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Tadeusz (Ted) KROL

Part 4 of 6

The Order for Travel: Leaving Russia


The Order for Travel was a permit that allowed us to travel to the Russian border. This document was like a pass to freedom, albeit an uncertain one. It stated that “Stanislawa Krol plus four persons” could travel on the Order. Mother even received a voucher for five train tickets. It was written in a way, which could be interpreted, that Mother and four adults could travel on that Order. We were authorized to travel from Aleysk (the train station 50 miles from Ust-Kalmanka) to Ashkhabad, which was on Russia’s border with Iran. We assumed that our baby brother would not be considered a person yet, since he had to be held in someone’s arms. George was a question mark. Children up to five years old did not need train tickets.

Although George was six, he was small and could possibly pass for less than five years old.

We didn’t know how Mother would manage to travel this 3600-mile distance without another adult’s assistance and with me as her only support. George and even Danka had to be looked after and helped out. Obviously, Stasiu needed nearly constant attention. Fortunately, there were several men who wanted to travel with us to join the army themselves. They could be given our two “extra” tickets and help us to get to our destination.

Mother decided to take the representative of the Polish refugee relief organization with us. We called him Pan (Mister) Delegate. He desperately wanted to reach Polish authorities in order to get further directions. The office he worked from had already left Russia. He didn’t want to abandon the families that would have to stay in Russia and wanted to secure more help for those that would be left behind. He also wanted to deliver some documents about the numbers and condition of the families that he had encountered so that the Polish government-in-exile would not forget about them.

The second person Mother chose was Heniu, with whom I was friends. He is the one who asked me to be his chaperone on his rendezvous with the Russian girl in the bathhouse. He was now 16 and he wanted to join the army. He knew that if he did not join the Polish army being formed under General Anders, he would be called up to join the Russian army or the Polish army under Russian command.


The Order for Travel - August 10, 1942                                                  


The Order for Travel was valid until September 30th and it took a minimum of ten days to get there, so there was not much time to lose. Mother started to sell most of our belongings for rubles, instead of for food. There were plenty of buyers, and within a week she had sold most of our possessions including her prized possession, a sewing machine. She ended up with over 12,000 rubles. She knew that a lot of money would be needed during the journey, and upon leaving Russia, she intended to give what was left to Pan Delegate, who intended to return to the sovkhoz. She gave a couple of thousand rubles to Mrs. Przygalinska, in part to thank her for all the help that she had given us in the past. Mother also knew that she needed money the most. Mother left her with the rest of our goods that hadn’t sold as well, although we needed them until we left the sovkhoz. We ended up leaving with four suitcases in which we had food and our best clothes, at least enough for a two-week journey.

We left the sovkhoz at the beginning of September. Someone had arranged for our transport to Aleysk on a sovkhoz truck, which was going there to pick up some supplies. But Mother had to pay the driver about 700 rubles. We had a flat tire along the way to Aleysk and had to continue there without having a spare. In Aleysk, we stayed at a guesthouse used by sovkhoz workers, while Mother exchanged the vouchers for actual train tickets. We had to produce a certificate that we had taken a bath and that our clothes had gone through a delousing process. That procedure was required as the authorities tried to control the problem of lice infestation in Russia.


We stayed in the guesthouse for a couple of days until we had completed all the steps that were required to obtain the tickets. In most cases a bribe would do the trick. Mother had to pay for the guesthouse and also paid a bribe to the ticket agent at the station. He suspected that the men traveling with us were not intended to be on that Order. After all, they had different names and it looked a bit suspicious to him. He was going to call his boss until some money changed hands. Then we were all fine at Aleysk. We were warned that we would have similar problems when we had to change trains in Tashkent, and elsewhere for that matter.

It took the train about seven days to reach Tashkent from Aleysk. [The distance that this trip covered represents the full north-south length of Kazakhstan]. We traveled through a variety of terrains and viewed many beautiful vistas. Our train traveled near snow-covered mountains, along beautiful Lake Balkhash, and then through the desert. There we saw camels for the first time as well as other animals and people, which all seemed remarkable to us. From time to time, the two men who accompanied us were able to buy some fruit and bread at rail station stops along the route. It was crucial to buy something for baby Stasiu to drink. Sometimes they were able to get goats’ milk. Other times it was cows’ milk. Kipyatok (Russian term for hot water for tea) was usually available. We traveled on a passenger train that was crowded, and we had to guard our seats and our possessions, if we wanted to keep them.

There was a NKVD officer on the train who checked documents. By the middle of the journey, he finally got around to our group. Not surprisingly, he was also suspicious. He called Mother to his compartment several times to answer questions about our party. But, a two thousand-ruble bribe fixed the problem, and we weren’t bothered again until we reached Tashkent. The men were afraid that not only would they be thrown off the train, they could also end up in jail. But they knew these risks before they started out with us.

We arrived in Tashkent [now in Uzbekistan] in the middle of the night. We had to change trains there, but the train to our next destination wasn’t scheduled to depart for several days. We were told that we could stay in a park not far from the station until that time. As we walked to the park, we witnessed an unusual event. We saw a group of teenagers run and hide behind some buildings. Soon afterwards, we watched as a police patrol cornered them behind the building. After a scuffle, and some heavy use of nightsticks by the police, the youths were led away. We saw them being taken to a building near the park. We felt sorry for the teenagers, but no one was about to protest police brutality. Eventually, we were glad that we had not. A later experience showed us what a gang of hooligans was capable of doing.


