Maria (Puzynowska) URBANIAK
She was born, Maria Puzynowska, on May 11th 1911 in Wilno, and lived on Mickiewicz Street. In 1911, Wilno was part of Russia, and remained so until 1918, when it was returned to Poland.
Her Mother was an art teacher in grade school and high school. Her father was a forestry engineer who did research in the local forests. Life was very uncertain. There was a lot of moving around, hiding, and escaping from dangerous situations.
Her father was arrested by the Bolsheviks on false charges and taken to prison. It is unknown if he was killed or died of typhus, but he never returned to his family. Her mother searched for a grave but never found it.
With the hardship of her father's death, her mother could not support her three daughters, Helena, Maria, and Eugenia. Maria and Eugenia were placed in an orphanage temporarily until she could provide for them. Helena stayed with her mother to help in whatever way she could. The orphanage was transformed into a school. Her mother came to retrieve them in 1921, but they continued to attend school there.
Maria excelled in school and transferred to a convent school run by the Sisters of the Visitation. She attended school there until 1930. She then went to University and, in 1938, she achieved her Master’s Degree in Law.
In April, she took the exam to become a judge in the juvenile courts. In October of the same year, she engaged in a rather heated discussion with two Russian soldiers, who were saying rather loudly in public, that Poland was "always a colony of Russia." Maria informed them that they were "mistaken." Shortly thereafter, her friends told her that the Russians were looking for her to arrest her, and they advised her to run away to Ryga, in Latvia. But she refused to leave, because she and her mother shared the same name, Maria, and she feared that if they didn't find her, they would most probably arrest her mother.
They came at 1AM and started to search the house, not saying what they were looking for, but turned the house upside down. They said they needed to take her "for a few minutes to the office" and would bring her back. She knew she was going to be arrested, so she dressed warmly. She asked, "Where are you taking me? Will I come back here?" to which they replied, "Sure! You'll come back here...very shortly...." She was then taken to the local jail where she was kept for 3 weeks. Her family tried to see her and bring her food there, but they were told she was gone.
She was moved around, first to Bialystok, and then to Wilejka Powjatowa, where she was for 9 months. Then, with a group of other prisoners, without a trial, she was sentenced to 5 years hard labor in Kazahkstan for "contrarevolution." She and the other prisoners were transported in cattle cars on a train, and after working in camps along the way, ultimately spent two and a half years in the camp in Kazahkstan. Life in the camp was a matter of survival. Many died, many were sick, all were starved for food, and food was metered out by the amount of work performed. If one was sick and could not work, one did not eat.
The Russian Government declares "amnesty" to prisoners after General Sikorski met with Stalin and negotiated their release. In October, she was released and given a one-way ticket to Orenburg. She and her friend from prison, Wala, stuck together for safety, support and companionship. In Orenburg they sat in the train station and at night were forced to sleep outdoors on the ground. They were told they had to find a place to sleep, or they would get sick or hurt, because it was dangerous. A stranger told them the way to the house of a very good woman, who would give them a warm place to sleep. That woman helped them and told them that if they went to the Kolchoz, they could probably find work and at least have food and a place to sleep.
So they went, found work at the Kolchoz, and from there, she regularly came into Orenburg to find out the latest news about the war. She heard that the Polish army was being formed in Jangiul, near Tashkent, where General Anders had his headquarters. She met a man who was originally from Wilno too, and he took her to Jangiul, where she joined the Polish Army.
She became a court reporter in the military court and eventually was with the last part of the Polish army leaving Russia to Persia, Iraq, and Palestine. While in Persia she met Boleslaw Urbaniak, the older brother of her future husband, Jozef Urbaniak. He told her that his brother had been imprisoned in Miranda del Ebro, and he was trying to find him, and that the last he had heard, Jozef was in Scotland. As fate would have it, Maria became ill with malaria while in Persia and was eventually transferred to Scotland, because the climate was better there for malaria. She promised Bolek that she would try to find Jozef for him, and to let him know if he was alive and well.
Maria went to London to work in the Ministry of Justice of the Polish Government in Exile. She went to Scotland, found Jozef, and he proposed to her the day he met her. Maria lived in London for the next six years, and Jozef, who was stationed in Scotland, would travel from Scotland to London to see her and go back in time for duty.
Jozef and Maria were married in Scotland, then lived in London.
Their first daughter, Anna was born, May 5th, in London.
The Committee for the Education of Poles in Great Britain was formed, and after the recognition of the Communist Government in Poland, any Poles who served under British command could choose:
1) To return to Poland, and the British Government would pay the cost of relocation.
2) To stay in Great Britain, where the British Government would help with re-training and job placement,
3) To emigrate wherever in the world they chose, and the British Government would pay for passage.
Maria and Jozef chose to emigrate to the U.S., because it was a part of the world neither of them had ever seen, and because it was a free country. When they came to Seattle, Maria decided to go to Library School and Jozef had already learned a new trade of dental technology in England, so he continued his trade here.
Their second daughter, Ewa, was born in Seattle, August 7th.
In 1953, the Polish Home Association was in somewhat of a crisis, and there was talk of selling it. Maria was against that and was quite outspoken about it, and convinced the Polish Community that this was greatly needed, especially for future generations of Poles that would come.
Over the years, both Maria and Jozef were very active in the Polish Home Association, both serving as officers, both active in the Veteran's Group, Maria was active in the Kolo Pan and served as an advisor on the very successful cookbook, "Cooking with a Polish Touch" published by the Kolo Pan.
To the present:
Maria ended up getting her Master's in Librarianship, working at the University of Washington Suzzalo Library Slavic Cataloging Section, until her retirement in 1978.
She passed away at age 97, in May 2009. She had remained in Seattle for 56 years and had the satisfaction of helping to preserve this "little piece of Polish culture" so far from her homeland.
1941 Maria in the Polish 2nd Corps
1944 Maria in Iran
1944 Maria in Iraq
Copyright: Urbaniak family