FRANCISZKA DOBROWOLSKA - Part 3
(Translated by Valerie Blonski and Rita Clement)
Franciszka was born in 1906 at a time when Poland did not exist on the map of Europe. This World War Two memoir is a little different in that the recollections begin in 1911, taking us back to that time, to Franciszka's earliest memories of her life at the age of five, before even World War One had erupted.
Because we had bought a lot of wheat, we felt no shortages, being able to bake our own bread. But, we didn't have everything we wanted. A piece of bread and soup was our daily meal. Besides this, we had the milk which I brought from the dairy twice weekly. We did not go hungry. I spent long hours at the dairy in the evenings. Sometimes, the dairyman turned the lights off so no one would come by and this is how I became closer to him. He was very good to me.
No one could make any plans for the future. We just lived one day at a time. Spring was nearing and in the kolkhoz, the people started cleaning up everywhere in anticipation of the approaching season.
Our landlords gave us notice to move. We had to look for another place. The doctor let one room to our former boarder and she moved in with her two children. This made it easier on us because our supplies were dwindling. We were able to move in to a house very close to the dairy. By April, 1941, our supplies were running short. We also lacked salt. We got a piece of rock salt, used as a salt lick for cattle, but this helped us out.
One day Silek came to me and said that the dairyman wanted to see me right away. I went and met the director of the dairy, from Oblasci. He asked me if I wanted to continue working here. If so, I would have to go to the regional centre to take a preparatory course for the coming season. Because we had many sheep, they wanted to make ewes' cheese, (bryndza). I consented and two days later I was on the road. There were two others with me from the same kolkhoz. The course lasted two weeks and I returned to the kolkhoz with good marks and a certificate. The trip back was difficult as the snow had melted very quickly and we were worried about flooding. We rushed and made it back safely. From this time forward, I was an employee of the dairy. A couple of weeks later, the ewes' milk began to come in and this became my job. I was a bit worried that I might not be able to manage it but the dairyman had confidence in me and this lifted my spirits. Every day, I was able to bring home a pail of skim milk with a big piece of cheese at the bottom. My family now felt better, stronger, and healthier. Often, I brought home some cream in a canteen, also hidden at the bottom of the pail. A few times, I had given the pail of milk to another mother with two children. This helped her a great deal.
One day, as usual, one of my countrywomen came and got a pail of milk with a big piece of cheese at the bottom. She left by the side doors and when she was close to her home, noticed that the veterinarians’ wife, who had an animosity towards Poles, was watching her and slowly started to follow her. The girl was clever and quickly turned the other way, in the direction of my home. In the afternoon, she came to see us and told us that she had been summoned to the Sielsowietu and asked what she had taken from the dairy. She answered that I was very busy and took my milk home for me. The next day, the director form the butter plant arrived at our home. I was alone. He sat down and asked how things were going at work. I offered him cream and cheese. He looked at me, smiled and ate. After a while, he told me that it was reported to the Sielsowietu that I was taking too much from the dairy and what did I have to say about it. I repeated the countrywoman's story. He stayed a bit longer then said he would take care of the matter with the predsiedatielem and not to worry. From this time on, I was very careful, making sure that I treated the officials when they came by.
Summer came and I ran into a problem with the ewes' cheese. When I calculated the amount of cheese that we produced, it was more than the dairy butter plant calculated that I should get from the milk production. This too was not good, so we kept the excess and ate it ourselves.
One morning when my sister and I returned from work, we heard singing coming from inside the house. It was Silek singing to himself. He had a good voice and we stood listening and crying on the corner near the house. When he finished, we went inside and asked him to sing some more, but he no longer wanted to.
