I was born on 18 January 1920 in Lwow, and finished math/science high school just before the outbreak of WWII. Upon the occupation of Lwow by the USSR after September 17th 1939, my mother, grandmother, grandfather and I moved in with my aunt and uncle and their two daughters.
The Soviet Police arrested my 84 year old grandfather Zygmunt Krykiewicz on April 10, 1940. When they arrested him they said that they were taking him in just to ask him some questions, and that everything would be fine. They also sealed the doors to 3 rooms and the attic, and left. My grandfather was never seen or heard from again, although relatives checked all the prisons in Lwow. As the house food was stored in the sealed attic, I made my way through another opening and managed to get some of it out into the rooms below, now a small apartment occupied by 7 people.
On April 13,1940 a neighbor, a blacksmith, warned us that on that day there would be deportations and we were on the list. How did he know? Believing this was one of many rumors, the family stayed put. Later that night the NKVD came banging on the door, ordered us to pack and said that we were being resettled into a different part of the USSR, which indicated that this part of Poland was already considered by our second invader a part of the USSR.
They read the list of those in the apartment: grandmother K, Uncle Yusef, his wife Marilka, and their daughter Zygmunta, me, and my mother. Marysia my 13 year old cousin who was sleeping on the floor behind some furniture was not on the list. My aunt cried “What about Marysia?”, and they added her to our family list for deportation. They ordered us to pack, and ransacked the apartment, tearing and destroying everything including my uncle’s prized stamp collection that they scattered on the floor.As they were leaving, I picked a few stamps from the floor and still have them. I was physically searched and they found on me my grandfather Friedrich’s precious pocket watch and they took it from me. It was a very fine pocket watch that had a little chime. I was devastated!
Outside a military horse drawn wagon was waiting for us. We all packed in haste and piled all sorts of things, food, clothing and whatever we could carry onto the cart. It was a rather comic scene: grandma sat on the small seat next to the driver and hung on to him for her life, I sat on top of our belongings, and others walked next to the wagon followed by two policemen with guns drawn. Mother asked where we were going and was told we were going to Region II- whatever that meant.
They loaded us onto boxcars at the Lwow Freight Depot.There were so many cattle cars, I couldn’t count how many, it seemed like hundreds of cars. We prisoners were locked in the boxcars. After a boxcar was filled, the door was shut, and the next car was loaded. There were two kinds of cars, a bigger and a smaller car. We were put in a smaller car with two shelves at each end. The sliding door was left two or three inches ajar with a piece of gutter sticking out: that was the bathroom. I remember my grandmother, mother, aunt & uncle and their two daughters took an upper shelf where there was a tiny window, while I shared the lower shelf with a Jewish lady and her 18 year old daughter and some of our luggage. Other luggage was stuffed under the lower shelf.
Also in the car were a tram worker still in his uniform with his wife and a little child, the family of a gardener that used to provide vegetables to the major Lwow hotels, a very sick young man constantly complaining and coughing, and finally the owners of a leather processing factory and their sons. While other cars were being loaded for deportation, my uncle Marian Krynkiewicz, who lived close by came searching for us, and found grandmother peeking through the tiny window. They both cried and she told him to go and get the lard and to hurry and bring it to the train. He did come back- with a small cup- so grandmother said to him- why didn’t you bring the whole container!
It was probably midday when the train started moving - so all the Poles locked in the cattle cars sang the song “Boze cos Polskej” car after car after car – the whole train sang the same song. It is really a hymn asking God, who protected Poland for centuries to protect them and bless Poland. Families left behind ran crying along the train as it was leaving for the “land of bondage”. As the train left the Station, Uncle Marian kept running alongside crying. That was the last memory of him for grandma and my aunt & uncle.
There were no facilities, just the gutter in our boxcar (other cars had a hole in the floor). You could not sit on the gutter, which was a problem especially for women. Men could pee through the door. It was so embarrassing for all of us to take care of nature’s call because it was done in the middle of the room with no privacy. My mother stopped going to the bathroom and almost died. When we finally arrived after two weeks, she had to be taken to the hospital. Each day the train stopped, and two or three able people from each car (the able-bodied ones that could jump from the car and carry supplies) were allowed to get out to get the food. The tram worker, one of the sons of the leather factory owners and I jumped out of the boxcar at each stop. As soon as the door was open, I would jump out, crawl under the car and relieve myself, with guards yelling, screaming and kicking. Each day they gave us some watery soup and a bucket of water.
