A Polish veteran of The Battle of Arnhem, who was deported to Siberia with his family, was released on 'Amnesty', evacuated to Persia with the Polish 2nd Corps, then joined the 1st Independent Parachute Brigade of General Sosabowski.
Stanislaw Bajkowski, was an honorary lieutenant in the Polish Army and one of the last Polish paratroopers of the legendary 1st Independent Parachute Brigade of General Sosabowski. Stanislaw was born in Grodno (now part of Belarus) and, as an 18-year-old, he volunteered to the 1st Independent Polish Brigade that parachuted into the Battle of Arnhem during Operation Market Garden.
Stanislaw Bajkowski was born on 27th September 1925 in pre-war Poland in the village of Holyszki, district of Wolkowysk, province of Bialystok. (Wolkowysk is now in Belarus.) His father Miesczyslaw and his mother Bronislawa Czaplejewska owned an arable farm of ten hectares near the village of Podorosk, in the district of Wolkowysk. For centuries, he Bajkowski and Czaplejewska families had lived in Poland’s North Eastern Borderlands.
Stanislaw’s nearest relations included a brother and sister, two families on his father’s side and four on his mother’s side. All lived within the North Eastern Kresy region and, although the ethnic Polish inhabitants represented only around 20% of the total population, they regarded themselves as Polish and spoke Polish as their mother tongue.
The outbreak of the Second World War on 1st September 1939 was a massive shock for the Bajkowski’s, made worse on 17th September by the Soviet invasion of Poland from the East. ‘Then began the Polish Gehenna, most particularly for those deported to Siberia’.
As soon as the Soviets had secured the new frontier and imposed their authority on the subjugated territories, the deportations began. Early on the morning of 10th February 1940 a convoy of five sledges, each bearing an armed Russian soldier, arrived at the Bajkowski farm house. The family was given barely half an hour to pack all the necessary essentials for a long journey and instructed to take enough food to keep them alive for one month.
The Poles from this locality – around 600 – were then grouped in the nearby mansion of wealthy landlord Pan Bochwica. The following morning, in minus 35-degree temperatures, they were transported 25 kilometres to the train station at Wolkowysk. There they were ‘packed’ into waiting cattle trucks. Inside they found wooden boards and planks, allowing them to sit or lie but not stand. The windows were small and grated, and – as if to make things worse – frozen over. In the centre was a small metal coal fire. A hole in the corner served as a toilet. And so it was that, in these spartan conditions, the Poles began their journey into the depths of the Soviet Union.
The train took them to nearby Baranowice, where they languished for a week until authorisation to proceed to the next stage of their journey arrived. All shed tears as they crossed the border of the defeated and now non-existent Second Republic of Poland. Many of them would never return.
During the long journey, they helped and supported each other. An atmosphere of sincerity and sympathy transcended their awful fate and everyone tried, whenever they could, to raise the spirits of others. ‘In the forester’s wagon Chojnowski played the violin and a young bachelor, Pan Witek, cracked jokes incessantly’.
Despite the fact that he had barely reached 15 years of age, Stanislaw Bajkowski felt proud that he was on the same route taken by so many eminent Poles throughout Poland’s turbulent history.
The deportees sustained themselves in the main with the provisions they had managed to take with them. Occasionally, when the train stopped, an NKVD man would ask someone to fetch soup from a nearby canteen in a couple of buckets slung across the shoulders. The fifty or so deportees in the wagon shared the soup. When the hole in the corner froze over, the train would stop somewhere in the countryside and the unfortunate passengers would be instructed to leave their carriages and attend to their needs in the fields. This was very demeaning.
Following a short stop in Moscow, the train headed northwards to Jaroslawia on the Volga River, and then towards Archangel. After some two weeks, the train stopped at a small station called Kodino, which was surrounded, by snow-laden forests. Since it remained at the station longer than at previous stops, Stanislaw’s father asked an NKVD man, “Where is the next station?” He replied “This is a cul de sac, for you, this is the end of the world!”
The deportees were divided into two groups, one group was earmarked for Traktornej Bazy and the other, which included Stanislaw, was earmarked for the special camp of Tushilovo in Archangel Oblast, in the Archangel Onezski region.
For three days, the group was forced to walk across the frozen Lake Onega, to reach Posiolek Tushilovo. Sledges were made available for the sick, the old and small children. They reached their final destination, totally exhausted by the long journey in the cattle trucks and their 100 kilometres trek.
The camp had previously housed around one thousand Ukrainians who had been deported in the early 1930s. When the Poles arrived, only some sixty of these Ukrainians were left, the rest had perished. The camp consisted of two separate groups of barracks, both located around a large lake called Koze Ozierio. The Poles lived in Tushilovo itself and the Ukrainians lived across the lake in a place called Chabarowie. There were three so-called ‘commandants’ in the camp, an NKVD man, a military man and an administrator.
