SABINA (MARCZEWSKA) ŚWIĄTEK

 

Deported to Siberia, released on 'amnesty', the family spent time in Persia before being sent to a Polish Camp in India, then settled in the UK. ..

 

After forced deportation to Siberia with her immediate family, Sabina Marczewska ended up in the family resettlement camp in Fairford, Gloucestershire.  Her experiences were typical of approximately one and half million Poles taken from eastern Poland during the 4 waves of deportations to Siberia by the Russians in 1940-41.

 

The first few pages of Sabina’s journal were written in 1944 when she was in the Polish camp at Valivade-Kolhapur, near Bombay, India, after leaving the transit camp in Karachi.  After the painfully difficult journey from the freezing labour camps in Siberia, many fell ill with malaria.  Despite of having a temperature of 105 degrees and being in sickbay for two weeks, when Sabina’s temperature started to drop after a few days, she started to write what she could remember of her family’s experiences and ordeals.  She described deportation and the journey to freedom to the large Polish camp at Valivade, near Bombay.  (Anyone who would like to find  out more about the experiences of Polish people in the camps in India may be interested in the illustrated, collectively-written book, ‘Poles in India’, available in both Polish and English versions.)

 

Extracts from the journal of Sabina Świątek, born Sabina Marczewska, in Eastern Poland, 1927:

 

‘When the Russians drove my family out of Poland to Siberia, on 10th February 1940 to be exact, in the first of four waves of expulsions to Siberia, our family group consisted of my father, Władysław Marszewski, my mother, Władysława, my sister, Jannina, her husband, Joseph Awdziejczyk, their two children, Irena and Edward, and finally, myself.

 

My parents, Wladyslaw and Wladyslawa Marczewski, originally came from the Warsaw area, but they moved to the eastern part of Poland and settled in what is now Belarus.  My father worked as a forester.  On February 10th 1940, Polish settlers and their families were taken to Siberia at gunpoint, although they did not know where they were being taken to at the time.

 

… It was the morning of September 3rd, 1939, the first day back at school after the holidays.  I was attending grade five at the local state school.  One particular day, after packing my books for school, I set off with my friend, Stasia Świerczyńska, who lived close by.

 

At school, I felt rather sad; it was not how it usually was after the holidays.  Many pupils had not returned after the break: neither had the Headmaster, Zygmunt Jósefa. There were just three teachers: our form teacher, Miss Stanisława, Mr. Tadel and Mr. Grzesiak.  We had only a few lessons because of the shortage of teaching staff and books.  The following day was very much like the first.  No one seemed to care about what was being taught.  Finally, after just a few days, school broke up officially for two weeks.  There had already been disturbances and a heating up of preparations for war.

 

Great numbers of men were being called up to fight.  My chief concern was that my father, employed by the government as a forester, would be called up.  He looked after vast areas of forest and was involved in creating new forests, planting new trees, and dealing with the sale of different kinds of wood, such as that required for building or firewood. All felled trees had to be recorded and stumps had to be labelled.  He also had to protect the timber from theft and would sometimes be involved in court cases when theft did occur.

 

Just a few days before our misfortunes really started, many forest workers had decided between themselves that if the enemy were to invade, they would flee in the direction of Litwa (Lithuania).  There was a lot of commotion in the village.  The Russians had disarmed government officials and many Russians were robbing the wealthier landowners.  Within three days of the Russian invasion, local Russians were told to settle scores with Poles.  One can only imagine what the true extent of the situation was.

 

The Russians often held public meetings, where they tried to brainwash us by telling us how much better everything was under Russian rule.  By the beginning of February 1940, everything seemed to have quietened down.  Only occasionally did we hear of some Pole being taken to prison in the middle of the night.  Otherwise, things seemed quiet.

 

10th February, 1940 - deportation

 

As usual, my mother was the first to get up, before the rest of us had woken up.  The dawn was lighting up the room, with sunbeams coming in through the frosted windows. The fields were covered with shining, glistening snow.  My mother went to the hen-house.  She came back to tell us that some Russian soldiers and some Russian peasants were coming along the road with two sledges.

