CASIMIR and ZOFIA MORAWSKI
Deported to Siberia, released on 'amnesty', lived in the UK and then Canada after the war
Casimir Morawski was born in Strzemieszyce near Sosnowiec, Poland in the year 1897.
During the First World War, he served in the Legions of J. Pilsudski. After the war he lived with his family in the town of Skarzysko-Kamienna, in the province of Kielce. As a veteran legionnaire, he received 24 hectares of land in the province of Wolyn, and so, in the year 1924, he left his position as an accountant in a munitions factory and moved with his wife Zofia and their two sons to the village of Siniakowka in the District of Kostopol, in order to farm the land given to him. He did not have a clue about farming, but he had great plans! He sowed lupins to enrich the sandy soil, acquired equipment, and he even tried to set up a dairy. Then he waited for the harvest. Unfortunately, it was not so easy to make the sands fertile … and there was no harvest. Times were hard and eventually money ran out. Later even bread ran out, and there were already three children to feed.
Having a profession, Casimir had to look for work, and in 1927 he left Siniakowka and moved to Rowne where he secured a position at the Credit Union of Stefczyk (Kasa Stefczyka). His family joined him in Rowne two years later, and so ended the “idyllic” farming enterprise of the Morawski family.
The Second World War and the memorable date of September 17, 1939 found Casimir in the town of Korzec, 60 km from Rowne, where he worked for the municipal government. He had lost his job soon after the Russian occupation of Poland, and soon got involved in work of a different kind. He became part of an underground organization which aided Polish prisoners of war fleeing the U.S.S.R. to get to Lvov and eventually to freedom. He provided these refugees overnight accommodations, civilian clothes and false identity documents (of deceased people) he had earlier “commandeered” through his position at the town hall.
On February 10, 1940, for the ‘crime’ of owning property, the Morawski family was exiled to the U,S.S.R. Their new address was: Gorki Province, Sharya District, Poldniewica Settlement, lying some 500 km north-east of the city of Gorki. There were approximately 3,000 people in the settlement.
All those who were physically able, went to work immediately as lumber jacks in the thick forests, and with them Casimir and his sons. In exchange for the work, he received a ration of bread and minimal monetary compensation. The winter in Poldniewica was very hard, sometimes reaching temperatures of -50°C. The working conditions were very bad. There was not enough food and the barracks were overcrowded, dirty and infested with bed bugs and lice. It was not long before illness and frostbite set in. Typhoid, scurvy, avitaminosis and nyctalopia (hen-blindness) began to appear. People started dying in great numbers, but there was no doctor and no medicine.
Then began the funerals of family members and friends. There is a book written by Julia Klusek, entitled “Za Malo Zeby Zyc, Za Duzo Zeby Umrzec” (Too Little to Live, Too Much to die) in which she writes about the young people singing “WMogile Ciemnej Spisz na Wieki” (You Sleep in the Dark Grave Forever), at the funeral of Mr. Swirski. This was the group of young people that gathered around the Morawski family in Barrack No. 13. Indeed, the NKVD agents dispersed the young people and the rest of the crowd as they sang, and even arrested Casimir, because he would not stop singing. As one can conclude from this, Casimir was a man of action. It was only after the war that his daughter learned that her father had been a member of an underground committee in Poldniewica (made up of 12 people) which was in sporadic contact with the Polish government in exile.
Spring arrived, and the number of the sick in Poldniewica increased. There was a record-breaking day when eleven people died. In June 1940, a doctor and medicine were finally dispatched to Poldniewica, and the epidemic slowly began to loosen its grip. Moreover, spring brought with it wild strawberries, other berries, and mushrooms, which the people could gather. This helped considerably.