Each night, the Jewish lady made sure she slept in the middle, with me on one side and her daughter Sarah, then 18, on the other. During the day, she kept repeating “Sarah, do not get too close to Mr. Friedrich”.
The train stopped at Semiplatinsk on the river Irtysz in Kazakhstan on April 30, 1940.
I think it took two weeks to get there. They had been unloading people at different stops along the way. They took us in army trucks to a small settlement called “ Oziorki” some 20 km away. The kolkhoz was called “The 3rd International”. They unloaded us and 20 families at the school gym where we stood with our belongings, surrounded by Kirgiz men squatting silently along the walls. We did not know what to think. The Kirgiz men had Asian features and looked very strange. They looked a bit scared and probably didn’t know what to think either.
Then the police told us to go and look for lodging and locals were told to accept the new arrivals.The NKVD ruled with fear.The NKVD brought my family to Ivan Parfientiv, a collective farmer and told him to take care of us.My aunt/uncle and two cousins went with another farmer and we rarely saw them. Ivan lived in a hut with a bedroom and a kitchen. He gave us the tiny bedroom that had a bed. Grandmother, who could barely walk, got the bed, while my mother and I slept on the floor. Ivan and his family slept in the kitchen. The next day, grandmother was covered with bedbug bites, so I took the bedding outside and poured boiling water on it to kill the bed bugs, which shocked and offended Ivan because bed bugs were considered lucky!
Our hut had no outhouse. In fact, there were no outhouses anywhere in the village! I went out and dug a hole and built one with pieces of boards and some dead branches, an outhouse that looked absolutely unique. Ivan and his family never used the outhouse and thought it was quite unnecessary.
Ivan let us have half of the garden behind his hut. What saved us were the vegetables we grew in the little garden and the fact that grandmother had brought gold jewelry with her. One was a chain with tiny glasses at the end. Russia was trying to get the old gold rubles and any kind of gold out of the population, so they set up points in towns where gold was weighed and appraised, and sold – for which they were given vouchers - to be used in stores which had lots of things not available outside. Grandmother and Mother shopped this way, and sold the gold chain in small pieces. The Russians did not take diamonds or silver. We sold the wedding bands, and other jewelry as well. We also received food packages from relatives in Poland, which helped out a lot.
Poles traded whatever they had for food, but soon they ran out of things to trade. One couple – friends of ours who were in a remote village, we later on found out, just starved to death. Poles tried to help each other with what little they had, but most had so little themselves.
We were vaccinated, but we weren’t tol d against what. There was a medic in the Kolhoz who dispensed some minor medications when necessary.
I was sent in my heavy ski boots to plow the fields - and it was a very hard job, and on top of it I had no experience, so I plowed as best I could. My mother was sent to dig ditches, and after a few weeks her hands were covered with blisters - so she quit and said “Arrest me, if you wan t- I will not dig ditches again!” But in Russia if you didn’t work you got no food. I also worked on the watermelon patch and was told to handle the melons very carefully and knock on them, and it they were ripe to harvest them. I thought - how awful - that we could not even have a watermelon – so I picked one up and hit it on the ground, when nobody was looking, so it split and I had some watermelon. If I had been seen I could have been charged for sabotage.
My mother sold her Persian lamb coat to a Russian colonel at a flea market. She also sold my new suit. To trade, we had to travel to Semiplatynsk - some 20km away - so we walked and sometimes hitched a ride on a gravel train which left the gravel pit at different intervals. The gravel cars were small and there were so many of them.
At the beginning of autumn, we foundan empty room in the kolkotz and we asked if we could move to it and they said yes. So the whole family as well as my aunt and uncle and their two daughters moved to an old unused bathhouse we rented for 50 rubles. I was surprised: my cousin Marysia, a child when I last saw her, was now a very pretty young woman.
In the winter, when there was a snow storm, we struggled to get back to our house, walking along the utility poles. But as it got dark and the snow kept blowing it was almost impossible to see the utility poles - so I was the lookout and leader of the family trek.