 

Before anyone had a chance to respond, we heard the trotting of horses’ feet on the frozen snow and the knock on the door.  In came a band of four NKWD (the forerunner of the KGB) and four country types.  They were all broad-shouldered and red in the face from the cold.  The NKWD were wearing grey coats and worn-out boots.  On their heads, they wore soldiers' hats.  The others wore short overcoats and tattered shoes.

 

To us it seemed as if a band of robbers had burst in.  We were petrified at the sight of these uninvited guests.  One of the men shouted, 'Hands up!' so we put them up.  We thought we were going to be shot.  We had to stand in a line, while the men searched everywhere for any arms.  They ransacked the place, searching in wardrobes, drawers, coat pockets, even in beds.

 

They took all our knives, scissors and sharp items, presumably so we had nothing with which to attack them.  When they had finished in the house, they made us all remove our socks and shoes so they could search those.  Then they searched the attic, the stable and the animal enclosures, everywhere, as they say, where even the devil cannot reach.

 

After the intruders finished searching the place, they told us we had twenty minutes to get dressed and to go to a committee meeting.  One man told us we would be going on a long journey.  My father wanted to take the sewing machine with us but he was not allowed to.  My brother -in-law, Josef, said there was no point anyway, as we would probably be taken to some nearby field and shot.  We knew this was what they often did to Poles.  The men shouted at us to hurry up; if we were not ready, they would have to just take us as we were.  My sister and I started crying.  One of the NKWD came up to me and said, "What are you crying for?  You are going to Russia. You'll be happy there."

 

Very soon, my sister and her two young children, Irena and Edward, and I were on the sleigh, while my father and brother-in-law had to walk with the armed soldiers behind us.  Irena was just a little child and Edward was a mere three-month old.  We were taken to the meeting at the priest's house, which was already full of Polish people who had been rounded up.  The hall was lined with benches where some were seated, and Russian soldiers were sitting at a table up on the stage.  The sound of wailing children mixed with the noise of stamping feet and the agitated talk of the grown-ups.  More and more people kept coming into the hall.

 

Two buckets of warm milk were brought in by local Russians.  It was hardly enough for so many people, so it was given just to the children.  Those who had bread ate it with their milk, but no one really felt like having food or drink at such a time.

 

The soldiers were taking down everyone's name and, in the evening, we were taken to the sleighs, one family at a time.  As our family was walking over to our assigned sleigh, I saw my teacher, Pani Stasia, to whom I made a bowing gesture.  She acknowledged this and walked on hurriedly, her collar against her face to protect it from the rough wind.  I can remember the clear moon obscured now and again by the clouds the wind blew across it.  I still remember the oak, pine and hazel trees on the sides of the road, as we drove out of the Ogulec area.

 

Różana

In a few hours, we were at Różana.  We drove up to the school building and we were left there for the night.  In the classrooms, there were tables and benches and, in one corner, a lighted stove.  We sat on the floor, wherever there was room, the children lying down on the low tables, the adults lying down on the floor to sleep, after eating whatever food they might have had with them.

 

We all rose the next morning as soon as the sun started to come into the classroom. The little children were crying at having to wake up and continue our journey.  The NKWD made lists of all the families, and we were bundled onto the sleighs and driven on.

 

There was a strong north wind and the fields around us were covered in snow.  Only children and the elderly were allowed to be in the sleighs - the others had to walk behind the sleighs.  We made slow progress, while the Russian soldiers had their guns at the ready all the time.  When I think about it, what were they ‘ready' for, and against whom?  Just defenceless, terrified, exhausted and hungry people.

 

We were not given any food for two days.  A few lucky people still had a little food with them.  My sister did what she could for her two little children.  Young children, like my nephew, Edward, who were still breastfed, were receiving nourishment, but for the rest of us, hunger and thirst were setting in.

 

Kosow

By evening, we reached the town of Kosow and we were given one hour to have a walk and a stretch but only in one room, in what had previously been offices, unless we wanted a bullet through our heads.  There were lots of other Poles already in the room and after about half an  hour, we had to leave and journey on.

