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Wolf Frydland

by his daughter Morgan Frydland


Wolf was born in 1914 in Rawa Mazowiecka - a town in Łódź Voivodship, located SW of Warsaw – and grew up in a large family of eight. He rarely travelled more than a few miles, occasionally going as far as Warsaw, a distance of maybe thirty or forty miles. He had little or no experience of electric lighting or motor cars.

He went to school until the age of eleven, as schooling beyond that was too expensive, and he was needed to help out at home.  He soon followed in his brothers' footsteps, travelling to Warsaw to look for work: waiting tables, working in a greengrocers, etc. He shared a room in Warsaw with a couple of other lads, and started training to become a cobbler. Wolf was then about seventeen.

The leatherwork was heavily unionized and it was difficult to get a job without union involvement. Wolf joined the union and waited to find the agreed position. After waiting some time and with money nearly gone, he decided to find it himself. He no longer saw any advantage in belonging to the union, and within a couple of weeks he succeeded in finding a job.

On 1 September 1939, the Germans invaded from the west, and on 17 September 1939, the Russians invaded from the east, effectively carving up the country between them. 

Wolf was in Warsaw on the German side of the new partition, and the Germans used him and many other civilians to make war repairs; filling in ditches and craters. These work details were often 8 hours - but they were often forced  to work another 8 or 16 hours.

Wolf feared for his life and tried to persuade one brother and his younger sister to run away with him to the Russian side.  This was a dangerous undertaking, but no more than staying in German-occupied Poland. He had a fiancé, but she had died in first days of Warsaw being taken by the Germans. Only his sister decided to go with him - the brother decided to stay in Warsaw, where he later died.

Wolf and his sister made it to the no-man's land between the German and Russian areas, and spent several rain-drenched days, with a large number of other people, trying to persuade the Russians to let them through.  They slept on the floor of an old building with some 30 or 40 families, sharing their money to buy food from the market.  Eventually, the Russians sent them to different work camps in Siberia.

Their journey started in cattle trucks on a train, and lasted several weeks.  When they arrived at the work camp, they had to build the huts they would live in. Russian political prisoners, who had already finished their sentences but had to live their remaining years in the area, guarded the camps.

Those Poles who came there with soft hands because they were unused to hard physical labour, or those who had a higher education, were considered aristocrats and were treated more harshly. The work in the camp amounted to cutting ice to be sent back for refrigeration, as well as cutting wood. When the workers’ boots wore out, they had to cut tires and inlay them with newspaper to cover their feet

Food was mainly cabbage soup, occasionally a little meat in it and bread - one loaf for every four people. The crumbs of the bread were shared each day by one of the four in a informal rota. A man in their work gang who was walking past some carrots growing in a field, was so hungry he picked up one of the carrots and ate it straight from the ground - and he was shot.

Only half of those that were sent there survived.  They were saved by the attack on Russia by the Germans, and the Russians declaring an ‘amnesty’ for all the Poles being held in the USSR so that they could join in fighting the Germans..

His sister went to Turkistan, and managed to work as a housemaid for a Russian family, staying with them until the end of the war.

Wolf travelled south to join the Polish Army that was being formed in Russia, under the command of General Anders. Poles who did not make it to the Polish army were forced to join the Russian Army.

The Polish army was evacuated to Persia (Iran) and underwent training in  Iraq, Palestine, and Egypt.  Wherever Wolf went in the world, there were local Jewish communities, however small. Many families would be on the look out for Jewish soldiers on a weekend pass, to invite them for a Friday night meal.

Wolf also remembers tensions between Jewish soldiers and Christian officers, related to the political situation in Palestine. General Anders agreed to let several hundred Jewsih soldiers leave the Polish 2nd Corps, in order to join the fight for Israel.

Other Jewish soldiers who were concerned about the tensions with the Christian officers, secured their release and went to the UK. Wolf joined the 1st Polish Armoured Division, and served at Bovington Army camp, where he and his friends served a further 7 years.

The soldiers were asked about their previous trades, and Wolf tried to bluff his way by stating he knew something of tailoring, as he and other Polish men had altered their own uniforms. When the captain asked him to make an officer’s dress jacket, he at first panicked and then with a Sergeant’s assistance took apart one jacket as a model and used it as a pattern to make the new one.  He quickly learned to become skilled in tailoring.

When he was on kitchen duties at the camp, he was astounded that with all the food coming in.  Things such as chicken offal was not used, but immediately thrown away. Wolf and his friends convinced the cook to let them have the offal, and they made a kind of pate with it. The cook was impressed, and agreed to let them have the offal in future.

Wolf met a Jewish nurse in London and, after a whirlwind romance, they married less than a year later, with only meagre rations for their wedding feast.

While stationed in Scotland, Wolf met other Polish soldiers who had been in various different Russian work camps. They all landed on the beaches of Normandy on the second day of the D-Day invasion, and participated in the European Campaign in the 1st Polish Armoured Division.  At the end of the war, Wolf stayed in Germany with the Division, as part of the Occupying Force in the British sector.

All this time, he was completely unaware that his sister had survived and by then had managed to reach a displaced persons’ camp in Germany. Once the Red Cross had located her, he sent food parcels to her, and hoped she would join him in England. But she had met a man from the concentration camps who had family in America and was in the process of moving there with him.

Wolf’s group of ex-army Polish friends remained a close-knit community, only a few now survive being now in their nineties.




SourceMorgan Frydland at the BBC website:

Copyright: Morgan Frydland

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