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Mike was born in Eastern Poland in 1928. In 1939, the Germans invaded Poland from the west on 1 September 1939, and the Russians 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.

Mike’s father was arrested by the Russians, and then Mike, his mother Genowefa, and brother Stan, 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.

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.

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.

The British nurses and doctors in Pahlevi could not believe their eyes when they saw the numbers and the conditions of the people coming off the ships, and the fact that so many of them were children.

Facilities had been set up to disinfect everyone. Each person had to remove all their clothing and go through a disinfecting shower, before being given clean clothing on the other side. Everyone had their head shaved, to deal with the infestations of lice. They were then sent to one of the camps that were set up for them in Teheran. The trip to Teheran was a hair-raising one, over narrow, twisty roads in the mountains.

After some time in Teheran, civilians were sent to a number of locations that had been negotiated with the British: in India, Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Mexico. Others remained in the Middle East: mostly in Lebanon and Palestine. The Polish 2nd Corps set up schools in all these locations, allowing the children to resume and complete their education.

Mike, his mother, and his brother, ended up in a Polish refugee camp in East Africa, where Mike completed his technical training in Tanzania. After the war, the family settled in Ottawa, Canada, where Mike eventually married and started a family.

Mike could fix any vehicle, and enjoyed the challenge of the many hours he spent restoring and re-designing his classic cars. Since 1966, he was the owner of Mike Galazka Service Centre on Main Street and together with his son and long-term employees, provided automotive care to many generations of loyal customers in Ottawa.

Mike passed away on September 3rd 2011, in his 83rd year.

Copyright: Galazka family

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