Life in the Soviet Paradise
The story of the family of Jan Fedorowicz
as told to his son Zbigniew Jan Fedorowicz
Our journey from Kotlas to Guzar, Uzbekistan, lasted six weeks and during this time we were given hot soup and bread only a few times. Those who had brought nothing of their own were very hungry. We were a little bit better prepared as we had brought the food we had saved up such as the dried mushrooms, bread, potatoes, flour and some shredded cabbage. It was not that much but due to the careful planning of our mother, it managed to last until the end of our journey.
Throughout the first three weeks of the trip it was very cold but then it gradually started to warm up and by the time we reached our destination, it was hot. During the trip I remember, one time, being very sleepy but there was really nowhere to lie down and sleep. I saw a narrow ledge that was bolted to the side of the boxcar so I climbed up and squeezed myself onto it and finally fell asleep. When I woke up I couldn't move, my clothes had frozen to the bolts and I was stuck, so I called for help and some people came to my rescue and pulled me down.
Another thing that happened which was funny, although not at the time, was that when the train started to go it always jerked and made people who were on the benches fall down. One time a man fell down and landed right in front of the stove. He grabbed onto it, by reflex, for support and burned himself.
At the larger stations the stops would usually be longer, sometimes all day. People would leave the train and approach the Soviet people to ask for or buy some food. One older man got off the train and was walking along the tracks looking for scraps of food that might have been thrown out. He had walked for a long way when the train started to move and he had to start running. His wife was hanging out of the boxcar, calling to him to run faster and he was trying but couldn't catch up. The train driver was laughing at this because he knew that he was only moving the train to the other set of tracks since they planned to be stopped all day but the wife was really scared because she thought that her husband was going to be left behind.
Our next stop was Samarkand, which was supposed to be our last stop, but they changed their minds for some unknown reason. It was a nice place. I got off the train and wandered around the town maybe to buy something but there was nothing there to buy so I went back to the train with nothing. We stayed there for three days before leaving for Guzar and this definitely was our last stop.
The trip from Kotlas to Guzar took six weeks and was very tiring. We were all quite exhausted and hungry so we were very happy when they told us that we had reached the last stop and to get off the train. It was extremely hot outside and since there were no trees to shade us we had to sit out in the hot sun on top of our luggage and wait for our transportation to arrive. This would then take us to our next temporary stop where we would stay until arrangements to allow us to leave the Soviet Union were made.
We had been sitting there waiting for over an hour when we saw a long line of donkeys being lead in our direction, followed by a line of camels behind them. We were told that this was our transportation. They packed our luggage onto the animals first and then we were put on them as well. I was put on top of a donkey with one of my younger sisters. When we asked them how far we were going, they told us about 20 km with the hook and usually the hook was much longer than the number they told us.
We started our journey before noon, passing through the small town of Guzar. Beyond the town we could see mountains in the distance. They were very beautiful and so white they looked as though they were made of white marble. The journey on the donkeys was very tiring because it was so hot and the sun was shining down on us. We were all sweating and still very hungry because they didn't give us anything to eat. I don't know who had it worse though, us on the donkeys or those on the camels.
When we asked again how far we were going we were told just to the edge of the mountains but once we got there we didn't stop. We went into the mountain range passing by one mountain after another with no sign of our destination. They kept telling us after each mountain that we would be there just after the next mountain again and again until it was midnight. Finally everyone was tired and fed up so we got off the animals and told them that we weren't going any further that night that we were going to stop and rest. They tried to talk us into going on by telling us that it wasn't much farther and that it was dangerous to stay where we were on account of the wild animals but we would not go. They didn't know what to do so they left us there, returning after half an hour.
They again told us that our stop was just on the other side of the mountain and that we would have a nice place to rest and food to eat. We heard dogs barking so we knew that this time they were probably telling the truth. And so it was, for in less than half an hour we reached a small village.
There we were given a nice, big room to sleep in and they brought everyone bread and tea. We all slept together in the school but they warned us not to go out at night because the dogs are running free and they are dangerous and might attack us. In the morning we received tea and bread again and we had to get back on the animals to continue our journey.