My uncle was a photographer and I worked on a construction site carrying buckets of sand, cement, etc. None of the rest of the family ever did manual labor, and none could work in such conditions so they did what they could to save themselves. Every evening there was a big discussion to decide when to turn on the oil lamp: oil was very expensive for us.
My cousin Marysia started feeling sick. She had pains and soon it was harder for her to get up from the ground in the morning. The local doctors had no idea and provided no help. She kept getting worse and we were all in despair. One day we heard a real doctor had arrived at a local hospital. We loaded Marysia on a wheel barrow and carried her to the hospital. The doctor immediately recognized an advanced case of polio. Unfortunately the damage was done. Marysia grew with a shorter leg and twisted spine.
Bricks of compressed tea were the best for trading with the Kirgiz who loved tea and would trade anything for it.
The park or town square had been an old cemetery and gravestones were used as pavers for walkways! It was awful – walking on gravestones with names of the deceased under our feet. There you could hear Russian communist songs, and speeches how fortunate the people were to live under Stalin, saying that they are so happy now, and sugar will soon be arriving! These loudspeakers one day announced that Germany had invaded Russia – we rejoiced, but could not show it. Almost overnight everything changed for us. We were no longer suspected as enemies – but were now looked upon as compatriots and were given “amnesty”….but for what?
My Russian passport had a notation that I was the son of a factory owner - which was a terrible thing to have, (like maybe a sex offender in our community here in the US) although my father went bankrupt and was long gone. Now they took my passport and gave me permission to travel. I was FREE to go!
Some 20 men went to Ugovoj because they heard that a Polish Army was forming there under the command of General Anders. Soon, they came back, saying that was not the case. But then again they heard that Ugovoj was the place to go to enlist - so they went again in March 1942 and I went with them - and this time it was true!
We were given brand new army uniforms, socks, underwear etc - but many of us had lice. So they placed the new uniforms a few yards away from us - we undressed and left the lice-infested clothing in a pile and rolled in the snow, rubbed ourselves with snow and then put on the new clean uniforms. We were given physicals with women present (most doctors were women); we were all told to undress completely and marched in front of the doctors. Being a math/science high school graduate I was assigned to the artillery. We were given tents, 2 blankets and a shovel. We were told to dig a place for the tent. If we were not digging we would have to sleep outside.
So we dug a hole, set up camp and huddled together for warmth, sharing blankets for mattresses and covering. (I still have one of the blankets). We got 800 grams of bread a day and soup - no second helpings. A lot of people died of various diseases when they started eating regularly after a life of starvation. I always saved some bread for breakfast the following day, but most people had to wait on an empty stomach for the new lunch.
In April of 1942 they loaded us onto freight cars and took us to Tashkent (that took two weeks). We were taken to a hanga r- and for the first time in ages - I actually sat on a chair and ate at a table! There was a Russian band in the corner - so we were all afraid that they would play and sing communist songs - but to our surprise they sang “Chryzantemy Zlociste” (a popular pre-war song). I thought I was in heaven!
Then we went to Krasnovodzk and they loaded us unto Russian tanker ships packed like sardines. People were vomiting all over each othe r- it was filthy and disgusting! They fed us herrings and no water. I was sitting outside under the bridge and at times people from above vomited on us. The crossing of the Caspian Sea took 24 hours. The sea was choppy and even sailors were seasick. The trip was macabre, but nobody complained. When I disembarked, I was filthy, the front of my uniform dirty with my vomit, and my back from the vomit of others.
I went to the beach, with beautiful white sand, and washed myself and the uniform. Arriving in Pahlevi in Iran we were in shock to find stores, markets etc. The British had a good kitchen and served tea with sweet condensed milk – and we could have seconds! This was luxury!
My mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins made their way in the fall to Iran via the same route. In Iran their belongings were stolen - they were left with only the clothing on their backs and lived in a refugee camp. I had lost contact with them after joining the army. By chance one day I met a Polish driver of a senior officer visiting our barracks. He told me there were Polish refugees in Teheran and he gave me the address of the refugee camp. I wrote to the camp, and soon later I receive a letter from my family with their story. We then kept in contact by mail for the rest of the war.
