Eugenia (Woroniecka) SZKLARZ
(Eugenia's story was originally published on the Canadian Polish Historical Society of Edmonton, Alberta website
and is repeated here with their permission.
My name is Eugienia Szklarz, nee Woroniecka. I was born on the 15th of October, 1928 in Molodeczno in the Vilnius voivodship. My Mother, Julia, came from the Lublin area and my Father, Michael Woroniecki was born in Molodeczno. My father was a career army sergeant in the 86 Infantry Regiment. I spent my early years in the family home with my younger sisters Halina and Irka. I began my schooling early, before the age of six, so that when WWII broke out in 1939, I was in grade 6. A week before the start of WWII, my father was sent to Nowa Wilejka to train recruits, and he was there when Germany attacked Poland. Three times, we had German aircraft flying close to our home on their way to bomb the barracks and the city power plant that were near our house. As a result, some of the bombs fell close to our house.
September 17th 1939, was a great shock; the Russians entered Poland. A mass of soldiers came, asking for water or something to eat. They did not come by our house, but a nearby farmer warned us that Russian soldiers would come by sooner or later. Mom took many of our possessions to our neighbour for safekeeping. On September 18th, the Russians took over the military barracks. For three nights, we had to sleep on the floor because there was intermittent shooting. I assume that the shooting originated from the two military bunkers that were left from the time of the First World War. I remember three Russian soldiers were shot. They buried them near the road, about half a kilometer away from our house.
For a month, we had no information as to the whereabouts of our father. Then one night there was a knock at the window. It was our father. It turns out that he had been in Lwow when the Russians invaded Poland. From Lwow, he travelled mostly on foot as far as Grodno. In Grodno, he was arrested and was put on a train with other soldiers. As father spoke Russian fluently, he asked one of the guards to allow him to go to the station to buy cigarettes. Meanwhile, the train left the station without my father, so he fled on foot and managed to return home. After his return, he did not leave the house for a week. Many non-commissioned officers returned home to their families and were not arrested. Dad managed to inform the non-commissioned officers that he too had returned.
Since our house was big, we were allocated three Russian officers, and mother had to provide meals for them. One of them was a captain. He was a good friend of the police commissioner. They were friends from their days in Moscow. When the lists of deportees were being prepared, he would tell my mother not to worry because we were not on the list. The first deportations missed us. Then in the autumn of 1940, the police commisioner was arrested, and charged with spying for the Germans. Our captain asked, and was granted, a transfer to Russia. Another officer came in the captain’s place. We did not trust this new officer and we had to be very careful what we said in his presence.
I began attending school again, and was placed in a lower grade. The language of instruction was Byelorussian. All the Polish children were placed in lower grades. This aroused anger and protest. I reacted to this indignity with my own kind of protest like throwing ink at the portrait of Stalin when no one was watching, or tearing posters. This was my guerrilla warfare against the enemy.
Father was arrested in June of 1941, and we, being a military family, were deported to Siberia. Grandmother, because she had another name, was not on the list of deportees, and was allowed to stay, but only if there was someone to look after her. A neighbor agreed to take our grandmother in. The trip lasted three weeks. Often, the train would stop for couple of hours in the middle of nowhere, but we were not permitted to leave. In our wagon, there were other wives with children of non-commissioned officers who served with our father and who, like our father, were imprisoned by the Russians. Conditions were terrible. My mother nearly died in the wagon, due to bowel blockage. She fainted and already turned blue. Fortunately, the people in our wagon were able to save her. For me, the worst were the lice that feasted on us all the time. We were not given any food, only water that was white because a water disinfectant was added to it. We had a sack of dried bread, which mom had prepared, knowing that deportation was inevitable.
In Novosibirsk, the wagons were separated. Half of the wagons headed in the direction of Tomsk, and the other half continued on to Bernaul. In Bernaul the train was divided again. The wagon we were in was directed to the Altai Krai region. We were loaded on a barge and for 3 days, we sailed on the Ob and Charysh Rivers. At night, the mosquitos were unbearable and kept us awake throughout the night. When we reached Kalmanka, we disembarked because the barge could not sail any farther. The people of "our wagon" - because it had many young men - had been assigned to the Charysh state farm. Others were taken about 200 km further into the Altai Mountains.