At about noon we arrived in another, bigger village where most of the people stayed behind while six families continued on. It was about midnight again when we arrived at our destination. All six families stayed in one big room. Everyone put their bedding along the wall on one side and this is where we were to stay for the time being. The building was built of clay which was both good and bad. It stayed cool inside while outside it was so hot but during a rain, pieces of clay would fall off.
My father went with the farm manager to get bread for us to eat. Within an hour they had returned with bread and a scale so that the bread could be weighed and everyone would receive the same amount, a 500gm portion. I didn't know that at the time and as I was sitting there watching them hand out the bread, I was so hungry that I sneaked a piece and put it under the blanket. When they got to the end they couldn't figure out why they were short one piece. The manager went back and brought in a replacement. I didn't tell anyone what I had done because I didn't want to get into trouble so I waited until everyone had gone to sleep to eat the extra piece. My brother Wladek was next to me and asked what I was eating. I told him to be quiet, broke off a piece of the bread and gave it to him. He was hungry like me so he didn't tell anyone either.
Once my father had made all the arrangements with the farm managers, he, Wladek and the men from the other families went back to Guzar to join the Polish army. That left only women and children on the farm. I was the oldest boy in the group so I got the job of bringing fresh water to the building. They gave me a donkey to carry the water but I had to look after it, making sure it had food and water and that no one stole it.
It was about 10 to 15 km to the water source, a small pond, and I had to go there sometimes twice a day depending on how much water was needed. The donkey had two wooden barrels for the water hanging on either side of him so he had to carry both barrels of water and me too. After we returned with the water I usually tied the donkey outside our building where he could eat the grass. One day I noticed a man trying to untie my donkey. I ran out and he told me that it was his donkey. I told him no, it was mine. He said that he would call the police so I replied "go ahead" and he left but never came back as he was only trying to steal it.
Before father left us for the army, he told us not to worry about anything as he had made all the necessary arrangements for our transportation out of the Soviet Union and that the Polish authorities in Dekhkanabad would look after us and let us know when it was time to go. We were happy staying on that farm because we knew that our father had taken care of things, would never forget us and that everything would be OK.
I did my job every day, bringing in the water, and I was also on the lookout for food because the rations that we were given were not enough. We were getting 200 gm of bread, one cup of flour, one cup of porridge, one glass of milk and sometimes a piece of cheese, per person. My mother would make small dumplings out of the flour and add a little milk to the water and that is what we ate. I liked it very much but I was always dreaming that I could have a little more.
God must have heard me for one day mother had made the dumplings and I was sitting there with my bowl, eating. It was raining hard outside and all of a sudden a piece of clay just fell into my bowl. You couldn't get it out because it quickly fell apart so I just stirred it up in there and ate it.
It was not the best there on the farm but we were happy because we knew that at any time we might get word from the Polish authorities that our transportation had arrived. We waited a very long time for this news and would not have heard anything at all if I had not gone to Dekhkanabad to inquire about it myself. There was a Jewish family on the farm and the father wanted to move his family to Dekhkanabad to live. He asked me if I would go there with him and he would pay me to take his belongings on my donkey. I agreed and we went there the next day. I went to the Polish authorities and asked about our transportation out of the Soviet Union. The man in charge there had come down here on the same transport as us and knew my father. When I asked him about the transportation he just slapped me in the face and told me to go back to the farm saying that he would let us know when it was time. I did find out however, from some of the other people there that two transports had already left. They also told me that if someone wanted to get out of the Soviet Union they would have to arrange transportation to Guzar themselves, with the authorities in Guzar taking care of the rest.
On my way back to the farm I met some Uzbeks who were taking supplies back to the farm. They had two donkeys but one of them was ill and couldn't go on. They asked me if I would carry the flour back to the farm on my donkey, so I did. Once we got there the manager gave me flour and bread as a reward. Mother was very happy when she saw what I had brought.
When I told our people what I had heard about the transportation out of the Soviet Union, everyone got very angry and started packing up their belongings to go to Dekhkanabad. Of course, first we had to arrange for transportation with the farm authorities. This took a few weeks but finally we got a few donkeys which took us into town. When we arrived in Dekhkanabad we went straight to the Polish authorities and put all of our belongings in the courtyard. Then we waited for the officials to come out and when they did they were rude to us and told us to leave immediately and return to the farm. We were all angry so we stayed put. They did not help us at all. We had to find our own food.