 

The inhuman journey

We were driven to the railway station where others were already being loaded onto goods wagons.  It was all done in silence, under the scrutiny of armed soldiers.  We were all afraid and felt they had to take care of the others in their family group.  Once people were loaded onto the wagons, squeezed together like pickled herrings in a barrel, these were padlocked.  We stood squashed up like this all night and all day.  The following day, the train started moving.

 

We were only allowed to have water if the NKWD gave us permission. We were not given anything to eat and some people had run out of food supplies.  There was a stove in the middle of the wagon, but we had to be careful not to get burnt by it. There was a hole in the door to which three pieces of wood were attached to act as a seat; this was our communal toilet.  The hole was covered up after each use, but the stench in the wagon was still disgustingly strong.  

 

We did not have any light in the wagon and we were not allowed to open the window until we had crossed the Russian border.  When we had passed into Russia, the doors were occasionally opened for a few minutes.  Later, we could open the windows during the daytime.

 

There were twenty-eight people in our wagon: fourteen on the rack on one side, and fourteen on the other.  On the side our family was on, there was also the Wojtowicz family.  Mr. Wojtowicz was a schoolmaster and he was there with his wife and six children.  Opposite were Mr. and Mrs. Krasowiak and their six children, and Mr. Krycki with his wife, their newly wed son and his wife.  The last person in the wagon was Mr. Zdanowicz, a retired forester, who had had to leave his wife behind, as she was in hospital.

 

We passed forests, rivers and farms; we saw small, hut-like houses, made of mud or wood.  The women and workers wore very ragged clothing.  Though our destination was not stated, we worked out that we were heading for Siberia.

 

On February 27th, we arrived at a station in a place called Holmogork.  It was still grey in the early morning light and we were allowed to get out.  We went to a house which was crammed full with people and their belongings to such an extent that everyone was on top of everyone else.  It was like a hellhole. We had to stay there for a week, during which time we were given terrible food, which made many of us ill.

 

A week later, without being told where we were going, we had to get onto a sleigh and we were driven for a whole day, through forests with frosted-over trees, some of which had frozen and snapped.  Around us there was no sign of a living creature or animal.  We carried on for a whole week, the horses and people’s clothes covered by the falling snow.  We would stop off once a day and have a few hours sleep in a settlement called a ‘kolchoz’.  Now at least we were given some sustenance: potatoes or wheat cakes.  The people there were poor, living in huts.  They were mostly women, as the men had been taken to the army or for labour.  They were pleasant towards us and told us of their ordeals with tears in their eyes.

 

One evening, we were taken to Biereźniak, the main town in that region. We stopped off at some school for the night.  Out of the window, we could see a very high stone wall, as high as two people.  It turned out to be a prison, with guards on the four corners. These changed every two hours.

 

Next morning we were taken across the Dźinien River.  Then we were on a sleigh all day.  We stopped off at an assigned resting place where we were taken to a club-house for a few hours.  In the morning, we could have a wash and then we were moved into barracks.  Our family was told to go to barrack number four where we shared one room.  There was a stove, which had been lit by the housekeeper from the adjoining room.

 

There was no problem getting wood for the fire as trees and forests surrounded us.  It was a big relief to be actually in a place where we could stay after a month-long journey in far from comfortable conditions.  We were not bothered by having to wash and clean the room, just pleased to put our things down and have somewhere to stay.

 

The settlement was on the banks of a river and, as far as the eye could see, there was only dark forest, except for a cemetery and several hectares of ploughed up land beyond it.  The people who lived in this place were Ukrainians who had been taken there by the Russians in 1930 and in 1935.  They had been literally abandoned and thrown out into the snow, in the middle of winter, with no barracks to shelter in. Obviously, the old, the sick and the very young just died.  The others had had to build the barracks and get on with survival.  These Ukrainians were quite kind towards us.

