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Tadeusz (Ted) KROL

Part 2 of 6

The Soviet Occupation of Poland


We settled into our grandparents’ house, in one room that was previously rented to an agricultural specialist whose job was to help local farmers. But he had been called up to the army and was not expected to return.  In addition to our grandparents, Aunt Andzia with Wiesia, and Aunt Bronia also lived in that house, which included Grandmother’s sewing business as well. All the men except Grandfather were gone and their fate was unknown.

All we knew about Father was that he was held as a POW somewhere in Russia. The war in Poland had ended. Poland was defeated. And although some isolated fighting was still going on in October, most of the army was in prison camps. Of course, tens of thousands were killed and wounded. Some, who escaped capture, tried to make their way home through the forests at night. Others, who were able to escape from Poland, tried to make the long journey to France or England to join with allied forces based in those countries.

School reopened in Rakow, but now we had to learn in Russian. Since most of the children didn’t know Russian, we had to master that language first. Therefore, we were moved back one grade. Instead of moving up to fifth grade, I was back in fourth grade. I was lucky to have many friends in Rakow. Like most children, we were curious and hung around the Russian army camps when we were not at school. One of those camps was near our grandparents’ house and that’s where we explored. We were drawn to the big artillery pieces, large transport trucks, and other military equipment that were now sitting in our hometown.

Our grandparents’ house lost electricity because of the military action in Rakow. On the first day of their occupation, a Russian tank knocked down some electric poles and the electricity supplier didn’t intend to replace them. He had no spare electric wire. I don’t remember exactly, but to me it seemed that life in Rakow at the outset of the war was not dramatically different than before the war began. This was, of course, except for the changes to the local government authority, the requirement for the Russian language usage, and a few other things that were not that impactful to young children. However, the adults knew that our lives would change drastically.

We started to experience a shortage of many items in the stores. The Jewish storekeepers were not getting new supplies and they started to stow away the merchandise that they could not restock. We perceived that the Russians were more tolerant of the Jewish population than they were of people who considered themselves as ethnic Poles. But it was also known that privately-owned stores would soon be eliminated. All stores and businesses would then be state-run.

In the middle of one night in late October 1939, we heard knocking at the window. Even Grandfather was hesitant to see who it was. My own curiosity got me up and I opened the drapes. I heard Uncle Frank’s voice ask me to open the door quietly, and not to light the lamp. He didn’t want anyone, especially not the Russians at the nearby camp, to see that he was entering the house at night.

Later Uncle Frank told us what had happened to him during the last two months. Just before the German attack, he had to go to a military hospital for an appendix operation. He was recovering from the operation when Germans overran the area. He had to abandon the hospital and retreat with some army units going east. Not long afterwards, they encountered the Russians. And after fighting without supplies, reinforcements, or a central command, the unit surrendered. Uncle Frank and a few others, who were from the area occupied by the Russians, instead chose to try to head for their homes. They traveled mainly at night through the forests, and bypassed larger towns and villages, to avoid capture and internment as Russian POWs. The first of the three soldiers from our immediate family was back home.

It was clear to Mother that she had to find some source of income. We could not expect our grandparents to support us, as they were not rich. And, they had to worry about their own survival.  In the beginning, our Soviet overlords allowed people to own their own houses. And so, Mother had to take advantage of her property in Molodeczno. She needed to collect rent from the three apartments and the rented meat store. That would require her to travel there.

Mother departed for Molodeczno in late November with an acquaintance, who also had business there. Our Molodeczno property was fully rented. Two of the apartments were rented to families of railroad workers. They were still employed, but now they worked for the Russians. There was no problem collecting rent from them. Neither was there a problem with collecting rent from the meat store. Initially, most things still functioned as they had before the war started. Even Polish currency was still in circulation.