Finally the dairy season ended and there was no more work. The director came and offered me an office job in the neighbouring kolkhoz. Mala however chose a different kolkhoz. She took Silek with her, while Mira followed me. It was a small village and the residents were Russians. One day we were summoned to the office where it was announced that all deportees are free to leave. This was the amnesty granted to the Poles shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. I started to work in the office at the butter plant. This was where all the cream from the surrounding kolkhozes came to be made into butter. This product was then shipped to the main butter plant in Pawlodar. My job was easy because I helped the bookkeeper who taught me what I needed to know. He was middle-aged and had been an officer in the Czar's army. Because his lungs were afflicted, he had an easy job. He calculated perfectly on the abacus. He was so fast that it was hard to see his fingers hit the keys. He showed me how to do it but whenever I tried to add up some figures he would leave the office. I did get better at it after a while, nevertheless he still had to leave the office as he couldn't stand to watch me count so slowly.
In the fall, Silek returned to me. He said that my sister preferred that he be with me. Two weeks later my sister confided in me that she was not happy in the other village, so we talked and concluded that she would join us. We lived in an old, pre-war house and the six of us occupied a room on the side. The first room you entered in the house was occupied by a woman, her mother and three children. They were very poor. I don't know why they were brought here from their homeland. Mala and the woman went to work in the butter plant. They washed the equipment in which the butter was made. The cauldrons were huge. Before washing, we would scrape and collect the butter that remained inside and take this home at the end of the day. This ensured that we had sufficient fat in our diets.
Firewood was easier to get here. There were forests all around and they were larger. Because it was already winter (1941-42), we decided not to leave but just to change our kolkhoz. The bookkeeper helped us out in this respect. He was transferred to another kolkhoz and indicated that he would need a helper. As a result we followed him to the large Ramodan kolkhoz. Again, all the residents were Russian. We lived in a large room at a woman's residence. I went to work at the office, but here the job had nothing to do with a butter plant. Mala exchanged various articles of clothing, mostly lingerie, linens and towels, for food staples and we continued to struggle on.
It was mid-winter when we made the decision to head south to seek the Polish army as soon as conditions for travel improved. During this time, Mala received a letter from Tadek. He informed us that Henryk had died in a hospital near Moscow. He had an operation but grew weaker and could not hang on. The authorities refused permission for Tadek to see him.
Mala suggested that we go to our original kolkhoz to tell the Poles there that they were free to leave. There wasn't a lot of snow and it it wasn't too cold, so we set out on foot. The trip went well and we arrived in Bigelniu after a day of travel. We told our fellow Poles the news of the amnesty but they reacted apathetically. We reminded them that they needed clothes and money, to no avail. The next day, we left to return to our kolkhoz.
The first half of the trip went well but a snowstorm, with strong winds, overtook us suddenly. You couldn't see two steps in front of you. We kept to the road and trudged through the snow. I became very tired. At first I froze but then strangely became warm and a desire to sleep came upon me. I stopped and told Mala that we should rest but she cried that we have to keep going and started to push me and even slapped me in the face. I became very angry. I didn't feel like sleeping anymore and we continued onward. She was continuously pushing me forward. Our return trip was brutal. Finally, we saw the lights of a village. We made it to the first hut and asked if we could rest. They let us in and I sat down, not feeling a thing. Mala cried and nestled up to me saying that she had been afraid that I could have fallen on the road and disappeared. She had heard wolves. Early the next morning, we continued on to our kolkhoz. After we arrived, Mala kissed me and apologized for being so mean to me. She had been extremely scared because she could tell that I was weakening and if I had sat down on the road to rest or sleep, she would not have been able to pick me up and that would have been the end of me.