Casimir planted some seeds that he managed to procure, and there were tomatoes, cucumbers, and even cabbage that summer. He built a small house with the help of his sons, by order of the authorities, because the barracks were full of lice and bed bugs. This building project saved him and his family from a move somewhere to Vologda, where a third of the inhabitants of Poldniewica were transported in October 1940. In the winter of 1940, the oldest Morawski son contracted a lung infection and was bed-ridden for the whole winter without any medical aid. The younger Morawski son was employed in transporting supplies to Poldniewica by tractor. This was rather hazardous, as he spent long hours at the driver’s wheel, often until well after sunset as he was virtually blind at night from the “hen-blindness”. Zofia secured work in the settlement’s canteen, and somehow life went on ... With the spring of 1941, a saw mill and brick yard was built in Poldniewica. From this point forward, Casimir and his sons worked at the brick yard making bricks.
In September 1941, as a result of the Sikorski-Stalin agreement, ‘amnesty’ documents for virtually all the Polish inhabitants of Poldniewca arrived at the settlement. With these documents came the freedom to leave the settlement. Casimir and his sons became the first people to leave the settlement, as they set off to join the Polish Army forming in the south of the U.S.S.R. With him he carried a memorandum from the Poles in Poldniewca explaining their situation and requesting help. It was his mission, as their representative, to deliver this memorandum to Mr. Kott, the Polish ambassador to the U.S.S.R. As it turned out, after many trials, the memorandum was delivered to Ambassador Kott, but no action was ever taken in this matter.
In the early winter of 1941, the inhabitants of Poldniewica organized transportation to the south of the U.S.S.R, and almost everyone left the settlement to take a freight train to Uzbekistan. They left behind them 272 graves in the cemetery at Poldniewica.
The journey to Uzbekistan was long and difficult. Some people took sick and died in the freight cars, and others, queuing for food and water, were left behind in places where the train had stopped.
After about a month, they arrived in the City of Buchara, Uzbekistan. Here they were assigned to various collective farms. Zofia and her daughter were directed to a collective farm near the town of Wabkend, where they were employed in the cultivation of cotton. However, there was no food in the warehouses, and the people were not paid for their work. The inevitable result was starvation. For three weeks, Zofia and her daughter lived exclusively on orach and lucerne. It was then that Zofia sold her last treasure - her wedding ring. The money helped considerably.
Shortly after this, fate began to smile on Zofia and her daughter. I t was at this time, that Bronislaw Tijewski, the appointed trustee for the Poles in the district of Wabkend approached Zofia and proposed that she establish and direct an orphanage for Polish children in the region. Having teaching qualifications, she agreed, and so began the hard work of running the Polish orphanage near Wabkend.
The children at the orphanage were not necessarily orphans, at least to begin with. Often, the parents, with the last of their strength, would surreptitiously leave their starving children on the steps of the orphanage, only to die from hunger and exhaustion on the way back to the collective farms.
Zofia’s daughter, being fifteen years old, was not legally considered a child and, being able to work, could not stay with her mother. So, she continued to live and work at a collective farm.
Besides Zofia, there were two other women to take care of the children, as well as the beloved Mrs. Wrzyszcz, who cooked and cleaned for the group. The number of children at the orphanage constantly fluctuated. New children entered, while many of the resident children were sent to hospital with dysentery and malnutrition. Sadly, not all of the children in need reached the hospital in time, and within a span of 4 to 5 months, Zofia personally buried 16 children (wrapped in blankets), at the small cemetery near the orphanage.
In spite of these difficult conditions, at least the children were no longer hungry and were provided with minimal schooling, although the general conditions imposed great restrictions in this area. The atmosphere at the orphanage was very positive. This is evidenced by the following two verses of a song sung by the children:
Mrs, Morawski, forever busy, Always with the children day and night.
Yet she seems happy, though bare-footed. As long as she has a cigarette.
The day barely breaks in the east
And Mrs. Wrzyszcz is outside with her spade*
in her fist cleanin- up after the night
And her feet don’t mind the scorpions bite.
* It is important to note that almost all the children suffered from dysentery and each morning it was necessary to clean up the “leftovers” from the night before, when the children did not make it to the outhouse.