The Charysh State Farm was very large. There was an administrative centre situated in the centre of the farm, and four sectors spread out over the area of the farm. Sector 1 was situated the farthest from the central administration quarters, about 20 km away. The other 3 sectors were closer. Three days after our arrival at the state farm, my mother and I were assigned to pull thistle out of the wheat fields. We would walk along a row that was about a kilometer long and back, pulling this weed. We pulled the thistle with our bare hands and the thistles prickled without mercy. Since it was July and very hot, at the end of the day, I fainted. The next day I was given the task of weeding the garden, where I had to be constantly on my knees.
In early August, we were told that an ‘amnesty’ had been announced for the Poles and we were given to understand that we were free go. Therefore, my mother temporarily moved in with me in Sector 1, and Halina and Irka stayed in the area of the administrative centre where they were attending school. We worked on drying wheat, which was brought in by truck and was unloaded on a huge playground. Other Poles, mostly young men and women, reported for this work. We all lived in a room, which also served as a dining hall. In October, when the work was over, the others returned to the area of the administrative centre. My mother, however, and the Witkowski family decided that we would all stay. We were given half a house to live in. There was a large kitchen and a large room where the two families slept together. I had to gather firewood.
Father found us before Christmas 1941. He took us back to the area of the administrative centre, where I went back to school and started grade 6 again. Father helped us a lot, because he had a job loading grain. He would smuggle some of the grain and bring it home in his felt boots. My mother soaked it and then would grind the grain in the meat grinder. Every day we had grain balls boiled in milk.
My father left us again May 3rd 1942, to join the Polish Army that was being formed in the USSR Territory. He returned, unexpectedly, at the beginning of August. We were extremely pleased and surprised, because he wore the uniform of a Master Sergeant. (Before being shipped out to Iran, he had secured from his superiors, a pass that would allow us to leave the state farm). Three days later, we left for Aleisk, and from there by train to Tashkent. Along the way, my eye was infected. We stayed in Tashkent for 3 days and slept in a park near the station. We could not get on the train to Krasnovodsk. My father learned that there were Poles and military authority in Yangiyo‘l. He paid 50 rubles to a train conductor who allowed us to board the train to Yangiyo‘l. We got on the train before the station through the back door, because the station was full of people with the same goal – to get to where the Polish Army was assembling. When we reached Yangiyo’l, we had 3 minutes to disembark and barely succeeded.
In front of the Yangiyo‘l station there was a multitude of Poles, mostly women and children. There, I saw General Anders, who arrived the day before the departure of the train to Krasnovodsk (present day Turkmenbasi). Because it was the end of August, it was extremely hot. There was shortage of drinking water. We got off the train about 3 km from the port, and spent the day under the hot sun, on the hot sand, with nowhere to escape the heat. In the evening, we began to make our way towards the port. I was carrying quite a heavy suitcase. A passing truck took pity on me and gave me a lift. Towards evening we began to board the ship, but without our father. He stayed behind and sailed on a military ship. Those were the last vessels that left Krasnovodsk and sailed to the port of Pahlavi (Iran).
In Pahlavi, we were housed in tents near the Caspian Sea. Our food consisted of tomato rice soup with mutton. Many people became sick because the richness and abundance of food was too much for their malnourished systems. After two weeks of stay, we were given a bath and new clothes for the trip to Tehran. We traveled by bus on narrow roads in high mountains. We slept one night in Qazin - if I remember correctly.