The end of winter was near so we decided that it was time to head south. On March 19, 1942, we left the kolkhoz for good. Mira, Hela and Jurek rode in the sleigh while Mala, Silek and I walked behind. The wagoner (a woman, who was also our guide) walked with the horse up front. The road was very rough. There was lots of snow and it was still very cold. We travelled in the direction of Siemipolatynsk where we were to meet up with Mala's husband. It was already getting dark when we reached the forest. Our wagoner said that just up ahead, there was a forest ranger's cabin where we could stay overnight. As we headed into the forest it became completely dark. Our wagoner knew the area and led the horse by the bridle in the direction of the cabin. Mira started calling for me and so then did Jurek. We heard strange sounds in the distance but we did not know what they were. Fifteen minutes later, we heard the sounds again. The horse began to snort and did not want to go any further. The wagoner told us that there was great danger as those were wolves howling. A few minutes later, we saw a light. The wolves were all around us and were getting closer. We expected to perish but the forest ranger's cabin came into view. She pulled the horse by its bridle while we pushed the sleigh from behind. We came to the gate, which was locked. A dog was barking. The wolves had stopped their advance but waited nearby. A man came out of the house and asked "Who's there? What kind of people are you?" Our wagoner answered but the man wasn't satisfied and asked who was with her, then said we should leave. She pleaded for him to let us in for the night, but he refused. Because I knew the Russian language and understood what they were saying, I spoke up and pleaded with the man, that if he has any compassion towards children, he should let us in until morning. Then a woman came out and started yelling "What do you want here? Go away!" I became very angry and in my despair I started to scream and cried that the wolves will destroy us and our children and "If you don't help us I wish the same fate to befall you and your children!" Then there was silence. After a few moments, the man opened the gates and let us in. We were rescued. Quickly, Mala and I laid out bedding on the floor and we all fell asleep. The following morning the owners of the cabin watched us get ready to leave. I told them that we were very grateful for their help and asked how much we owed them for the night. The man said nothing and brought us hot water for tea. He felt ashamed. An hour later we left for the next kolkhoz, 50 kilometers away.
The day was beautiful, the sun shone and we were once again on our way through the forest. We all felt good. The early spring flowers were peeking through the snow. Our wagoner said that we would have to hire a different wagon at the next kolkhoz as she would not take us further. She wanted to return home before nightfall because in a day or two, the spring thaw will be starting and the roads will turn to mud. The kolkhoz we arrived at was huge. The residents were Russian and there was an orderliness around there houses thanks to the vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Our wagoner helped us find a wagon driver to take us to Siempalatynsk. From there we would go by train. We said goodbye to our guide and left with our new wagoner within the hour, reaching the city before evening. We found a room to rent and finally, could properly rest after our tiring trip.
The next day, Mala and I went to the Polish outpost to register for departure from the Soviet Union. We waited in a queue and when it was our turn, we were summoned into an office. The workers called the man, Mr Lieutenant, and he wanted to know where we came from and where wanted to go. Mala said her husband was with the army in Dzalalabad. He was satisfied with that and she left the room. I said that my husband died while in the army and the lieutenant replied that I should not go to the army camp as I have no one there. I pointed out that I have a seventeen year-old son and an eight year-old daughter. He thought about this for a while then declared that my son could join the army as a volunteer, but it would be better for me and my daughter to remain in a kolkhoz. I left the office. I must not have looked particularly well because Mala immediately asked what had happened. I told her and started to cry. I added that I did not want to return to the office. It would be best if I returned to the kolkhoz. This day was very sad for us but Mala insisted that I cannot return to the kolkhoz. The next day, she urged me to return to the outpost and plead my case. Silek went with us this time. The result of the conversation with the lieutenant was similar to that of the previous day except that they enrolled Silek into the army. Two days later Tadek arrived and, when he learned of my difficulties in trying to leave, went directly to the outpost and made the necessary arrangements. I had a ticket to Dzalalabad! We spent our remaining week preparing for the next leg of our journey. We had to leave a lot of things behind, including all the books. It pained me to do this but we had to, in order to make the trip easier.
Finally, we left on the train. There was a fair amount of room even though there were Russian troops on board. Two days later, we were detained in Tashkent, spending the night there outdoors. It was warm, so no one complained.
After arriving in Dzalalabad, we again spent two days outside before finding a place to stay. It was a small, detached house with only two rooms in the middle of a garden. There was a large house in front where the owner lived. The girls here had long, black hair with many small braids. The town was set up wth a network of small canals. Soon we learned the purpose of these canals. Rainwater would collect in them as it fell and once it stopped raining, the area would immediately dry up.
