Maria (Załuska) STRONSK
I was born December 6, 1926, in Tarnopolskie, a suburb of Tarnopol, Poland,
My father fought with Haller's Army in Italy, then joined Pilsudski's Legion and fought in Lwow. He also spent some time in the USA before the children were born, and when he returned he inherited his father's estate. In 1940, the whole family (parents, 4 sons and a daughter) was deported to Siberia. My father died in Uzbekistan and is buried near Guzar. My brother subsequently joined the 1st Polish Armoured Division, and was killed in action - he is buried near Caen.
I spent my childhood in Tarnopol. When I was a year old, I was saved from our house fire by being handed out in my crib through the window. As war approached, I cold feel the steress in the adults around me, even though I was still a child. I clearly remember the year 1939. Particularly the 17th of September when the Russian army invaded. The soldiers were poorly dressed, with hungry faces. Then began the executions, the arrests, etc. And the Ukrainians started looting our homes and harassing us.
Our last Christmas at home was in 1939. On February 10, 1940 we were arrested, and so began my journey into the world. It was 6:00 am, and I was wearing a nightgown, when a Russian soldier put his rifle against my breast ad told me to pack quickly. We had to be ready to leave in a matter of minutes. I was not able to cry. In a flash, I was transformed from a child to an adult. I knew that this was the end of my carefree childhood.
We were locked into cargo wagons and started into the unknown. At the last Polish station, Podwoloczyska, everyone dropped to their knees in prayer and despair.
We reached Archangielsk. The men were sent to one camp, the women and children to another. We were not permitted to leave the boundaries of the camp, nor speak Polish, nor pray. For leading a revolt among the children and insisting on some bread, I was sent to a different labour camp.
I remember my weekly kitchen duties. I have always been very small in stature. The large kettle hung over the fire, suspended on wires, and I did not know how to was it, so I climbed into it with my bare feet and washed it that way. But I was then unable to completely empty the dirty water because it was too heavy for me to lift, so my soup always tasted strange.
There was a Typhoid epidemic. We received word from Moscow that we were free to go wherever we wanted. We were free, as long as we stayed in Russia. We travelled for 5 months, stopping at every major city: Świerdłowsk, Magnitogorsk, Taszkient, etc. In April 1942, we landed in Guzar. My father became very ill and he remained there forever. He was buried in the Uzbek way – in a sitting position, without a casket.
My mother met an acquaintance from Tarnopol – a captain – who helped us evacuate to Persia. There, we were ecstatic to see fresh fruits, bread, rice, etc. But mother did not allow us to overeat because many were dying from this, after having starved for so long.
In Teheran, I joined the Girl Guides, and went to school. We then set sail for Africa – to Uganda. We were nearly hit by a Japanese torpedo near Madagaskar but, luckily, it missed.
I threw myself into my studies, devouring every bit of information I possibly could. I also learned how to organize things, like getting clothing and other necessities. I volunteered at the homes of older individuals who were alone, and I led a Girl Guide team. I completed a nursing course as well as a tailoring course,m and sang in the school choir.
My body was being destroyed by an amoeba, but work kept me from thinking about this. In 1948, I left Africa for England, and began looking for work. I was repeatedly told that they had no work for their own, so I should look elsewhere. I was finally hired in a dress manufacturer.
Over the past 4 years, I had waited for my fiancé, but he ended up marrying someone else. This was a terrible blow, on top of the tropical illness I had been battling since Africa. A local priest helped me through this period and led me to believe in my own strength. Not far from London, orphans, half-orphans, children without fathers, children from broken marriages, were gathered in one place. The work there gave me a lot of satisfaction. In the meantime, I married a man who was very ill, having gone through a concentration camp. I had a son. To cover the rising costs of living, I took a course in stenography, and got a job at Metropolitan Vickers, where 22,000 people were employed.
A Polish Saturday School was organized in Manchester, and I returned to volunteer work. I developed an inflammation of the nasal sinuses and had to have an operation.
In 1955, I went to France on holiday with my sister. We visited the cemetery near Caen where our brother was buried. When the Hungarian uprising took plce, many Hungarians came to England. The government turned to the Commonwealth countries to accept many of the refugees. Canada accepted a certain number of immigrants, so wwe decided to emigrate there. We sailed to Quebec, had the „Landed Immigrant” stamp applied to our documents, and sailed further to Montreal.
I got a job in a Jewish manufacturer, and worked there for 13 years, until it went bankrupt. I began getting to know many people. After 3 years in Montreal, I heard that the Polish Saturday Schools were lacking teachers, so I applied there. My son was also attending such classes. My husband lost his job, so the family finances depended on me. I began selling cosmetics door-to-door.
So I worked full time, did volunteer work, and taught in the Saturday School. Since 1966, I belong to the Quebec branch of the Polish Canadian Congress. I believe that we muct take care of our youth and provide them with proper schooling, with sports opportunities, folk dancing, choirs, etc. And so I continue to volunteer to this day: at the Polish school, at the church, at the veterans association, at Expo 67, at the 76 Olympics, at the Polish radio, and wherever help is needed.
Maria Strońska died in 2017
Copyright: Stronski family