Danuta (Izbecka) LUKOMSKA
Danuta Izbicka was born in 1933 in Pinsk, in eastern Poland, one of 4 daughters living on the family’s large farm. In September 1939, the Germans attacked Poland from the west, and two weeks later, the Russians attacked from the east. The part of Poland where Danuta lived came under Russian control and life changed completely for the family. When rumours started about the Russians arresting men in the area, Danuta’s father left home and hid in the forest, but he returned home at Christmas, as he could not take the cold and hunger any longer.
On the 10th of February 1940, the family were awoken in the middle of the night by fierce banging on the door. Armed Russian soldiers entered, and announced that they were being relocated and had less than 2 hours to pack and be ready. Their father was held at gunpoint while the soldiers searched the house for weapons, and while their mother frantically packed as many warm clothes and as much food as possible, along with some souvenirs and valuables.
It was an exceptionally cold winter that year, with temperatures plunging to minus 40 Celcius, yet the family were placed on a sleigh and taken to the train station, where they were packed into a cattle car. Danuta’s youngest sister was only 9 months old! Other families from the area had already been loaded into the cattle car and were taking up all the available space on the shelves at opposite ends of the car, so they had to sit on the floor. This is how they endured the journey of several weeks to the Archangelsk region of Siberia. People who died on the way were thrown out into the snow.
They were taken to a labour camp in the forest and assigned to a barrack. The barrack was a huge building with wooden planks along the walls – one for each family. Their father worked on cutting trees, and later switched to delivering bread. He would always steal a certain amount of bread that they would eat in secret at night. Their mother worked on construction, bringing bricks to the workers. For their work, each worker received a small piece of bread and some watery soup each day. Consequently, they were all hungry and cold all the time.
There was lice everywhere, and they had no soap or water, so their mother would freeze the lice by putting the clothes on the snow, or by shaking them over the fire.
Their father was arrested and taken away to jail, where they visited him several times. On one visit, they were told that he was not there anymore – he probably died of starvation or was shot. They never saw him again.
The 5 of them would go through garbage to find scraps, or would begg from locals, etd. Danuta’s oldest sister (3 years older than Danuta) went to steal food with some adults, and was caught with only one cabbage. Their mother was put in prison for this.
One day the foreman told her mother (Stella) that they were free to go, and her mother answered, “Where will I go with 4 children?” He took them in a sleigh to the forest and left them there, telling them to look for Polish soldiers.
They eventually reached the train station and eventually managed to board a train heading south, but it was Slow progress with frequent stops, usually in open fields. It took many weeks for them to reach the Polish army that was being fo9rmed in the southern USSR. They evacuated to Persia with the army, from Krasnowodsk to Pahlevi, across the Caspian Sea. There they stayed in tents on the beach. To control against diseases, their hair was shaved and their clothes were burned.
The family spent two months in that camp, then moved to Ahwaz for another months, then to Teheran for much longer. Danuta had her1st Communion and Confirmation there. Their mother volunteered in the kitchen and got sick, so the girls were sent to an orphanage until she was able to leave the hospital.
They boarded a ship to Bombay, India. The girls got some canned meat from the Americans on the ship. Some was left on the deck until the next day, and their 3-year-old sister ate some before they could stop her. She got food poisoning and died. She was buried in the Indian Ocean.
A very nice camp had been prepared for them at Valivade. There were 12 families to each block. Here, they had to deal with bedbugs in the mattresses, which had to be boiled every month.
The family moved to the Koja Polish settlement in Uganda, where they had a separate hut for each family. Danuta was 14 years old by then, and decided not to continue her education but rather go to work in an office so that she could buy clothes and other things. Her older sister trained in the hospital to become a nurse.
In the spring of 1949, a Canadian representative came to the camp, looking for girls aged 17 and up to work as domestics. Her mother was 44 and not accepted, so the middle sister stayed with her and the older one left with Danuta (age 16). Their mother and sister eventually went to the UK.
Danuta and her sister ended up on a farm in Abernabe Saskatchewan, where they worked from 6am to midnight. There was never not enough food, and they were always hungry. On 12 Aug 1949, their contract ended, but they stayed 2 more months for the harvest.
The priest got a job for her in a convent in Regina, where she worked in the kitchen. She met and started dating George/Eugene/Gienek. Her mother and sister came from the UK in October and the wedding took place in December 1949. They had been married for 52 years when George died in 2001. They had 6 children, 16 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzZy4MDpdUM and Leader-Post Gallery, Regina February 3, 2010
Danuta (1st on the left) with her 3 sisters and their mother in Iran, June 3, 1943.
Danuta in Koja, Uganda
Polish refugees aboard a train in Africa in 1949
Danuta in her home in Regina in 2010 - Photograph by Bryan Schlosser, Leader-Post, Regina