale bread, and watery soup, only a few times. When someone died, their bodies were cast out next to the tracks and left there. Many infants and elders did not survive this journey. Bronislawa’s mother, Anna, and brother, Stanislaw, were among those who died in transit to Siberia.

When they reached the work camp in Siberia, they were told that this is where they would eventually die, but in the meantime, they had to work to earn their daily ration of bread. Children as young as 13 were set to work in the forests – cutting branches from the trees that had been cut down.

Aside from the extreme cold in winter, and extreme heat in summer, they had to contend with hordes of mosquitoes and black flies, as well as infestations of bed bugs in the barracks. There were no medical facilities in these camps, and diseases ran rampant, leading to a high death toll.

After the war, Bronislawa immigrated to Canada with her sister Joanna and settled in Winnipeg. Here, she worked at the Tuberculosis Sanatorium (now St. Amant).  She met her handsome soldier, Kazimierz, and they were married on September 8, 1951.

She was a member of the SPK Polish Combatants' Association Branch #13. This nurtured the soul of her Polish heritage. She spent countless hours crafting dance costumes for the Polish Dance Ensemble SPK “Iskry” that are still worn to this day.

Bronislawa passed away in Winnipeg on September 7, 2020, at the age of 88 years.

Copyright: Kowalski family

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