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Translation of parts of an

interview by Prof. Patalas

Jan was born on April 25, 1897, and his earliest memories of war reach back to the time of World War I. After the Japanese-Russian war of 1905-06, his father bought a tract of land from the owner of a large estate, who needed cash. In addition to his father, two other Poles purchased portions of that estate.

After that Polish-Soviet war, Jan had to decide what to do next. He got a plot in Nadwołczek, from the estate of Countess Sobariska. Because he applied late, he got sixteen hectares of the poorest soil, and no buildings. When mhisy brother paid off his share of the patrimony—sixty American dollars in all—Jan bought a horse. A Jew who used to know his father and who wanted to help me out gave him a cart and loaned him the money to buy another horse. And so Jan began to farm.

For the first three years he lived in an old shed. Then, thanks to the support of the lieutenant from his former unit, who had become a land commissioner, he managed to secure a loan in the amount of 400 zlotys. With that money he built a stable for the horses and a small cottage for himself. Heavy step by heavy step, he became a farmer. When he married, his wife brought a cow in her dowry.

His land had not been cultivated for a long time and needed much work, but, with stubbornness and persistence, he got good harvests of wheat and hops. When the land commission came to examine his progress, they were impressed. In the years that followed, his farm and his family prospered.

Jan was over forty when the war with Germany broke out. The Polish authorities announced mobilization. Then on September 17, 1939, came the Bolsheviks. Jan was just returning from a short trip when a Bolshevik patrol stopped him on the road and placed him under arrest. They took his horse and wagon, and searched it thoroughly, but found nothing. Jan pleaded with the Bolshevik officer to let him go, and in the end he agreed. More than that: he offered to give him a ride back home, fearing, he said, that Ukrainian peasants might cause him some harm.

In the middle of winter, the Soviets began forcibly to remove Polish intelligentsia, and anyone associated with the police or the army into the heartland of Russia. They came for Jan and his family on February 9, 1940. They were prepared to die—others had been murdered in the vicinity—but fortunately they were “only” removing them to Siberia. Hius wife was still weak from her last childbirth, and they had an infant with them.

They were loaded into railway cars and taken east. The journey lasted sixteen days, in horrible conditions, with no latrine but a dirty hole in the floor. For the first five days, they kept the car doors locked and opened them only on the sixth, somewhere near Sverdlovsk, to let them get some snow for drinking water. Finally, at the end of the line, at some nameless place, they threw them out into the snow.

Jan was the only one working in the forest, so their food rations were very low. When the conditions grew even worse, they decided to run away from the forest outpost to a kolkhoz [collective farm], hoping it would be easier to eke out a living there. And indeed, their situation improved. In the kolkhoz, even children could work harvesting vegetables. While cutting cabbage, his clever son always buried a head or two in the sand, and they went back at night to collect them. His wife dug potatoes, and for every ten bucketfuls, she got one for herself. They sliced them, dried them over the fire, and put them into a sack for winter. During the winter months, they waded through the snow to gather rosehips; they could be bartered in the kolkhoz for various necessities, including tobacco, which was a trading commodity very much in demand


In the kolkhoz, they learned about the formation of the Polish army. They left with the whole family and got as far as Toshkent, where the guards ordered them off the train. They had twelve pieces of baggage, which made it difficult to move around, but ensured they would not starve. They had plenty of flour, peas, and other foodstuffs. Somehow, They made it to Samarkand, where they had to wait out in the open, in snow and rain, for eight days before the authorities assigned them to a kolkhoz. Seven weeks later, it was announced that all men of the draft age should report to the Polish army, while their families stayed in the kolkhoz. They said tearful goodbyes, and Jan left for Kermine.

Once again, they braved the elements, the frost, snow, and rain, because there were not enough tents for everybody. There was also no firewood, so they walked long miles to collect cotton stalks. Living in those stark conditions, Jan caught spotted fever. They isolated him in the corner of a room. There were no medical supplies, and he soon lost consciousness. They transferred him to a rudimentary hospital, but the medic who looked him over decided he was only good for the morgue. On the way out, one of the stretcher-bearers noticed he was still warm and took him to the ward. Jan know this story only from what others have told him, for he lay completely senseless. When he came to, they forced some food into him, biscuits soaked in water.


They let his wife know of his condition, and she came with the children to visit him. She was not allowed inside, so Jan saw her only from a distance. She stayed in the camp for a while with their youngest daughter, sending the other children to an orphanage, which soon left for India. Later she, too, had to leave the camp and found herself in terrible conditions. Their youngest daughter died, and they did not reunite as a family until four years later, after the war, in England.

Copyright: Kaszuba family

Jan completely recovered from that bout of spotted fever and went with the army to Iran, Iraq, and Palestine. He served as a messenger, then as a guardsman, and, finally,  was transferred to England. There they were incorporated into the British army, and he was sent to work in the kitchen. Jan was promoted to corporal even though he did not know much English. After the war he wanted to emigrate to the United States, but he still did not have his sister’s address. Canada did not admit families, so he signed up for another two and a half years in the British army. By that time, the Canadian immigration restrictions had changed, and they left for Canada aboard the ship called Lincoln.

Copyright: Kaszuba family

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