However, Mother did have a problem with one apartment, which had been rented to a Polish military intelligence officer and his wife. During the invasion, when it was clear that Poland would fall to the onslaught of its two historic enemies, the officer and his wife crossed the border into Lithuania. We never learned what happened to them. That couple had asked his mother, who had been living with another lady in Molodeczno, to move into their vacated apartment and take care of their possessions, which were considerable. The lady was short on money but acted as if she owned not only the apartment but also our house. She would not let our mother stay in that apartment while she was in Molodeczno, even though the woman lived there alone. Our mother had to sleep in the apartment of one of the railroad workers. While Mother was in Molodeczno, she learned that a train was soon due to arrive in Molodeczno from Russia with Polish soldiers who had been taken as prisoners during the invasion. She decided to stick around for a day or two and see if maybe someone from that train would know something about our father.

When the train arrived and Mother started walking among the released soldiers, she came upon Father! That was like a miracle. They spent a few more days in Molodeczno.  Father had to register with the authorities, and they decided that we would move there from Rakow. He had to find work and there was nothing available in Rakow. Besides, they had a house in Molodeczno. They went to the local authorities to verify that they had legal title to the property and Father got a work permit. Their challenge was to find a way to move into their own house. Someone was living in each of the apartments. So, they had to give a month’s notice to the mother of the officer to vacate that apartment. They knew that there would be an issue, since the lady refused to move. Our parents went to the local council again and obtained an order for her to move out.

News of Father’s release got back to Rakow ahead of Mother’s return. We couldn’t believe our ears; we were so happy! Later we learned what had happened to Father. The Soviets took his group to a railway station within Russia and transported them to the POW camp in Ostashkov. There were over 235,000 Polish POWs in Russian camps. The Russian Politburo decided to release privates and some non-commissioned officers up to and including sergeant, but only if those sergeants were born or had a wife born in an area that they now considered to be part of the Soviet Union. Since Mother was born in such an area, Father was released. This proved to be an extremely fortunate twist of fate for Father, and for our family. About 22,000 of the Polish POWs were murdered. Of that total, 3420 were non-commissioned officers.

The Polish POWs were murdered by the NKVD in Katyn, Kharkiv, Ostashkov, Starobelsk, and a few other places. They were mainly officers in the Polish army, policemen, administrative officials, the college-educated, and political leaders. In other words, they were the cream of the Polish nation, the intelligentsia, which Soviet Russia wanted removed from its newly conquered territory. They were undesirable elements in the new social order. After the war, the NKVD evolved and part of it was renamed as the KGB.

Mother got back to Rakow before Father and she told us all about what had happened. Father arrived a couple of days later, but he had to go back soon to start work as a construction laborer. The Russians were building new warehouses along the railway tracks in Molodeczno.

Since Christmas was around the corner, our parents decided that we would move right after the holiday. Under the new Soviet Russian regime, Christmas was no longer considered as an official holiday. Our parents wanted to spend the holidays with the rest of the family, and not just by ourselves in Molodeczno. Although most of us were able to be together, my Uncle Feliks, Wiesia’ s father, was not back. He was still being held at an interned soldiers’ camp in Lithuania.  The holiday was very somber and there was not much joy among us.

Once again, we had to rent carts and horses. This time we moved our household to Molodeczno. As we had feared, the mother of the officer had still not moved out of our house. Father had to contact a police officer and show him the order for her to move out. But since she had no place to go, a compromise was worked out. First, most of her son’s possessions were moved out to a half-vacant storage building on the property. Second, she vacated a room and a half for us, and we would share a kitchen. A curtain was hung to separate the area where she was to reside from our family’s living space. Lastly, she was advised to seriously start looking for another place to live.

