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Irena Goleniewski

Irena Goleniewski (nee Bogielska) was born on December 18, 1931 in a small village of Terebierzow near Stolin, Minsk province, Poland (now Belarus). She was deported to Siberia with her mother, Natalia Bogielska and her five children, age 6 to 14, to an camp near Arkhangelsk in the Soviet Union. They were deported because her family was regarded as enemies of the Soviet State


Irena’s father, Antoni Bogielski, a high-ranking officer in the Polish Army, had been taken prisoner of war by the Soviet troops in September 1939.  Irena and her family never saw him or heard from him again.  The Soviets sent him to a prisoner of war camp near Smolensk and later executed him in the Katyn forests, where over 4,000 Polish officers were murdered. 


On February 10th 1940, when Irena was only eight years old, several soldiers of the Soviet Union Red Army came to her house in the middle of night and told her mother to pack-up and be ready to travel in half hour. Without any explanation, they loaded Mother and her five children into horse-drawn wagons, and drove them to the railway station in Stolin. They loaded them in to cattle cars and deported them to a slave labor camp near Arkhangelsk in the Soviet Union. For nearly two years they were living in barracks, twenty people in one room, under extremely harsh conditions


Irena’s mother and the older children had to work on a collective farm, called ‘kolkhoz,’ (a form of collective farming in the Soviet Union). During severe Siberian winters, her mother collected dry wood for fire, in the nearby forest, to keep them warm, and to buy additional food to keep her family alive. Many people died there due to cold, hunger and diseases. However, the most frightening was the fear of the unknown.


Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941. Russia was experiencing extreme difficulties and Stalin wanted immediate help from the Allies. For these reasons, he agreed to allow all Polish military and their families to leave the camps, so they could join the effort against the Nazis. However, when the 'amnesty' was announced, in September 1942, the Russians actually limited the number of Polish soldiers allowed to leave Russia.


General Anders decided to evacuate as many Poles as he could. Thousands of soldiers, women and children were leaving the camps, going to the Polish army headquarters, all anxious to leave Russia as soon as possible.


When Irena’s family learned about the evacuation, they decided to leave the camp immediately. The nearest railway station from the camp where Irena and her family lived, was about 30 kilometers away. Since the Soviet Government did not provide transportation, Irena and her family made the journey on foot. When they arrived at the railway station, it was very difficult to find a space in the cattle cars. Finally, they managed to find a place in a cattle car, in which they travelled for several weeks, through Moscow to Buzuluk, where the Polish Army was forming, under the command of General Anders.


During their journey, in the harsh winter, Irena’s younger sister, died of cold, starvation and disease. The rest of the family managed to survive. Irena almost lost her left leg, because of severe frost-bite. When she arrived in Buzuluk the Russian doctor was going to amputate her leg, but her mother would not allow him, so he cut off only the part of her toe that was severely frost bitten. Because of the crude procedure used by the Russian doctor and the unsanitary conditions, her toe deformed, and she suffered discomfort for the rest of her life.


Soon after the amnesty was announced in the fall of 1941, thousands of Polish soldiers and civilians were arriving at Buzuluk, the Headquarters of the Polish Army in Russia.  To save as many as he could, General Anders ordered a speedy evacuation to Persia (now Iran). Convoys were organized to transport them by rail to Krasnovodsk, and from there by ship to Pahlevi, Persia (now Iran.).


When they arrived in Teheran, Persia, Polish and British authorities sought to find a place for the children and their families. Irena’s two brothers volunteered for the Polish Army and remained in the Middle East.  Irena,her mother, and sister, were sent to a Polish refugee camp near Karachi, in India (now Pakistan), where she attended school; organized by the Polish Committee for Education.


In 1947, the British rule of India ended and the British government transported Irena and her mother to a Displaced-persons camp in England, where she continued her education. In 1948 she met her future husband, Stanley Goleniewski, in the Haydon Park camp near Sherborne, Dorset, where they both attended high school administered by the Committee for the Education of Poles in Great Britain. After graduation, they got married in the Catholic Church in Sherborne, two miles away from the camp.


 Four years later, her husband attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering, from the University of London, and in 1959, they moved to Seattle, Washington because the Boeing Company hired her engineer husband.


Although Irena endured more than can be imagined, she came out on top.    She shared her life story with her husband who had been arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. On April 29, 1945 he was liberated from Dachau concentration camp by the US Army.


Irena and Stanley Goleniewski were married for over fifty-eight years and had two sons, John and Richard. She passed away on September 24 2007.

Irena in India

Irena and friends in India

Irena in India

Copyright: Goleniewski family

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