Personal memories and experiances of a 14 year old girl that was deported from her home on that faithfull night of 10th of February 1940. This extract is taken from her presonal diary, which was published as a book.
This article has been written by; DANUTA GRADOSIELSKA (nee MACZKA)
Although I was barely fourteen years old when these tragic times began, I understood that something of great importance was happening. It was then that I began writing my diary and that is why I have detailed accounts of events that occurred, some of which are described below. My story is sometimes sad but not dull. I never lost faith in God and always hoped for a better tomorrow.
My family had lived happily on a farm since 1921. The Krechowiecka Settlement (Osada Krechowiecka), was near Równe, Wolyn, in the eastern part of Poland, not far from the Russian border (now the Ukraine). The settlement was built by volunteer soldiers of the First World War (my father's regiment was called “1st Lancers Krechowiecki”), on land given to them by the Polish government at the end of the first war with Russia, in 1920.
10th Feb 1940 was the tragic date of a massive deportation of ex-army settlers and their families from Poland’s Eastern Parts to the depths of the Soviet Union. In reality the tragedy of our homeland had begun earlier, as already on the 1st Sep 1939 the invasion of Hitler’s army on Poland was followed on the 17th Sep 1939, by the Soviet army crossing over the border into our country. It was while our army was fighting the German army that the Soviets took over the Eastern Borderlands.
On 17th Sep 1939 the Soviet army entered the Eastern Borderlands of the Polish Republic under the false pretence of helping Poland in her fight against Germany. On that same day I noticed Russian tanks passing through our “Osada” (settlement).
There were immediate arrests of prominent people by the NKWD (Russian Police) and during the following days Polish soldiers and even whole regiments were transported by train and put into labour camps in Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union. The county of Wolyn was joined to the Ukrainian Republic of the USSR. Within a short time a committee of Ukrainians was formed. One of their first actions was the ousting of military settlers from their properties. From this moment my happy childhood on the Krechowiecka Settlement ended.
The settlement was gripped by great fear. The settlers were not sure of what to do. We felt deserted by Polish Officials. At first we did not know that they had been arrested and put into prison. In the meantime the Soviet officials assured us that they would not throw us out from our homes or off our farms. However, in Oct 1939 the opposite happened. It was announced by the Ukrainian Committee that about a dozen families would have to be moved out, without any show of resistance, refusal could cost their lives. Amongst those farms chosen was ours, maybe because it was a big brick house with a good fertile farm. Within 24 hours we were to leave our home. We were allowed to take a few personal possessions, food, some furniture and our two dogs, but no farm livestock. I was 14 and felt very deeply all that was happening; this was the end of my carefree childhood. The war came to destroy our quiet life in Eastern Poland. The fate of being homeless was just the beginning.
My family, when the war started, consisted of my father Stefan Maczka who was born 25.10.1895, my stepmother Helena born 03.10.1905 and four children. My brothers, Stefan Boguslaw (31.12.1922), my adopted brother Tadeusz (14.01.1928), sister Zofia (01.08.1926) and myself, Danuta Aleksandra (21.3.1925) and grandmother, Salomea - my father’s mother, born 08.06.1873.
So on 21st October 1939 we left our beloved home and farm, wondering if we would ever see it again. We moved to a small town called Tuczyn - 7 km from our Osada Krechowiecka, into a rented apartment in a Jewish house. Still the NKWD keep pestering us - constantly checking lists of the family members and our possessions. Every week we have to report to the militia. My parents feared that something else would happen, although nobody knew what. Some settlers crossed with their families over the “Green Border” into Central Poland but the majority remained within the neighbouring towns and a large number in Równe. My father left us for a while, crossing into German-occupied Poland, to try and arrange for us to join his relatives in the town of Starachowice.
When he returned on the 9th Feb he brought Bogus back with him from the grammar school in Równe, (18 km from Tuczyn). Our intention was that next day we would pack and set out for the west - but it all turned out very differently. It was very lucky for us that my father returned on that particular day as a few hours later, on Saturday 10th Feb 1940 at 6 am we were woken by banging on our door. We had no idea what was happening nor the reason for the noise It was two Ukrainian policemen armed with rifles and one NKWD officer who read out the order of deportation and told us to pack our things quickly. My Father asked where we were going but the NKWD would not tell him. Eventually upon Father’s insistence, the official answered that we were being sent to Siberia. He told us to dress warmly and to take everything (apart from furniture), food and implements such as a saw, axe and shovel. (We only had an axe because our other tools were back at the farm). He told us to be ready in two hours when sledges would be sent to take us to the station. On hearing this my grandmother had a heart attack. After some discussion with Father the NKWD man agreed to leave grandmother behind. (Once in Russia we did in fact hear that for a short while my grandmother had returned to our farm, where our servants had remained. Later, our parish priest took care of her and together with his own mother took her into the west part of Poland.)