I was registered for a school, not too far away from where we lived. I had to make new friends and explore the area. Molodeczno was a large town compared to the other places where we had lived. The primary functions of the town were that it served as the county seat and it was also the main railway terminal for the area. Our house was within a mile of the railway. The Germans had bombarded the town and I could see many bomb craters along the rail line. Our house at 24 Sienkiewicz Street was set on a nice piece of land with a stream running at the back end of the property. Beyond the stream were the county administration buildings, which were now empty. Since the Russians had not had time to clear the buildings for their own use, they were still strewn with papers, records, and books from their Polish administrative functions. And so, I would join other kids in the town who would sneak inside and rummage through the mess that was scattered everywhere, likely thrown around by Russian soldiers, police, and scavengers like ourselves.

The town itself was over two miles away from the railway station. There was an old wooden Catholic church nearby, also an Orthodox church, and a Jewish synagogue. A few miles away were the Polish army garrison buildings, now occupied by Russians. Russian tanks were also stationed around our church grounds.

The construction job that Father had been given was near the railway station, and Mother often sent me with a warm lunch to take to him.  I don’t remember if it was every day or just when the school day was shortened. The work that Father did on that construction site was to cut the pieces of lumber needed to erect the storage sheds, to size. He only worked there for a few months because he found out that there were clerical job openings with the railroad itself, to keep track of the boxcars, their contents, where they came from and where they were going. Father knew Russian from his school days, when Russia controlled Warsaw before the start of the 1st World War. As he also had excellent handwriting, he was offered the position. It was a better paying job, less demanding physically, much cleaner and safer.

Between our tenants’ rent payments and Father’s wages, we had an adequate income. Still, shortages of many products were making life difficult. Polish currency was withdrawn from circulation. People were able to exchange zloty for rubles on a one for one basis, but we had to stand in queues for bread and most staples. Soap, sugar, and other products that we used every day were scarce. When people found out that limited quantities had arrived at certain government stores and were going to be sold the next day, people started forming queues at two or three o’clock in the morning in order to be near the head of the line when they opened.  Several times Mother sent me to stand in line from about 4 until 6 am. After getting Father off to work, she would replace me, having left me something to eat before I left for school. I don’t remember who took care of Danka and George while we were standing in line. It was probably the lady from the adjoining apartment or else the lady that lived with us, although we weren’t on the best of terms with the latter.

Life was becoming more difficult, not only because there were shortages of everything, but also because people began to be afraid to talk to each other.  The NKVD (Interior Affairs Ministry/Regular and Secret Police) started to ask people to denounce those who could be individuals that were unfriendly to the new order. Father was asked to inform on his coworkers. In school, children were asked to inform about the actions of other children or adults.  Some teachers, those aligned with the Soviet regime, did their best to get other teachers removed, particularly those who had been held over from the Polish era. They eliminated religion from the schools and tried to extinguish it from peoples’ lives.  One teacher urged my classmate to point me out in front of the class, since I was wearing a cross on a chain around my neck. Most of the kids laughed. I had to take the cross off and was sent home with a note for my mother.

Most children had not yet been completely indoctrinated in those early days and some did sympathize with me. One girl later approached me and showed me the cross she was wearing. We developed a friendship, and now as I look back, it was probably my first interest in a girl. We would exchange glances and write notes to each other. But mostly, I played with the other boys, at least with those who weren’t denouncing other kids to ill-disposed teachers.

Some of our boyhood activities were dangerous.  We would play soldiers, and made pistols from copper pipes, which we would fill with gunpowder.  Gunpowder was available because there was plenty of ammunition lying around, if you knew where to look for it. Or, we just used a quantity of matchheads instead. We would fire a projectile from the pistol and see how many layers of paper or wood boards it would pass through. The projectile that we used was usually a piece of metal or a nail. It was dangerous, because on occasion the pistol would explode in your hand. I remember that one boy lost most of his hand. After that, I stopped playing with homemade guns.