We saw thousands of people in the park sleeping under trees, or wherever they could find a spot. We found a small area for our group to settle for a few days. The late August nights in Tashkent were warm and the sky was clear, so we weren’t concerned about staying outside. The following morning, we could see just how many people had settled in the park, it was staggering. The advantage of staying in the park was that we were close to the train station, and public latrines were available in the area, even if the lines to the latrine were a half-hour long. “Kipyatok” was available for tea or other meals, and local farmers were also in the area selling fruit and other foods.

Early in the afternoon, a couple of Russians girls attached themselves to our group and offered to care for baby Stasiu and watch George so that Mother and the rest of us could use the latrine, shop for food, or just walk around the area. Mother was somewhat suspicious of the girls, but she did need a break from the constant care that a six-month old baby requires. So, after a while, she agreed to let the girls help her, while she took a walk to the latrines. She asked Heniu and me to keep an eye on the two girls. Our first dealing with the girls was fine and nothing was amiss after they left for the night to go home. Mother paid them for their help, and they came back the next morning to do more baby-sitting. Mother became more relaxed with them, so she left George, Danka, and baby Stasiu with the girls, while she and the rest of us explored the area and made some purchases from the park peddlers.

When Mother returned, only Danka (age 9) and George (age 6) were with the baby. Some of Mother’s money, which she kept in a suitcase, was gone. Danka said that the girls had to go to the toilets, and they said they would be back soon. Of course, we never saw them again. The amount of money stolen from the suitcase was about two thousand roubles. Mother had set aside that money for unforeseen purchases of food items or other small necessities during our travel. She kept the rest of our money in a belt on her person.

Our two escorts found out that there would be a train the next day that could take us the short distance to Yangiyul, which was just outside of Tashkent. From there we could catch another train to Ashkhabad. Pan Delegate wanted to stop in Yangiyul because there was a Polish government headquarters there. Anders’ Polish Army headquarters was also there. But he was not sure if it would still there now, or if it had already moved to the Middle East. He needed to take the chance to get in touch with Polish government authorities.

The next afternoon, we boarded a train and arrived in Yangiyul sometime after ten, that night. The train was very crowded, and it was difficult for the men to get our belongings down the corridor. So, one of them got outside while the other passed suitcases through the window. Meanwhile, Mother carried Stasiu, and with the rest of us, we pushed our way to the door. I got out first and noticed that a woman had picked up one of our suitcases and was walking away with it. I was sure it was ours and I told Heniu, who was setting the suitcases passed to him through the window. But Heniu thought that all our belongings were next to him. I followed the woman through the train station, until she turned to me and said in Polish, although with an accent, that I should not worry, it was not our suitcase. So, I stopped following her.

When I got back to our group, they were waiting for me. Mother said that the suitcase with our best clothing and some food was missing. Heniu followed me to see if we could still catch the woman, but by then, she had slipped into the night.

We placed our remaining belongings under a tree near the train station where we intended to spend the night, as many other travelers had done. We started to fall asleep that night, when a commotion across the street woke us up. To our horror, we watched as three or four teenagers robbed a couple that was sleeping less than a hundred feet away from us. 


Our companions wanted to help the couple and started toward them, but then Mother noticed that another group of teenagers began to close in on us, so the men returned. Travelers were settled under every tree, at about forty-foot intervals, on both sides of the street. Most of the people were older couples or women with children, so no one else was able to help the assaulted couple. They were left with practically nothing but some underwear. There were no police around, although the train station was only a few hundred feet away. We

stopped feeling sorry for the teenagers that had been rounded up, back in Tashkent.


Our escorts decided to take turns sleeping so that one of them would always be awake. They intended to protect us from the fate suffered by the couple across the street.

The next morning, Pan Delegate found out that the Polish Army had moved out of Russia to the Middle East a week earlier. There would be no reason to go to the headquarters, since only a clean-up crew was left there. Mother went to a public market in the town and bought some supplies for the rest of the trip. She needed to replace some of the items that were stolen the night before. We found out that there would be a train to Ashkhabad late that afternoon, but that it would be crowded. None of us wanted to spend another night on the streets in Yangiyul. Somehow, we all managed to get on the train, but we had to split up since there wasn’t enough room in one place for all of us.

The journey to Ashkhabad was supposed to take about four days, mostly through desert terrain. In the middle of the trip, Mother asked me to get some water when the train stopped at a station. Many people got off the train to get water or kipyatok, or to buy some food items. The train usually stopped at a station for about half an hour as it unloaded people and goods and took on a new load of travelers. I was trying to fill my bottles at the public well, along with many other people, for less than fifteen minutes, when the train suddenly whistled and started to pull away. I dropped two of the three bottles that I had brought and started to run as fast as I could to catch the train. I was lucky enough to jump onto the last coach car, with the help of some Russian passengers. A few older ladies were not as fortunate. I could have easily been left behind with very little chance of rejoining my family. Mother was very concerned, but when she finally saw me on the train, she was clearly relieved that I had made it.

After about four days we finally arrived in Ashkhabad. [Now Ashgabat, it is the capital of Turkmenistan, situated near the Iranian border]. It was a nice city at foot of the mountains, with plenty of palms and other trees. Army trucks were picking up Poles who wanted to go to the Polish camp. It was nice to see new Dodge trucks, acquired through the American Lend-Lease program, with Polish markings and small flags, waiting for us. We had finally arrived at our destination and we were in a place where Polish was the principal language being used. We were assigned to a tent, but first we had to take a shower. We really needed it. We were able to take a quick shower in Tashkent but hadn’t even been able to wash our faces since that time.  There was plenty of food available to us in Ashkhabad, including meat from the army kitchen. We could buy different kinds of fruits, melons, and so forth. A new life was beginning for us. Mother reported to the camp’s officer-in-charge, and since we had the proper papers, we were assured to be on the transport to Iran in about five days. 