In Tehran, we were assigned to camp No.1 where we had to help carry bricks for the shelters. I finally completed grade 6 and joined the girl guides. While in Tehran, I explored the city and surrounding mountains. In 1943, we were to go to Ahvaz, and then to Africa. Unfortunately, our family was rejected and so we spent another month in the camp. While there, we heard of the death of General Sikorski. In late July, we were loaded onto trains and left for Ahvaz. We passed through many tunnels. When we arrived in Ahvaz, a desert town, we were quartered in former horse stables which were built of bricks. We were again rejected for resettlement to Africa, and stayed in Ahvaz until February 1944. My mom went to work for the English NAFE. In January 1944, the army began again signing up volunteers. I decided to join the Junior Volunteers. My mother also decided to go into the army, on condition that my sister Irka would be accepted to the school, as she was only 11 years old.
Everything turned out positively. In mid-February we travelled to Palestine via Iraq, and Lebanon. We took the train to Baghdad (Iraq), and the rest of the trip we travelled by trucks. It was insanely hot. We would leave very early in the morning and ride until 12 o'clock, and then we would set up tents and spend the rest of the day under them. We rode through the desert where the sand was black - something extraordinary. The trip took five days to reach Haifa in Palestine, where we were divided: those of military age went to Egypt; the younger ones were enrolled in school in Nazareth. I registered in trade school, where I finished middle school obtaining a junior diploma, and then went on to the School of Administration and Commerce. In Nazareth, I spent the most pleasant time of my youth. Usually our summer vacations were spent by the Mediterranean Sea. We also visited all the holy places and participated in church services. We attended Midnight mass in Bethlehem, and the Way of the Cross on Good Friday.
In August 1947, we sailed to England from Port Said in Egypt. A week later, we arrived in Manchester in rainy England. We settled in Foxley Manor, Herefordshire, a former military camp. Here I continued my high school education.
In April 1948, the school disbanded, so for a year I was in the military, as a volunteer. Here I met my future husband, Sergeant John Szklarz. He was leaving for Edmonton, Canada in September 1948, so we got engaged. I, together with my father, mother, and sister Irka, did not reach Canada until June 1949. With the help of my future husband Janek, I got a job in the cafeteria of Misericordia Hospital. Everyone in the family was employed. Later, my parents bought a farm in the vicinity Cherhill and farmed there for 10 years.
I got married on October 18th 1949. The marriage took place at Holy Rosary Church in Edmonton. In 1952, after the birth of our son Karol, I took a correspondence course through the Chicago Practical Nurse program, which I completed in the winter of 1953. I returned to work at the Misericordia hospital as a Practical Nurse.
In 1958, Janek‘s mother came from Poland to live with us. At that time, we lived in Jasper Place where we had a large garden. My mother-in-law helped me a lot, especially when I worked the night shift.
Our second son Julian was born in 1960. After taking and passing the Alberta exams, I went back to work in 1961 as a Registered Practical Nurse. I worked until June 1980.
After my husband retired, we began to spend more time working in the various Polish organizations. I was a member of the Polish Canadian Women’s Federation from 1964. Together with my husband, for 26 years we had worked at almost every casino of the various Polish organizations, helping to raise funds for these organizations. My husband Janek and I were on the boards of various Polish organizations. I took part in conferences, as a representative of the Polish Canadian Women‘s Federation, SPK and the Polish Canadian Society (I served as secretary of the PCS twice at different times).
We travelled a lot. We visited Poland a few times. We attended the conferences of the 1st Armoured Division. In 1989, we spent two months in Europe. I even visited my hometown of Molodeczno. An article was written about me in the Molodeczno newspaper about why I came. It was because I constantly dreamt about the family fields, meadows and the family home.
We celebrated our 50th anniversary and 60th anniversary of our marriage. Life was not easy, but somehow we persevered. We are proud of our sons and their accomplishments: Karol has a doctorate degree in metallurgy; Julian graduated with a Science degree but is working in another profession.
Text by: Eugenia Szklarz
Text translated from the Polish by: Helena Fita
Edited by: Helena Fita and Zofia Kamela
Eugenia (Woroniecka) SZKLARZ
Eugenia's father Michal Woroniecki
Unfortunately, no descriptions were provided for the phtos.