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Leokadia GNITECKA

Leokadia Gnitecka was born to Izydor Gnitecki and Cornelia (nee Zygadlo) Gnitecka, on 28 December 1928 in Cecylowka, a village near Rowne, Poland. She grew up in a blended family. Her father, Izydor had been previously married and had four children with his first wife, who died at a young age. Later, he married Kornelia who was 16 years his junior. They had five children, for a total of nine. The members of the family all got along and had genuine respect and affection for their parents.

 

Izydor owned 1,200 hectares of farmland. What harvested goods were not consumed by the family of 11 was sold (usually potatoes and wheat). Farming was not the first love of Leokadia’s father – he was a professional surveyor, and had employees run the farm so that he could carry on his second business.

 

One of Leokadia’s earliest memories is accompanying her father on summer surveying expeditions. She felt proud that her mother was well-liked. She was known throughout the village and district for her kindness. She would give advice and a helping hand if someone was ill, hurt, or just needed to talk. She also used to make linen on a loom.

 

Leokadia’s idyllic childhood came to a sudden halt when the Second World War began in 1939. The German army occupied many parts of Poland, including her home district. She and other children were not allowed to attend school. When the Russian army pushed the

Germans out about two years later, Leokadia’s school was re-opened. However, the teachers only spoke Russian, and Leokadia was taught in Russian for more than a year.

 

Then again, the Germans took over that part of Poland and caused the underground revolution. Many Polish and Jewish people were being slaughtered. To her great sorrow and horror, Leokadia’s father and her 20-year-old brother were murdered in 1943 when they were caught in the crossfire between partisans and the local police. The entire village was supposed to be wiped out that night.

 

They all had been sleeping for a whole year in an underground hide-out in a grove of trees close to the village. Each night they would sneak to their spot so the partisans would not find them. It was not safe after dark.

 

Eventually, Leokadia’s remaining family and their friends fled across many fields to the city of Kostopol, Poland (now Western Ukraine) with only the clothing they were wearing. They soon were rounded up to be used as forced labourers.

 

In the city of Rowne, Lola remembers being made to suffer further indignity: They were all herded together, naked, to be disinfected from lice, and then go through doctors’ examinations. They were then loaded onto cattle trains and sent to Germany. As they travelled through the country, the families were gradually split up.

 

Leokadia was only 14 at the time but was tall and strong and looked older. At one stop she was taken away from her mother by the German authorities and sent off to work. She was forced to do heavy manual labour on a German farm – ploughing, threshing and seeding in the fields during the heat and the cold, as well as milking 13 cows twice daily, washing laundry and being an assistant in the kitchen.

 

For one entire year, she worried constantly because she did not know what had become of her family, but she was finally found by her mother. She learned that her mother, younger sister (age 8) and brother (age 15) were allowed to stay together. They were kept in a camp for at least six weeks without adequate food before being taken to work for a kind German farmer who accepted my mother despite her having two of her children with her. One of her other brothers was taken to work in a factory.

When the Americans arrived, the slaves of the Germans ran to surrender and then she found herself in a displaced persons camp. The difference was tremendous. They had an abundance of food to eat, lots of clothing, and were respected as human beings.

 

Encouraged by her mother, Leokadia returned to school for seven months and re-learned her mother tongue and also took an English course. After the war ended, authorities from the Polish government were sent to the displaced persons camps to encourage its citizens to return under the then Russian occupation. Leokadia’s family were leery of going back.

 

Other countries were opening their doors and Leokadia was determined to go to Canada, if possible. She was hoping to be able some day to make a place for her family. Her dream came true in January 1948 when she walked onto the United States Navy transport ship, the U.S.S. General S.D. Sturgis. She had just turned 19 when she arrived in Canada. Her heart was heavy at leaving her mother and family behind, but she convinced herself that she would get them to Canada in due course.

Leokadia went by train to Winnipeg to work at the St. Boniface Sanatorium, which had guaranteed her a job. The sanatorium had paid for her passage to Canada and in return she  and her friends agreed to work for one year. She earned $35 per month less deductions for her ticket to Canada. By February 1949 she had completed the work in the time period she had promised. Her next job was at a nursing home for $90 per month. She rented a small room at a monthly rate of $8.

She was very happy to be in Canada, but was so lonely not knowing the language and having no family here. She wished she had enough money to return home or else bring her family to Canada. Two of her brothers eventually did come to Canada on their own, while another brother and one sister settled in the United States.

Leokadia met her future husband Andrzej Nowakowski when she and some friends attended a dance in Winnipeg. She married him in 1949.

Her mother and sister arrived in Canada from Germany in 1949, but not before a

scare: Her mother had a gall bladder attack on the train, and they put her in the hospital for an operation to remove her gall stones. A month later she came to Canada. She was not well. She stayed with me in Winnipeg and then we brought her to Red Lake. We were finally reunited as a family. She promised herself that her mother would never want for anything but, although she lived eight years here, she felt it wasn’t long enough to compensate for the suffering she had gone through.

 

When the family moved to Red Lake in 1956, Leokadia and Andrzej purchased Hillside General Store. Leokadia became a member of the Royal Canadian Legion Ladies Auxiliary. She took many adult education classes mastered reading, writing, and speaking English.

 

One of the proudest days of her life was in 1956 when she received her Canadian

Citizenship. Canada had enabled them to be affluent enough to have been able to help their less fortunate relatives in Poland. They sent them parcels and managed to bring 11 of them to see this beautiful, rich country which accepted us so readily.

 

 

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