It was a much sadder story for our two companions. Russia stopped allowing any more volunteers to join the Polish Army there, so Heniu had to go back. As far as Pan Delegate was concerned, he couldn’t complete his mission fully. He was promised some additional supplies and money, so he wouldn’t be going back empty-handed. But he was far from being happy with his achievements. Mother gave our money, most of what was left of it, to the two of them. The two men waited until our transport was ready. There was a very tearful farewell as our family parted with our travel companions. We had gone through so much together since we left our sovkhoz. And, while our family could look toward a brighter future, they had to stay in the hell on earth called Russia. We never heard what became of them nor of Mrs. Przygalinska and her daughter.

Early in the morning we were loaded onto trucks. Our convoy consisted of about ten trucks. As we departed, we waved good-by tearfully, and at the same time prayed and thanked God for our deliverance. The trip to the border with Iran was supposed to be over two hours long. We passed through Ashkhabad and started to climb up a mountain road. After about an hour I had an urgent need to go to the toilet since my stomach was acting up. We had eaten different kinds of food and various fruits, which were mostly unwashed. I was afraid to ask someone to stop the truck and our transport, as I certainly did not want to cause any delay to our exit from Russia. Mother urged me to hold on, but as time went on, I was going through torture. When the truck finally pulled up to the border post, before it was even parked, I jumped off the truck and was the first one to the latrines. Oh, what a relief it was! I don’t think that I will ever forget that moment.

Russian customs officials went through all our belongings in addition to checking all of our documents. They were not about to let money, precious metals, or any art treasures to get out of their country. Yet somehow, Mother was able to conceal and smuggle out a quantity of gold Russian ruble coins, which are now family heirlooms. After two hours, we were allowed to cross the border. We were finally free!

The road into Iran ran through the mountains and was extremely dangerous. It was a narrow winding serpent, going up and up and then down. The twisting made everyone hold onto the frame of the truck, as if that would save anyone if the truck’s wheels missed the edge of the road, and we dropped down hundreds of feet.

Long stretches of the road were too narrow to be two-way. Then, vehicles had to wait their turn until the soldiers controlling traffic gave them a green light to proceed. While we waited our turn, and got out to stretch our legs, we could see the savage beauty of the mountains that we were crossing, the mile-deep ravines, and the narrow road that was cut out of the rock. Our drivers told us that many trucks ended up at the bottom of the mountain, including several with Polish people. The road was dangerous, but it was the shortest route between the Soviet Union and Iran. As such, the traffic on this road was considerable. The Russian

forces occupying Iran used it, and it was also important for the swift movement of crucial supplies, mainly American aid to Russia.  Germany had maintained a good relationship with Iran. Germany helped build many of Iran’s roads and railways as well as their industry. So strategically, the Allies had to occupy Iran in order to block German access to Iran’s natural resources, especially its oil.

It was almost dark as we reached the other side of the mountain and came onto a flat road to Mashhad, in Iran. It was about 10 PM by the time we arrived in that town and were transported to the British Army camp. We were tired, relieved to be out of Russia, and thankful to God that we had arrived safely. Few people wanted to go to the dinner that had been prepared in the army kitchen. Some were assigned to available rooms and others to tents. We were all soon were asleep on army cots.

The next morning, after washing, we started to explore our new locale. We couldn’t understand what the British soldiers were saying. There were also Indian troops wearing their turbans. That was very strange to us. The first English word that we learned was “water”, since it something that we always needed.

We were given breakfast. The food was so very different from what we usually had for breakfast. Porridge, kippers, bread, butter, jams, and English tea… they tasted so bad at first. But we also got some oranges, bananas, and chocolate that we did appreciate. The Polish drivers and their trucks left to return to Russia. We were told that Iranian drivers would take us to Tehran the next day. It would be a two-day trip. We would stop at another British camp along the way. We all took a shower. People who were in need were offered clothing, although most of us had been provided with new clothing at the Polish camp in Ashkhabad


The journey to Tehran was uneventful. The only thing that I can remember was that the road was bumpy, although fairly flat, and it was hot. We were glad when we finally arrived in that city. We were assigned to Polish Refugee Camp #2. There was a total of four or five camps. We arrived there at night and were assigned to a large building. It had a sound roof and brick walls, but a dirt floor. We were so tired that, without much fuss, most of the people found a spot and settled down for the night on the dirt floor. People were offered food. Mother requested some milk for our baby brother, and something for her children, but the three of us were fast asleep.

All told, between March and September 1942, about 116,000 Poles were fortunate to escape Soviet Russia’s clutch into Iran. Of these citizens, 74,000 were soldiers of General Anders’ newly formed Polish 2nd Corps. Father was among these troops who went from Iran on to training bases in Iraq. Over 41,000 civilians were able to escape Russia as well. Most of these civilians were the surviving family members of Polish 2nd Corps troops. Many orphaned children were evacuated as well. Nearly all of these Poles left Russia by ship, across the Caspian Sea. This was a grueling three-day voyage on grossly overcrowded ships that lacked food, water, and sanitary facilities.


Our family was among the last group of evacuees out of Russia. They were not transported by ship but instead, were trucked over the precarious land route across the Aladagh Mountains that lie between Ashgabat (now in Turkmenistan) and Mashhad in Iran. About 2600 Polish civilians, mostly children, were transported along this land route to Iran.


Sixty-seven pages of newsprint listing nearly 30,000 of the civilians released from Soviet Russia includes the names of our family members, along with their date and place of birth, as well as the location where they were first assigned, Tehern.



