(aka Edward Lawrence)
The following is transcribed from an interview that is held by the Imperial War Museum in London.
I was born on the 22nd December 1923 in Kozary, a small village in the Stanislawa Province of Poland. Whilst I was still a small child my family moved to the nearby town of Bukaczowce, with a population of 2,251 in 1929. We were neither rich nor poor. My father was a wheelwright with a small holding.
I remember that the first of September 1939 was a Friday and we got to know the war had started from our neighbours, as we didn’t have a radio in our house. I was not quite sixteen and was studying at commercial college. In my young mind I thought well, we have Great Britain on our side and we can’t possibly lose. 0n the 17th of September Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded Poland’s eastern territories. I did not see any of the fighting, though I do remember seeing Polish troops going south to Rumania between 17th and 19th of September, to escape capture from the Soviet Red army.
During the night I heard the Russian tanks on the road outside. In the morning I woke up to find the Russian army in our town of Bukaczowce.
The soldiers were wearing long coats with raw edges and they had rifles. There were not very many of them, but in the distance I saw 2 or 3 regiments on the move.
For the first few days I did not know what to think, but I knew we were now occupied. The Russians were handing out leaflets telling us how they had come to liberate us from Polish capitalists.
In October I returned to college to study in the afternoon and evening, as there was a shortage of teaching rooms. Lessons were from 2.p.m. till 6.30.p.m. This meant that I had to leave home at about 12.30.p.m. to catch the train which was a 15 mile journey. I got home about 11.30 p.m. as the train home did not leave till quite late.
There were shortages of most things but as we had our own smallholding we did not go hungry.
The local communists took over the administration and people were told that everything would be nationalised and everyone would work for the government.
At college lessons were allowed to continue in Polish but all official administration and correspondence was to be in Russian.
I was too young at the time to understand much about politics, so had no contact or association with Communists local or otherwise, but after the invasion my father was threatened by them, saying to him, "You behave yourself, or you will be going to where the white bears are."
There were not only Polish speaking people in Bukaczowce. We lived on the outskirts but the centre of the town was mostly Jewish which accounted for about 28% of the population. The rest was evenly split between Poles and Ukrainians and there were also a few German and Rumanian-speaking residents. In total I would think at that time in 1939, the population would have been about 3,000.
I have to be honest, there has always been a history of conflicts between Poles and Nationalist Ukrainians in the area. The Ukrainians believed the area to be theirs and never felt free from Polish rule. Personally I was quite friendly with the Ukrainians and one in particular, was a good friend and we went to college together.
It was a bit frightening for me as I can remember the stories my grand mother told of things that happened during the First World War, and these things were now happening again. If a Ukrainian man married a Polish woman there was victimisation and in extreme cases the man was killed by the Ukrainian nationalists.
Thankfully, I personally did not have any problems.
Not a lot of contact was had with myself and the Russians, apart from seeing a few at the train station and other strategic points, until I was taken with my family to Siberia. However, I do remember on a trip to Lwow a lot of the Russian officers were buying ladies night-dresses and wristwatches were even more popular.
The deportations started on the 9th of February 1940. I was returning from college late in the evening, it was just before midnight when I was at the train station. I saw some wagons on the sidings that were a bit conspicuous and wondered what they were doing there.
Anyway I got home about quarter past midnight and went straight to bed.
Suddenly about 5.a.m. I heard a dog barking very viciously and a knock at the window. A voice called out in Russian, open the door. I cleared the frost from the inside of the window and saw two Russian soldiers there with rifles. I told my mother and she told me to open the door. They walked in, told us to get up and stand against the wall, one of them went to the kitchen and collected all the knives and any other sharp instruments. Then one of them said to me, "You young lad, Comrade Stalin has a better place for you, where you can go and be a technician." They must have been well informed by the local Communists, as they knew what I was studying at college and everything else about us.
We then dressed, packed up what belongings we could and were told we had to leave. Outside there was a local Ukrainian sledge waiting for us. Obviously it and the driver had been commandeered against his will, poor man had no choice. As a last resort my mother ran into the hen pen and killed two chickens that we took with us. This was Saturday February the tenth. We loaded everything onto the sledge and myself, my mother, father and younger brother got on to the sledge and set off to the railway station which was about two kilometres away, with the Russians and their rifles behind us.