One or two days later they took all of the children, Ann, Genia and Stef included, to an orphanage. I didn't go because I didn't want to leave my mother alone. After a week or two, people started getting ill, coming down with dysentery or typhoid fever. We also got ill, first me, then Stef. They took us to the hospital where I had a bed next to the window and Stef was in the bed next to me. They were giving us medicine every day and a little bit of food every day. After a week or two I began to get better and felt that I could leave, so they let me go. While I was in the hospital with Stef, I had to feed her and make her take her medicine so when I left she was crying because she wanted to go too. They told me that if I wanted to take her I could do so the next day. This I did, pulling her out through the window. She was so weak that she couldn't walk and I had to carry her back to the orphanage. It wasn't easy because I wasn't completely well myself.
During this same period, mother was also sick although she was staying at some other place and one of the other women there was looking after her as best as she could. Genia was in the orphanage, also very ill, able to walk but not able to eat or anything. After I brought Stef back to the orphanage, I went to visit with Genia. She came outside and was standing under a tree in the courtyard, complaining that she was really sick but no one would help her. She looked really bad, all skin and bones. We talked for quite a long time outside, she complained and cried a lot. It was time for her to get back into bed and as I was leaving, she acted as if this would be the last time that she would see me. I said goodbye and went home to get some sleep.
Our beds were outside because it was much cooler than in the little clay rooms. It was around midnight when I went to sleep. I had a dream that I saw Genia outside under the tree again but then I really wasn't sure that it was a dream. The next morning, Ann came by from the orphanage to tell us that Genia had died just after midnight. I just kept thinking about the dream, I believed that I really saw her there that night.
Because it is so hot there, they have to bury the dead as soon as they can so the first thing that morning they took her to the cemetery. For me it was the saddest day of my life, I had never lost anyone close to me. I felt so bad that I couldn't go to the cemetery to see her; I wanted to remember her alive and I couldn't bear to go there and see her dead. I was so sad that I cried all day. I just couldn't believe that she was gone.
It wasn't long after that we learned that our father had also died of the same illness. From that moment we felt like we had been abandoned. We lost all hope because we were all alone no longer had anyone to look after us.
Week after week, the situation just got worse and worse and no one was helping us. I had to go around to these people and beg for food or try to sell things for food. The very last thing that we had left was our father's big overcoat. We kept it till the last because our father liked it but in the end we had to sell it too. I sold it to a very nice man who gave me 500 rubles for it and also told me that he would give me food if I would go with him to his house. I went there with him, quite a long way, through the mountains. When we got there his wife was making supper for the family and I was invited to eat with them. She gave me a big bowl of dumplings and even though my stomach was telling me that it couldn't hold it, I ate everything. I couldn't just leave the food there. The man also gave me a big bag of flour, a whole loaf of flat bread and some other things, then he showed me the way back to my camp.
My mother was so very happy when I came back with all these things. Now we didn't have anything left to sell but fortunately we learned that they were getting a transport ready to leave Guzar so we had to go there. The Polish Institute arranged for the children to go but the adults had to make their own arrangements. I went into town and found a man who was going into Guzar with a load of hay. I paid him to take my mother with the money that we made from selling the coat. I didn't pay for myself because I knew that I was entitled to go with the children, so I went to the orphanage. They took us on buses to Guzar. When I sent my mother on to Guzar I made sure that she left two days before we did because I didn't want her to be left behind.
Once we got to Guzar I had to stay in the orphanage. They wouldn't let me leave but I did have contact with my mother. Before leaving the Soviet Union everyone went to have their hair cut at the barber shop because of the lice problem. Mother told me that when she went for her cut someone managed to steal her identification and documents. When she tried, she could not make arrangements to leave the Soviet Union without them. I told her to let me know if they would still not let her go the next day as I would not go without her. I didn't want to leave her there.