There was a small pond in the garden. There was also an assortment of tortoises, large and small. The children sat and rode on them. One morning, I heard a shriek outside and ran out to investigate. Mira had fallen into the pond and was choking. I pulled her out and from that day forward, did not allow her to go near the water.
After a couple of days, I went to visit Silek at his army camp. A number of boys gathered around and I noticed that some called him Siwek (grey-haired) or Sitek (a small sieve). This did not please me at all, so from that time forward I began to call him Slawek, a more common name, and this got rid of the confusion.
Next, Mala and I left for the battalion headquarters to look for Tadek. When we arrived, I saw a lot of army people which I had known from Luzki, but I was disappointed as they pretended not to know me. I didn't bother to make a fuss but I did feel bitter and disgusted.
We were on the list for departure. In August (1942) Mala left first. A few days later, Mira and I got on the train to leave. Army officials confirmed the names of the passengers aboard and we were off. Another army official singled me out and gave me a job. I was to hand out provisions to the 50 passengers in our car.
The train arrived at the Caspian Sea and we got off right by the shore, which was very sandy and the water was polluted. We were reunited with Mala. The Soviets asked us to place all of our possessions on the ground then their inspectors searched each family separately. When they came to us, they asked what we had. Mala and I told him then handed him cash, in rubles, so they would leave us alone. A lot of people lost their linens, comforters and lots of clothes, which were burned. Following the inspection, we were loaded onto a freighter. Many people became sick to their stomachs on the trip across the sea. There were no proper toilets, just a makeshift one at the end of the deck - some boards temporarily nailed together with large gaps between. It was difficult to get to this toilet because there was a line-up across the entire deck. People laid on deck, suffering terribly. Before nightfall, the ship raised anchor and we sailed away, travelling all night. In the morning we reached the shores of Persia (Iran) at the port of Pahlevi.
As soon as we reached shore, we were taken to a wash house and given fresh clothing. Our old clothing was taken away from us. They kept us in a tent camp separate from the local population. The tents were huge, one accommodated 100 people. I was chosen as the commander of our tent. This was a lot of work because I had to prepare dry provisions and meals for everyone in the tent. I had a lot of help but it was still tiring. I learned that Mala had already left for another camp in Teheran.
Three weeks later, Mira and I left with a transport going to Teheran. We travelled in a huge automobile, going through the mountains, up and down. Along the way, we stopped and got out to stretch our legs. The locals had a booth by the side of the road and were selling fruit. I bought some grapes from them and Mira ate and ate and couldn't get enough of them. This is when her stomach trouble started. Later on, I let her out of the car and ran with her. This helped to settle down her stomach. Further on, she asked for more grapes but I wouldn't give her any. We arrived in Teheran before nightfall. Here there was another large tent camp. When everyone had found a spot and settled in, a small commission went through camp, checking the list of people present. They asked to see the commander of our tent but no one answered. They asked for a volunteer but again no one answered. So the chief said "then no one will get provisions" and left.
As soon as we arrived in Teheran, I began to feel poorly. I drank, but I could not eat. I noticed that I was entirely yellow. The woman beside me said it was jaundice. The next day brought no improvement.
I went with some of the women to the camp office. A number of the women had received money and I wanted some too. I gave my name to the army clerk, who then asked me my husband's name. He looked at me and left. After a while, I was called to a table. The same clerk handed me a verification certificate and a bit of cash. He told me that I would be receiving a payment each month for myself and my daughter.
I had received no news from Slawek. This worried me very much. My health did not improve either. I thought about Mira. What would happen to her if I were no longer around? By this time, they were getting a transport ready for the next port. Mira was very quick and went with the women to get provisions and clothing. She was small and the line-up was long but she wanted to exchange her sandals for a smaller pair as the ones she was wearing were too big for her, so she crawled to the front of the line. Those who were handing out the clothing and footwear noticed her and called out to her. She went to them and declared that her sandals were too big. They gave her the proper size and let her keep the larger ones too. She felt quite pleased that she was so independent.
