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Wanda (Godawa) SZWENDER

(Wanda's story was originally published on the Canadian Polish Historical Society of Edmonton, Alberta website

and is repeated here with their permission. 




Wanda Szwender (nee Godawa) was born in 1926 as the oldest of four siblings in the settlement of Batorówka, in the district of Horoczów. Her father, Antoni Godawa, was a military settler married to Franciszka Glowacka. The following is an account of her life:


"In the settlement I completed 4 years of elementary school, I attended grade 5 in Beresteczko, boarding with SS. Nazaretanki ( the Sisters Servants of Nazareth), and attended the sixth grade in the town of "Lobaczówka".  The tranquil Kresowian life was interrupted by the outbreak of the war in 1939.


"February 10th 1940 was a terrible day, which I will never forget until my dying day".  Her entire family and the families of other military settlers were loaded into cattle cars at the Haliczany station and taken deep into Russia.


After three weeks of a nightmarish journey, the train stopped at the Kotlas station in Arkhangelsk Oblast. From there, her family was taken by sleigh, over a frozen river, to the Charytanowo camp. "There, Daddy worked in the forest, hauling trees to the shore of the river, and we children gathered various berries, and mushrooms in the forest during autumn" - this helped the family survive the local poverty. At the end of September 1940, Wanda and her siblings were enrolled in the local school.


It seemed that this hopeless state in the far north would never end. Then on June 22nd 1941, the exiles received joyful news that Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Soon after, an agreement between the Polish government in London and Stalin was reached, resulting in the announcement of the so-called ‘Amnesty’ for all Poles deported to Russia. They could leave the place of exile and join the Polish Army that was forming in the south of Russia. All deportees were full of enthusiasm. "We left the camp on October 14th by a small boat and we arrived in Kotlas. There, we met many Polish families, hungry, ragged, just as we were, who were waiting for a freight train to take us all south. Again, the nightmarish journey in overcrowded wagons, where, hunger, cold and lice tormented us. At the end of October, we arrived in Tashkent.  From there, we travelled to Kagan, and then to the Engels kolkhoz (state collective farm) in the region of Kamasza. At the kolkhoz, we lived in a clay hut with no doors or windows. It was very cold. We would light a fire using some stalks, but the smoke was so bad that we could not sleep or breathe. At the collective farm, we picked cotton. Our stay there was not long; we were soon transported to a second kolkhoz near Tashkent. This kolkhoz was called Pierwyj May (1st of May Collective Farm). Daddy went to work in the stable, and I together with my mother and sister picked cotton. For our work, we received a bit of flour, from which mother made "lepioszki” (pancakes). Christmas 1941 found us at this state farm. These holidays were very poor. There was a severe winter, and we were constantly freezing. There was a shortage of fuel, warm clothing and growing hunger. Living on the collective farm grew worse from day to day. To survive, we were forced to search for frozen carrots, turnips and potatoes in nearby fields. Epidemics of typhoid fever broke out.


When rumors reached us that 150 km away in Wrewskoje, the Polish army was being formed, and that they were accepting young boys to "labor battalions" - Junaks and the girls to "Junaczki" (Cadets).  We walked with mommy to Tashkent. From there we took a train to Wreswskoje, where my brothers were accepted into the Junaks school (cadets) and my sister and I to the female counterpart of the Junak school (female cadets). My mother then returned to the kolkhoz to get daddy.


One of the most beautiful days from the time of the deportation was Easter on April 5th 1942. The crowds of praying, sobbing people, thanking God for the miracle of salvation and the Easter table in the square, prepared for us by the military; it was like a fairy tale, after more than two years of suffering and mistreatment.


Unfortunately, our joy was short-lived. My older brother Edzio died of dysentery on May 15th. I and my sister Hela, together with all the female cadets (junaczki) were sent to Guzar and then to Karkin Batasz, where the main Cadet School (Szkola Junaczek) as well as several Polish orphanages were located. The conditions were terrible. We lived in collapsing Uzbek mud huts. The heat was terrible, and there was shortage of water and food. We were divided into grades, and we began regular studies and training. I was placed in grade 7 (the 1st year of middle school). Heat and illness hampered our studies. Again, joyous news. Bishop Gawlina (bishop of the Polish Army) visited us. On June 18th, many of us received the Sacrament of Confirmation.


Epidemics of typhoid fever and dysentery were reaping its harvest. On July 13th 1942, at the age of 14, my sister Hela died. Bishop Gawlina appealed to the authorities, to get the children out of this "valley of death" as soon as possible. A group of children was moved to Kitab, and the rest to Guzar. Very exhausted by dysentery and icterus, I ended up in Guzar. We waited impatiently for the arrival of General Anders, who was scheduled to visit our camp. He was our savior, who brought us out of the "house of bondage." On August 11th, we left Guzar, and on August 14th we arrived in Krasnovodsk. On the 16th, we were loaded on a ship, and after two days of travel, being completely exhausted, we reached the port of Pahlavi (Anzali) in Persia (Iran).