Refugees in the Middle East


Camp officials greeted us the next morning, and we went through a registration process. We were told that we would be staying in this structure for a few days since there was no more room in the existing buildings. However, new huts were under construction to reduce the overcrowding. We found out that we would be housed in an Iranian Air Force facility, which had not been completed. Construction was halted, since the Allies didn’t intend to help build up a potentially hostile air force. There were showers, latrines, a church, a kitchen, a private restaurant, a camp clinic, as well as other facilities. We could eat on the tables near the kitchen, or really any place we wanted, provided we did not litter, and cleaned up after ourselves. 

We had not been to church for Mass since we had left Poland. Although we saw a priest at the camp in Ashkhabad, we didn’t attend Mass there. Naturally, we prayed a lot, and very often, but each of us did it on our own. Now we were about to attend Mass, after more than a year’s time, and it was Sunday. It was a strange feeling to attend that first Sunday Mass in Iran, to hear people singing, praying, and thanking God for their deliverance from Russian bondage. Most of us also went to confession and communion. 

I joined other youths of my age that had not yet been confirmed and was enrolled in religion classes as a preparation for Confirmation. The Confirmation service was to take place in two weeks’ time when a bishop was scheduled to be in our camp. School age children had to report to an education building for a review of their schooling record and assignment to a grade level. I had to go through a refresher course of the last grade level that I had attended in Poland, the fifth grade. Most of the children had similar assignments. The refresher course was supposed to last about two months. Then if teacher felt that we were ready; we would be moved to the next grade level. Danka and I went off to school while Mother, George, and Stasiu stayed in the new partially completed long hut.


These new accommodations were constructed from mud and straw bricks, with a corrugated metal roof. The huts or barracks were about forty feet long with two or three windows on each side. There was a central support wall in the middle, which ran the length of the barracks. On either side of the wall, a set of continuous wooden bunks was constructed to serve as a sleeping place. Also, a continuous common corridor ran along the outside wall. People would hang blankets or sheets on three sides of their bunk space, which in limited fashion, allowed it to serve as a family’s private bedroom. No one complained about the living arrangements. Although we knew that it would be like this for some time, no one was sure for how long.

The barracks’ occupants were mainly mothers with their children, and older people. We didn’t stay in the barracks for too long. After a month or so, mothers with babies or childre

n less than three years old were moved to one of the permanent buildings. It was more spacious but less private, since it was harder to hang blankets around our sleeping area.

Mother and the other women at the camp often searched through long lists of the names of missing persons. These were people searched for by their family or friends. The “missing” were mostly Polish soldiers who were now stationed in Iraq, northeast of Bagdad. These soldiers were undergoing training with British equipment and learning British military maneuvers. While people checked to see if someone was looking for them, they could also submit the names of the people that they were looking for to the Polish Red Cross. At that time, we didn’t know where Father was, or even the unit to which he had been assigned. And, Father didn’t know whether we had made it out of Russia. Sometime in November 1942, Mother finally discovered Father’s address and wrote to him.

In the second half of November, Stasiu became sick. He was infected with pertussis, or whooping cough. Mother, Stasiu, and George were sent to a hospital for treatment. George had also started coughing, so as a precaution he had to go along with Mother. Danka and I were left behind. Someone was supposed to look after us, but I don’t remember who it was.

We started school again and were able to spend our free time with friends. I also joined a Polish Boy Scout group. Our troop was quite active with various explorations and field exercises. So, between school and the Scouts, I don’t recall that I was terribly lonely at the time. Danka and I went to the kitchen to get our meals, we slept in our assigned space, and the only thing that seemed to be a problem was keeping a supply of clean clothes. Early in December, the lady who was looking after us asked if we wanted to visit our mother and brothers in the hospital. Naturally we did, so she arranged for seats on a bus to take us to the hospital.

There was more than one hospital in Tehran, which could care of Polish people, and there were a lot of our people in those hospitals. There were special sections for Poles, with Polish doctors or nurses, because many of us had health problems after leaving Russia. We faced a sudden change in diet from having meager rations with a low fat and cholesterol content to an abundant food supply with a high fat content. This change caused long-neglected health problems to surface and took a huge toll in lives from those who had escaped Russia. Every day between ten and twenty children and adults were buried in Tehran at a non-Moslem cemetery. There was a huge section of new Polish graves there.  I suspect that more people died from health-related problems after they were out of Russia than in Russia itself.

By the end of 1943, 2100 Polish civilians had died and were buried in Iran. Of these, Tehran’s Doulab Catholic Cemetery itself, holds the graves of 1892 Polish civilians.

Toward the end of the first week of December 1942, Danka and I saw our mother and brothers in the hospital. We were very glad to see them. George was doing well, but Stasiu’s condition had not improved, and Mother was worried. I could see that much, but she did not want to worry us. We left the hospital satisfied that everything would work out fine, and soon we would be back together again. But about a week later, on the 13th of December, we got the news that Stasiu had died. George, who was at the hospital with Mother that day, remembers Mother cradle and walk with Stasiu and remembers that she erupted into screaming as he passed away in her arms. Stasiu was not yet ten months old.


We were picked up by the burial detail on their way to the cemetery. There were about a dozen other caskets that day. Mother cried along with us, as we watched a small wooden box be lowered into the ground, another grave in a long line of the graves of our people.  The Polish cemetery in Tehran is the largest refugee burial site in Iran, with 1,892 graves.