Our tent did get provisions after all. Included in everyone's share was one raw egg. Mira took her egg and went somewhere to cook it but there was a long queue to use the stove. So she buried the egg in the sand in a sunny place and went off to play with the other children. Just a few minutes later, because it was so hot in the sun, the egg had cooked in the sand and was just right for eating.
Army representatives came by the tent to register people for departure. A few of the women in our tent registered me and Mira. I told them that I was quite ill and didn't know if I could go. They urged me to leave and said they would help. I could lie down but once the medical commission came along, I was to sit up and act healthy. When we were finally being loaded onto the train, they kept me in the middle among them so I wouldn't be spotted. This helped for sure. Once on the train, they gave me a place to rest. They went to keep watch outside and a few moments later they entered the car quickly and told me to sit up because the medical commission was on its way. I did this and the female doctor walked through the train with her assistants, watching out for anyone who might be ill. She didn't look too closely and soon left the car. I lay down again.
We left Teheran and were on our way to the port of Ahwaz. We travelled overnight and the next day we looked out at the countryside, which appeared very poor. Whenever the train stopped, the locals ran up to the train, begging for a piece of bread. Two days later, I felt better and asked my protectors for a piece of bread. They were very happy to oblige and I ate it hungrily. By the third day, I felt almost normal and we arrived at Ahwaz that afternoon. We met Mala once again. Mala's daughter, Hela, had an eye infection and was very weak, but her son Jurek looked well as did Mira.
Mala was on the list for the next departure and we decided this time not to be separated. We went to the army office to add me to the list but they told us that the transport list had already been finalized and we could meet up again at the next port. Mala decided to skip this transport so that we could leave together later and so, we returned to camp. A couple of hours later we were summoned to the office again. Two spots had become available on this transport, so we were able to leave together after all. The next day, we were on the deck of our ship. Our two families found a nook together, below deck, and we were very comfortable. We did not know where we were headed though but it did not matter. The next day we came up on deck. It was a pleasant, sunny day. I felt very good but I was still jaundiced. In the evening, we were asked to go below. The doors to each section were locked, all lights extinguished, and there was total silence on the ship. In the morning, everything returned to normal. We learned that our ship was part of a convoy, surrounded by other ships, and that we had been navigating through a dangerous area, laden with mines.
Two days later the ship docked in an Indian port near Bombay. Buses were already waiting for us and in an hour we were on the road to a new location. The trip was short. We were now in a transient tent camp near Karachi. Again, the tents were huge and many people were continually being transported in and out.
Mira and Jurek got sick and had swollen throats (the mumps). They weren't able to swallow anything so they were taken to a hospital in Karachi. This delayed the next leg of our journey. Two weeks later, the children returned to health but they were stiil kept in the hospital. Mala and I started to sew for extra cash. Quite a few people needed clothing repairs or alterations so we kept busy. We met a couple for whom we did some work and we got along. When the children returned from hospital a few weeks later, our new acquaintances suggested that we all leave on the same transport.
One day, Mala and I took some sewing to our clients. When we returned, Mira ran out to greet us with some good news. She had received a large present from an army man. She had gone to the store and looked all around at the goods that were available to buy. The army man picked out some of the best fruit and gave it to her. Because it was heavy, he even carried it for her to the tent. We were surprised by his generosity but also very happy as the fruit tasted great.
Food was not allowed in the tents. Later, we learned why. In the night, hyenas came into camp and if there was any food, they would find it, not hesitating to go into the tents to get it.
It was time to depart once again and we registered for the same transport as our new friends. We waited for about a week, then were given some clothing and footwear. We waited another week and eventually the time came. We boarded the ship and set sail. We were quite comfortable on this ship and the children were glad for the change.
One day was set aside for rest and laundry. We dried our clothes nearby then later folded each article individually, placing them under the bed sheets until the next day. In this way, everything looked as if it had been ironed. Up on deck, there were many children so our young ones were easily able to make friends.