Each family was allocated a small living space in the centre of which was a small metal stove, similar to that found in the cattle wagons. Once their baggage had been unloaded, 10-member forest clearing ‘brigades’ were formed. Despite the hard work and extreme conditions, food rations were at starvation levels. A worker got 800 grams of bread and soup consisting of water and a couple of spoonfuls of flour. The old, sick, and children received 400 grams of bread.
The forestry work, which involved transporting the felled trees to the river, was extremely hard and demanding, and many workers soon fell ill. There was no medical care in the camp and, in the first eighteen months, 80 people, mostly young and middle-aged lost their lives. Stanislaw’s sister Zofia contracted typhoid, surviving only by a miracle.
In this region of Siberia, winter lasts nine months and the summer is short but beautiful. Bed bugs were a major problem during the summer. The bugs made their nests in the moss, which covered the barracks ceilings, and during the night, they fell on the sleeping unfortunates.
Despite the awful conditions, the Poles did not lose hope and believed that someone, somewhere, would remember them. In June 1941, a spark of hope appeared when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. From this day, the deportee’s conditions slowly improved.
At the beginning of September 1941, a meeting was called in the camp assembly room. The military commandant appeared on the stage smiling and said, “Our government has reached an agreement with the Polish government in London, we will fight the Germans together, you are all free and may travel anywhere in the Soviet Union apart from European Russia”.
One of the crowd asked may we sing the Polish Anthem? The commandant replied “Please do. We will listen.” Instead of the Mazurka Dabrowskiego everyone sang the Rote. (An old patriotic song.) The deportees would remember this event and look back on it as an extraordinarily moving and uplifting moment in their ordeal. Soon they all received official papers showing that they were now ‘amnestied’ and free to travel. They were promised help and transport to the nearest railway station.
Unfortunately, the rejoicing lasted only a short time. The promised help took a long time to materialise, things moved very slowly and orders took a long time to come through. In the meantime, more deportees from the special camp and from prisons in Archangel arrived on the scene. Amongst them was Stanislaw’s uncle who, after nine months spent in prison, was unrecognisable. He and his family left the camp before Stanislaw and for a while, contact with them was lost. From his uncle’s family of five, four would die of hunger in Uzbekistan, however, the last surviving member, his daughter Irena made it safely to Tehran.
In the middle of February 1942, the time finally came for the Bajkowski family to leave the camp. There were few deportees left in the camp and Stanislaw never saw any of them again. As they travelled south Stanislaw’s br,other Leon had a relapse of tuberculosis of the bones. He was made comfortable on a sleigh while the rest of the family, father, mother and sister journeyed on foot in heavy snow for 100 kilometres to the nearest station at Wonguda. They waited for over a week for transport which eventually came in the form of two cattle trucks almost identical to those in which they were deported to Siberia in 1940 but more luxurious, as there was no hole in the floor.
The plan was to go to Uralsk. However, just before they set off, something unexpected happened. A man of some thirty years of age jumped into the wagon and asked if they would take him along since he had heard they were travelling south. No one knew this man so they refused, saying that there was no room. He left without hesitation but very shortly after he returned, knocked on the door, and as it slid open he threw a sack in the truck, after a moment he threw in another sack and then jumped into the wagon. It transpired that he had stolen two sacks of macaroni from a neighbouring wagon. He asked for a bowl and divided the macaroni equally amongst everyone. After a while, he introduced himself. “My name is Wanka Nowik. I am a White Russian from Minsk. I have been interned in a camp for 12 years and have escaped. You Poles, if you want to live and not die of hunger, will have to steal, otherwise you will never see your beloved Poland again”. This man would save the lives of this particular cattle truck’s inhabitants.
At the next station, Oboziersk, a dramatic event happened. Six of the men from a neighbouring wagon went to find bread, taking with them all their family documents. In their absence, the train unexpectedly set off, leaving the men behind. Without documents, none of the men’s families could get food and would starve to death. In these circumstances, Wanka’s skills became priceless. Under Wanka’s expert supervision, they stole whatever they could, bread, sugar, fish and so on, and created a reserve for the times when it was not possible to steal.
There was a period of eight days when, apart from sugar and hot water from the steam engine, there was nothing to eat. After a few days of this diet, the stomach could take no more. Many vomited incessantly while others could not stand. Without Wanka’s expertise many would have perished. After the war, Stanislaw met some of the men that were left behind. They contemplated how they had managed in the Soviet Union without those documents and how their families cheated starvation.
The route from Archangel southwards passed through Vologda, Jaroslaw, then Moscow and on to Wlodzimir where a miracle occurred. Stanislaw’s father managed to arrange a meeting with the local war committee. He had a good education and spoke Russian well. Making the most of this, he pleaded with the commandant to send someone to the cattle wagon to witness the plight of the people dying of hunger.