The winter months of early 1940 were very cold. A lot of fruit trees did not survive it. As the new year began, propaganda that targeted undesirable elements intensified and was drummed into the populace. The first round-up of the so-called undesirable elements began on February 10, 1940. People who had any connection to Polish government administration, policemen’s families, teachers, military settlers, and others considered as potentially hostile to the Russian occupation, were targeted for deportation. Usually they were rounded up in the middle of the night, given about an hour to pack specified belongings, and then were transported to the train station. There they were loaded into boxcars and after the train was full, they were on their way to the mysterious and dreaded Siberia. Over 220,000 people were deported from Soviet-occupied Poland in February.

There were three additional deportations, in April and June of 1940 and in June of 1941. In total, about 1.2 million Poles were deported. This was about 10% of the population of the eight eastern Polish provinces that the Soviet Union occupied after September 1939.

Research done by scholars presents a wide range of estimates regarding the number of Poles that were deported from their homeland in what is now western Belarus and western Ukraine. The numbers range from 400,000 to 2,000,000 persons. To a large extent the variation is based upon which groups of deportees, evacuees, and emigrants are included. Regardless of the number cited, as Russian scholar N. S. Lebedeva writes, there is no doubt that a multitude of actions were taken by the Stalin regime with a specific policy “aimed at undermining Polish statehood and the gene pool of the Polish people.”

We were lucky to escape not only the first but also two more deportations initiated during 1940. I was told later that many people perished from that first deportation because of the cold winter. There were many trains going east from nearly every larger railway station along the old Polish eastern border.

People started to disappear. There were fewer kids in the school. Later, you would learn that they had been deported. Spring came, and on the 1st of May all the houses had to fly a red flag. That day everyone had to go downtown for a big parade of the Workers’ Day holiday. Military units, policemen, workers from different businesses, railroaders, communist organizations, Pioneers, and other groups all marched in front of the reviewing stands.

There were also elections for the local government administration, and a referendum to approve incorporating the area into the Soviet Union.  All adults had to vote and not surprisingly, all the Communist proposals passed with a 99% vote of approval.

Soon afterwards, the local authorities appropriated houses that were larger than, as I recall, 72 square meters (775 square feet). Also, if only one or two people lived in a smaller house, that house was also appropriated, and more people were placed in it. And so, our three-apartment house was appropriated by the Soviet state and instead of collecting rent, we had to pay rent to the town hall.  As a result of the new regulations, the lady that lived with us, and had not wanted to move, was persuaded by one of her friends in town to move in with them. This was because her friends were afraid to lose their house, since only two people were living in it.

The school year ended, and I was passed into the fifth grade. Over that summer vacation in 1940, we explored the rail station and the rail yard, and elsewhere in Molodeczno.  After taking Father his hot lunch, I wandered about the rail yard, around the dozen or so bomb craters and the new warehouses that the Russians had built. I observed many trainloads of wheat, oil, and other commodities that the Russians were sending to Germany. I also watched as many boxcars of NKVD prisoners, mostly Poles, were sent to the gulags all over the frozen northern reaches of the Soviet Union.

There were also many troop trains with Russian soldiers, some going west, some east. Sometimes I joined a few of the local boys who came up with the idea of making some money from the soldiers in transit. We would be asked to sing for them in Polish or sing with them in Russian. One of the soldiers might play the balalaika. They asked us about life in Molodeczno before they “liberated” us and they wanted to learn dirty words in Polish. We would collect a few Russian kopeks from each rail car, which gave us some pocket money.

Toward the end of the summer, our grandparents came to visit us for a few days, and I went back with them to Rakow. I went back with them in order to give my uncle Frank an excuse to return me to Molodeczno later, as he wanted to try to get a job there. Work was not available in Rakow except to help Grandfather who, I believe, lost most of his land as a result of Soviet collectivization. I remember walking with my uncle from Rakow to the railway station in Olechnowicze, in order to catch a train from there back to Molodeczno.

This distance of 14 miles would have taken us about 5 hours to walk. When we arrived at the station, police and the NKVD were checking documents. Since my uncle did not have a permit to move to Molodeczno, he was detained. The only thing that saved him from arrest was that he was taking me back to my parents. They let him go, but he had to be back on the train for Rakow the following day.