Mother and George returned to the camp with us. We were all very depressed after the funeral of that angel, who we all loved. Mother wrote Father of the death of his son. He was able to obtain a special leave to come and visit us. Mother needed Father’s help her get through the grief of losing her baby boy. For some time, we made a weekly visit to Stasiu’s grave site. After Father left, Mother was not the same for a while. She would spend every other day at the restaurant, getting solace from other mothers at the camp, over coffee or tea. The company of these other women gave her a group with whom she could commiserate to soothe the pain of the loss.

It was many decades later that we became aware of an Associated Press story that ran in the Washington Post (11/23/2000) titled, “Forgotten Polish Exodus to Persia”. The article speaks of the emaciated condition of the arriving refugees, the warm reception that they received from the Iranian people, and the fates of these migrants. Toward the end of the article, it notes that the Polish Embassy in Tehran occasionally receives letters from abroad that inquire about the graves of relatives in one of Iran’s graveyards. This led John to email that Polish Embassy to ask about Stasiu’s grave site. The picture of the cemetery and headstone of our brother’s grave was obviously, a complete mystery to him. Amazingly, within days, a staffer at the Polish Embassy in Tehran emailed him back with photos of the Doulab Cemetery area and of the headstone at grave # 668 KRÓL STANISŁAW.

Early in the new year of 1943, we were told that the camps in Iran would slowly start to shut down. People would be resettled in other countries such as India, the British colonies in Africa, Lebanon PalestineNew Zealand, and Mexico for the remainder of the war. This was not welcome news to those who were assigned to move. Tehran was a fairly nice and modern town when compared to the colonies in Africa, and it was much closer to Poland, where we all wanted to return. One way to avoid being on the relocation list was to be considered “essential” within the Tehran camp. A good strategy was to volunteer for work. Mother decided to work in the camp kitchen, and she started at the bottom, washing pots and pans, and prepping food for meals. She showed her culinary skills and rapidly advanced to serve as assistant to the head cook. Soon after that, she took over as the head of the kitchen for special diets, which supported the camp’s hospital. 

After Stasiu died, we had to move from the residence that housed babies and toddlers back into the general barracks. However, when Mother took over the dietary kitchen, she became entitled to stay in a special room, which was like a separate living quarters, next to the kitchen facility. In that respect we were better off than the majority of the camp’s inhabitants. It was also a paid position, not considered as volunteer work, although I don’t know how much she was paid, 

We started to receive help from the US in the form of used, but decent quality, clothing as well as less available food products.  People in the camp started to look a bit more civilized, became better dressed than the Iranians, and their self-esteem grew considerably. Mother got in touch with her aunt, Stefania Janczewska, and her aunt’s family in Rochester. Although she didn’t remember their address, she just wrote their name and Rochester, NY USA on the envelope. It was quite a surprise for them to receive a letter from Iran, and for Mother to get their reply.

We had been attending school and I began sixth grade early in 1943. Winters in Iran were nothing like the ones we experienced in Siberia. Although it could get cold, around 40 or less, there was no snow in Tehran. On a clear day, you could see snow on top of the mountains north of the city.      


Around Easter of 1943, the scout troop that I belonged to was invited to spend about ten days at one of the estates of the Shah of Iran. We traveled north of the city, closer to the mountains, and arrived at a beautiful park and gardens, which belonged to the Shah. We set up our tents among the trees, had a splendid view of the mountains, and enjoyed the beautiful park-like setting. In addition to our usual scouting chores, learning camping skills, and singing, we were asked to take part in athletic events such as running, jumping, soccer, and so forth.


We were all very rundown after months of physical neglect in Russia, and so, no one really excelled in the several days that we trained. Nevertheless, our instructors decided to have a competition between our group and a group of Iranian boys. There was a nice athletic stadium within the compound and on the last day of our stay we had to compete with our host team. The Shah of Iran attended the meet.  We marched in front of him and we lined up to shake his hand. Most of our team should not have been allowed on the field, but we had to do our best. Naturally, the Iranian boys defeated us in most of the events. We tried, but we were in no condition to compete. I guess the whole thing was done for public relations reasons, and our host really wanted to let us know that we were welcome in Iran.

As our lives at the camp normalized, they were actually tolerable. I was in the sixth grade. Danka also advanced a grade. Even George started to attend school and recalls reading his first book in Polish and participating in a public-school performance. 

I don’t remember who found whom, but we got together with “Aunt” Morek. She is distantly related to us on our grandmother’s side. She worked for our grandmother in Rakow, in the dressmaking business. She was also deported to Russia, as was her husband, since he had worked for a police department before the war. She intended to join the Polish Army women’s auxiliary unit and was working for a relief organization, while she waited for her paperwork to clear. “Uncle” Morek was in the Army. She encouraged me to go to the military school in Palestine. Mother was not very receptive to the idea of letting me go, but finally said that she would write Father, and if he agreed, then I could go.


Meanwhile, as we became more familiar with Tehran, we often walked to the center of the city just to window-shop, since we had little, if any, Iranian currency.  We knew our way around without much difficulty, and sometimes a store owner would treat us with a piece of fruit. Some of these fruits we had never seen before, like pomegranates. But we still did miss the taste of apples and cherries.

In June 1943, the scouts and other children in our camp were invited to spend about ten days at another one of the Shah’s estates. Again, it was a beautiful place with a swimming pool and many other attractions. I was with my scout group, and Danka and George were with groups of their own agemates.  I recall that Mother visited us on Sunday.

General Sikorski, the Prime Minister of our government in London, who was also Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army, visited Polish camps in Tehran in late June 1943.He was visiting all the Polish military units, and some of the civilian camps. Our camp school had a small reception and put on a show for the General. On stage, school children welcomed him with speeches, singing and poetry recitations. I was one of the kids selected to recite a poem in front of the General. About ten days later, the General died in a plane crash near Gibraltar as he was on his way back to London. It was a tremendous loss to all Poles.

