Irena was born on 24 March 1934 in Butyny, Poland. As a child, she was deported to Siberia with her parents (Leontyna Kozłowska and Józef Sliwinski) and sister Kazimiera. Irena does not remember the place they ended up in, but her father worked cutting trees, and her mother worked in the kitchen. Irena and her sister attended Russian kindergarten.
Released on ‘amnesty’, the family made their way to the southern USSR where the Polish Army was being formed. They were not provided any transportation, so they had to fend for themselves. Her father took on the role of leader at this time – he got everyone together, he found food for everyone, he found work for them on the journey, he took care of all the arrangements necessary.
They ended up in Teheran, Persia (Iran), where they spent 3 months in a tent. Meanwhile, her father joined the Polish 2nd Corps, and served in the Italian Campaign as Staff Sergeant.
Irena, her mother and sister reached Karachi, then sailed to Africa. They spent six years (1942-1948) in Massindi in Uganda, Africa.
While in Massindi, Irena attended school, and remembers classes held outdoors. She was a very attentive student and boys often asked her to copy her homework. When she refused, they threw rotten papayas at her!
Her mother earned some extra money in Massindi by helping to build more huts. She would stomp on the mud in her bare feet, and this mud woiuld then be used for the walls of the hut.
At the age of 8 or 9, Irena designed a flowering garden in the shape of a star in front of their hut. She also recalls starting to draw while in Massindi. She spent a lot of time reading, singing, and composing her own songs.
In 1948, they sailed to the UK on the Carnavon Castle – a very luxurious ship. They reunited with her father in England, and lived at Camp McCaul, near Liverpool. Irena attended high school in Stowell Park. She learned intricate needlework at this school, and later learned dressmaking.
She met Edward at Camp McCaul as they lived in the Nissan hut next door. After their marriage on 31 October 1954, they lived in Birkenhead in a big Victorian house that they purchased with her parents. They later moved to Chester.
Edward increasingly wanted to move to Canada, so Irena eventually agreed. They decided on Winnipeg because it was in the middle of the country. They arrived in -30 degrees in February, and thought they were back in Siberia ! They are very happy to have decided to move to Canada.
In 1990, Irena and Edward retired to Gimli, MB and Irena began to explore her love for art. She registered in some courses and studied on her own. Slowly, her unique style emerged. Utilizing mixed media and an intuitive approach, patiently allowing images to appear, she created paintings with deep spiritual themes. Soon she was winning awards and having her own art shows. Her talent was affirmed with an invitation to join the Manitoba Society of Artists. Her paintings have hung in the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Centennial Concert Hall, and in private collections around the world.
They have 3 children (Marian, Isabella, Adam , 7 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.
Irena passed away on 13 January 2023 in Neepawa, Manitoba.
Irena in 2013
Polish: Bronze Cross of Merit, with swords