The NKVD called Father in again for more questioning. They wanted to know why he hadn’t denounced someone and insisted that he start to cooperate with them, or he would find himself in the East.   In the fall of 1940, someone from the Polish resistance contacted Father, and Father was to meet a person in a remote area of the forest.  Our parents made the pretense of going mushroom picking on a Sunday and took me with them. I think that Danka and George were also with us. I do remember that I was told not to talk to anyone about where we were picking the mushrooms. And I recall that Father was not with us all the time. We took a roundabout way to get where we were going. Naturally, we didn’t find any mushrooms along the way. After Father had been gone for a long while, Mother started to worry about what might have happened to him. But he finally returned, and they talked quietly on the way home. I wasn’t told what had happened. We were just picking mushrooms.

My school and our home life seemed to carry on the same as before. We continued to stand in line for most of our necessities. One thing did change, however. Since we now had two and one-half rooms in our apartment, we were forced to provide living space for one Russian army officer. He had a bed placed near the kitchen. And, after a while, we got accustomed to him. He wasn’t always there. He had to spend a lot of time in the army barracks and was frequently on maneuvers or field trips. He was not a hard line communist and was friendly and helpful to us. Several times he would bring Mother some products from the army store that we couldn’t buy ourselves. And, he would often bring candy, which was not available to the local population, for us kids.

We still attended church, but on occasion you could see that there were agents of the police watching who attended church services. Religious holidays were not observed. Instead of Christmas, New Year’s Day was when presents were distributed. However, we continued our Christmas traditions at home. Another boy and I took a sled and went into a forested area near the former Polish military barracks to cut a couple of small Christmas trees. We encountered several Russian soldiers, stationed at the barracks, who shouted at us. Nevertheless, we got the trees home. A few weeks before Christmas, Mother traveled by train into Lithuania to buy food supplies for Christmas. Food was still plentiful there. It was a far cry from the Christmas meals we had before the war, but it had to do.

Around Christmas, our Aunt Bronia came to visit us. The Russian officer took quite a liking toward her. He went out of his way to please her and us, by bringing various gifts, candy and whatever he could get. Of course, the attention he directed at Aunt Bronia failed to obtain the desired result. She returned to Rakow after Christmas and only promised to think about his proposals.

There had been two more waves of deportations of Poles to Siberia in April and June/July of 1940. We had been lucky to avoid them.

Russia had annexed the Baltic States in August 1940. In May 1941 we saw trainloads of Polish soldiers that had been interned in those states since September and October 1939, being transported to Russia. On one of those transports, our father spotted my Uncle Feliks, Wiesia’s father. Mother sent me to that train with

some food to take to him. I saw him for just a second. The Russians guarding the train allowed me to pass the food package through the door of the boxcar, but someone other than my uncle took the food from me. I had hoped that he got it. That was the last time I saw Uncle Feliks until 1948 in England.

The NKVD called my father in again for questioning. Father was very worried that this time, they would not accept his excuses for inaction. And sure enough, just before 4 AM on June 18, we heard pounding on our door. Our time had come. Although we hadn’t known it at the time, the NKVD had started to put together their fourth major effort to deport Poles from Poland’s eastern borderlands just a few days earlier.

Deported as Undesirable Elements


When I was fully awake, I saw several NKVD people in the room. My father was seated in a chair with his hands tied behind him and a soldier with a gun was guarding him. Mother was sobbing. NKVD people were searching through our rooms, throwing things from the drawers on to the floor. They got excited when they found a rifle that belonged to the Russian officer who lodged in our apartment. Mother tried to explain the situation, and that the officer was on maneuvers. Luckily, Mother knew the name of the Russia army unit to which he was attached. They saw other personal articles that belonged to the officer, which supported her statements. But they said that they would investigate her story and if she was not telling the truth, we would all be eliminated.