           

The day after our arrival, our clothes and bedding were taken from us for disinfecting.  A lot of damage was caused to people's personal items and, in some cases; it was to be a person's last set of clothes.  Soon, typhoid fever was raging over the settlement.

 

It lasted for two months. We made the most of having somewhere to stay; we spring cleaned and scrubbed walls and ceiling, put up hangings on the walls (makaty), put a tablecloth on the bare table and covered the beds with bed linen which we had brought with us and made everything as homely as we could.  This did not last long as we did not have any money for necessities, so we had to sell such items.  Then the locals dressed in our clothes and used our things to decorate their homes.

 

After a week, the men went to work in the forest cutting down trees, and women had to do the snow clearing around the settlement.  Work started while it was still dark in the morning and finished when it was dark again.  The Polish people did not have appropriate clothing for such extreme weather; in the winter, temperatures sank to minus 48 degrees Celsius.  Eventually, workers were given padded shirts and trousers and thick scarves.  They were also given knee-high stiff boots.  In this freezing climate, only if dressed like this could an outdoor worker withstand the cold and survive.  The snows were deep and we walked on the crisp, frozen layer. Occasionally, this would give way under someone's feet and others would rush to get the unfortunate person out by his hands.  People had to take care to warm their fingers and toes so as not to get frostbite.  We never, ever, got used to the harsh climate.

 

One man had an unfortunate accident whilst woodcutting; he did not manage to move out of the way of the tree he had just felled and it crushed him to death.

 

We were not allowed beyond the boundaries of our settlement.  Food, which meant bread and warm water, was obtained at the work-base.  There were two: one was eight kilometres away and the other fifteen.

 

My mother and father worked and slept at one of there bases and I saw them only on those Sundays when they were given the day off and they were able to come over.  As I was only 12 years old, I did not have to go to work.  I stayed with my sister, Janina, in a family ‘posiolek’.  My sister's children were young enough to need her, so she did not have to go to work either. (Edward was over three months old by now and his sister, Irena, was three years old).  I did have to work later in the summer, though.  My brother-in-law, Joseph, was a carpenter in the family barracks so at least he did not freeze outside like other workers.  My sister kept Edzio at the breast all the time; that was the only reason he managed to survive; although later, he became skeletal and unable even to stand up.

 

Food was in pitifully short supply.  Everyone was given 400 grams of black bread each day, and workers were given 600-800 grams.  There was no other food.  The only exception was stale fish soup that had to be paid for.  It smelt disgusting and we couldn't afford it anyway.  So, we kept to the barely baked black slabs of so-called bread which people called "kirpicz" - which means "brick".

 

*                                  *                                  *                                  *

 

Those who managed to survive starvation, disease and the freezing temperatures of Siberia faced more ordeals in their journey to transit camps and more permanent settlements in India and Africa.  Here is a second extract from Sabina’s journal describing their journey to Valivade.

 

‘In 1941, freedom seemed to be on the horizon.  An ‘amnesty’ was agreed, to the relief of the exiled Poles, though an ‘amnesty’ seemed an insult to civilians who had committed no crime.  It came after great efforts by General Sikorski to come to an arrangement with Stalin, who wanted more soldiers to fight the Germans who had now turned on Russsia, previously their ally in the war.  Władysław Sikorski was also responsible for forming a Polish government–in-exile in London.  The newly freed Poles could now form an armed force to join Russia against Germany in the continuing struggles of the Second World War.

 

General Anders, who himself had been imprisoned and tortured by the Russians, was to be in charge of the formation of the new army.  He had made strenuous efforts to make sure the Polish soldiers in Russia were not overlooked.  The first transportation of these Polish people out of Russia came about in March 1942.  However, all this came later for our family; there was more to endure before that.

 

It was on October 23rd, 1941 that we finally left on sledges that we had difficulty finding.  There were too many of us getting out and the Siberian winter had started to settle in.  We left with a large group of Polish people for Bierezniak nad Dzwina, which was a 25 kilometre trek.  From there, we boarded a small steamer which took three and a half days to get us to Kotlas, where there was a railway station.