After two years of Soviet poverty, the well-stocked stores, and their cleanliness enchanted us. Our days were filled with drills and swimming in the sea. Fresh sea air, good nutrition, including various types of fruit, improved our health. Unfortunately, many of us were very exhausted and sick and remained there forever.


Pahlavi was a spellbinding fairy tale for me, which lasted until our departure in October for Teheran. The road initially lead through beautiful landscapes, full of greenery and flowers, vineyards and rice fields. In the distance, we could see the beautiful Elburz Mountains, covered in vegetation up to their peaks. After several hours of driving, the landscape changed and we found ourselves in huge rocky mountains, above precipices with less and less vegetation. Then we entered a sandy and sparsely inhabited plateau. We reached Teheran by way of Qazvin.


In late October, I quit the cadets and moved to the camp where my mom and brother were, also in Tehran. Daddy went with the army to Egypt, but I remained in the camp with my family, where I attended school and joined the Girl Guides. There, I finished grade 7.


On August 21st 1943, with sadness we left our beautiful camp. We went by train from Teheran to the transit camp in Ahwaz, where I continued my education (I was in grade 8). Again another order of departure came. On December 1st 1943, we were loaded on the "Batory" (the Polish passenger ship) and, after six days at sea, we reached the shores of Karachi, India, where we were placed in another transit camp, fenced with a barbed wire. We lived in large tents. It was very hot, and at night, the jackals howled in desert.


I spent almost the whole year in this camp. The time was filled with studies, scouting, tours, scout camp, and a jamboree where even British and Indian scouts participated. We lived there until September 1944. From this camp, many people went to Africa, but I together with my mom and brother was sent to the Polish settlements in Valivade-Kolhapur, India. Here we stayed until November 1947, were I completed middle school (junior high) and then pedagogical high school.


Unfortunately, we could not return to Poland, because our Eastern Borderlands were "sold" to the Bolsheviks. In November 1947, we joined daddy in England and in July the following year, our entire family emigrated to Canada.


We arrived in Halifax on July 16th 1948 and took the train heading west the next day. After several days of traveling, we arrived at a small station in Lavoy, Alberta. We initially lived on Mr. Duke’ farm - a farmer, who signed the papers for our family to come to Canada.


Daddy went to work in the mines in BC, near Nelson, and my mother went to work in the town of Vegreville, AB. My brother, Boleslaw stayed on the farm helping Mr. Duke and attended school in the 1948-49 school year. I stayed on the farm for three months and then went to Edmonton. In Edmonton, I got a job in Mr. Szpil’s restaurant, as a waitress, and here I met many Poles, former soldiers who fought in Polish 2nd Corps in Italy. I also met my future husband, Wladyslaw Szwender, former soldier 3DSK (3rd Carpathian Rifle Division) who arrived in Canada two years earlier.


I got married on January 7th 1950.  Subsequently, my family began to expand; on 20/10/1950, our first son Wladyslaw Jr. was born, 02/06/1954, our second son, Jerzy, was born, and on 03/08/1957 I gave birth to our third son, Leszek.  On 17/10/1959, our daughter Joanna was born and on 02/11/1962, our second daughter, Ala, came into the world. After getting married, my whole life was consumed by running the house and raising our children. Soon after I arrived in Edmonton, I got involved in the work of the SPK (Polish Combatants Association), Branch No.6, and later, when the Women's Axillary was founded in 1958, I held various positions on the executive. I was the chairperson of the Women's Axillary for the years 1977-1979. For volunteer work in the Polish community, I received, in 1962, the silver badge of the World Federation of the SPK. In 1975, I received the Silver Cross of Merit of the SPK and in later years, the Silver Cross of KPK-OA (Canadian Polish Congress, Alberta Branch)


In 1966, when our children were a little older, I started working part-time at the Polish Hall. I worked there until 1982 when a family tragedy and poor health did not allow me to work any longer.  On June 19th 1981, our son Leszek died tragically in Garner Lake. In May of 1982 my dad died, and three years later my mom.


During those long years of residing in Edmonton, I was able to visit Poland three times: in 1964, 1975 and 1987. I also travelled to Italy with my husband on three occasions for the anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Monte Cassino, where he fought in 1944. Our children grew up, and gave us 11 grandchildren who are the joy of my life. 


Text by: Wanda Szwender 


The above text is based on the hand-written biography of Wanda M. Szwender, as well as excerpts of her story contained in the book " Z Kresów Wschodnich na Wygnanie" (From the Eastern Borderlands into Exile) published by "Ognisko Rodzinne Osadników Krtesowych" in London, UK, 1996. 


Translated from the Polish by: Helen Fita

Unfortunately, no descriptions were provided for the photos.

Copyright: Canadian Polish Historical Society of Edmonton, Alberta

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