They read our Order for Deportation, told us to get dressed, and to pack our belongings. Father was not allowed to help with the packing. He remained seated while a soldier guarded him. When Mother asked if Father was to be deported with us, the officer said that they would take care of him. Mother told me to dress, help George, and see that Danka was properly dressed, while she packed our household items. The NKVD officer told one of the soldiers to help Mother so that it would not take so long. The soldier was friendly, and when the officer was out of site, he told Mother to take everything she could pack together, except for the furniture. It would all be needed where we were going.

After an hour of frantic packing, we had three suitcases, several bags of clothing, kitchen articles, all our winter clothing, and even a sewing machine. Soldiers helped to load everything on to a truck. We weren’t even allowed to give Father a farewell embrace before they took us to the railway station. Meanwhile, he was driven away with the NKVD officers.

Soldiers loaded us into a large boxcar that had wooden bunks along its walls, most were three tiers high. There were people already inside the rail car, but there was still some room, so we took bunks that were not too far from the middle of the car. Our meager possessions were piled in one area, along with the belongings of others. Mother kept one suitcase with her, which included the items she thought would be most needed during our journey into the unknown. She also kept some food that she had packed. I placed myself in the top-level bunk, near a small window, which had bars across it. They continued to load the train and our boxcar for three or four days until there was no room left to move. We had 92 people in our boxcar. The most were children like us, their mothers, and about a dozen men.

I’m not sure how the word spread, but a day or so later, our grandparents appeared near the train. They saw Mother and I think she was allowed to speak with them briefly. They brought some more food for us and I saw them through the window and waved. That was the last time that any of us saw our grandparents alive. We weren’t given any food for three days.  Occasionally, they allowed some men to draw water into buckets, while under guard. The men brought back six or eight buckets for our boxcar. 

At about the same time that our grandparents were saying goodbye, the Russian officer that had stayed with us also showed up. My guess is that he was located by the NKVD in order to verify my mother’s story and to get his belongings. He was visibly shaken. George recalls that he rode up to our boxcar on his horse. He also brought us some supplies and candy.  Finally, on the 22nd of June 1941, our train left the station in Molodeczno, and headed east toward the old Polish border with the USSR. It was Sunday evening. Nearly everyone in our boxcar was praying and crying as we crossed the border at Olechnowicze and entered into Russia. 

Many years later, I learned from my father-in-law that as the train passed near Olechnowicze, he and a few other men watched the train and imagined rescuing all of us. Obviously, that was only a fantasy. We were all locked in the boxcars, and there were NKVD guards outside, between each car. Every twenty or so boxcars, there was a rail car filled with a second shift of guards who were resting, but who were available, if needed.

In our boxcar, like all the other boxcars in this fourth wave of Poles deported to Russia, we had a hole in the floor of the wagon for our personal needs. That was supposed to serve as our bathroom. There was also a small stove with some wood and coal. People hung blankets or sheets around the hole in the floor in a meager attempt for privacy while they attended to their bodily needs.  The stove was used to boil water or to cook food. That was necessary particularly because we were not given anything to eat for several days. These were the only facilities available to us for our month-long train journey. There were many details like this in our itinerary, which we weren’t aware of at the time that we started our journey from Molodeczno.

At night the train stopped in the Minsk railway yard. We stood there for about an hour, when we heard some explosions not too far away and then the noise of aircraft and explosions closer by. No one knew what was going on. The guards didn’t say a thing. They seemed to disappear. Someone asked a passing railyard worker what was going on and we found out that the Germans had attacked the Soviet Union. The Germans were bombing military targets and would probably soon bomb the rail yard. Hitler had decided to void the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and Russia. Hitler began to attack Russia on June 22, 1941.  We were scared and yet, at the same time, hopeful that they would let us out and we would be able to get back to our homes. But that was not to be.