 

We had to wait there for two weeks, during which time we stayed in appalling conditions.  A large building had been booked, but it was far too small for the huge number of people who arrived and people lived almost outside in the bitter cold.  They were also extremely hungry.  During the daytime, everyone had to leave the little protection the building offered, so it could be cleaned.  After a fortnight, we managed to organize transport out of this place.  We travelled south, towards an unknown destination.  What mattered to us was that we would get out of this inhospitable, inhumane environment, whatever the price.  We knew by now that a Polish Army was being formed, and that efforts were being made to take Polish people out of Russia.

 

We travelled in goods wagons for two months.  We were able to buy food when the train stopped at stations.  As the warning whistle was not always blown, we never knew when the train would stop, nor when it would start up again, which it did very suddenly, and which would send us to the ground with a jolt.  In the centre of the wagon stood a hot, round, metal stove that served to warm us and provide heating for boiling water and cooking food.  To obtain food, we had to barter, selling any clothing we still had, at the various stops.  We took chances getting off the train in order to get food, as we could easily have been left behind, but we had no choice or we would have starved.  Life in Russia centred around food and clothing:  that was all that everyone desperately craved.

 

When we had set out from Kotlas two and a half months previously, there had been 52 of us in the goods wagon (which also contained goods, by the way).  On the way, 13 people, mostly children, had died.  Their bodies were put in the brake-van of the wagon and at the next stop, they were handed over to the Russians to bury.  It was very rare for anyone of the deceased's family to be present at the burial, as the train would have moved on.   (Note: Our family friends, the Kondratowicz family who live at 150 Goddard Avenue, Old Town, Swindon, had such an incident in their family. One of Edek's sisters died during their evacuation from Russia.  Her body was added to the tall pile of other corpses at a station).

 

It was a similar story when anyone was seriously ill: they would be taken to the local hospital and would stay there while the train, with the rest of their family, moved on.  They rarely ever caught up later.  Separations from family, as well as death, were common features of this journey.

 

The rest of us travelled on, on to the Urals and Uzbekistan.  During our long journey we came across the  Russian  Army  who were involved  in  heavy fighting  with  the Germans along  the border, all the way up  to Finland.  The train journey involved stops and starts which we were not warned about.  As it was extremely unpleasant in the wagons (there were no toilets, in particular), we were glad to get off at a stop, but we had to be careful that we did not get left behind when the train did start up again.  Unfortunately, this happened from time to time, as some poor soul was left behind, usually never to be seen again, when the train suddenly moved off.

 

At one station, this happened to my father.  My mother was out of her mind with worry.  Very luckily, father turned up five and a half days later, having boarded another train heading in the same direction and managing to catch our train at a stopping place.  Others were not so fortunate; their tragedies are too sad to relate.   At one particular stop, I got out of the train with a kettle to fill it up with water.  Before I could get back, the train had suddenly moved off, leaving me behind.  My father jumped off the wagon while the train was moving and my mother threw his shoes after him.  He had been repairing his shoes at the time.  What I lived through at that time, God Himself only knows.  My mother had not allowed me to leave the wagon without her permission.  It was entirely my own fault that I caused my family so much anguish.

 

Somehow, we eventually caught up.  I never left the train without my mother's agreement again.  My mother was overjoyed to see us, but told my father to give me a beating.  My father replied that it was not necessary to punish me as I had received enough of a fright.   Such incidents were commonplace during this part of my life and I could write most of the story of this journey describing such incidents.  The train often stood still for days at a time at some siding, only to start up again suddenly and then not stop at all for several days, so getting off meant taking a chance with your very life.

 

With the continuation of the war, everything was in a state of chaos.  We were taken from one place to another until eventually, in Uzbekistan, people were gradually taken off and loaded into strange, enormous, two-wheeled vehicles and after a night's journey, taken to little dwellings made of mud, called 'kibitki'.

