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Genowefa (Wojnarowicz) KASPRZYK

Genowefa Wojnarowicz was born on 19 November 1925, in the village/settlement of Marysin,Nowogrodek county, Poland. Her Father was Wojciech Wojnarowicz. and her Mother was Maria Ciechanowicz, born in Bielice.


The settlement was made up of settled land grants for army veterans. There were 48 households/farms in their settlement.She lived with her father, mother, two brothersTadeusz and Czeslaw, and a younger sister Marysia. 


During amnesty, when her family was trekking to the Middle East to join the Polish Army, her older brother Tadeusz died on the train before they got to Moscow, her father Wojciech died after they had passed Moscow, and her Mother Mari died as the children were getting on the ship that was to take them across the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi, in Persia/Iran. Her youngest brother, Czeslaw, disappeared in Teheran.  She was left with just her younger sister Marysia.

On the 19th or 20th of September 1939, the Russians arrested her father, this was just after the Russians invaded Poland. He was in prison for 5 months and then they let him go. From their village they only let out 4 individuals and he was one of them He got home at the beginning of February. On the 10th of February 1940, in the middle of the night, they came knocking, and the whole family was transported to Siberia.They came and told them to take food with them for the trip—the food they took saved them on the trip.

The reason the family was transported was because the Germans/Nazis and the Russians had a secret agreement to divide Poland between them—called the Ribbentrop/Molotov pact. The Russians denied the existence of this pact until 1989. After the Nazis attacked western Poland—the Russians moved in to occupy eastern Poland. When they moved into eastern Poland, they moved in with a policy of ‘ethnic’ cleansing—taking all individuals who had any position of authority:  police, game wardens, teachers, military officers, and all military members—and shipping them to gulags (work ‘slave’ camps) to work on cutting timber, mining, etc.—whatever was needed. Hundreds of thousand were also sent to Russian prisons. It is estimated by Polish historians that between 1.5-2 million Poles were deported this way by the Russians in 1940-1941.  

The whole family was taken to the train station (Koralicze), where there was a long string of train cars that had originally been used to transport animals to slaughter (cows, sheep, pigs). People were loaded into the wagons, filling them full—to the point that individuals couldn’t lie down, and it was hard to breathe. The train taking them was the longest one she had ever seen.


They left the next night, as it took all day to load the train cars. The train went for ten days—stopping occasionally at stations—but they were not given any food or drink on the train ride. They had no blankets, etc. They took this transport to European Siberia, to the end of the train tracks, to the very last station, where they stopped the train, which stayed there in one spot for a week.


There were 25-30 people per wagon. To go to the bathroom—there was a hole in middle of the floor of the wagon. They were at the station Syniega for a week, then they got all surviving individuals organized, with their stuff onto sleighs with drivers. Genowefa’s younger brother was 11, her older one 15-16. The Russian secret police (NKVD) followed them, guarding them. They walked for a week (220 kms) to a labour camp (Shenkurksky Region, Archangel county, north of the Arctic circle). They walked and followed the sleighs and drivers.

In the camp, there were about 600 individuals.  They lived in barracks, which had previously been occupied by Ukrainians, and the Poles were forced to build more barracks.

Everyone who was able-bodied had to work, which included Genowefa—she was 14. The authorities organized a Russian school for the kids, who were required to attend to be ‘re-educated’. They had to learn Russian, Soviet/Communist philosophy, etc. The kids in Genowefa’s camp rebelled and organized a school strike, where they refused to attend. The authorities then put them to work helping with the logging. The older kids and adults had to cut the trees down—the younger ones (under 13), had to help by cutting the branches off the logs. They had to drag the trees to the river, which were then sent on downstream.

In a barrack, which was about 10 meters x 10 meters, there lived four families. For nearly two years they only had watery fish soup and one piece of bread, once a day to eat. To save the family, Genowefa’s father, who was drafted into working at the camp bakery, used to steal flour, and put it under his clothes, in his legs in a pouch he had made, and came home where they made pancakes. Genowefa’s mother did not work—she had heart problems. Her youngest brother did not have to work—but everyone else did. They worked six days a week, with Sundays off. In the summers, they picked mushrooms and berries to supplement their diets.

For nearly two years they lived like that in the camp. In the fall of 1941, they received amnesty from the Russians, and the Russians set them free.They had to trek the 220 kms back to the nearest train station (Syniega). Of the 500-600 individuals in Genowefa’s camp—they only let out 30-40 families. The rest had to stay, because there were not enough sleighs, horses and drivers to take them to the train station. At the train station, they were all piled into cattle cars, and the train took off to Kazakhstan. This was a special transport train, transporting Poles from Siberian labour camps. The train journey lasted for 6 and a half weeks. Similar to the one that had brought them—the train was long, with many cars. A large number of individuals died on the way; with the train stopping frequently, to throw bodies off it. They just tossed the bodies off the train, and the train went on. No one knew what happened to the bodies.