The next day she went in again to talk to the officers. Luckily one of the men there was another friend of my father's and he asked what she was doing there. She explained that her papers had been stolen. He told her to come early the following morning and he would arrange it for her, which he did, and she left Guzar that afternoon for Krasnowock. Three days later we children left for the same destination.
Our transport was the last to leave the Soviet Union. After that they wouldn't let any more Polish people out.
The journey from Guzar to Krasnowodsk took about two days and nights, travelling through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In Krasnowodsk I found mother with lots of other people sitting on the beach by the sea with her luggage. They were all waiting for the boat to arrive. It was very hot and we mostly just wanted some fresh water to drink. We were not offered any so I took our last few rubles and bought two litres of water. That was the last money we spent in the Soviet Union.
After a few more days, the boat finally arrived and they started loading the people from the first transport onto the boat. It was not a passenger boat, it normally carried coal or other cargo, so they loaded on as many people as possible. The Soviet soldiers were checking documents and identification as people filed onto the boat to make sure that only Poles were leaving. They would remove people who did not have the proper papers and wouldn't let them board at all. As the people loaded onto the boat, they were very worried that they might not make it on. They did not want to get left behind so they were all pushing each other and trying to hurry onto the boat. A few even fell off the planks into the water. It was a terrible mess.
The next day another boat arrived and we were also taken aboard. I was happy that our mother had left before us since that way I knew she wouldn't be left behind and would be waiting for us at the next stop.
THE SOVIET PARADISE IS NOW BEHIND US
We had finally made it onto the boat. It did not matter that it was not a passenger boat, we didn't care, we were just glad to be on it and leaving the shores of the Soviet Union. We were all kept on the open deck as there was nowhere else for us to go. They had jammed as many people on the boat as they could so we couldn't move. We just had to sit in the same place for the entire journey. It was really hot sitting there in the sun without any water to drink.
The journey from Krasnowodsk to Pahlevi in Iran over the Caspian Sea lasted almost three days and nights. When the boat was approaching the shores of Pahlevi everyone was crying from happiness because we were finally out of the Soviet Union.
There had been both children and adults on the boat and lots of them were sick from a lack of water. A few people died on the way and they were thrown overboard because it was so hot that they didn't want to keep them on board till the end of the trip.
At Pahlevi, the ship could not get close to shore because of the shallow water so they put us into smaller boats for the trip to shore. When we were finally on land, people were so happy that they started kissing the ground because they now knew for sure that they were finally out of reach of the Soviet Union.
Tents had been set up for us along the shore by the Polish authorities. Everyone put their belongings in their tent and finally sat down to rest. They then brought out food and water for us all. We had been there for only a few days when, one by one, they took us into a line of tents that was the second row in. In the first tent, we were told to take off all of our clothes and they shaved off all of our hair and threw the clothes away. We were then taken to the next tent where we got to have a hot shower with soap and clean towels. Then, in the final tent, we were given a new set of clothes, from shoes to hats, towels, soap, toothbrushes and other necessities. We were then placed in another section of tents behind a fence, away from the people who had not showered yet. We stayed here for only a few days as well.
I met up with mother in the new tents but it was only for a day as she left on a transport to Teheran. A few days later they loaded all of the children on buses for the trip to Teheran. I remember sitting by the window and looking out at the beautiful mountains as we drove by. There was only one stop on the journey, overnight at a very nice resort. After breakfast we were loaded back on the buses.
I sat by the window again, enjoying the view for a few minutes when the next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital. I didn't remember anything before that. It was a Polish army hospital where all of the doctors and nurses were Polish, located just outside of Teheran. All of the sick people there were the ones that had come from the Soviet Union. The first day there I got a blood transfusion because I was losing blood. The next night I had to have another transfusion because I was still losing blood. I was in that tent for a few more days when I was examined by a doctor who then had me transferred to another tent because I was too sick to remain in the first tent. The second tent was where they kept the very sick who had little chance of survival.
During my first days there I didn't want to eat or drink anything so they put an IV tube in my hand. It didn't do any good because my veins were all dry from lack of water and food. They didn't think I was going to make it but in a few days I started to feel better and I began to eat the food they gave me. When I got a little better I realized that no one had been to see me. I saw the other sick people have their families visit but no one came to me and I started to feel very lonely and abandoned.