As we proceeded along the road I could see friends, neighbours and relatives all heading in the same direction.
When we got to the station we were told to get onto the wagons with our belongings. There were shelves made inside to sleep on and a stove at one end. The doors were closed then bolted from the outside and we set off in a Southerly direction. The train stopped in a town about 20 kilometres down the line, collected more people, and we stayed in that station all night, until leaving in the morning of Sunday the 11th of February.
The train went back along the line through Bukaczowce. The wall of the wagon I was next to had a small hole in it. I could see a school friend of mine, whose house was close to the railway line and I saw her standing in the garden. I called out to her "Lucia they are taking us to Siberia". I doubt that she heard me though.
The train carried on to Lwow and arrived at the main central Lwow station, where we stayed the night. In the morning the door was opened and two volunteers were asked for to go and collect water. I and someone else jumped out and, with a Russian soldier behind us, walked about half a kilometer to the water pump.
I was surprised to see quite a lot of people queuing there, mostly women. I stuck close to one and managed to pass to her the address of my Aunt, who lived in Lwow and asked her to tell my Aunt that we were being taken away.
Sure enough, next day my aunt came to the station and managed to get some bread passed on to us. That was the last time I was to be in Lwow.
They evidently added some more wagons and as we progressed through the countryside, now and again we stopped and collected more people. At one stopping point I got out of the wagon, to go for water and saw my cousin Kaszik standing there. He was in the next wagon. We went for the water and I said to him, why don’t we run away. He said to me "Tadek, where are you going to run to. What about our parents, is it not better to stay together?" I agreed with him and thought how silly I had been and we willingly went back to the train. In the afternoon the trained moved off in an Eastward direction. It must have been about the fourth or fifth day.
We travelled on through the night to the Russian border, where we had to change trains, as the track in Russia is a different gauge and could not take the Polish train. This is where we collected coal and for the first time soup. The train then set off towards Minsk and next morning we were in Russia.
There was heavy snow, the train stopped in various places and sometimes in the middle of nowhere. This is when we thought they might take us all out and shoot us. Every now and then the train stopped and collected soup. We still at this time had some of our own supplies. Once in a while as we progressed a wagon of people would be left behind. Eventually we went past Moscow, on into the Ural Mountains and past Svedlosk. Our final destination, was just a few miles North at a place translated into English that means Forest Point, that was in the Kamislov area.
The train stopped, it was now the second of March. By now there were only about five wagons left. We were unloaded from our wagons, two more soldiers with rifles to escort the 30 or so of us about 2 kilometres to some barracks in the woods. I remember it was very dark and the barracks were warm so someone had got the stoves going for us and there we settled down for the night.
Next morning was a Sunday, two officials arrived. One was the Mechelnik (Forest manager) a tall handsome looking man who was quite pleasant. The other was the local NKVD Commandant, a small unsmiling, not very pleasant man at all.
They interviewed us and told us we have to stay here and work and at that, they left us alone for the rest of the day.
In the morning we paraded, were put in groups and were told what jobs we were to do. There were two or three Russians with axes etc for Lumberjacking. I stood there in my Polish shoes not prepared for this kind of winter.
I walked with a quite pleasant middle age bearded Russian and can remember being jealous of his nice winter boots. The snow was up to our knees and I was of course soaking wet. When we got to our place of work, he said to me “Young boy, you will burn this pile of branches". He cut a piece of bark from a tree with a bit of resin on it and lit it and used it to get the fire going. This was my first job in Siberia. This I did while the older ones cut the trees down.
I continued for several weeks till about some time in May. I remember it well as snow was falling.
At this point I was given a horse to work with. Its name was Sojka and was not very strong but we both had to work and earn money. My job was to use the horse to pull the trees as they were falling and then take them to be loaded on to the trucks. The logs were used to make a wooden road to the railway track/line. Wages were paid once a month and this we had to live on, along with the daily ration of 400 grams of bread. There was also a little shop/kiosk where if you had the money a few items could be purchased.
