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Jan was born February 22, 1919, in Binczarowa in southern Poland. In late 1939, while working as a mechanic, Jan was taken by the Russian army to serve as a driver in the Second World War. He later spent time in a labour camp in Siberia.

In June 1941, Germany turned on its ally, Russia. Stalin then quickly changed tactics and allied himself with the west so that the allies could help him defeat the Germans. This led to the signing of the Sikorski-Majewski agreement that called for the freeing of Poles imprisoned in POW camps and labour camps in the USSR, and the formation of a Polish Army in the southern USSR.

The news of this ‘amnesty’ did not reach every camp, but where it did become known, the men and boys soon made plans to make their way south to join the army. For most, this meant walking thousands of kilometres and only occasionally getting on a train for part of the journey.  Many did not make it, and those who did were emaciated skeletons by the time they got there.

General Anders was in charge of the army, and he tried hard to get the Russians to provide the food and equipment they had promised. When this became more and more impossible, he negotiated the right to evacuate the army to Persia, where the British would provide what was needed.

The evacuation took place by ship over the Caspian Sea to Pahlavi in Persia (now Iran). The ships that were used were oil tankers and coal ships, and other ships that were not equipped to handle passengers. They were filthy and lacked even the basic necessities, like water and latrines. The soldiers and civilians filled these ships to capacity for the 1–2-day trip. When there were storms, the situation got even worse – with most of the passengers suffering sea sickness.

Jan joined the Polish 2nd Corps, trained in Iran, Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt, fought at Tobruk in North Africa, and fought in the Italian Campaign.

When the war ended, the army was sent to England to be demobilized and Jan chose to come to Canada to join his brother Ilya. He was finally able to contact his family to let them know he had survived the war, although he never saw his parents again. Jan met and married Olga (nee Trochanowska) in 1948 and soon had a young family. They spent their life on the farm, raising six children and being active in the community. Jan was very musical, and in his earlier years, played the violin in a band at many local dances and weddings.

Jan passed away in Ashern, Manitoba on May 14, 2011, at the age of 92 years.

Copyright: Kostelnyk family

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