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Maria Wiecek (nee Pieczonka) was born to Franciszek and Stefania on December 12, 1931 in Polska Wola, Poland.

On February 10, 1940, Maria and her parents and brothers were deported to Siberia by the Russians. The family were forcibly taken from their home at gunpoint, by Russian soldiers. They had been given less than an hour to pack what they could, without knowing where they were being taken. They took what they could carry and had to leave the rest behind.

They were taken to the railway station and loaded into cattle cars with 50-60 other people. This included infants, toddlers, children, teens, adults, and seniors. Most of the adults and seniors were women. The cattle car had two shelves at either end, where people could sit or sleep – the rest had to make do with the floor. There was a cast iron stove, but they soon ran out of wood to fuel it. There was also a hole in the floor that served as a toilet.

They travelled like this for weeks, and were given some water, stale bread, and watery soup, only a few times. When someone died, their bodies were cast out next to the tracks and left there. Many infants and elders did not survive this journey.

When they reached the work camp in Siberia, they were told that this is where they would eventually die, but in the meantime, they had to work in order to earn their daily ration of bread. Children as young as 13 were set to work in the forests – cutting branches from the trees that had been cut down.

Aside from the extreme cold in winter, and extreme heat in summer, they had to contend with hordes of mosquitoes and black flies, as well as infestations of bed bugs in the barracks. There were no medical facilities in these camps, and diseases ran rampant, leading to a high death toll.

When amnesty was declared in June 1941, Maria travelled with her family, southward to Uzbekistan in search of the Polish 2nd Corps. Her father succumbed to the ravages of disease before they could reach the army. Maria's mother safely delivered her children to an orphanage in Bukhara before she passed away two weeks later. That all three children survived such a gruelling journey is a testament to their parents’, who kept their children alive against all odds.

The children were then sent via Central Asia and the Middle East to the orphanage at the Polish refugee camp in Tengeru, Tanzania, East Africa. At war's end, Maria moved to England, where she completed her senior matriculation.

With her brothers, she immigrated to Canada arriving in Winnipeg on Christmas Eve, 1950. It was here that Maria met her future husband, Marian. The couple married on November 29, 1952. They were active members of the Polish Combatants Association, Branch #13 and the Holy Ghost Roman Catholic Church. Maria worked for 27 years as an employee at Eaton's before retiring.

Maria passed away in Winnipeg on November 16, 2014, at the age of 82.

Copyright: Wiecek family

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