One afternoon Mira, who was now six years old, came and told me that a British army man had taken her to a room full of people. They said something to her but she did not understand. After a while, she realized that they wanted her to sing. At the camp, she had learned a few short songs, so now she sang them for her new audience. They were very pleased and from that point on, she would sing for them now and then. They were delighted when Mira was able to say a few words in English.
Mala and I went up on deck every day. We met a few Polish people and spent time with them. It was difficult to communicate with the English people on board, including the crew. We could only smile at them and they would smile back. We even lacked the words to say thank you for the meal in the dining room. We bought an English-Polish dictionary and taught ourselves. Soon one day, we were on deck, dictionaries in hand, and we put together a few sentences which we could use every day. An older officer approached us and said something, repeatedly pointing a finger at his ear. We understood this much, that listening is the best teacher. He spent a long time teaching us, but it didn't help much.
Soon we arrived at the coast of Africa, the port of Mombasa, Kenya. We were transferred to a train that was waiting for us. While waiting for departure, we looked out the window of the car and noticed that some people from the ship were walking down the length of our train, looking in each window. They approached our car and one of them noticed Mira and smiled at her. She approached the window, he took her hand and said something. He appeared very concerned. Then he took some money out of his pocket and handed it to her. Mira looked back to me and asked if she could take it. The man bowed to me and spoke. I understood a bit, he asked if he could give her some money. I nodded. He stood at the window for a long time, talking to Mira. Finally, the train whistle blew, signalling our departure.
The train passed by large villas which looked like they were drowning in greenery, trees and flowers. We soon left the port city, travelling very slowly. The weather was incredible. On both sides of the rails you could see animals of all kinds. Giraffes stood not far away from the train tracks, but did not appear frightened. We were all at the windows, awed by the animals and the wilderness. You could see far into the blossoming expanse. Sometimes, we saw black people. They didn't appeal to us because when they saw us they started yelling and jumping all around.
After three days of travelling like this, the train stopped and we got off. Large trucks came and started taking some of the people away. I stayed with Mala until our turn came. We rode through the plains and forests until we arrived at a settlement. We saw huts covered with sugar cane which stood in rows, creating streets. We were directed to one of these huts. Mira and I and Mala with her two children, occupied one half. The centre was designated as a dining room while the other half was occupied by another family (a husband and wife with three children).
Mala and I started to prepare our living area. The hut already contained a stove and beds with netting, because the mosquitos bit terribly. We put our suitcases in the corner and that was everything. A shed had been built behind the house, the roof and the upper walls were covered with cane. There were no doors. There was a brick stove and a bit further away was a very primitive toilet with a roof and walls. In the middle of this "outhouse" was a board, raised above the floor over an opening in the ground. For water, each section of buildings had a tap and a walled shower stall. We received weekly provisions, dried milk powder and some meat which we prepared immediately so that it wouldn't spoil.
Shortly after we arrived, I got a letter from Slawek, who found us through the Red Cross. I wrote back to him right away as he was very worried, not having received any news from us for a very long time. He had heard that a ship had been sunk so he dreaded that this might have been our fate.
We started to tour our settlement. It was called Koja, on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda. We went for a walk to the lake. The weather was splendid, the water warm. We walked along the lakeshore admiring the rocks in the water, grey-coloured in the sunlight. I stood on one rock then hopped to another. It seemed to me that the rock moved. A man approached and told me to get back to shore. He touched the rock and assured us that it wasn't a rock at all but a young crocodile, sunning itself. He explained that it was dangerous to go in the water and certainly we couldn't swim in the lake. As he left us, he mentioned that he was the camp commander, and he would be very happy if we could be more careful in the future.
Mala and I got jobs. She was a sewing supervisor and I was to administer the paperwork. I recorded what work we received and how much income came in. There were dozens of workers and we made everything needed by the people in the camp. A couple of months later, an embroidery section was established. A few people worked in this unit and produced beautiful handiwork - lace sets and doilies. We were busy and time flew by.
