(Sister Maria Teresa)
Excerpts of her story, courtesy of Sister Alice
Once a lady to whom I had related my sad story touched my forehead and asked me to follow her. I do not remember what happened to me then. I awoke in the hospital and felt that my head was cold. I touched it and realized that I had no hair. My head had been shaved! I began to cry and scream demanding the return of my braids. I would accept no explanations, but made a real childish rumpus in the ward. I was told that my hair would grow back, that it had to be cut since I was too sick and it was too long. I cannot recall whether any of these explanations
actually convinced me.
I had always been afraid of the dead. Now there was always someone dead or dying around me. The body would be draped in a white sheet and taken away. Once as I was asleep, the orderlies lifted me bodily from my bed and placed me on a stretcher. Screaming and kicking I shouted that I was not dead, that I was still alive. My childish foolishness amused the orderlies and they said: "Quiet down, little one, or we will give you to the jackals for dinner, though a lean dinner you would be, indeed!"
While I was recuperating from typhoid fever and malaria in the hospital, one day I looked up to see my sister Monika standing in the doorway. How she found me after being discharged from her hospital is beyond my understanding. She approached my bed and asked: "Do you want some kielbasa? I brought you some from the soldiers." She then gave me some of the sausage
which I accepted with joy and placed underneath my pillow. I don't remember if I ate it later. It is difficult to find words to write about the joy we experienced in being together. Thanks to Divine Providence we all eventually recovered and returned to school. I remember that occasionally there were patriotic programs in the evening. General Anders attended these performances and I had the pleasure of seeing him there. During his visits he spoke about how glad he was to have been able to free us from the land of horrors to which we had been deported. Renata Bogdanska, who later became the General's wife, sang at these gatherings.
These were happy patriotic assemblies and everything pointed toward our subsequent return to Poland.
Once the Shah invited us to his magnificent rose villa for an afternoon treat of ice cream and sweets. As children we were very excited. I recall that for significant events such as this, we were obliged to wear our green shorts. The boys and girls all looked alike since with shaved heads the girls resembled boys. This gave rise to humorous incidents as when a young boy was mistakenly called "Marysia". "I am no baba (old woman)," he said with evident indignation.
The moment to leave Teheran came at last! The children were transported by several vehicles
to Isfahan, the former Persian capital. I remember the trip quite well. The serpentine road was frightening and all the children were sick. The heat was unbearable and we were so thirsty. Somehow we got to Isfahan where we were separated into age groups. We were housed in
some old Persian buildings in which our school was also organized. At first, we had potato and green bean soup foi breakfast and some fruit and vegetables for dinner. The evening meal consisted of a piece of "lepioszka'), a Persian pancake . Later things improved gradually. We
were finally able to lead an almost normal life, thanks to the Polish delegation established by the Polish government in exile in London. We rose very early, ran downstairs to the washrooms where we washed spartan-fashion in cold water head to foot. This was followed by gymnastics, after which children and teachers assembled in the courtyard in front of the building for morning prayer. The Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Creed were followed by the singing of our traditional hymn.
Our school took great interest in world affairs, especially in the fate of the Polish army fighting on two fronts. We were mostly concerned with the destiny of General Anders and his Second Army Corps. We wrote letters to the soldiers and to the General himself and received thrilling and hope-filled assurances that the war was coming to an end; that we would soon be returning to Poland. The standard of our lessons was high. our wise teachers wanted us to make up for the time we had lost in Russia. Except for short breaks for meals and time to play, we studied all day long. At first we had no textbooks. Toward the end of our stay in Isfahan,
thanks to the efforts of General Anders' we received books. What joy! We no longer needed to learn reading from newspaper clippings. We kissed the books with gratitude. They were a great incentive to study and I remember reading a lot at that time.
My sister Janina was not with us. She had been transferred to the Institute conducted by the Sisters of Charity where she attended secondary school. Because of my love for Monika I agreed to enroll in classes with her, although this meant going back a level. We were often mistaken for twins. There were very few churches in Iran so, every Sunday, we walked two-by-two to the Sisters of Charity convent for Mass. We were always happy to spend some time with Janina. In return, she visited us occasionally and remained concerned about everything. Once when Monika and I were together, we were told that some lady was waiting for us downstairs. Since we didn't know anyone we were a little hesitant about going down to the entrance gate. There before us stood a tall, lean figure, with shaven head, wearing a dressing gown and some sort of moccasins. She held a small bundle in her hands. We stood for a while, staring at her and she kept looking at us. Finally, she spoke. "So you do not know who I am. Don't you recognize me?" A strange fear gripped me and I wanted to run, thinking that this was an apparition from another world. "You don't know who I am, do you?" the person repeated. Suddenly I shouted to Monika, "Mother"! We threw our arms around her neck and apologized. We cried and laughed with joy, all at the same time. Sitting in the garden, we exchanged stories of our experiences during the past year. Mother left Russia with the last group of exiles transported over the border sometime in autumn 1942, just before the borders were closed.
Our family was gradually coming together. We had no news, however, about our father. Edward was already out of Russia, that was certain, but we had no news from him in Egypt. Mother got employment in a children's institution and was able to visit us from time to time. I remember the frenzy of joy on May 18, 1944, when the Polish 2nd Corps of General Anders captured Monte Cassino. The return to Poland seemed so close then!
But, I also remember Yalta (February 1945). Our destiny became uncertain. After Yalta the Polish government-in-exile in London, was no longer able to take care of us. We had to leave Isfahan. Lebanon was willing to accept us for a while. Many people left Persia for India or Africa. My friends left for New Zealand. From Isfahan we were transported to Ahvaz, where the temperature reached an absolutely lethal 50 degrees C (I22F). We lived in military barracks and
continued studies, improvised by our teachers. It was impossible to think in the scorching heat. Ahvaz in Persian means "hell", indeed a fitting name, as we personally experienced the effects of this infernal heat. We were forced to stay in the barracks because there were neither trees nor palms for shade. I am not quite sure how long we stayed there. It may have been a
month. From Ahvaz we traveled by special buses through endless stretches of sand all the way to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. I remember that Hindu soldiers served us dinner at one of our stops.
The vegetation at the oasis on the banks of the Euphrates River, where we stopped, was magnificent and exotic birds flew over our heads. This was to have been the site of the biblical Eden. From there we were driven to Baghdad, Iraq. In this city we stayed in General Sikorski's House while we waited for transportation to Lebanon. From Baghdad we first rode in a peculiar-looking train, then traveled by bus to Damascus. After a brief stopover, we continued
on our way to Lebanon.
Lebanon! What a beautiful country! Sea and mountains! In Beirut, the list of travelers was checked and people were assigned to various places. The hospitable Lebanese people accepted us and other Polish families into their homes. We lived in Zouk-Mikael not far from Beirut. The Lebanese had a particularly tender feeling toward the Poles. Special Polish agencies were in charge of us during our stay in Lebanon. We received a monthly allowance because the Poles were not permitted to work for pay. This was part of the arrangement with the Lebanese authorities. The family who took us in was a young Catholic couple with two small children. They gave us one room and the use of their bathroom and kitchen.
School had been set up for us in different government buildings. We had individual classrooms for each level and the school functioned well. We spent three happy years in Lebanon. This wonderful, friendly country helped us maintain a positive outlook in spite of our uncertain future. Although we could not imagine what was going to happen to us, we studied diligently and took part in organizing patriotic celebrations. The Lebanese president, at that time was interested in our situation. He attended our academic programs which included the singing of Lebanese hymns.
In 1948, we had to make a definite decision regarding our future. Poland was not a free country. We had to choose between returning to Poland, already a Communist-governed country, or
settling outside our native land. At that time we received our first bit of news regarding our father. He was alive and living in the vicinity of Poznan. For us this was unexpected and joyful news! However, Mother decided that we could not return to a Poland under Communist rule. Since England had agreed to accept families of the military, we left for England in 1948.
The departure from Lebanon was tearful. Some of our companions were returning to Poland, others were going to the USA. We had to leave friendly Lebanon and begin a new phase of our exiled life. When we arrived at the Palestinian border, we were not allowed to cross because of the Arab-Israeli conflict and had to return to Beirut where we stayed and waited in a hotel for several weeks. When the day of our departure finally arrived we were taken by bus to Alexandria and passed through the Suez Canal. We sailed the Mediterranean with a stop in Sicily. I will never forget passing through the Strait of Gibraltar. Two minutes of silence were observed on board the ship and we said a prayer for the repose of the soul of General W. Sikorski, who had perished on this very spot. How well I remember hearing the sad news of his death while we were still in Iran. We sailed into the Bay of Biscay and ran into a violent storm. I remember the blasts of the sirens, the alarms, the crash of objects as they fell to the ground and broke. I was horribly seasick and was convinced that this was the end. This most dreadful sea voyage must have lasted all of two weeks.
At long last we arrived in Southampton, England. We were put onto trains and taken to a vacated soldiers' camp with barracks at our disposal. There was also a separate field kitchen where we received our provisions. Winter was most severe that year and I remember spending much time in bed in order to keep warm. Mother went to work while we attended a Polish boarding school in Stowell Park (Glaucestershire). Conditions were very difficult but we had to study to make up for our frequently disrupted education. We were cold and hungry because everything was still rationed. Monika and I had a small room in the vacated soldiers' barracks and with other girls, we continued our education. Janina lived at our uncle's place in London where she was attending college. We experienced some truly hard times but the hope of a better tomorrow strengthened our self-confidence. By this time we learned that after demobilization, Edward had come from Egypt and began working somewhere in Northern England. It was a great and unforgettable day when we were able to see him again. He was already a young adult and there were countless stories to tell and many memories to exchange, since we had parted as children.
There were many excellent professors at our large Stowell Park school. The program of studies was designed to teach essential basics on every level, and in many subjects. Polish literature, the Arts and other subjects added up to a sound, comprehensive education. Latin was also a part of our curriculum. Professors would emphasize how important it was to know Latin well!
Mother moved from the camp to London where Janina rented a flat. Monika and I spent our vacations there. Those were difficult times for we had very little to live on. Yet, we never lost courage and hope for a better future. We passed our high school exams in bot the Polish and English systems, as prescribed by our school. And thus we attained maturity and were ready
for the next stage of our lives. Each of us went her separate way.
In October 1950, I entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Pitsford near Northampton. Here a new marvelous chapter of my life began. In 1958, when I was already a religious sister, I saw my father for the first time after nineteen years. Following numerous attempts, he succeeded in obtaining a visa to England where the entire family had settled. Meeting with Daddy was an unforgettable experience for me. The family had all gathered and we cried for joy. A few years later, exhausted by worry and physical suffering endured during the war, Daddy died suddenly in London of a heart attack.
Janina and Monika married and have grown children of their own. Edward also married and settled permanently in England. While Mother was still living, she frequently recalled the tragedies through which she had lived alone with four children in a land to which we had been so cruelly banished.