After their initial shock, our NKVD escorts got their orders to transport us to the predetermined destination. As a second air raid started to drop bombs closer to the station, our train pulled out of the rail yard and headed east. As the sun started to rise the next morning, we found ourselves to be a distance beyond Minsk. The train was then directed southeast, away from Smolensk and Moscow. We did observe a lot of activity, especially with military trains heading west. Obviously, our train of deportees patiently watched and waited on a sidetrack while all other traffic had priority.

We had a small amount food with us, as did most of our fellow deportees. Without this supply, many more people would have gone hungry or starved.  The food that our jailers provided was insufficient at best and irregular in its distribution. Every second or third day the boxcar door was opened, and our guards called for volunteers to go for food and/or water supplies. Normally there were plenty of people willing to undertake the tasks. It gave them a chance to stretch their legs, move around, and get a breath of fresh air that was not available inside the boxcar. Men were not the only ones eager to volunteer. There were plenty of younger ladies eager for a chance to leave the confines of the boxcar. Depending on type of food available, the guards would usually call for six to a twelve people. Each person was provided with two buckets, which they would return with water, bread, or soup.


Soup was welcome as something hot for a change. They would often return with rumors of what was going on with the war and information about the place our train had stopped.

As I remember, this procedure happened every second or third day. But several times we did not get any food supplies for four or more days. The worst situation was a shortage of water. I recall a few times, when we were south of Moscow, it was hot and we were all thirsty. Despite our cries for water, the guards wouldn’t allow anyone to get off the train to get some. Someone noticed that there was water in a ditch along the rail line. People begged Russian civilians who stood alongside the line to get us some water from the ditch.


Our pleas were ignored until finally, people started to offer money, and that made some difference. Mother paid five rubles to get us water from the ditch. We would lower a bottle on a string with some money sticking from the neck of the bottle, and a Russian would fill it with water. Luckily, severe water shortages happened only three or four times. I don’t know if this treatment was intentional, to make us suffer as they now had to battle Germany, or if it was just poor supply logistics, a result of the detours we had taken along our train route.

I don’t remember all of the major cities that we traveled through. However, a few names that do come to mind are Orel, Lipetsk, Penza, Ulyanovsk, and Ufa. There were some pleasant sights during our journey.  I remember crossing the Volga River, near Ulyanovsk over a long bridge. We had to wait in line for several hours, and let other trains cross ahead of us. The changes in topography as we crossed into Asia, and the views of the Ural Mountains, were spectacular.  

Our days on the train were indistinguishable from one another. So, someone kept track of the passing days during our migration. According to their tally, we were locked up in transit for 33 days. Only once, somewhere about midway during the journey, while the train had to wait on a rail siding, we were allowed out of the boxcar for about a half-hour to stretch our legs. The guards would alternately open every tenth boxcar so that groups from adjacent boxcars would not be able to communicate with each other. Each group would be surrounded by about ten guards, who didn’t allow anyone to stray from that group. Our brief release was in a field by a railway station, in the middle of Russia. Although there might have been a few trees or shrubs in the area, there really was no chance for anyone to escape.  The outdoors did give us an exterior perspective and ability to see the whole train.


We counted about 98 boxcars. Several boxcars were used by the guards, but at least 90 were filled with deportees. Although our release from the boxcar was brief, it was a pleasant change. It gave us a chance to stretch our legs and breath some fresh air instead of the stench inside the car. No one had had a bath in all the time that we were locked up. We did wash our hands and face occasionally, when a little extra water was available, but that was all the washing we could do during our 33-day confinement.

Soon after each car’s occupants had been given their outdoor respite and were re-boarded, the train moved on to a small town where we received our food supplies for the next few days. The train started to roll east again without any further change to our routine. We passed more villages and cities like Miass, Kurgan, Petropavlovsk, Omsk, and Novosibirsk. Upon reaching Novosibirsk, the train turned south to Barnaul. During our travel we saw more troop trains going west, and others carrying war causalities that headed east. From our small window we could see Russian civilians who viewed our passing train with differing attitudes. Some were hostile, likely blaming us as the cause for their war with Germany. Others must have felt sorry for us and exhibited some signs of sympathy. But most Russians were just indifferent to our train’s passage. Undoubtedly, this was not the first such train they had seen.

