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Wladyslaw was born on March 9th, 1918, in the village of Bielsk Podlaski, eastern Poland. He was one of many Polish citizens who were forcibly deported to Siberia when the Russians invaded Poland. The Russian plan to ethnically-cleanse the area took effect with four mass deportations to Siberia that were carried out in 1940 and 1941.


Wladyslaw was forcibly taken from his home at gunpoint, by Russian soldiers. Given less than an hour to pack, without knowing where he was being taken. He took what he could carry and had to leave the rest behind.


Wladyslaw was taken to the railway station and 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 out 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.


When they reached the work camp in Siberia, they were told that this is where they would eventually die, but in the meantime, they had to work in order to earn their daily ration of bread. Children as young as 13 were set to work in the forests – cutting branches from the trees that had been cut down.


Aside from the extreme cold in winter, and extreme heat in summer, they had to contend with hordes of mosquitoes and black flies, as well as infestations of bed bugs in the barracks. There were no medical facilities in these camps, and diseases ran rampant, leading to a high death toll.


In June 1941, Germany turned on its ally, Russia. Stalin then quickly changed tactics and allied himself with the west so that the allies could help him defeat the Germans. This led to the signing of the Sikorski-Majewski agreement between Poland and Russia that called for the freeing of Poles imprisoned in POW camps and labour camps in the USSR, and the formation of a Polish Army in the southern USSR.


The news of this ‘amnesty’ did not reach every camp, but where it did become known, the men and boys soon made plans to make their way south to join the army. For most, this meant walking thousands of kilometers and only occasionally getting on a train for part of the journey.  Many did not make it, and those who did were emaciated skeletons by the time they got there.

General Anders was in charge of the army, and he tried hard to get the Russians to provide the food and equipment they had promised. When this became more and more impossible, he negotiated the right to evacuate the army to Persia, where the British would provide what was needed.

There were 2 mass evacuations: in March/April 1942, and in September 1942. Then Stalin changed his mind and closed the borders. Those who had not been evacuated were now stuck in the USSR.


The evacuation took place by ship over the Caspian Sea to Pahlavi in Persia (now Iran). The ships that were used were oil tankers and coal ships, and other ships that were not equipped to handle passengers. They were filthy and lacked even the basic necessities, like water and latrines. The soldiers and civilians filled these ships to capacity for the 1-2 day trip. When there were storms, the situation got even worse – with most of the passengers suffering sea sickness.

Wladyslaw joined the Polish 2nd Corps and was sent to North Africa, engaging in the desert campaign against the “German Afrika Corps”. Following the African campaign, Wladyslaw was sent to the Italian front. Becoming a tank commander, he quickly found himself fighting in the battle of Monte Cassino. He was wounded on two separate occasions during the fierce battle, being the only surviving crew member of the tanks he commanded.


Wladyslaw emigrated to Canada in 1946 on a two-year work contract. He worked on Alberta farms near Cremona and Mossleigh, where he met his future wife, Nancy. The couple settled in Calgary, raising three children – Edward, Richard, and Michelle.

Wladyslaw had a strong desire to cultivate his Polish heritage and strengthen the Polish immigrant communities in Calgary. He became an active member of the Polish Combatants` Association #18 shortly after its creation in 1947 and was the President of the Polish Credit Union for many years. His leadership helped build the Polish Community Hall adjacent to the Polish Catholic Church in NW Calgary, establishing a library and gathering place for the community. As the city grew, Walter saw a need to expand his heritage into a multicultural setting. He helped champion the construction of a new Polish Canadian Cultural Centre, becoming a member of the building committee as treasurer and securing provincial funding. As a proud Canadian and Calgarian, Walter was pleased to witness the many multicultural and generational events held at this facility. Although Walter will be deeply missed, his achievements will live on.

Wladyslaw passed away in Calgary on July 8, 2012, at the age of 94 years.

Copyright: Niewinski family

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