 

My family were in one of these, while other Polish families were in others.  There we met some Jewish families for the first time.   We got to know Mr. Grymba and his sister.  He had been a furrier with his own shop in Poland before his deportation.  We also knew an elderly couple who, sadly, died of poor health and hunger soon afterwards.  They were reputed to have had bags of gold, which could not help them in those circumstances.  Hunger was rife and people were dropping like flies because of hunger or illness, or both.

 

We lived like this from December 1941 until August 1942.  During December and January, we were able to buy a loaf of bread in the little town of Abrawan, about three miles away.  There was no bread for the local people or us after that until February, when we could get about a pound of flour a day.  While there had been a better yield of flax and cotton, there was not much grain for food.  Rations went down to a kilo of flour a day just for workers.  My family worked repairing the roads and, with the flour we earned, made a sort of soup when we mixed it with water.

 

We shared this ‘soup’ with everyone.  There was nothing else to eat, not even wild grass.  Those who were unwell, weak or not very good at managing and survival just died.  We searched the fields on the neighbouring farms for any leftover onions and potatoes that had been overlooked by farmers.  We would occasionally be lucky and find a little to eat.  We even managed to gather half a sackful once.  This was worth more than anything imaginable to us.

 

In May and June, we had mulberries that produced long, red and yellow fruit.  These were juicy, sweet and delicious, and sustained us a little.  We also ate linseed from cottonseeds.  These were yellowish brown and tasted like hard tree bark.   We chewed them or tried to break them up, though it was rather difficult.   In spring, we were able to pick barely-ripe wild plums, still with dried blossoms on the branches and we made soup out of them, which we thickened with a little flour.

 

Edzio, my nephew, was so thin and spindly that he stopped walking.   He was two and a half by now.  His stomach had stopped working through malnutrition and the skin on his arms and body was wrinkled like an old man's.  Everyone was scared of holding his hand in case he fell apart.  My sister  looked after  him  as  best she  could  and tried to get milk  from  the Uzbecks  when and where she could.

 

Edzio's sister, Irka, had bronchitis and was feverish.  Jósef Awdziejczyk, their father, (my brother -in -law) somehow managed to find a donkey to take Irka to the nearest doctor, three miles away.  She felt much better when she got back.  My father had become very swollen from starvation at this time.  When we were able to get more food in the spring and summer, everyone started to recover.  In the spring, Arawan was visited by a Polish delegation and we had our names taken and were given some food.  We were given a few decagrammes of rice, sugar and coffee.  My father was given 50 roubles, which could buy hardly anything.

 

The important thing was that we were not forgotten: someone still knew of our existence. In July, we gathered grain and we were able to take it to the Uzbek mill to make flour.  We also has green apples and plums.  We were able to buy whey cheaply.  We got bucketfuls of it and drank it, as well as making soup out of it.   We even managed to make a little soft cheese. 

 

In July 1942, I had a bad bout of flu.  I was off work for a fortnight.  A woman called Miss Bronia Lipka was sick at the same time.  She took me with her when she went to the Polish delegation to ask for help.  Ironically, it was getting flu that finally got my family out of Russia!  Immediately on seeing me, the delegate asked me to get my father.  When he came she  asked  him to gather  all  the Poles and  to travel  to Karasu  that very night, as there was a chance of  getting out of  the country by train within days.

 

Feverishly, everyone made whatever arrangements he or she could for getting to the railway station at Karasu.  That night we left for Karasu, my sister and her children being the only ones the Uzbek driver allowed on the straw-strewn wagon, while the rest of us had to walk alongside.

 

However, I had not quite recovered from flu, and all of us were weak and only able to move along by propping each other up when we stumbled.  We somehow managed the 25 kilometres to Oszy.  It was a further 21 kilometres to Karasu.  I had to hold my mother up for she could hardly manage.  The next morning we found a vehicle that could only take my sister and her children, Edzio and Irena, but we begged that he allowed me to sit in it as well and, in the end, he relented.  Everyone else had to walk.  Bronia Lipka walked along with us. 