Several people on our train died during the month-long trip, although none of them were from our own boxcar. The deceased were left at the nearest railway station for the local authorities to bury. On one occasion, the train stopped in the middle of a forest.  Guards hastily dug a shallow grave, dumped a body there, and then shoveled some earth on top of the corpse. We heard the deceased’s relatives crying, but no one could do much about the treatment that any of us received, least of all, the dead.


When our train finally arrived in Barnaul, it was directed toward a port on the Ob River. There we were told to exit the boxcars and to unload our belongings. Many people were weak after over a month of confinement with minimal food and exercise. So, guards did help to unload the train and moved us and our possessions to a large storage shed at the port facility along the river.  Mother found a spot for our us and our few belongings. Our group was told that we would be loaded on to a ship, which would take us to our destination the following day. At that point our NKVD guards left us in the custody of civilian authorities. These local authorities channeled the entire transport of captive deportees to fill the specific needs of numerous localities that had requested people to work in their settlements.

The deportees in our boxcar were split up. About two-dozen adults and teenagers and a similar number of children, including us, were assigned to a final destination.  Other people from our boxcar were assigned to fill other communities’ needs. We were all transported to those localities either by ship, boat, train or truck, depending on its distance from Barnaul, and the most practical means of getting there. I don’t remember much about the deportees from our own boxcar, or even about those from the place where we ultimately lived for over a year. I was relatively young, we were all depressed, and we all wondered what would become of us.

We were finally free to move around, without anyone shouting at us. I remember when we ran around the port warehouses and sheds, we came across a large pile of dried sunflower seeds, and we helped ourselves to them. The seeds were very tasty to us at the time. In Barnaul we were given some cooked food, there was plenty of water, and we were told that we could take a shower in a common shower room. Everyone jumped at that opportunity, and groups were formed. Mothers with small children went first, then ladies, and then the men.

I don’t remember exactly how long we were in Barnaul, but it was at least for a day and one night. We were finally free to move around. It was warm in late July of 1941. We had food and we had water. Those were very important things at that time.  Eventually we were called to board the ship, which would take us to our assigned destination. Someone helped us to load our belongings on to the ship, since Mother had several large bundles that I couldn’t lift, and she also had to take care of George and watch Danka. There was only a wooden plank deck for us to walk across from the dock to the ship. And although Mother was holding George’s hand, somehow, he slipped and fell into the Ob River. Luckily, the deck that we walked across was only a few feet above the water and someone from the ship quickly pulled George out of the water. He was wet, but uninjured. The incident left Mother quite distressed.


The ship that we had boarded was used to transport people, goods, and supplies to the numerous communities upriver of Barnaul. There were no beds and only a few benches. Most people just found a spot on the deck to sit on during the journey. The ship was not crammed the way that the boxcars were. There was plenty of room to move around and even to hide.  I joined a few other kids and found a place on a different level of the ship from where our parents had settled. There we played cards and other games. Aside from several groups of deportees like us, most of the passengers on the ship were Russians.

The Ob is a deep and wide river. Ocean-going ships travel on it at least to Barnaul. Our ship seemed huge to me. It had toilets, washrooms, and a food store. Still, it was much smaller than other ships we saw on that river and in the port. We were heading upstream. I didn’t know what our final destination would be. After going upstream on the Ob River for about three days, the ship turned right into one of the tributaries of the Ob, called the Charysh River. It was a smaller river but was still a few hundred feet wide.  The ship had made several stops along the way, unloading local residents and goods, and also some of our compatriots. We traveled for over a day along the Charysh River and finally arrived at our destination, Ust-Kalmanka.


Copyright: Krol family


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