For a week the train waited near Moscow because the Nazis were bombing Moscow. Once a day they were fed some watery soup.  From the train, which stopped occasionally, they traded stuff with the local Russians—sometimes getting food, but the local Russians also did not have much. Genowefa’s older brother died on the train, when they were standing near Moscow. At least his body was taken by the Polish Army, and buried somewhere. Her Father died a couple of days after they left Moscow—and his body was thrown off the train.

When the Nazis attacked Russia, Russia turned and joined the Western Allies to fight the Nazis.  General Anders was allowed to form a Polish army in the souther USSR and later evacuated the army to Persia (Iran). So they shipped surviving Poles from the Siberian labour camps to the Middle East —taking all the men and boys, but also allowing the families to join them.

Sikorski (head of the Polish government in exile, in England) and General Anders organized the Polish transport to Iran. They were sent to Krasnowodsk, to take a ship across the Caspian Sea. Genowefa’s mother died just before they got on the boat.  Genowefa (14) and her brother and sister were carrying their ill Mother onto the boat, when an adult noticed that they were carrying a dead body. The authorities took the body away from them, telling them that if they didn’t give it up it would be buried at sea, and they guaranteed a burial for Genowefa’s mother.

Three of them were left, Genowefa, her sister Marysia, and her youngest brother Czeslaw.  The ship took them across the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi.. The ship was filthy—smelly, dirty, Genowefa had seen nothing worse. The ship was a Russian ship, especially used to pack people in, to ship them to Iran from Russia. People died, and got sick on the ship. The voyage took a few days. The ship was so dirty, that the kids were afraid to lie down or sit, so they stood for the whole journey. They didn’t want to touch anything on the boat. When people died on the boat, they were buried at sea, tossed over the side.

When they got to Pahlevi, people were loaded onto trucks, and taken to Teheran. This road trip took 4-5 hours, on a very steep and windy road. During the whole road trip Genowefa was petrified that the truck would turn over and they would all be killed. They got to Teheran, where Genowefa’s sister and younger brother got sick, probably with typhoid. They were put into separate hospitals, and Genowefa never saw her brother after that. He disappeared in Teheran. He was already sick on the boat—and Genowefa begged him not to die—because she didn’t want him to be thrown over-board into the sea. The last Genowefa saw him was going into a hospital, and a Polish priest said he would watch him, and take care of him. A lot of people died in Teheran. They put the bodies into tents.


When Genowefa’s sister got sick, she survived, and came out of the hospital looking like a complete skeleton. In Teheran, they were in a camp that was situated at the city walls, and they slept out in the open, under the city walls, because there was no room anywhere else. They slept on blankets, staying like that for four months.

As orphans, they were then relocated to Isfahan, in Iran. Orphanages were organized by the Polish government-in-exile in London.  5,000 Polish children lived in the orphanages, which were organized around schools. The kids were all sent to school to finish their interrupted studies, studying Polish, history, math, science, etc., and Genowefa learned French. Genowefa was in Isfahan for a year and a half.

After Isfahan, Genowefa was taken via an English ship to South Africa, where they went to Port Elizabeth. 500 orphans, and their teachers, and minders were sent to a Polish orphanage/school in Outsdoorn, about 25 kilometers from Cape Town. They were in school, girl scouts, etc. That was in 1944.

After spending about 9 months in South Africa, Genowefa and her sister were sent to Digglefold, in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), where another Polish orphanage/school was organized. Genowefa finished secondary school there and met her future husband, Zbigniew Kasprzyk. They got married in 1951, lived in Africa for 25 years and had four children:  Basia, Zbigniew, Danuta and Marek. 


In 1965, they immigrated to the US because of the unrest in Zimbabwe in the fight against colonialism. She worked at Seattle Trust & Savings Bank for 6 years, and for Nordstroms’ Bellevue in Alterations for 15 years. Because of her perfectionism she acquired a steady clientele of ‘her ladies’ who always came back to her for their alterations. She retired in 1990, and spent time with family, and travelling, including around the US, to Zimbabwe, Poland, Israel, Mexico, and other parts of Europe. In 2006, she made a trek back to Belarus, to her childhood home.

Genowefa Kasprzyk passed away June 2009. 


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Isfahan, Persia

Digglefold School

Copyright: Kasprzyk family

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