In August 1942, talk started of transporting the orphans out of the U.S.S.R. to Iran. One day, B. Tijewski advised Zofia to bring her daughter to the orphanage, because they were leaving by train in two days! This was to be kept strictly confidential, because if the other Poles in the area learned of this, they would all go to the station and attempt to board the scheduled train which only had space for the children. That day, after work, Zofia set out to the nearby collective farms and informed everyone that she could about the train. However, no one at the orphanage new anything of her escapade. Only in Iran did her daughter become aware of what her mother had done when she witnessed people thanking Zofia for having saved their lives.
Indeed, two days later, the departure did take place, and the children were transported by trucks to the station at Kagan. After a night spent under the stars at the station, the train carrying other groups of orphans from more distant areas, finally arrived and then, loaded with its special cargo, set out in the direction of the Caspian Sea to the port of Krasnovodsk, in Turkmenistan. The memories of that short journey are very pleasant. There was money, and so it was possible to buy all kinds of treats like fruits, nuts, raisins St-John’s bread, wine, and once, even … chocolate!
In Krasnovodsk, the refugees had to leave their baggage and all Russian currency behind. After many trials, they all boarded the deck of a big freighter, already loaded with many Polish soldiers. This was the last transport of the Polish Army by sea to Iran. Everyone was quartered on the deck, and almost everyone was ill with stomach problems and eye infections, but the atmosphere on the ship was wonderful, even in the queues to the few lavatories.
In Pahlavi (a port in Iran), all the orphans were housed in shelters on the beach. The day after their arrival (August 15), on this same beach, they watched as General Wladyslaw Anders, the Commander of the Polish Army formed in the U.S.S.R., reviewed the troops on the occasion of the Memorial Day of the Soldier.
The corned beef and rice provided for the refugees was prepared in large caldrons and, for those times, was very good. The refugees were deloused, bathed, given a change of clothing, and were moved from the “dirty” section of the beach to the “clean” section.
After a few days, all the orphanages were transported to Camp No. 3 in Teheran, where they were housed in tents. The camp was located in a beautiful park at the foot of the mountains, on the outskirts of the city. Here began the re-organization of the groups of orphans, and changes to their management. At this time, Zofia was removed from her position as the head of her group, and was replaced by someone who considered himself more competent or perhaps had better connections among the leaders of the camp. Zofia took exception to these changes and, after rejecting the much inferior position which was offered her, she made the transition to the life of an ordinary refugee. Shortly after this, all the orphanages in Camp No.3 were transported out of Iran to Africa, New Zealand and Mexico.
All this time, Zofia did not know whether her husband and sons had escaped from Russia, or even if they were still alive. It was only in 1943 that she found them through the Red Cross. Casimir and their younger son Wojciech, having trained in Palestine and Iraq, served with the Polish 2nd Corps in the campaign in Italy. In 1947 they entered civilian life in England. Their older son Jerzy, contracted active tuberculosis soon after leaving Russia and, in 1942, he was transferred to the Military Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was one of the first people in the world to undergo removal of a diseased portion of a lung. He was hospitalized for three years and, after his release, settled in South Africa permanently.
Zofia and her daughter were transported to India in May 1943. After spending some time in transitional camps in Karachi and Malir, they found themselves in a refugee camp called Valivade in the state of Kolhapur. The camp numbered about 5,000 women and children. For more than four years, Zofia taught in one of five elementary schools in the camp, and was also active in the Girl Guide movement.
In 1947, she and her daughter sailed to join her husband in England. Zofia Morawski died in 1954 of lung cancer.
After living many years in England, Casimir Morawski joined his son and daughter in Canada in 1966. He died in 1982 at the age of 85.
Written by Barbara Morawski-Charuba & translated by her daughter Basia
Casimir Morawski, pre-war photo
Zofia Morawski, pre-war photo
Barbara Morawski, pre-war photo