Women`s Auxiliary of the Polish 2nd Corps
My name is Róża Kiselewska (nee Olejniczak) and I'm almost 100 years old! I was born in 1923 in Święciany in the Vilnius region, which now, thanks to Stalin, belongs to Lithuania. Marshal Józef Piłsudski was born in the Święciany county, in Zułów, and I attended a junior high school named after him. My happy childhood was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, and on September 17, 1939, Soviet troops entered our eastern territories under the pretext of protecting us from the Germans. The military, policemen and state officials, realizing that they would soon be arrested, crossed the Lithuanian border to be interned there after laying down their arms. My father was in this group - and we, like thousands of Polish intelligentsias, were recognized as enemies of the people and nation of the USSR.
The Soviets began deporting Poles to Siberia. My mother, my two years younger brother and I were deported on April 13, 1940. It was the second big transport - thousands of families shared our fate. The armed Red Army men woke us up in the night and told us to prepare for departure. They allowed us to take only what we could carry, that is, the most necessary clothes and some food. At the station, a long train consisting of cattle cars was waiting for us, with only a hole in the floor for the toilet.
After two days of travel the train stopped in the wilderness and they gave us only herring and the next day water. Of course, everyone took the opportunity to take care of natural needs. It often happened that the train set off without warning - once a 5-year-old boy running to the train fell and the wheels cut off his head. The mother was desperate, more so since the corpse had been left in the field. In the car, we slept side by side on the floor.
Starved and scared, after two weeks we came to Bulajewo in Kazakhstan. We were loaded onto trucks and transported to neighboring kolkhozes and sovkhozes. Our kolkhoz was called Bolshevik - we were unloaded on a muddy square, where the commander of the NKVD greeted us with the words "here you will live and here you will die". There were mud huts made of clay and manure bricks, there were also a few barracks, offices and a common room.
Local people were told that prostitutes from Poland were brought to work. Evening was approaching and nothing was happening, so my mother, who knew Russian well, entered the nearest mud hut and told the Russians living there that we were families of military men who were at war with Germany, that our children and old people were here with us. The sight of us dirty, hungry, and tired finally aroused pity, so we were taken to shabby mud huts full of bugs that loved fresh blood.
We had to check in every day and were taken to work. Those who worked received a slice of bread and some soup. We never got paid. To live, you had to get rid of your clothes, if you had any. We got the most money for long nightgowns, which Russian women turned into wedding dresses.
My brother caught hares and, with his friends, he stole wood that the Kazakhs were carrying from the north through our kolkhoz. My mother read cards, which was forbidden, so we were afraid that someone would give us away. She did it so well that Russian women came often, bringing some milk, or some eggs, or a piece of bread. These gifts my mother often shared with those in need. After a year, we managed to move to the nearest town, Bulajewa. Mother got a job on an "elevator" - we had to move grain so that it wouldn't get stale. We were given an room in a barrack and an allotment of coal for the stove, where we could also cook something. After the Soviet Revolution, all the orchards were burned, so there was no fruit at all. Our people began to die of avitaminosis and malnutrition - mostly the elderly and small children.
It is the pinnacle of irony that we owe our rescue to the Germans - Germany attacked Russia on June 21, 1941, and overnight the Russians became our allies. The Soviet government announced an `amnesty` for the Poles on August 13, 1941 - as if we were criminals. Our government-in-exile began to organize the Polish Army. On August 22, General Władysław Anders became the commander of the Polish 2nd Corps.
General Anders had great difficulties in forming the army, because the Poles were scattered all over Russia, and in many cases the local authorities ignored the amnesty, not wanting to lose a cheap worker. My father survived, although he was in Starobielsk and other labor camps in the north, and finally on an island where they were loaded onto barges and sunk - he was saved by the amnesty, and he joined the 5th division of the army. We - after amazing adventures - managed to join the Army: my brother added a few years to his age and volunteered for the army. My mother and I left the "Soviet Paradise" as a military family on June 29, 1942, on a ship across the Caspian Sea from Krasnovodsk to Pahlavi in Persia (Iran).
Here, perhaps, it is appropriate to highlight how the Corps and thousands of families were transferred from Russia to Persia. The Russians gradually reduced the food rations for the forming units - it got to the point that the soldiers gave half of their rations to feed their families. Under pressure from General Anders and the British, Stalin agreed to let this "skeleton army" leave Russia.The British wanted the Corps to take over the protection of oil fields in Iraq or Persia, allowing British troops to be moved to North Africa to fight the Afrika Korps.