Sometime that September, Mother received Father’s reply about my going to military school. Father agreed. I submitted my application for acceptance. I took a medical exam and had to say that I was a year older than I actually was at the time, otherwise they would not have accepted me. I was in a cadet uniform in October, just shy of my 14th birthday.

For about a week or two I was with a group of other boys who had also taken the step to enroll in military school. The first week away from the family was kind of fun. This wasn’t the first time that I had been separated from them. But when I actually had to say good-by, because I was leaving on the train for Palestine the next day, I cried nearly all night. Now I was on my own, and I didn’t know when I would see them again. Mother would not be there to help if something went wrong.

The train trip was interesting. There were splendid views as the train passed through a multitude of tunnels, and over many bridges, on our way to Abadan on the Persian Gulf. There were many Americans on the train. Some of them could speak some Polish, and we were treated with chewing gum and candy.

We changed trains to a narrow-gauge line that took us on to Baghdad, where we were based in a British Army camp. The British occupied Iraq. We stayed in that camp for close to two weeks. We went sightseeing around Baghdad in a military truck, but weren’t allowed to walk around the city alone, since we didn’t know the language and relations between Iraq and the Allies were not too friendly. Finally, a transport with an escort was organized to travel toward the Mediterranean. In addition to the dozen or so trucks loaded with our own military personnel, there were many more trucks with British soldiers and still others transporting equipment and supplies. We would travel all day stopping for the night at British camps that were along the road for that purpose. For several days we traveled through a black desert [Harrat al-Shamah, the Black Desert that straddles Syria and Jordan], where everything was black and foreboding. The rocks and sand were all black, without a bit of vegetation.

During that trip we were introduced to grapefruit, which we thought were large oranges.  I tried my first grapefruit and discovered how bitter it was. I didn’t like it at all. The trip took close to ten days. We had to travel through Jordan and a small corner of Syria, where customs had to let us pass through. We finally arrived in Palestine and were housed overnight in a Polish military camp near Tel-Aviv. I met up again with Aunt Morek there, who was now in the Polish Army and was training for deployment to Italy. She gave me some money, oranges, and a few other things. In that camp they sorted us out, took our personal data, and gave us a choice of schools for our assignment. I selected the Cadet school, which was in Camp Barbara near Gaza, almost next to Ashqelon on the Mediterranean Sea.

By then it was early December of 1943. I was fourteen years old and my life started to run a different course from that of my brother and sister. I was assigned to a junior high school curriculum. I had five grade levels to complete before I could receive a junior high school certificate and then an additional two years of Lyceum in order to complete my pre-college education.

This first Christmas alone in the Holy Land had a special meaning for all of us. During Christmas break, some cadets, who had not seen Bethlehem, were treated to a trip there. I was among that group. The sight of the temples, the place where Christ was born, and to be able to pray at that site, left me with a lasting memory. I remember going down a small narrow passage and kneeling at a spot marked by a gold star, where according to legend, Christ was born. I was surprised that there were so many different denominations that had control of the holy places. Some insisted that the birth occurred in a different spot. We also saw that place. On the same trip we visited Jericho, the Jordan River, and we crossed a bridge into Jordan and back again. We also stopped briefly at the Dead Sea resort area for the Army. However, no one was swimming. It was cold. We just put our hands in the water to see how different it felt.

Later, during the Easter school break of 1944, another trip took me to Jerusalem and its many holy places. Again, I was amazed at the number of religious denominations there, each jealously guarding their right to the spots that they controlled. There is so much history there that I couldn’t absorb all the information at that time. The Garden of Gethsemane was quite impressive. I remember the church at the site where Christ was buried. Although huge and imposing, it appeared neglected to me. There seemed to be no cooperation agreement for the repair and upkeep of those places.

At school we studied all the customary academic subjects, but we also had military training, guard and kitchen duty, and many other assignments. This was my everyday life while the war raged on. Troops landed in Sicily and then in Italy, and the Allied leaders met to decide the future of Europe after Germany was defeated. They also met to decide the fate of Poland and of our families.

Before the Polish Army was deployed to Italy, Aunt Morek, and later my father, visited me at the school. It was nice to have someone visit because initially I didn’t know many of the boys in my company, or even in my platoon, and I felt quite lonely. I received a letter from Mother filling me in on their lives. They now lived in a hospital in Tehran since Mother was placed in charge of the kitchen in a hospital for Polish patients. This work assignment was what kept her and my siblings from being resettled to Africa, India or even Mexico.

Father landed in Italy with the Polish II Corps in early 1944. He advanced north with the II Corps and took part in the fighting around Monte Casino in May 1944, where he miraculously escaped death. An artillery shell landed in the spot where he had been standing just a moment earlier. Years later, on his deathbed, he recounted to George that something had prompted him to move just in time. We had prayed that he would be safe since there were a lot of casualties in that action. I finally got a letter from Father saying that he had been lucky. Now his unit was resting and reorganizing after the battle. Father was awarded the Monte Casino Cross (serial number 44936). Father’s discharge papers state that he was also awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Italy Star, the Defence Medal, and the War Medal 1939-45.

I developed an eye infection in July 1944, just as the school year was ending, and had to be treated for it at a camp clinic. During that summer vacation, the entire school was cleared out to a variety of resort areas around the Middle East. Some cadets went to Luxor in Egypt, others to a sea resort near Haifa in Palestine. But most cadets were to spend a month at the Cedars of Lebanon [aka The Cedars of God, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site].