I have to say I was not very successful. The horse was weak and could not pull very well. It made me nervous and impatient. Maybe it was not fed a lot, however I would not know as I just collected it and handed it back at the end of the day. Also I used to get the harness in a tangle so I asked to be put to work with the men felling trees. It was better money and we needed it. My Mother was not too well and I had a younger brother, so there was only my father and myself that could work to keep four of us going.
I worked on tree felling for several months but then my back started to give me problems.
When it got to June the place was swarming with gnats. You had to cover your self up, otherwise you would be covered in itchy red spots, the gnats would particularly attack the face.
At night when we got back to the huts there were bugs, because the barracks had been made of round timber with moss put in between, to help with insulation.
The bugs would not let us sleep at night and with the gnats in the daytime it was pretty miserable. No shortage of timber meant we had no problem keeping warm though. We got the idea of getting tins and filling them up with water and leaving them under the bed, close to the legs, as the bugs would not pass the water. There were still plenty in the walls though. When you put the light on they ran away.
Another problem was toilets. When we got there in the wintertime we did not know what was going off. There were some old disused stables, maybe there had been prisoners there before that had cattle or something. When summer came you could see excrement all over the walls. It was very unhygenic, we did not even have spades so we could cover it. This was only about 15 meters from our barrack.
Regarding food, there was a canteen, but it was mostly Russians who worked in there and they knew how to work the system and how to cheat. If you had no money then you had to eat the fish soup. All that was in it was the fishes tail and the fish’s head. The rest of it the Russian workers in the canteen had it.
Around July/August we all picked buries and dried them for the winter.
June was not a good month. We heard about the British evacuation of Dunquerque, the fall of Paris and Mussolini joining Hitler. This was of course very depressing.
We used to take the mickey out of the Russians, in a discreet way of course. They would say “oh we’re all right. Germany is on our side”. We Poles would say “wait and see.” We had a feeling that Hitler would go for them. In a way that was our hope.
Snow fell in October and we were supplied with warm clothing called tufaika and Valenky which was felt boots, so we at least had warm clothing which helped us when outside working.
And so we got through to Christmas time. We had a traditional Polish Christmas Eve, which I remember well, it was a Tuesday.
There was another family sharing our room, neighbours from Bukaczowce named Popiel. I had just come in from work. My Mother had cooked some potatoes and Mrs Popiel opened a bottle which contained a juice taken from a birch tree, that had a sweet taste to it and had been made into some sort of wine which was our wine substitute. It is tradition in Poland on Christmas eve to share bread like Jesus Christ did at the last supper. My family did not have any bread as we had missed that day's rations. However Mrs Popiel gave their bread to her husband who then broke it up in to 8 pieces, one for each person in the room. We then went around the room to each person and exchanged a small piece of each others bread, kissed each others cheeks, wished them a happy Christmas and ate the bread.
From somewhere my Mother produced a candle, lit it and placed it on the table.
At that moment there was knock on the door, it was the commandant. He said, "Tadeusz, I want you to go and pour some water in the troughs". (Water was poured in these two long troughs so in the morning they would be frozen and the horses could pull very heavy loads along them.) I said, "I have just come back from work, I have been working all day". From somewhere I plucked up the courage to say no. "This is Christmas Eve" I said, "and I am celebrating a traditional Polish Christmas". At this point he got out his gun and said, "Are you going or not?"
My Mother intervened and said, "Commandant, he is only a young lad, 16, and has worked 8 hours and just finished and now you want him to go back for the night". The commandant looked at her and said "He is going". I said, "ok Mother I am going, the Soviet union wants me to help them get richer". I was very frightened but just had to say it.
I walked outside and was handed over to a middle aged Russian man by the name of Russakov. He said "Come with me Tadeusz, I will look after you, you’ll be alright."
As we left the barracks he stopped and chopped a piece of a tree. From this you can take resin and light it up and burn for a long time. He did this so as to protect us from Wolves. We walked about 2 Kilometers to the first pump and Russakov made a fire to keep warm and we sat against the fire. I was feeling very low and tears were in my eyes. Russakov asked “why are you so upset?” I told him one year ago today I was in Poland celebrating Christmas with my family, even though at that time the Russian Communists had taken over my country. I told him how we celebrated it, sharing the bread etc. I had brought with me a potato. He asked for it and placed it on the fire and said "Tadeusz, you can share your potato with me, I will be your family".
