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Jan was born November 25, 1926, to Maria and Gregory Kowalczuk in Ksawerufka, Poland. Jan and his siblings attended school in Sokol, until February 10, 1940 at which time the ethnic cleansing of the eastern borderlands carried out by the Russians sent the whole family, including grandparents, to Arkhangelsk, Siberia.

They lived in one room, which was part of a long barrack, and it was expected that they would live in the camp for the rest of their lives.

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.

While Jan’s  mother and younger siblings were taken care of in a Polish refugee camp in India, Jan and his father, joined the Polish 2nd Corps on January 1, 1943. The army trained in Iran, Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt, before setting sail for Italy. Jan fought in the battle of Monte Casino, as well as other battles along the Adriatic Sea, up to the city of Bologna.

When the War ended in May 1945, the Polish 2nd Corps was transferred to an Army camp in England for resettlement. Soldiers had a choice of moving to Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Mexico. Jan chose Canada arriving in Winnipeg May 25, 1947, where 250 Polish soldiers were assigned to work on farms in Manitoba. Eventually Jan signed an affidavit for his family to come to Canada.

In Canada, Jan worked at various jobs until he started his own concrete business until his retirement in 1986. Jan and Mary married in 1957 and had five sons.

Jan passed away in St. Pierre, Manitoba, on February 27, 2005.

Copyright: Kowalczuk family

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