I stayed behind, with a few others, to complete the prescribed treatment for my eyes. We listened intently to the news about the attempt on Hitler’s life and wished that it had not failed. We guessed that, had it succeeded, the war would have ended sooner. When my treatment finished, two other cadets and I were transported to join the rest of our school in Lebanon.

It was a beautiful camp high in the mountains. Originally constructed by the French when they occupied Lebanon, now the British used it. The cedars, or what was left of them, were splendid trees, unfortunately not much more than a couple hundred mature trees remained. At the higher elevation that the camp was located, it was cold enough at night to freeze water, but when the sun came out during the day, the heat was scorching. There were also some large caves near the camp where we could admire stalactites and stalagmites.


Various trips were organized from the camp, which allowed us to learn more about the area and see the ruins of Baalbek. These were impressive and we wondered how those people could have set these huge and heavy stones on top of tall columns without machinery. We visited many Roman ruins as well as the ruins of structures and castles left by the Crusaders and others.

Our vacation was over, and we were back at our camp. The war in Europe was finally taking a decisive turn for the better. After the Normandy landings, the Allies advanced toward the German border from the west, as the Russians approached from the east. We did not have much to cheer about regarding the Russian advance, however. After the Russians allowed the Warsaw uprising to fall and let the Germans to destroy that city, we knew that we would not be able to return to Poland, and that Poland would be under communist control.

We started to learn English at school, but it didn’t come easily. During our free time we started to travel all around Palestine, as long as we had a pass from the officer in charge. It was easy to travel. All we had to do was to stand along the road and lift a hand when a military truck was approaching. Usually the truck would stop. And, if it was going in our direction, then at least we could make some progress toward our destination.

I learned directions quickly and had no problem in getting to Gaza, Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, or Nazareth. We became familiar with those places. While our studies and camp assignments had priority, they were not as exciting as traveling throughout Palestine. There was a limit to how often we could travel. Once we were outside the camp, although transportation was free, we had to buy our food in local stores, and our income was limited. We were paid every ten days, but it was a minimal amount of about two and half-dollars, which we usually spent at the camp’s army store or for tickets to the camp cinema.

I had turned 15 by December 1944 and that was the second Christmas season that I spent in the Holy Land without my family. Then the 1945 Easter recess was approaching. While the other cadets were getting passes to spend the holidays with their parents or other relatives in Palestine or Egypt, I resigned myself to be among those who had no place to go. Out of the blue, I was told to report to my company commander. I was afraid that it might be some bad news. But to my surprise, I was told that I had a pass to travel to Lebanon to spend Easter with my mother and siblings there. I didn’t know that my family had been relocated to Lebanon at that point. The only thing Mother had mentioned in her letters was that they would probably be relocated in the near future, perhaps to Africa, but she was not sure where.

As George recounts, Mother later learned that the best place for her, Danka, and George to be relocated would be Lebanon. That would make our eventual return to Poland easier rather than from Africa, India, or New Zealand. But, the visa quota for Lebanon was limited. Through her hospital kitchen connections, she was able to get our family on the list for Lebanon. Mother was very enterprising and knew how to keep her family safe in tough circumstances. Mother, Danka, and George traveled by truck from Iran through Iraq to Syria, where they stayed overnight in Damascus. Their reception in Damascus was good and overnight accommodations there were nice. Their next stop was Beirut.

The first 1500 Polish refugees had arrived in Lebanon in July 1944. After a short stay in a camp at Saint Simon beach in Beirut, the newly arrived were accommodated at Lebanese families in Cristian villages around Beirut, including Ghazir and six other villages. The Polish community in each of these villages was to have an administrator, a priest, and a doctor or Polish nurse. Polish primary schools were set up in each village, plus three Polish high schools. George recalls that the Lebanese in Ghazir were generous to the Poles who lived there. They provided a building for a school and they let Poles use their church to hold Polish Masses. By September 1946, there were 4,400 Polish refugees in Lebanon. Each received a monthly sum of 12 pounds sterling from the Polish Social Assistance Delegation to cover the costs of staying in Lebanon, especially rent.

Early the next morning, I was on a truck with other cadets who were going to Beirut. When we got to Beirut, the truck stopped at the Polish embassy, and there we were told which town or village our family had been relocated. Our family was in Ghazir, about seventeen miles north of Beirut. Ghazir is a bit isolated, located on a hilltop, and cut off from neighboring communities by steep hills and deep gorges and ravines. Since there were about six of us going to Ghazir, the embassy provided a half-truck to get us there.  When we got to the town center, we saw people waiting in the square opposite a church, and I recognized Mother. After sixteen months, I was finally back with my family.

Danka and George seemed like they had grown a lot and I must have looked much older to them. I was in uniform like all the other cadets, which impressed the local youngsters. I don’t know how many Polish families were in Ghazir, but it seemed like a lot. One report estimates that 500 Poles lived there during those few years. There was a Polish school. Masses were said in Polish every Sunday and on holidays. The group seemed quite settled in this town, whose inhabitants were mainly Christians [Maronite Catholic] and not Moslems like many of the other villages.


Our family rented a large room in a house whose owner was Lebanese. He had made some money in the United States and then returned to Lebanon. There were two other Polish families who lived in the same house. The owner and his family were very friendly to us. The property was about a mile from the Town Square, and about three miles from the seashore. The house had an enormous veranda, which overlooked the Mediterranean Sea, with grapevines that covered its roof. While our room was attached to the main house, we only had shared access to a kitchen and to the veranda. As George recalls, Mother cooked our food in a kitchen that was in the main part of the house and brought our meals back to the room where we stayed. He recalls that we used an outhouse there.

