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A Siberian deportee, a soldier of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Carpathian Rifle Division - Polish 2nd Corps

I was born on 15 June 1926 in Odelsk, a town located in the Grodno region (now Belarus), located not far from the current Polish-Belarusian border. I attended school in Białystok, in a 7-class school.

The Germans invaded Poland from the west on 1 September 1939, and the Russians invaded from the east on 17 September 1939. They divided Poland between them. In the Russian-controlled area, the plan to ethnically-cleanse the area soon took effect with the first of four mass deportations to Siberia that were carried out in 1940 and 1941.

In February 1940, the NKVD (now known as KGB) came to take the family. They only arrested my mother and older brother Albert. At that time, I was at my grandparents in Nowosiółki. They came for me by sleigh. And then all together, we were taken to Kazakhstan by rail – in cattle cars.

They had been given less than an hour to pack what they could, without knowing where they were being taken. They took what they could carry and had to leave the rest behind.

They were loaded into cattle cars with 50-60 other people. This included infants, toddlers, children, teens, adults, and seniors. Most of the adults and seniors were women. The cattle car had two shelves at either end, where people could sit or sleep – the rest had to make do with the floor. There was a cast iron stove, but they soon ran our of wood to fuel it. There was also a hole in the floor that served as a toilet.

They travelled like this for weeks, and were given some water, stale bread, and watery soup, only a few times. When someone died, their bodies were cast out next to the tracks and left there. Many infants and elders did not survive this journey.

They were settled in the Pavlodar District, first in a kolkhoz, and then in the town of Żelezienka nad Irtyszem. My father (also Albert) as a policeman had been imprisoned by the Soviets since the beginning of the war.

After the signing of the Sikorski-Majski Agreement (30 July 1941) and the announcement of the “amnesty”, my mother Witalia, my brother Albert, and I, left Żelezienka by boat on the Irtysz River to Omsk, and from there by railway to Buzułuk. My parents and older brother joined the Polish army. Father became a soldier of the 5th Border Infantry Division of the Polish 2nd Corps, whose commander was Colonel Nicodemus Sulik.

I was too young to join the army, so I became a junak (a cadet) and trained with them through Iran, Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt. In Iraq I was assigned as a radio operator to the 3rd Carpathian Communications Battalion of the Polish 2nd Corps.

My parents and older brother were eventually transferred to Italy. As a soldier of the communications platoon,, at the age of 18, I took part in the battles of the Polish 2nd Corps on the Apennine Peninsula (Monte Cassino-Loreto-Bologna).

My family successfully survived the entire Italian campaign. My brother Albert served in the 3DSK Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment. My mother served as a paramedic in the 5th Field Hospital. As new wounded soldiers would arrive at the hospital, she had always searched for her husband and sons among the wounded.

After the surrender of Germany, still in uniform, I participated in convoying German prisoners from Naples to Liverpool. Then I joined the Polish Resettlement Corps and lived in a camp in Norfolk County, where I continued my schooling. Meanwhile, my family settled in London. I received a scholarship that allowed me to complete a 3-year technical school in Portsmouth. After passing the final exams, I was hired by the General Elektric Company.

I married an English woman named Joy Batram. We raised four daughters together and had nine grandchildren and 4 grandchildren. Now, as a widower, I have been spending summer holidays for over 10 years, and sometimes also winter holidays in my homeland, in Bialystok and in the village of Rogowo.

I live in Reading, about 70 kilometers from London. I have Polish and British citizenship. For many years I have been involved with the former “Karpaczyk”, soldiers of the Polish 2nd Corps. In March 2015, I was appointed President of the Veterans Association of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division.

For fighting in Italy, I received the Cross of Valour, the Monte Cassino Memorial Cross, the Military Medal, the Italian Star and three other British medals. Recently, in recognition of war merits, I received two medals: “Pro Patria” and “Defender of the Fatherland 1939-1945”.

Source: Interview online at "Gazeta w Choroszczy"

(translated from the original Polish)

Copyright: Szmidt family

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