He took from his pocket a small piece of newspaper in which he had some tobacco, rolled it up and lit it. We sat there talking about Poland and other things and eventually it began to snow. He looked at me and said "Tadeusz we will not work tonight. When it is snowing we cannot put water in the troughs as there will be too much resistance - it has to be smooth ice". I said "I’m glad" and Russakov said "I’m glad too. That means you and your people can celebrate Christmas". Well at least those that work in the saw mills. If the troughs are not working then there will be no timber supplied to the mills.
So we got up and I remember writing in the snow, God help Britain to win the war. I explained to Russakov what it was all about. We walked back to the barracks and he sang his Russian songs and I sang my Polish songs. I think we got back about midnight. That was my Christmas 1940.
Sometime in January or February 1941 we were visited by a Russian official that told us, we should be accepting Soviet citizenship, as the part of Poland we lived in was now part of the Soviet Union. Of course you can surmise what our opinion of that was. Any people of German extraction were told they could be excluded. At this time Russia and Germany still had a pact of non aggression so any one of German origin could go and live in that part of Poland that was now under German control or to Germany itself.
My Mother's maiden name was Ekert which was of German or Austrian extraction, I am not sure which. However it would not have been a wise decision to accept the offer.
Anyway that all passed and I then began to take ill. I was coming from work one day and walking through the forest, could not see along the path where I was going. It was very cold and I became very frightened.
So I went next day to the Doctor, a Jewish gentleman that had recentlty been deported from Poland. He said it was due to a lack of vitamins and advised me to take cod liver oil. This I did and after a few weeks I recovered.
Then I remember Easter, can’t remember the exact day now as that was the second year, but some young lads got hold of some vodka. So we had a bit of merry making and larking about.
Summer came and I was sent haymaking. There were a few clearings in the forest set aside for this. I remember about 20 of us went, there was a tractor and some horses. We had to chop down some hay with which we had to make our beds and also our shelter. It was so hot we needed to drink. There was a little pond there and we tried to drink the water through the straws that we made ourselves. I saw a lot of little tiny red worms in the water and would not drink it. Then people started to become ill. One of them was a young lad from Krakow who was very unfortunate as he was on holiday in the Eastern part of Poland, when the Soviet invasions started and so with us Eastern Poles was deported to Siberia. He became very ill through drinking the water and eventually died.
We were about two weeks making hay, after which we were sent back to our barracks.
I was then given another job. It was not particulary dificult. I was to collect resin from the trees into a tin, after the trees had been cut down.
It was June 1941 and Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. We carried on with our work and waited to see what happened but it did lift our spirits a bit.
It got to August and we got to know that the Polish government-in-exile in London had made an agreement with the Soviet authorities in Moscow. General Sikorski had agreed terms with Stalin to release us and form a Polish army in Russia.
As usual I was a bit cheeky, brave or stupid. Our Commandant did not want to know about it. However, he went away somewhere for few days. About 5 kilometres away there was village called Puschmar which had a post office. So I thought I would take advantage of it and took a half-day off work. I collected a list of names - mostly Poles but also a few Ukrainians and a few Jews whom, although in a different compound, I had contact with them.
I was hoping with it just being a small post office I could somehow manage to send my list to the Polish authorities. There was a middle-aged lady behind the counter so I told her about the amnesty and that we were forming an army to help the Soviet Union to fight the Germans. She replied oh yes that is a good idea. As far as I know the telegram was sent.
Walking back I saw what I thought was a dog on the railway track (not a main line, just a single track to take away the timber to wherever the main line). As it was dark, I could not be sure and thought it might be a wolf. I was standing there for about 45 minutes not knowing what to do, thinking to my self is it a dog or is it a wolf. I thought what would a dog be doing there. Fortunately a man appeared so we crossed together and the animal disappeared. So I never did discover what it was but I do know I was very frightened.