The commandant turned out to be a decent man; he said, “I believe you” and sent instructions to the town bakery to issue enough 400 gram loaves to last 60 people for 6 weeks. Mieczyslaw got help from a market trader with a sleigh and returned to the train with his priceless cargo. From then on everyone slowly regained strength, they had water and bread, death from hunger no longer threatened them.
Travelling through Rozajewska, Saralow, Uralsk, Aryse, Tashkent, Okubinsk and Kagan, Stanislaw and his family neared their objective. At Okubinsk, Leon died. His body was wrapped in a blanket and laid on the station platform. Stanislaw’s father wanted to stay behind to bury him but he risked being left behind and losing contact with his family forever. His wife Bronislawa persuaded him to abandon his dead son and journey on. She said that they still had two living children and their duty was to ensure that they survived.
Following their arrival at Dzambul, on the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, another miracle happened. The plan was to go forward to Aumaaty but while their wagons were temporarily parked in a siding waiting for a replacement locomotive, a small locomotive arrived, coupled up the wagons and started off. They soon realised they were travelling in an unknown direction and after a while they stopped at a station called Czak Pak in Southern Kazakhstan. There, to their amazement, a train full of Polish soldiers was waiting. A Polish officer told them that they were to travel with them to Iran as military families. Stanislaw had difficulty believing this. It transpired that General Anders, taking advantage of the chaos reigning in the Soviet Union, had ordered the Polish Army to use every means to rescue Polish citizens and escort them to freedom.
At the end of April 1942, they arrived with the soldiers at the port of Krasnowodsk on the Caspian Sea. The transport ship Moskwa was waiting for them. During boarding no one was checked, they were herded on board like sheep. As the badly overloaded ship set sail for Pahlevi in Iran an unusually violent storm forced the exhausted and emaciated exiles to lie on the decks for safety, adding further to their ordeal.
As the sun rose the following morning, they arrived at the Promised Land. After quarantine, they were billeted around Tehran. Unfortunately, epidemics of Typhoid and Dysentery broke out. On the 26th April 1942 Stanislaw’s mother contracted Typhoid after three days of freedom. She died two weeks later and was buried in the French cemetery in Tehran among 2,000 other Poles. Out of the ten members of the two Bajkowski families deported to Russia, only four had made it to freedom: Stanislaw, his younger sister Zofia, his mother Bronislawa and his father Mieczyslaw.
In Tehran, Stanislaw and his father joined the Polish Army. His father was a platoon leader and consequently became on of the commanders of the Guard Company. He was based in Military Camp No. 4 until its liquidation, and then moved to Palestine. In February 1943, Stanislaw travelled to Iraq and, after two months, volunteered to join the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade forming in Britain.
In September 1944, he took part in the Battle of Arnhem. During the first phase of the action his battalion, the 1st Battalion IPPB, was forced to abandon its intended drop at the last minute and turned back in mid-flight over the English Channel to return to England.
Unfortunately the 2nd and 3rd Battalions had already landed. At the second attempt, the 1st Battalion dropped into Grave with the American 81st Airborne Division. His battalion then linked up with the main body of the Polish Brigade at Driel, but by then the element of surprise had been lost. As the paratroopers took up their positions, they were subjected to heavy German machine gun fire. They had no artillery support and could not complete their mission so, on 25th of September they received orders to withdraw. For his part in the action Stanislaw was decorated several times. From 11th May 1945 until 1947, he was stationed with the Polish Parachute Brigade at Bramsche in Germany as part of the post-war occupation force.
Following demobilisation, Stanislaw settled in Great Britain where he married and brought up a family. He has a son Adam and two daughters, Danuta and Janina, nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He is the last Bajkowski of his generation to have passed through Russia. From the Czaplejewski side of the family, his cousin’s son lives in Minsk in Belarus, speaks Polish, and feels himself to be Polish.
Stanislaw thanks the people of Iran for welcoming him, his family and the Polish deportees so warmly to their country. Not surprisingly, he says that he has a great affinity towards them.
5 years ago, on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, Stanislaw was presented with a framed certificate of appreciation by the Barnoldswick Town Council for the part he played in fighting for a free world. Claire Teall, town council chairpeerson, said: “It’s an honour and privilege to present Mr Bajkowski with this certificate in recognition of his heroism in fighting for our country.”
Stanislaw Bajkowski, the last survivor of the Battle of Arnhem known to be living in the Barnoldswick area, was presented with a certificate of appreciation by the Town Council.
This is his own story, in his words. His friend Stan Graham had edited it and posted on his blog oneguyfrombarlick.co.uk.
Stanisław Bajkowski, died April 28, 2020 at 94 years of age.