It was a pleasure to be with my family and specially to taste Mother’s cooking again. Our cadet camp kitchen had plenty of food, but most of it was bland. The week of my leave went so fast that I didn’t have much time to reacquaint myself with my family. But at least I was comforted that I had a place to spend my vacations and I looked forward to being there during the summer and at Christmas.

The war in Europe ended in May 1945 with Germany surrendering to the Allies. We knew that we could not go back to Poland, and our future was uncertain. Father had been transferred from Italy to Egypt. At age 45, he was not in the best of health, and there were some Polish army units stationed in Egypt, where there was less stress than on the front-line units in Italy. Even before the war had ended, many Poles who were in Germany as slave laborers, and also many others from Poland itself, were able to make it to Italy and there they joined the Polish Army. The number of troops increased to over one hundred and twenty thousand. A number of younger boys and girls were sent to Palestine to join our schools there, and we were able to find out how they had gotten through the war, which was perhaps a little easier than what we had to go through, but not by much.

Father was given a leave to visit our family in Lebanon. Soon afterwards, he was assigned to his new unit in Egypt. That was a time of relief for all of us. The war was over in Europe and at least we were all along the eastern Mediterranean coast. Father was stationed in Egypt, Mother had Danka and George in Lebanon, and I attended cadet school in Palestine.

About the same time, Mother received news through the Red Cross that was concerning. Her family in Poland was forced to abandon their house and property in Rakow. They were resettled on a small farm that was just across the pre-war border with Germany. Poland lost half of its territory in the east to Soviet Russia and was “compensated” with land in the west. While that western region had been the heart of Poland back around the 12th century, Germany conquered the region, and even before Poland was partitioned at the end of 18th century, that territory had been a part of Germany.

News of our extended family’s forced relocation included information about our grand-mother’s health. She had diabetes and needed medicines, which were not available in Poland at that time. They requested help and Mother was able to send them medicine, but Grandmother’s condition had been neglected for too long. The medications were not able to get her diabetes under control. She passed away in 1947. I did write to my grandparents, but I am not sure if Grandmother was able to read my letter. My grandparents and Uncle Frank were originally located on a farm after their resettlement, but within a year they moved to the village of Trzcianka.

I did spend a nice summer vacation in 1945 with the family. George showed me a shortcut to get to the Mediterranean seashore, and we would go there every other day to swim and enjoy a beautiful beach. George couldn’t swim at the time and I tried to teach him by helping him to jump into the waves, but he was somewhat afraid. I remembered my attempts to learn to swim, so I didn’t rush him too much because it was counterproductive. Danka could swim. She spent most of the time with her girlfriends.

I was also able to spend Christmas 1945 in Ghazir. I remember one thing that happened during that time quite vividly. There was an old monastery not far from the town, which was no longer in use, except as an historic building. It had a special meaning for Polish people, because one of our great poets, Juliusz Slowacki, spent a few years there during the time that Poland was partitioned in the 19th century. He was on his way back from Egypt and became sick. The monks took care of him and when he returned to health, he wrote some of his best-known poetry there.

 One of the most memorable poems that Juliusz Slowacki wrote in that monastery was about a family that was traveling from Egypt to Palestine. The family was required to stop at the border for thirty days to go through medical quarantine for a disease afflicting the region at that time. This very tragic poem was based on a true story and it describes with great emotion the sequential death from plague of three sons, three daughters, and the wife of the father who lived through this tragedy. Slowacki had heard this story when he crossed at the same border point.

Another cadet and I wanted to visit the monastery where Slowacki wrote that tragic poem as well as other poems. It was the day before Christmas, and we had nothing special to do. Shopping for gifts was not common in those days. Besides, we had no money. So, we went there and spent some time in the monastery. On the way back we took a different route, on a road that was being repaired by local workers. As we passed the workers, they seemed excited, and were furiously digging into a hill. We saw that they had uncovered a mass grave. No one knew or would tell us, even if we knew the language, whose bones they were. The mass grave was probably the outcome of one of the many battles that were common there between Christians and Moslems, or maybe even from some other conflict.

My friend decided to take a part of a skull as a souvenir. Later we went to midnight Mass at the church and during the Mass my friend started to see something. He was convinced that he saw the ghost of the person whose skull fragment he had picked up. He nearly started to scream in fear. People began to look at us, so I took him out of the church before Mass had ended. I walked him home, and all the way back he insisted that the ghost was following him. I didn’t see anything, but he was certainly scared. I suggested that he throw that piece of skull into the ravine that we were walking along and finally he did. But, after that he still insisted that he saw someone. The next day we talked about it and he told me that he had had visions all night. He wished that he would have taken that skull fragment back to where he had found it.

George and Danka’s recollections from Ghazir, Lebanon are much more pleasant. After Russia and Iran, Lebanon was like Paradise. George still talks about the wonderful climate, the beautiful sea beach with a great variety of seashells, the beautiful mountains and valleys with all kinds of flowers, delicious fruits growing wild as well as in gardens, and the very friendly people. Some of the Lebanese people learned to speak Polish before we learned to speak Arabic. However, since there were hundreds of Polish people in Ghazir, a Polish school was established, which Danka and George attended. George started the first grade in Ghazir. They were able to walk to the school every day as it was not a great distance from the house. We were very lucky that they were able to spend nearly three years in Lebanon. Polish families who were sent from Iran to Africa or India were not as fortunate. Mother, who held a supervisory position in the Tehran camp hospital’s kitchen, had been able to orchestrate our assignment to Lebanon.

Copyright: Krol family

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