Within a week's time I was posted to a horticultural school to learn about trees. The commandant said "Well Tadeusz you are a bit educated and we need people like you". So off I went, along with a middle-aged Polish man who had previously worked in the forests back home in Poland. The other Poles warned us to be careful not to let them attempt to make us in to Soviet citizens. We now have an amnesty, so don’t lose your chance to get away from here and join the Polish army that is being assembled.
I was getting a bit worried about what was happening back at the main camp so one night we decide to run away. I said to my friend "We can’t go at night. There might be wolves". He said "Not this time of the year, we will go very early in the morning, Tadeusz, trust me" he said. He gave me a big stick and put a big knife on the end of it. I said "This won’t scare the wolves". Once again he said "Tadeusz trust me, I was a forest ranger in Poland" and he said no more. He then produced a gun. Where on earth he got that from I don’t know. He could have smuggled it out of Poland or procured it here in Siberia. Anyway, I did not ask but was very relieved to know he had it.
The man's name was Gruchowiec and I met him years later in England, quite by chance, at my 25th wedding anniversary celebrations.
It was now late October 1941 and we set off on a cold morning. After a short while snow began to fall and maybe we were not paying attention but we lost our way. Eventually we saw some very large tree that we recognised and managed to get back to the camp just before dark. We were wet, feeling frightened and yet relieved.
Upon my return I learnt in a few days that many of my fellow countrymen and women were preparing to leave to join the Polish Army. We would be getting wagons and were free to go.
I was sent to get some hay for the horses but managed to get back in time. On the last day I remember it was a Friday and I was packing my case. All my winter clothes I left behind for my father and younger brother. The following morning I got into one of the wagons having been told that in three days time I will be in the Polish army.
We travelled in these goods wagons for about eight kilometres to a place called Ostrypkova where we boarded a passenger train.
From there it was to Svedlosk (now called Katherineberg) and then on to Chelabinsk, which is one of the main stations on Moscow Vladyvostock line.
Amongst us was an older person who was in charge of us. I was still only seventeen at this time and would not be eighteen till December. As far as I know we were supposed to meet a delegation in Chelabinsk, from the Polish embassy, but when we arrived there was no one there to greet us.They were to tell us where to travel to so as to find the Polish army.
I remember it was quite a nice day for the time of year and I and a few others had a few roubles, so in the afternoon went to a upstairs restaurant. This turned out to be my first cultural meal since leaving Poland and it also turned out to be my last for a long time.
When the night drew in, we did not know where to stop, nor when the next train would arrive to take us to our next stop. As we had no choice we slept on the waiting room floor. I remember the station had a bit of a stage with a Nickelodeon on it.
In the morning a Russian woman could be heard crying, someone had stolen her boots during the night. That must have been about the end of November 1941. Anyway, we could not get our fares to travel further south so we stayed here for about 7 days. All the trains that came in were full, something to do with the military. At this time Hitler’s armies were not far from Moscow. It was all the more difficult for us as we were in a group. To board the train one had to push and shove. I remember an awful incident involving a Russian gentleman who slipped on the ice and fell under the wheels of the train and both his legs were chopped of.
Eventually we got on a train and started travelling south. I recall patches of earth, the climate was changing and getting warmer. We got as far as Aktyubinsk, where we had to change trains. Don’t know why we stopped there but from there we had no directions, all we knew was that we had to go south, towards Tashkent, where it was nice and warm with figs and oranges growing, so I had been told. Unfortunately we lost ourselves and I remember the three of us at a small junction station somewhere between Aktyubinsk and Aralisk just north of the Aral Sea. Where the rest of the group was we obviously did not know and what was worse, we had no documents as they were with the others of the main group. I stood in the station and was approached by a woman who asked me to give her my hand. It suddenly dawned on me she was a gypsy. I said "Go away I don’t want to listen to any fairy tales:". But she was very insistent and took hold of my hand. She said "Young man I have been to Poland, you will have a long journey and travel over many seas. You will marry a lady who is not your own nationality."
At the time I found it very strange. I was not to know I would be going across the Caspian Sea, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and eventually on to England. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think anything like that.
At this point in time the comfort of a passenger train was exchanged for a goods wagon and we three managed to get to Aralisk where we caught up with the rest of the group. I got to know that someone had been in touch with the Polish delegation and told us to make our way to Tashkent.