Finally I was well and they were ready to release me from the hospital. They had to know which camp I wanted to go to but I had no idea. I didn't know where my family was. One morning, as I was going into the hospital store, I met someone I knew. She asked me what I was doing and I explained my situation. She said that she was in camp number three and so I now knew where to go. My mother was at that camp although Ann and Stef were still with the orphanage in a different camp.
Mother was very happy to see me as she knew nothing of me or where I was. She was quite sick, just lying there, but I was now able to look after her and she got well very fast.
From these transit camps they were sending people to the various countries around the world that had agreed to take Polish refugees during the war. In order to go on the transports however, you had to be healthy. Once my mother was well again we picked up Ann and Stef and had our names put on the list to be transported. We left Teheran for Ahwaz where we had to wait a few weeks for a ship to take us further. No one was allowed to board the ship unless they were examined by the doctor and approved for travel. It was quite a few weeks more before we were all ready to leave.
From Ahwaz, the boat sailed to Karachi in India (now Pakistan). The journey was very dangerous so we were included in a convoy of ships escorted by naval destroyers, a submarine and a chopper flying overhead. Our route took us through the Persian Gulf, which was patrolled by German submarines, so they had to be very careful.
At Karachi, they let us off the ship and we were transported to the other side of town to waiting tents where we had to sit and wait for another ship. The tents were very nice, having wooden beds in them. That night, when we went in to go to sleep, we put out all the lights and got into bed. In a little while you could hear people yelling and you could feel things biting you. When we turned the lights back on, we saw the bed bugs scatter. They were really biting so we couldn't sleep in the beds. Instead, we went outside and sat there. No one slept that night. The next day soldiers came by and set up a big tank with boiling water. They dipped all the beds in the tank to kill those bugs. That night we got to sleep without the bugs bothering us.
After two or three weeks in Karachi, our boat was ready and waiting for us so we went down to the port and were loaded onto it. We headed to east Africa although this time without an escort. During the first few days, they brought us all on deck and trained us on emergency procedures. The journey from India to East Africa took three weeks. The boat was very big but as we were all alone, surrounded by water on the Indian Ocean, it felt very small. We never saw any other boats but we did see some whales which swam alongside the boat. Other than that it was a really boring trip because you really couldn't see anything but water and at night we had to go below deck to our beds. We were not allowed to keep any lights on, because it was dangerous, so all we did was eat, sleep and look at the ocean.
A few times we had an alarm and we had to go up on deck but it was only to test us in order to be sure that we knew what to do in case the danger was real. At the time though, we didn't know if it would be just a test or a real alarm.
We were told that we were headed for the port of Mombassa but for reasons unknown to us, we passed by that port and sailed past Madagascar, finally landing at Dar E Salaam in Tanganyika, East Africa. This port was shallow so we were put into smaller boats and transported to shore. Here they put us on a train and took us to Moszy, and from there we went by truck to camp Tengeru where we stayed until 1948.
For more efficient management, the camp was divided into six groups and each group into four blocks. The responsibilities of each block were to take care of their own people's food supply, clothing and all other necessities. Throughout the first months, the food had been prepared in big containers and then distributed to us, but later we received the groceries and prepared the food ourselves on stoves that were specially built for us. These stoves were built outside with only a roof over them to give a little shade. Because the cooking area was always congested at meal time I decided to build mother a nice, small stove, with an oven, close to our house. That made her very happy because now she could do her cooking and baking whenever she wanted and she did it a lot. We always had fresh bread and delicious cakes to eat.
Our camp had a pet ostrich who liked to run all over and was a lot of fun but he could be harmful and obnoxious. When people were cooking their meals he would come over and take meat right out of the boiling pot. There were so many stories about this ostrich. I remember but a few of them.
One day I was sitting in my house by the open windows, with my back to them, while I did my homework. Suddenly I saw the long neck of the ostrich over my shoulder and before I could react, he snatched my homework and disappeared. On another day, the ostrich stole a lady's watch the same way he had stolen my homework, through an open window. That ostrich ate everything, iron, glass or just whatever he found and because of that he made a lot of trouble for the people in our camp.