For Christmas, we had a small tree with various decorations, created by us from paper. Naturally, it was an odd tree as there were no evergreens here. Friends would frequently come by to visit in the evenings after work or on Sundays.
All the people in the settlement were given employment of various kinds. There were looms for weaving, an iron works, and so on. The children went to school. Because it was too hot during the day, people only worked until noon in the morning, and after 4:00 pm in the afternoon. The temperature at midday was unbearable. The evenings were warm but the mosquitos bothered us so much that you couldn't sit outdoors. We all had denim clothes, long pants and shirts with long sleeves. In this way we could go for a walk or visit friends. During the day, everyone wore a cork helmet covered with material, to protect us from the sun.
Several people would often register at the office for bus trips to the city of Kampala for shopping. They often took us for sightseeing trips. We went with one group to a place called Jinga, where the Nile River begins. On the way, we saw black people, some working, some relaxing. Near the gates to our settlement there was a large open area where, once a week, black people came to sell vegetables and fruit, such as bananas, oranges and papaya. Papaya was a very tasty fruit which grew on trees in our settlement. Even though it hung on the tree in the hot sun, it was always cold when picked and eaten. We always had plenty of fruit.
Two years passed by since our arrival at the settlement in Koja. Everyone was keeping well and healthy, but then people started getting sick with malaria. There were even some deaths. I also caught malaria and in spite of the fact that I took Aspirin and Atebryne, the disease tormented me so much that I was taken to the settlement hospital. Two weeks later I returned home but continued to take medicine.
The supervisor of the plant where I worked came by every day to see how we were doing and to check on supplies. He was a very pleasant man, handsome and always a gentleman. He was very polite to everyone and as a result, the work didn't seem difficult and was always appreciated. Everyone was willing to do their job as best they could and in this way, time passed quickly.
One morning we were informed to gather at noon in front of the speakers, of which there were a few installed around the settlement. Important news was announced - the war had ended. Now all the peoples who had been scattered around the world could return to their homelands or elsewhere. Of course, they informed us that in Poland, the government was Soviet and they were inviting Polish refugees to return. Our people were not pleased. Everywhere you heard whispering, that after so many years of wandering and after so many of our men had been killed in action, where and to what were we to return to ? People were very depressed.
A few days later, we were informed that we had to make plans to leave as our refugee settlement was to be liquidated. The plant supervisor, K.G., often came to visit it us and we discussed the topics that concerned us all. There was a slight attraction between us. Mala noticed this and watched grudgingly, becoming a bit unfriendly towards him. So, he started coming less often to visit. We only saw each other at work, and he started coming by there more often than necessary. Finally, one evening when he passed by our house, I noticed him and came out to see him. We went for a walk and from then, began to meet more often, in various places. I don't know how it happened, but we became very close and a romance began. I was happy.
Now time passed by very quickly. I was able to communicate with my family in Poland. Everyone was alive but were having a very hard time. My mother was sick and mostly lay in bed.
In our settlement, they started to register refugees for departure. Many chose to return to Poland, mostly because they wanted to reunite with their families. Because Mala's husband was already in England, he didn't register to go to Poland and neither did my brother, Slawek. So, Mala and I registered to go to England. Mala left first as she had a husband sponsoring her. I left later. Many chose to go to Australia, New Zealand or Canada.
Because Slawek (Tony) was in the army during the war, we were allowed to go to England. He had joined the Polish Army when he was 17 years old, following our escape from Siberia. He participated in the Italian Campaign, including the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was a radio/telegraph operator, sending and receiving messages in Morse Code.
We left Africa in 1948 and arrived in Cornwall, England. A year later we moved to Essex where there was a Polish refugee camp, and we lived there in an army style barracks. This camp was next to an abandoned airport, close to London where Slawek lived and worked.
On July 29, 1956, we immigrated to Toronto, Canada. My mother, Franciszka Dobrowlanska died in 1991 and is buried in a Catholic cemetery in Alliston, Ontario. She was 83 years old.
November, 9, 2007