Upon arriving at Tashkent in the evening I volunteered to go for some soup. It was quite a long way and when I got back to the train station the train had gone. There we were, just two of us, with lots of soup but no train and no people. Looking back I can see the funny side of it and have often recounted the incident to various people I have met. At the time though, it was not quite so funny.
About three hours later another train came in. I approached the stationmaster who said "Take it down the line and you will be sure to find your group waiting at some station". We travelled till morning and eventually caught up with them in a railway siding.
We continued our journey: Kazakstan behind us and on through Uzbekistan and ending up in the Kyrgyzstan town of Jalalabad which was about 50 kilometres from the Chinese border.
A lot of time was lost, as we were zig zagging through the mountains. It was December 1941 and very muddy. I remember after disembarking from the train we had to go to the washhouse to be deloused and our clothes went to be disinfected. There was a female receptionist there and she did not even bat an eyelid as she handed back the clothes to all these naked men standing there.
We put our clothes back on, which stank of disinfectant. We were given some kind of food for breakfast and we marched towards the Pamir mountains. I remember seeing all the cotton fields and snow in the hllls high up and arrived in a village by the name of Mikaluwka, which sounds a bit Ukrainian. As I understood, there were some deputies from the Ukraine that Stalin had deported there and that was how it got its name. The next morning (5th of January 1942) I remember a local resident with an adult goat tied to a post along with two smaller ones. He took some milk from it, mixed it with some other things and made some breakfast from it for myself and Mr Gruchowiec, the Forest ranger who was with me at the time.
We were put into a stable that had been used for keeping camels. I had one shirt which was the only one that I managed to obtain whilst in Siberia, I had kept the shirt wrapped up all this time and had not worn it. It was now time to sell it as we were hungry and I sold it to a lady for a loaf of bread. We kept that bread for three days until there was none left. A couple of my colleagues decided at night to go and chop some tobacco that was growing in the fields. There was also a storeroom with some corn in it. One of our little group picked the lock. We cooked the corn and ate it. Next day I had terrible pains and dysentery.
We knew if we stayed here we would die and had to get back to Jalalabad to get treatment.
(Note: At this point my Father did not mention the dysentry any more, so whether they got treatment in Jalalabad or not I do not know, but they did all survive it.)
The bread had gone so all we had to take with us was the tobacco, which I tried to exchange for bread on the black market. Just as I was doing the transaction a policeman came. I ran off and jumped over a wall but as I did so I must have caught the policeman’s wrist with my foot, as I damaged his watch. He caught up with me and took me to the police station. There were two of them there, one dark skinned and of local origin, the other white skinned and of Russian origin.
They said "Now what has happened young man?" I said "I have been sent here to find the Polish army, so I can help the Soviet Union to fight Hitler. Where is the Polish Army? What am I doing here? At least in Siberia I was chopping timber and doing something useful. What do you want me to do die here? That won’t make me a soldier." They had a look at me and one of them said, "You will stop the night here tonight behind bars and in the morning will be released".
In the morning after being freed, I looked for my friends and the most likely place to look was the train station and that is where I found a few of them.
One said we have a job. I asked where, to which the reply was: a restaurant. They want us to chop the ice on the river, so it can be stored for use in the summer. We reported next morning to the restaurant manager and he came out with a big bowl of green tomato soup. There were about six or seven of us. It was about 1 kilometer to the river. The only problem for us was that the ice broke, the water splashed up and so we got very wet. Upon our return in the evening, we were again given a big bowl of soup.
Our problem now was where were we going to sleep. The answer was of course back to the railway station. There had to be some empty wagons somewhere. So we sneaked into the railway sidings and looked for a wagon with an open door. Once one was found, we settled down for the night. First night was ok. On the second night as we prepared to go to sleep, some tough looking Kyrgyz came in and laid down a lot of money and I mean a lot. I was lying on a rack high up and suddenly one of my colleagues coughed and gave our presence away. We all jumped up and scarpered as they came after us, one of them had a knife. With me being at the top of the rack I was the last one out. On some of the carriages the door opened inwards, so I just managed to struggle to get through and escape. That was that and we had to look for another place.