The camp management decided that he had to go, so they put him on a truck, took him far away and let him go free, but he returned to the camp faster than did the truck! They decided to try a second time, this time blindfolding him with a cloth over his eyes, but without success as once again he came right back. Finally, he was sent to the zoo in Nairobi.
Tengeru was the largest transit camp in East Africa with over four thousand Polish residents, mostly women and children. The location was most beautiful, surrounded on one side by Mount Meru, jungle and Lake Dilute. The other side was flat, with tall grass and small trees. When the weather was clear we could see Mount Kilimanjaro with its snow covered peak.
The camp had many different schools; elementary, high school and four technical schools. The children from other, smaller camps in East Africa who wanted to receive a technical education were sent to our camp in Tengeru. I completed my high school and four years of music school while there. I was also a member of the Scouts.
During our school breaks, the management sometimes organized outings for us or we went camping with the scouts. Some of my most memorable outings were our trips to Mount Kilimanjaro, around Mount Meru, an African safari and a concert in Arusha with our orchestra.
We also organized many outings ourselves, usually on weekends. On one such weekend I went with my friends to the waterfall. On the way we stopped at an African school and asked the teacher if we could take a photo of him and his students. It was not easy because as soon as I opened the camera all the children disappeared, but after a few trials I finally succeeded.
Our camp was home to a beautiful church, built by the people in the camp under the supervision of our Polish priest. We also had various institutions in our camp such as a library, theatre, cinema, community center, recreation center and a nice, big hospital built next to Lake Dilute.
We were never bored because there was always something to do; swimming in the lake, playing in the community center or going to the cinema. To show movies they had built a stage outside at the bottom of the hill and the seats were located on the slope of the hill. However, to get into the cinema, you had to buy a ticket. One evening, two of my friends and I tried to watch the movie over the fence, because we did not have money for tickets, but we could not see. So, we climbed a little hill which gave us a good view but we did not realize that we were on top of a termite mound. However, we did not have to wait long to find out as the termites did not like us being there and chased us away by biting very hard.
While I was in music school some funny things happened too, especially in the beginning during practice. We usually held our practices in the school which did not have any glass in the windows or doors in the frames so it was easily accessible to the dogs. Many times the dogs would come by and start howling during the practice. This would drive our teachers crazy. We chased the dogs out but they just kept coming back.
The time we spent in Africa was our happiest time and if only we would not have kept getting malaria, it would have been perfect. However, every one of us had malaria and it would come back every year so we would have to spend two weeks in the hospital.
In 1945, the war ended and everyone was very happy but not for long. We all realized that Poland was still not free. The Soviet Union was still in control. Shortly after the war ended we received an invitation to go back to Poland. The representatives of the Communist Polish government came to our camp and tried to convince us to go back. The people of the camp very angry and shouted them down. Because of the situation in Poland, as far as I know, only two families from our camp went back with them. The rest stayed at Tengeru camp until 1948.
From 1945 to 1948 the situation in the camp remained the same although people grew a bit apprehensive as they did not know what would be done with them. However, we were all still under the protection of the United Kingdom so they gave us a choice of where to go. Those families who had someone in England could go there while the rest had to choose between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the United States. We of course chose England because Wladek and Anka were there.
We left Africa in July of 1948 on board the ship Georgic which departed from Mombasa and took us to Southampton, England. The journey this time was pleasant, much better than our earlier voyages. We followed the coast of Africa, passed through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, travelled through the Mediterranean Sea, past the Straits of Gibraltar, into the Atlantic Ocean, the English Channel and finally to Southampton. From there we were taken to the Whitton Aston transit camp. Once again everyone had to decide where to go from there.
We went to Doddington, near Crewe, where my brother lived with his family. After two or three years, I went to Glasgow, Scotland where I stayed just over one year before moving on to Bradford to stay with my mother in Anka's house. Later, I bought my own house. After two or three years I moved to London, England where I was working as a project engineer. In 1960 I married my beautiful wife, Jadwiga Teresa Fialek and August of 1967 witnessed the arrival of our long awaited son, Richard. We lived with my mother in London until 1974 when she passed away. In 1978 we emigrated to Canada.