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Janina LORENC

I was born December 19, 1929, near Łomża in the Warsaw Voivodeship.

 

I was not yet 10 years old when people started talking about the coming war. In June 1939, my mother went on a trip to Denmark. After two weeks, she returned with the full conviction that the war was just around the corner. In Gdynia, ships stood in the port on alert with their barrels pointed towards Gdańsk. My father was the mayor of Zambrów, a town 25 km away from Łomża. After returning from Denmark, my mother started to stock up vigorously. At that time, I was in the 4th grade of a primary school, and I helped her collect supplies, which were packed into a wooden box.

Everyone started covering windows with paper strips to protect the windows from falling out during the expected bombing. On September 1, the first bombs fell. Instinctively, my father, trying to gather the family together, brought his brother Leszek from Łomża and his sister from Sokół Podlaski. We learned about the announced plane alerts from the radio. After a few days, my father received an order to take away the city documents and we started preparing to go through Kobryń into the heart of Polesie province. The documents in the metal box were buried there and may still be there today.

After September 17, we saw the Red Army for the first time. There was nothing left to do but go back home. Gangs of "Rusyns" attacked returning refugees. They attacked us and took my father from the car. I started crying a lot and maybe that softened the heart of the gang leader and he allowed my father to get back on the wagon.

We returned from our escape to Kupiska. It was an estate leased by my parents wherwe we usually went on vacation. Father was wanted by the Soviet authorities. He made a hiding place under the floor and hid there when a stranger approached the house. Hiding at home became more and more dangerous, so father decided to change his hiding place and moved to Białystok under the name Domalewski.

Early in the morning on February 10, we heard a knock on the door. We were ordered to pack. It was a complete surprise to us. I remember that the first thing that came to my mind to take with me was my doll, which I still have to this day. It's freezing cold outside. They loaded 40 to 50 of us into one cattle wagon. At my mother's request, they added my sister, who was staying in Łomża at that time, to our wagon. The next day the train started. We traveled for two weeks and reached Arkhangelsk. We had managed to take some of the food supplies prepared by my mother on the eve of the war, and that helped us survice the journey.

 

They took us to a work camp whose the inhabitants were involved in logging. They assigned us a large barrack, divided in half, with about 15 families on each side. One bunk had to be enough for an entire family. The only person suitable for work in our family was our mother. We, three children, stayed in the barracks. After some time, thanks to the help of a local forester, we managed to get my eldest sister work in the kitchen. Eventually, my brother Leszek also started working.

 

Spring came and you could pick some berries and mushrooms and sell them locally. I was alone at home for some time because my mother was assigned to work in the other camp, floating wood. The inhabitants of these settlements, Russians and Ukrainians, showed us a lot of sympathy because they themselves remembered their first days after forced re-settlement.

 

In the fall, the authorities decided to open a school for the children. My mother realized that children should go to school to learn Russian, but at the same time she made me immune to the Soviet propaganda that awaited me there. She seemed to drill into my subconscious Polish patriotism and my Polish Catholic origins. The school was mainly filled with Polish children. However, they added several Russians to the classes and ordered them to keep track of us to see if we spoke Polish and prayed. We were reprimanded for this, but we still prayed lying in bed. In the school we received three meals a day.

After the outbreak of the war with Germany, a period of "espionage mania" began in the camp. We, school children, were used to guard the camp so that imaginary spies would not set the camp on fire.


We eventually heard about the arrangement between Sikorski and Majsky. Amnesty has come. Formally, we were free. My mother wanted to leave as soon as possible. The first stage was Ufa and from there Merekes, to the south. On one of the collective farms, all our documents were taken away, which created a number of complications. We worked in the "Novaya Zhizń" collective farm, and from there on June 22, 1942, we left for Jalal-Abad in Uzbekistan. My oldest brother, Kazio (short for Kazimierz), was already in the army. We kept in touch with him by letter and informed him about changes in our addresses. While searching for the lost papers, my mother went to Kuibyshev, to the Polish Embassy, and there, quite unexpectedly, she met her brother, who was looking for us. He brought some canned meat from the US army, which greatly improved our diet. The Polish soldiers shared their meager food rations with us.


On August 6, 1942, we left at night in wagons from Jalal-Abad to Krasnowodsk. We were instructed not to show excessive joy at our departure. For two nights we slept in the open air in Krasnowodsk, waiting for the ship. We didn't have much luggage with us, because everything we brought from Poland had long been turned into food. We boarded the ship "Zhdanov", usually used to transport coal, and crossed the Caspian Sea to Pahlavi, Persia (now Iran).


