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Translation of parts of an interview by Prof. Patalas

Janina was born to Henryk and Franxiszka in Lwow, Eastern Poland on May 5, 1913. She graduated from the commercial college in Lwow and was employed by the Power Authority. During the Second World War, she was secretly a resistance fighter in the Polish Home Army.

In 1940, the Soviets began mass deportations of Poles into the heartland of Russia. Lists of people to be deported were compiled by local Ukrainians and included, in the first instance, families of the Polish military, policemen, and forest rangers. Janina’s mother kept their suitcases packed and ready in case they, too, were woken up one morning and ordered to go. Fortunately, they were spared, even though scores of Janina’s co-workers were not. The only explanation they could think of for this was that they had moved into a new neighbourhood just before the war, and the local Ukrainians simply did not know them.

Janina’s functions at the Power Authority were that of the power sales manager, but secretly she served as Julian Wiktor’s personal courier, taking his messages to drop-off points, often in local churches. Mr. Wiktor was an engineer and serving in the Home Army. She also helped with the logistics of airdrops of money and radio equipment, organized by the Polish government-in-exile. This meant collecting the goods and delivering them to our units in Lwów and its vicinity.

At one point she had to go past a building of the Gestapo. Janina was scared, but, shaking and sweating, she safely made it back to her apartment and stashed the cargo in a hiding place. That place was cleverly designed by the pros from the Home Army, who carved out a space under the hardwood floor. It could be accessed only through a trap door, which was opened by inserting a hat pin into an almost invisible hole.

Janina’s involvement with the underground came to a crisis when her  handbag was stolen on a streetcar. Inside that bag was a powder box with important messages for various units. They immediately called an organization-wide alert for fear that she had been exposed and compromised as a courier. Fortunately, the thieves turned out to be good Polish patriots. They stole all the valuables but, apparently realizing that the bag contained dangerous correspondence, returned it to her mother, with the papers intact. She gave them a generous reward, and they never heard from them again.

When Lwow became part of the USSR, Janina’s mother applied to the Resettlement Office and for 3500 rubles got them a spot in a convoy of some thirty trucks bound for Poland. They left Lwow in May 1946, after Janina had transferred all her responsibilities as a Home Army courier to her replacement.

Some time later, the news reached Janina that her Home Army communications unit in Lwów had been discovered by the Soviets. They found the printing shop and the radio station. In June 1946, her entire former cell was arrested, including Julian Wiktor, couriers Kazia Dobrowolska and Jaś Skwarczyński, and many others. Mr. Wiktor courageously accepted all responsibility for the group’s operation. He was sentenced to twenty years in a labour camp and sent to Vorkuta. He died there in 1953. The others got lesser sentences, from ten years up. Fortunately, in 1948 all those sentences were commuted into “expulsion from the Soviet Union,” and they were all expelled to Poland.

1939 Janina’s brother had managed to escape through Hungary to France, and he later served under General Maczek in the 1st Polish Armoured Division that fought in northern Europe. After the war, he married and stayed in England for a while. Janina’s mother missed him so much that, in 1957, they went to England as tourists to visit him. But by the time they arrived, he had already gone to Canada and started arrangements to bring them over to the other side of the ocean. Their Canadian visas were delayed several times, and they were on the verge of being deported from England when they finally got those papers.

After two years in Kingston, where Janina worked in Dr. Loventhal’s biology lab, she returned to Winnipeg and worked at the Medical College’s pathology lab until she retired in 1980. Janina was a member of the Federation of Polish Women; a member of the Manitoba Chapter of the Polish Canadian Congress; she helped produce a Polish television show in Winnipeg, hosted by Kazimierz Patalas; she taught in the Polish school in St. Andrew Bobola’s parish; and she ran the Polish library for the PCA.

Janina passed away in Winnipeg on November 14, 1999, at the age of 86.

Copyright: Popkiewicz family

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