Later my mother and grandmother were relocated to Africa where they lived in a hut in a Polish camp on the shore of Lake Victoria, constantly fighting monkeys to save their food and with no lamp oil for the night. My grandmother died in Koja, 80km south of Nairobi. She is buried on the shore of Lake Victoria, where hippos were bathing and grandma had complained they were making too much noise and she could not sleep. My mother later joined me in Buenos Aires and then came with me to Seattle. My older cousin, while in Teheran, met a GI from Seattle. They later married and my aunt, uncle and cousins moved to Seattle after the end of the war.
After the successful evacuation from the Soviet Union to Iran, I was able to complete an anti-aircraft officer training course in Habanija, Iraq. Then I took part in the Italian campaign from its beginning to the end as an officer of an anti-aircraft artillery unit and later a Field –Artillery battalion. I arrived in Naples, was transferred by train to Barletta and moved to the front. I was constantly in action with the 8th British Army, including the battle of Monte Cassino. During the battle of Monte Cassino I commanded a battery shelling German positions. That was a relatively safe position. The real heroes were the solders who charged up the mountain. I lost many friends among them.
During the winter of 1945 I was sent on a course for communication officers in Matera, Italy and I was promoted to Lieutenant. I participated in the capture of Bologna. After Kesserling’s surrender a couple of days later, General Clark came and shook our hands. I was then sent with my regiment to Campofilone, a small hill town in the Marche region. One day I had permission to visit Rome for a few days. The news spread. At the time Italians could not travel or mail packages and a family from Campofilone asked me to bring a package to their daughter in Rome. The daughter was living with nuns. They told me how to go from the station to the convent and how to bargain for the carriage ride. The nun that opened the door, perhaps 30 years old, looked me over and then asked me in Polish what I was doing there. She did not know anything about the war. She had come to Rome in 1939 and had been in the monastery since. She was quite puzzled with my uniform.
In Campofilone, the army encouraged us to apply for an education. I wanted to apply for chemistry, but by mistake I applied to chemical engineering instead and I was sent to Turin, Italy, where I transferred to architecture at the University of Turin. My Italian was non-existent and I had trouble following the lessons. One day, going to class, I noticed a group of young ladies, especially one that seemed to have an interest in me. At the end of the class, they were still there. I took my chance, and asked the young lady if she was also a student and then invited to escort her home. The next day we met again, and she had music from Chopin casually under her arm. At the time I was staying with other Polish students in a dorm across the river Po. We kept meeting by the river and I was getting home late, so I kept missing dinners. We were married less than a year later. That was my life’s best decision.
In 1948, I grew very scared by the Italian elections. It seemed to me the Communist party would likely win, and I did not want to take a chance. Hence I dropped my studies and with my wife Pia, and daughter Vivien I immigrated to Argentina (that was probably my life’s dumbest decision). After trying for many years, in 1959 I was granted permission to immigrate to the United States and I settled in Seattle where my cousins and aunt lived (my uncle died in Seattle while I was in Argentina). From 1967 until my retirement in 1985, I was employed as an Associate Architect in the Design Division, Planning and Construction, at the University of Washington. My wife was a professor of Italian in the University of Washington's Romance Languages Department.
In 1947, while still in Italy, I had joined The Polish Veteran’s Association. In 1972, my friend Roman Okinczyc and I established the Polish Veterans Lodge #50 in Seattle. I was President of the Lodge for the next 15 years, Vice-President for 5 additional years, and Secretary for two. I am still an active member. I have been awarded a campaign ribbon for action in Italy as well as Gold and Silver honorary medals of the Polish Veterans Association.
Of the years in Siberia, my surviving relatives and I most remember the constant hunger and oppression. Because I was young and the main worker in the family, my mother and the others favored me and I was healthy during that period. But my mother suffered from scurvy, probably because she left all the fruits for me. As I mentioned, some people died of starvation in Siberia. But many people died when they were finally liberated and started eating plentifully. I went to Iran with the Army, and many soldiers died when they finally could start eating. The same, but much worse, happened when the rest of the family finally reached Iran, together with some of the remaining Polish prisoners: many of the Polish refugees died shortly after reaching Teheran from many diseases and also from overeating after long starvation.
Jerzy Friedrich and family standing by their home in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, April 13, 1941
1942-Friedrich in Jerusalem
1943 - Friedrich - Officer Cadet in Iran
Jerzy Friedrich Italy, August 1945
Jerzy's WW2 medals
Jerzy Friedrich, Feb 23rd 2008
Copyright: Friedrich family