We decided on the platform near the booking office and still wet of course, I slept on the concrete, under a sort of bench.
The next day it was back to the restaurant for a meal, I say a meal but it was really just a bowl of soup and then to work ice breaking.
Returning from work we saw a dying camel that had been left at the side of the road. Someone said "Right. we're going to have meat tonight".
A few of us went back to the camel. I don’t know if it had just died or someone had finished the animal off but it was dead. We took a large lump of camel meat and immediately realised we now had the problem of how and where to cook it. We once again headed for the railway yard. One daring person acquired some grease that was used on the train wheels, he also got some tins and we cooked it in one of the wagons. It must have been ok as I am still alive to tell the story.
We carried on daily going to the restaurant and ice breaking and one day I managed to get some bread. I wrapped it up and took it with me. That night whilst sleeping in the wagon someone came in and stole my bread. I caught him and just managed to get it back as he fled. A while later the same thing happened again and as I went after him a friend called out, "Tadek leave it, let him go, he has a razor"So that was that; I lost my bread. Along with my toothpaste that was wrapped with it. The bread we were actually saving to give someone else, it was not for ourselves.
Next day when we went to the restaurant for our daily bowl of soup before going of ice breaking, one of us noticed a building and warmth coming from it. It was a bakery. We went round the back and found a ladder. Someone climbed the ladder and looked into the attic which had a layer of sand in it. We slept in that attic for about 3 nights and it was heaven. It was nice and warm and our clothes dried out from the day's work. Unfortunately we were found out and kicked out and told the attic would not support our weight. So, back we went to the railway wagons again.
It was now towards the end of February and one morning someone said, "I have heard that someone from the Polish Army is going to be here today or tomorrow". I decided to hang around and, sure enough, someone turned up. I thought at the very least I will be able to get some bread. I went down to the railway station in Jalalabad and, sure enough, a bit later a train pulled in full of Polish soldiers in uniforms.
I spoke to someone in authority who asked "I suppose you're hungry", to which I replied "Yes". He said "We will feed you, but our commander has instructions not to take anymore into the army as there is not enough food to feed all the recruits".
He said, "Sneak into the wagon and queue for some food, you will be ok don’t worry". I must have looked a bit out of place in my civilian clothes and everyone else in army uniforms.
I travelled on the train through the night to a place called Suzak. I remember sleeping in a sort of tent underneath some trees and it was so cold my hair froze to the side of the tent. I was given some Russian bread called Suhari and within a day I took ill.
All I remember is lying under what I think was a school stage. Someone came in and said "he is poorly". I was taken into the semi dessert to what was a private house or small hospital. There were lots of people lying there, some wounded some dying. There were beds everywhere.
At this point I did not know what was wrong with me. Actually it was Typhus. I don’t know how long I was there but one day I was released.
I remember walking down the stairs holding onto the banister and going out into the yard. I walked over to an area where I could sit down and drink some green tea. As I sat there I thought to myself, where am I? I have been in the Polish army only two days, though not officially accepted yet, do not even know the name of my unit, though I could remember it was recognisance. Where is my unit, how do I get to them. All there was here was the hospital and nothing else around me.
Whilst I was sat there thinking, I could hear horses pulling carts. I knew they were horses as there were not many around, you only mostly saw and heard camels and donkeys. Mmm I thought, that must be the Polish army and sure enough it was. I went over to where they were and put my hand up. One of them asked me what I wanted so I explained all of what had happened to me. "What is your Unit ?" he asked, so I said recognisance. He said "Oh yes, recognisance, we will take you" and thus I rejoined them.
It took a few months to go through the process of recruitment and I was placed to train for the observer corps. I was in the 5th division. We trained every day, 20 kilometre walks and that sort of thing. The weather by now was very hot. We were weak due to a lack of food and thought our officers had gone mad, sending us up and down the mountains like this. Unknown to us at the time, the plan was that if the Russians would not allow us to join the British forces in the Far East, then we would get there by force.
Naturally we were armed and the Russians wanted us to go to the front and fight with them. The Polish government-in-exile in London demanded that General Anders (who had no faith in Stalin) be allowed to lead us to the Middle East and in due course, that is what happened.
It was about 12th or 13th August 1942 when we had to give up our arms and take the risk that faced us. Either being sent back to Siberia or joining the British forces in the Middle East.
We marched to Jalalabad, from where we caught a passenger train taking us through Tashkent, Samarkand, Asahabad right to the Caspian Sea port of Krasnovodsk. The terrain was red desert sand and the journey on the train took about two days. Whilst on the train, we were given British canned food. Of course we ate as much as we could and by the time we got to Krasnovodsk a lot of us were ill with dysentery.
I remember getting off the train a little distance away from the port amidst the sand. We were told to hand in any Russian currency, otherwise we would not be allowed to leave the Soviet Union. We stayed there in the baking sun and that was the first time we saw British officers. They were wearing shorts and out of my ignorance I turned to a colleague and said "Who is that scout, where is he from?" to which my colleague replied "Don’t be silly, Tadeusz, they are British officers". So there were British officers, Polish officers and Russian officers supervising.
Before we boarded the ship I thought I would take a chance and go and have a swim in the sea. Where I lived in Poland it was a long way from any coastline and I had never seen the sea, never mind swim in it. All I had been used to was the rivers. So I dashed into the Caspian Sea not realising what I was going to get. When I came out I was almost black of course, as there was a lot of oil in it. Still, I had my swim. It was getting towards evening and we started to board the ship. There were a lot of civilians too. Mothers with children etc who all wanted to get to Persia and freedom. They were crying, begging to be allowed to board but the Russians said no. The Polish officers were saying "Let them squeeze in" but the Russians still said no. However quite a lot did manage to get on board and the ship was well overloaded.
Next morning on the Caspian Sea, it was a nice day, there was a band playing and I realised it was the 15th of August which is the anniversary of the miracle on the Vistula. This is when Polish forces well inferior in numbers, defeated the Bolsheviks on the Vistula river in 1920.
The ship was so overcrowded we all thought it would sink. There were only a couple of toilets on it and so all around us was human excreta. Almost everyone had dysentery as our stomachs could not take the food we had been eating. That was how we got to Pahlavi the following day. A small boat came alongside and we had to step on a plank and onto the small boat that took us into the port of Pahlavi.
There on the beach there were shacks made from reeds. The next day we were stripped naked, shaved all round and given new clothing (shorts) and Australian hats. We were also given 15 Tomans (Persian currency) which to us was quite a lot of money. That for me was the beginning of getting back to civilisation. The difference between the Soviet Union and Persia was like hell and heaven, We knew we were free, could breath fresh air, were not hungry and the rest was unknown to us as we were in a camp away from the civilians. My health was not too bad compared to some others and I recovered quite quickly.
From here I was selected to go to Britain and join the Air Force. Whilst in the Soviet Union I did have some help from local ordinary Russians who were very kind and, to be honest,I may not have survived without their help. Russakov, in particular, gave me many good tips on how to survive in Siberia. I have no grudge against them. My anger is only towards the Soviet communist authorities who wanted to annexe that part of Poland, where I had my home.
Not everyone was deported, though the total number of deportees was somewhere in the region of 1 and a half to 2 million, of which many hundreds of thousands did not survive. I suspect that my family was on the list of the local communists, as my father Wladimir had volunteered to fight in the war against the Bolsheviks in 1920 and obviously this did not go down well with the Russians.
I survived the Middle East quite comfortably until my selection for the Air Force and after a few months was on a ship bound for England and stepped ashore in Liverpool to start a new life.
The interview finished at the point where my father Tadeusz arrived in Pahlavi. After his arrival there he spent a few months recuperating and training. He travelled through Egypt, Palestine and other parts of the Middle East until finally sailing from Durban South Africa, bound for England. After the war his family returned to Poland, though not to the same part, as that had been conceded to Stalin at the Yalta conference and was incorporated into the Ukraine. They settled in Wroclaw and in 1958 his parents (my grandparents) were allowed to leave Poland and emigrate to England.
I write this in memory of my Father and all the others that were forcibly taken from their homes, never to return, many of whom perished in Siberia. One can only imagine the sufferings they had to endure.
Polish: Bronze Cross of Merit, with swords