In Tehran, my mother and I joined PSK, the Women's Auxiliary Service of the Polish 2nd Corps. I was assigned as a telephone operator to the communications department. Then we were sent to the Carpathian Brigade, but it turned out that we were needed more as drivers. We attended a course in Gedera, Palestine, and it was a course not only about driving cars, but also about all kinds of repairs. We were proud that Princess Elizabeth, later Queen, was also a driver in the army. On November 28, 1943, I was sent to the high school in Nazareth to take my final exams and, after passing the exam, in August 1944, I returned to my unit.
A few months later, I was assigned to a hospital in Al-Kantara near the Suez Canal in Egypt as a daytime attendant. Our common room had a local radio station, and the work was very interesting - we broadcast political messages, readings, music. There were various games in the common room: like chess, checkers, monopoly. We also helped soldiers write letters to their families or to the Red Cross looking for loved ones. After a few months, we were transferred to Almaria, near Alexandria to the 14th Armored Brigade, where my future husband served.
Our wedding took place on September 9, 1945, in Alexandria. In November, our unit was transferred to Italy, to the base in Chieti, where I continued to work as a daytime nurse for some time. Soon after, however, a school for soldiers was organized and I became a teacher. Many soldiers, especially those who joined the Corps after being liberated from the German army, did not even finish elementary school.
In July 1946, we sailed for Great Britain, stopping at Strood Park near Horsham, Sussex. Here they began to prepare us for civilian life by offering various courses. We were formally demobilized on April 23, 1947 (after five years of service). My husband was offered the position of director of the camp in Perthworth, but my mother-in-law, who joined us from a civilian camp in Uganda, did not like the English (she believed that they had betrayed the Poles), so we decided to emigrate to Argentina. There was no question of returning to communist Poland. Our family grew because my husband's father joined us, a captain who was in a German camp, and my husband's younger brother who was a cadet at a flight school in Egypt.
We lived in Buenos Aires for nine years, where my son Jerzy was born in 1950. We lost all the money we had saved over those nine years to buy a house, which was sold by a scammer to as many as 50 people at the same time. In 1958 we decided to emigrate again - this time to Canada. My brother and my parents moved to Toronto from England. We moved to Montreal, where my husband got a job at Air Canada.
Now the sad list begins: I lost my father in 1969, my mother in 1983. In 1993 my husband died, in 2006 my brother died. I had three grandchildren: the middle one, Erik, died in an accident in 2009, and my beloved son died of cancer in 2013. There is sadness and memories.
Since 2007, I have been a resident at the Manoir Westmount Senior Home, where I have settled in perfectly. Behind the gate of our patio, I made a flower garden - where the meager grass used to grow - colorful flowers are blooming today. The residents of the Manoir visit the garden - and I have great satisfaction that my effort is appreciated.
I am very proud that in 2013 I was awarded the Golden Order of the Polish Army at the Polish Consulate. I was invited several times to the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Ottawa for various national celebrations. In May this year I had the honor of meeting the new president Andrzej Duda, and in September the ambassador Andrzej Kurnicki.
I would like to return for a moment to the topic of "what PSK meant" - that is, the Women's Auxiliary Service. General Anders made a huge effort in negotiations with the Soviet authorities to save as many women as possible from prisons, labor camps and collective farms. It was also important to save hundreds of Polish children and orphans. The children were starving, impoverished, sick and decimated by various epidemics, which followed the civilian population and the army. Thousands of civilians were transported from Russia by the army. Women worked in very difficult conditions in hospitals, kitchens, sewing rooms, offices, and communications. They worked as teachers, tutors, and nannies. Three transport companies of women were organized - they passed the test in Italy, delivering weapons, fuel or ammunition to the front line. Several were awarded the Cross of Valor. Many completed special sanitary or communications courses, and these are such important services in the army now. At the same time, primary and general education was splendidly organized. The creation of schools attached to the army was a novelty on a global scale. Already in Russia, the Junaczek School was established in 1941, and then renamed the School of Younger Volunteers.
PSK, working in hospitals, in transport, in communications, or in canteens, was an important peg in the war machine. Unfortunately - despite the enormous effort put in, the end of the war brought us disappointment. After demobilization, we could not return to Poland, which was controlled by the communists - we were left with exile and wandering. But we did not break down and in various countries of our emigration we continued to work, creating unions, organizations, schools or supporting the existing ones.
SOURCE: Original Polish text can be found at: