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Translation of parts of an

interview by Prof. Patalas

Stefania was born in 1930 in Kopeczyńce county, in the province of Tarnopol. On February 10, 1940, she noticed some Russian soldiers riding on a horse-drawn wagon coming towards their house. They told them to pack only the essentials because they would get everything else they needed. Anyway, they were only going to another village, they were told. They put the four of therm —her parents, her five-year-old brother, and Stefania, ten years old at the time—on a sleigh and drove them to Husiatyń.

The soldiers took them to the railway station where they had already assembled hundreds of others from neighbouring villages. They announced that they were kulaks and were being resettled. With guards all around, they were herded into freight cars that were so overcrowded that there was not enough sitting space for everyone on the hastily erected bunk beds; some had standing space only. In those conditions, in the midst of winter, they were shipped to Siberia. Looking at high snowbanks and feeling the bone-freezing cold, her father cried. He might survive, he said, but, where they were going, the children would surely die.

They ended up in Arkhangelsk, living in a shack. Throughout the winter, her father worked in a sawmill and her mother stayed at home with the children; but when the snow melted, her father had to cut lumber in the forest and her mother had to shave the bark. Stefania and her brother gathered wild strawberries and mushrooms in the forest.

They remained in those forests until her parents found out about the amnesty on the basis of an agreement signed by the Polish and Soviet governments. The Russians came to their shacks and told them that they were free to go.

They packed quickly and left the work camp. At one of the stations, her father got off the car with several other men and walked to a nearby settlement in search of bread. In the meantime, the train started moving again, and they were left behind, disappearing without a trace. Her father had all their documents on him, so her mother was left with two children, no money, and no papers. They ended up on a cotton plantation in Piskent in Uzbekistan.

When they heard that an outpost of the Polish army was being organized in Yangi-Yul, they ran away from the kolkhoz. They were six families, only women with children. Everyone collected their sparse belongings and set out in the direction of the railway station. To get there, they had to cross a raging river, which they did riding atop five camels hired for that purpose.

At the army outpost, they asked about her father again and again, but no one had heard of him. He and all who were with him had simply vanished. Her mother placed Stefania in an orphanage so that she would have better hopes of surviving. The orphanage was later transferred to Pahlavi in Persia, then to Tehran. In Tehran. Stefania came down with malaria and was placed in a hospital. Her mother, who stayed behind in Krasnowodsk and crossed to Pahlavi with a later transport, found her in that hospital, and they were reunited. From Tehran, they went to a Polish refugee camp in Karāchi, India, and later sailed to Mexico, to the Polish refugee camp called Santa Rosa.

Children began schooling right away, although in the early days it consisted of reading a newspaper on the grass under some trees. Later, a lay sister arrived and began to hold regular classes. An old mill was refurbished as a school, and more staff was brought in: seven lay sisters, several Polish teachers, Professor Sobota, and Father Jarzembowski, the last two straight from England. Scouting, a choir, and lots of activities were organized, keeping the youth occupied and content.

The colony was dissolved in 1946. Stefania and her mother stayed on in Mexico nine months longer than the others.They worked for the American consul, her mother as a cook and Stefania as a babysitter. In 1947 they were contacted by an aunt from Canada, and they went to a farm in Saskatchewan. Stefania spent three months there and then moved to Winnipeg. There she met a handsome Polish veteran, and they were married in 1950, happily raising a family.

Copyright: Kociolek family

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