We finally felt free. We knew that we were no longer in danger from the all-powerful NKVD (Now called the KGB). We first went through the so-called dirty camp, where items from Russia were deloused or burned. Then we were transferred to the clean camp. We went out to greet new transports and in one of them, to our great joy, we saw brothers Kazio and Leszek.

 

We were transported through the mountains to Tehran and from there to Akhvaz. The tragedy in Pahlavi and Tehran were the hundreds, thousands of graves that marked the route of our journey. Dysentery, typhus, and other diseases attacked the weakened bodies of the paupers who managed to escape from Russia.

 

Our next stop was Karachi in India (now Pakistan). I remember it as a huge tent city. The American military supplied us with food. Temporary schools were organized for the children and they taught us how to sing. We were supposed to perform with a children's choir in front of the American military. After the first part of the performance, there were loud whistles. We're crying! It turned out that the Americans' whistles were the highest expression of appreciation. After clarifying the misunderstanding, the next part of the concert continued.

The next stage of our journey was Africa. The transport manager, Mr. Rarogiewicz, cared very much about his children, many of whom were orphans. We landed in Tanganyika, East Africa. There we were shocked by our first encounter with blacks. The shock was calmed by the very friendly treatment of us by the Negroes. We saw real African giraffes and elephants. On the way, we admired Kilimanjaro.


In Tengeru we were welcomed by the Maasai and other blacks. They sang to us in their own language. I arrived on the third transport. There were many teachers in this transport. The Catholic Women's League also welcomed us there, with tables set with many delicacies. In the previous two transports, scouts had  already been organized. We were placed in round huts that were typical of the Tengeru camp. They were made of clay and had shutters. The camp was situated at the foot of Mount Meru, which was covered with banana forests in the lower part and bare at the top. There was also a volcanic lake called Doluti nearby. We were bothered by mosquitoes that spread malaria, and fleas that crawled under our toenails and laid eggs there. Another plague was the Mango fly. They were our terror too: various spiders, snakes, lions. There was no person who did not suffer from malaria. There were even fatal cases of "black malaria". For some time, my mother was a caregiver at the orphanage.

Schools were organized immediately after our arrival. At first we sat under a large baobab tree. After the entrance exam, the children were assigned to different classes. The courses were accelerated, thanks to which we covered the fifth and sixth grade material in one year. In addition to primary schools, vocational, trade, mechanical and agricultural schools were also opened. Our camp in Tengeru included over 4,000 people, including over 2,000 young people. We gathered in the square to hear the latest radio news from the front. We received letters from our loved ones with mixed feelings. Everyone was afraid that the letter might bring news of the death of friends or loved ones. We received news from my brother that he was wounded near Ancona. Our educators, starting with our mothers, the school, scouts, and priests, wanted to give us as much knowledge as possible and pour on us their passionate patriotism, which was characteristic of the generation after World War I. They wanted to intuitively make up for the time lost by the war. They gave us a chance to visit Africa and organized camps. Despite the dangers looming everywhere, there were no major accidents.

We suffered from avitaminosis acquired in Russia. At some point, they manifested themselves in me, e.g. a tendency to cry. I was advised to eat lots of lemons, oranges, bananas, and onions, and after some time the symptoms disappeared. I was in Tengeru for 6 years, from November 1942 to June 1948.


The approaching end of the war was greeted with mixed feelings. With joy, by those who went through the war without losing their loved ones, and with sadness by others who could not forget their loved ones whose graves were scattered across the vast expanses of Russia. We were among the lucky ones.


My father's fate was not so happy. Despite hiding under the assumed name Domalewski, he was arrested by the Soviets and deported deep into Russia. He passed through Lubyanka, Kozelsk and Ostashkov. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Broken, he returned to Poland and could not decide to emigrate. We visited him in Poland. After 33 years of not seeing him, I recognized my father at the airport in Poland.

In 1948, we reunited with my brothers Leszek and Kazio at the Wheaton-Ashton camp in England. We stayed in England for three years. I completed a two-year millinery course, and I modeled women's hats. In the Whiton-Ashton camp I met my husband, who went to Canada in 1949. I joined him two years later and we were married. We have a son, Krzysztof, and a daughter, Bożena. They both graduated from college and have started their own families. We are satisfied with life and loook to the future with good cheer.

Source: Prof. Patalas interview -

translated from the original Polish.

 

Note: Janina died on September 9, 2014. For decades she had selflessly given of her time to the Polish community and in particular to the Polish Combatants Association, the Polish Folk Dance Ensemble SPK ISKRY' and Folklorama. Janina was a true Polish patriot; a proud Canadian; devoted wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother; and a devout Roman Catholic.

Copyright: Lorenc family

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