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Maria Zeglinska

Maria Zeglinska (nee Baron) was born March 25, 1914, in war torn eastern Poland. Things were finally getting a lot better for the family, when WW2 broke out.


The Germans had invaded Poland from the west on 1 September 1939, and the Russians had invaded from the east on 17 September 1939. They divided Poland between them. In the Russian-controlled area, the plan to ethnically-cleanse the area soon took effect with the first of four mass deportations to Siberia that were carried out in 1940 and 1941.

In 1940, the Russians confiscated the family farm.The family (including her parents Jozef and Zofia, and 2 brothers, Adolf and Eugeniusz) was transported to a forced labour camp in Siberia.

The family were forcibly taken from their home at gunpoint, by Russian soldiers. They had been given lss 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 our 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.

Through her ingenuity and very hard work, she made it possible for her family to survive starvation by walking for miles in waist high snow to neighboring villages and trade things she had brought from Poland for food.

In June 1941, Germany turned on its ally, Russia. Stalin then quickly changed tactics and allied himself with the west so that the allies could help him defeat the Germans. This led to the signing of the Sikorski-Majewski agreement that called for the freeing of Poles imprisoned in POW camps and labour camps in the USSR, and the formation of a Polish Army in the southern USSR.

The news of this ‘amnesty’ did not reach every camp, but where it did become known, the men and boys soon made plans to make their way south to join the army. For most, this meant walking thousands of kilometers and only occasionally getting on a train for part of the journey.  Many did not make it, and those who did were emaciated skeletons by the time they got there.

General Anders was in charge of the army, and he tried hard to get the Russians to provide the food and equipment they had promised. When this became more and more impossible, he negotiated the right to evacuate the army to Persia, where the British would provide what was needed.

Anders insisted on taking as many of the civilians that had reached the army as possible. There were 2 mass evacuations: in March/April 1942, and in September 1942. Then Stalin changed his mind and closed the borders. Those who had not been evacuated were not stuck in the USSR.

The evacuation took place by ship over the Caspian Sea to Pahlavi in Persia (now Iran). The ships that were used were oil tankers and coal ships, and other ships that were not equipped to handle passengers. They were filthy and lacked even the basic necessities, like water and latrines. The soldiers and civilians filled these ships to capacity for the 1-2 day trip. When there were storms, the situation got even worse – with most of the passengers suffering sea sickness.


Eugene Zeglinski, Maria'shusband, joined the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Brigade of the Polish 2nd Corps – he served in the 3rd Sapper Battalion.  and with him the rest of the family(excluding her father who died in Russia) migrated via Uzbekistan, Persia, Pakistan, to Tanzania, East Africa.

Maria and her two children, Czeslaw (born 1933) and Danuta (born 1939), spent some 6 years in the Kidugala Polish refugee camp in East Africa, while her husband Eugene was fighting the Germans on various fronts including Monte Casino battle. In the refugee camp, Mary had to work in the fields planting potatoes in 100 + temperatures and work in the communal kitchen where temperatures were well over 120 degrees. Meanwhile, her children attended school, as well as Scouting activities.

Finally in 1948, she joined her husband Eugene, who was demobilized from the army, to a resettlement camp in London, England. In 1949, she family emigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

She worked as a seamstress, on a piecework basis. Whenever, she met the quota, it was raised. Her main goal was to educate her children. These were realized when her son Chester graduated in mechanical engineering and her daughter Danusia as a medical doctor.

Maria Zeglinski, age 94, passed away  in Winnipeg on January 31, 2009.

Copyright: Zeglinski family

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