 

A short time later, three lorries came together, forcing one into a ditch.  Our 'pilgrims' went to help and get the lorry back onto the road.  It was a stroke of luck, as the lorry took us all to Karasu so we did not have to walk and stumble all that way.  When we arrived at Karasu, others had already arrived.  Some soldiers and civilians were in tents, others were under trees or pomegranate bushes.  We were given a meal there and some clothes.  We had to be careful about what we ate: nothing too heavy or fatty, as we could not have digested it after such a long time without proper food.   In a few days' time, the civilians were taken to the port of Krasnowodsk.

 

We travelled there in goods wagons again and, this time, they were not over-crowded nor were we starving anymore.  We had to alight 4 kilometres away from the port, on sandy soil.  In the morning, my sister, the two children and I were allowed to go by normal passenger transport.  I shall never forget when the train overtook those walking the same journey, thousands of wretched-looking adults and children, taking up the whole length of the road, coming out of a barbarous land towards an unknown future.  Whatever was to come, we hoped it would be better and, perhaps one day, we would be able to return to our own mother country.  We dared to hope.

 

In Krasnowodsk, we boarded the ship and sat on deck together.  We crossed the Caspian Sea towards the Persian port of Pahlevi.  My mother was unwell.  It turned out she had malaria.  The journey was made very unpleasant for everyone by the appalling toilet facilities - or rather, the lack of them, and by the long queues to use them.  The alternative was a tin.

 

We arrived on the sand with just a mat for a roof.  However, it was warm and we started to receive regular meals.  Many people did not adjust gradually to these conditions and died after such a long time of cold and hunger.

 

Unfortunately, my father fell unconscious and had to be taken to hospital in the town of Pahlevi.  He came back after a week.  It was there, also, that my brother-in-law, Josef Awdziejczyk, joined the Polish Army in August or September 1942, along with other Polish survivors from Siberia.  He ended up with General Anders’s Polish Army at Monte Casino.  He would not see his family until much later, in England.

 

After arriving at the transit camp, a good wash and a change of clothes, we were moved to a more permanent camp on 18th September.  We travelled there in covered lorries and were helped by the army.  There were 4 or 5 such camps.

 

We all suffered from eye infections and ended up with weeping eyes.  For this reason, I was not able to start school straight away but waited until April.  I started in grade 6, getting ready to take my entrance exams for high school.  Two weeks later I was down with malaria.  This made me shake all over and gave me a frighteningly high temperature.  The doctor sent me to the P.C.K. Polish hospital that seemed enormous.  It was completely full of those who were ill after being in Russia.  I was there for two months.  We were checked medically and well fed.  When I was due to come out, it was the summer holidays, so I was sent to a guide camp.  After two weeks, I went back to be with my mother.  After the summer break, I resumed my studies.  Having malaria and the medication I had to take made it hard for me to study, as it affected my memory.  This did not put me off and I worked very hard, and managed to get into high school in December 1943.

 

We were in the camp in Teheran until June 1944.  Many Polish people were sent to camps in Africa, in Lebanon and, like our family, in India.

 

Translated and edited by her daughter, Alicja Teresa Anna Świątek Christofides. 1993.

 

 

ADDITIONAL NOTES

 

After arriving on SS Ormonde at Tilbury early in 1948, my mother and her parents were sent to the Polish transit camp Daglingworth, then Fairford Hostel, where they lived until 1955.  They later settled in Swindon.  Sabina married Ignacy Swiatek in 1949.  He spent nearly three years in hospital in Shropshire to recover from tuberculosis.  Sabina had to go out to work in Swindon, in light industry and became the main breadwinner.  The manual work was repetitive and badly paid (women earned less than men for doing exactly the same work in those days) and Sabina hated it, but had to continue for seventeen years.  Her mother, Babcia Marczewska, looked after her daughter, Alicja while she worked.  Health problems forced her to change her work to that of sales assistant at British Home Stores, in Swindon, when she was widowed in 1971, at at the age of 42. 

 

The family’s story from when they reached Fairford camp until they moved to Swindon, is now included in Zosia Biegus’s website www.polishresettlementcamps.com under ‘Other Camps/ Fairford’.