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Emilia was born on October 16, 1935, in Tarnopol, Poland (presently Ukraine). Her first carefree, bucolic years were interrupted by the Second World War, and her family was deported to Siberia by the Russians.

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.

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 in order 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, she was repatriated to Zielona Gora, Poland. The communist system was not to her liking, and with the help of her eldest brother Rudek, Emilia emigrated to Canada. She married Ryszard, and they got busy raising three children. Winnipeg turned out to be a wonderful multi-cultural city where promoting one's heritage is a privilege and a duty. She was a member of the Polish Combatants Association (SPK), and the Canadian Polish Congress. Being independently minded, Emilia operated a grocery store in the Canadian Polish Manor Senior Complex for 18 years.

Emilia passed away in Winnipeg on June 19, 2009.

Copyright: Jarmasz family

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