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Zygmunt was born in Poland in 1922.

A victim of Russia's invasion of Poland at the start of the Second World War, Zygmunt was sent to a Siberian labor camp. He was taken to the railway station and loaded into cattle cars with 30 other people. 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. It was a 28-day trip, and they were allowed out of the car only once. 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.

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 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 kilometres 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.

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.

When asked about his time in Siberia Zygmunt once explained "I remember always being hungry and cold all I wanted was to just not be hungry for once and then I would be happy to die".

Zygmunt joined the Polish 2nd Corps and participated in the Battle of Tobruk against General Rommel. From there it was over to Italy where he fought in the front lines at the Battle of Monte Cassino. Of the 8,000 Poles who fought and won the top of the mountain, 4,000 perished.

In 1947, Zygmunt was discharged as a Lieutenant and set sail for Canada. On the trip to Canada, he contracted tuberculosis, which meant two years confinement at the Brandon Sanatorium.

There was a silver lining to all these hardships: once he regained his health, he took some English and vocational training and was hired to work in the Xray Department of the hospital. This resulted in meeting a newly graduated nurse, Marjorie Thompson. They married in September 1951. Zygmunt’s career evolved from there to working in a Brandon bakery, becoming a tire salesman in Swan River, Manitoba, then on to become the Accountant at the Swan River hospital. During that time, he completed a university diploma program in Hospital Administration. This led to an appointment from 1971 1974 as Hospital Administrator in Pine Falls, Manitoba, and from there to a ten-year term as Administrator of the two hospitals and two personal care homes in Deloraine and Melita. Getting each of the health facilities he led to successfully acquire the Accreditation designation for quality, safety, and efficiency was one of his many achievements. He retired in 1984.

Zygmunt passed away in Winnipeg on December 16, 2014, he was 90 years old.

Copyright: Klimczak family

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