They then left us to pack My Father instructed me to sell the chickens to the owner of the house. He bought them - I did not bother counting the money for I knew him to be an honest man - and anyway he was in a position where he didn't have to give me anything at all. The guard dog remained on the chain, but I wanted to take the little sheepdog with us, but this was just not possible. The sledges arrived at 8 am. There was a great deal of snow and it was icy cold. We loaded all our possession on one sledge and we sat on the other. As we set off my sister and I were crying. We felt great sorrow at leaving behind everything we loved and knew so well. The sheep dog Lulus followed behind the sledges, but in the end the deep snow proved too much for his little legs and my heart filled with grief.
Along the way, we met other settlers’ families. They were all going in the same direction as us - to Lubomirka. I did not realise it (maybe my father did) but it was a huge deportation of Polish settlers from the entire Eastern Borderlands. After a two-hour sledge ride we arrived at the station at Lubomirka. We were ordered to board a cattle truck and were only allowed to keep small luggage with us, the rest was loaded into the goods wagon. Throughout the entire day, more and more families arrived. In our wagon there were 42 people. The train moved out during the night but I could not sleep. Others could not sleep either and we spoke to each other in whispers, wondering what would happen to us.
About midnight we arrived in Równe, where more families were loaded onto our train. The children, who were in schools and colleges in Równe, were rounded up by Russians to join their parents. Their families, who had been forced to leave home without them greeted them joyfully. At Równe we were given water and coal for use in the stove in the centre of the wagon. We were allowed to get out of the wagons, though told not to stray too far, as armed guards were watching us closely.
After a two day stop over we moved off. Twenty minutes later the train stopped at Zdolbunow station at midnight and we were ordered to change to Soviet cattle wagons which were larger and ran on wider tracks. They pushed 72 people into each of these wagons making it very cramped and stuffy, the tiny grilled window let in very little air and light. A few families had to push hard to find room on the board bunks called “prycze”, of which there were two levels, ranged on both sides of the wagon. As I lay on my stomach on the top bunk, I peered through the window-slit observing everything I had seen and putting it down in writing. In the middle of the wagon screwed to the floor was a round iron stove on which one could warm up something to eat. On one side by the sliding door was a hole cut out in the floor for the purposes of hygiene. For decency’s sake my Father screened it off with a blanket.
15th Feb We stopped at Iwanko station, where we were given bread and water. The day was frosty, though sunny and we were still locked in the wagons. My father said that we were nearing the USSR border. At 23.00 hours we crossed the border singing farewell to our homeland and the hymn “God who shielded Poland” and the “Polish national anthem”. Everybody was crying. I don’t know what their thoughts were at that moment - I suppose the same as my own, namely would I ever return to Poland? If so, when? What awaits us in this unknown land?
16th Feb We were in Soviet territory passing Szepetówka. and it was already colder. Again we were given coal and water. With the supplies taken from home, we managed to cook meals on the stove. I didn’t know what was to come and I didn’t know where this enforced voyage was to end. It was still a long way to Siberia. I cannot count the number of times that I thanked God that my father returned to us in time, that they did not take us without him. We were sure to be safer with my father. He would know what to do when we got there.
We travelled through Orzenin, Korosten, Owrucz where we are given some coal, water and potatoes. We were still kept in locked wagons. 17th Feb we crossed the bridge over River Prypec. Now we saw large villages and towns. 18th Feb we crossed the Dniepr Bridge and stopped in Homel, a large industrial town. Here two of our men, escorted by armed soldiers brought two buckets of broth, which they divided among the families. 19th Feb we passed Briansk and Orzel and 20th Feb we crossed the bridge over the River Don. Now we started to veer north. During the night we stopped at the town of Karaczew where we received soup and semolina. From this point we were allowed to leave the wagons but I couldn’t as I had a cold. 21st Feb in the morning we reached Aleksandrowka.
22nd Feb in the morning, when I woke up we were standing in Rybne station. We were given coal and water and then, before noon, passed through Holworsk and Woskriesensk. On the way we noticed a lot of devastated Catholic and Orthodox churches. We stopped in Criechowo. To kill time during this long journey we sang all sorts of songs, talked among ourselves and eavesdropped on other peoples’ conversations. They were all very worried, but we children were beginning to treat all this as a great adventure: maybe somebody would free us, rescue us, or come to our aid (I had just read “In Desert and in Wilderness” by H. Sienkiewicz). Our journey was proving very wearisome. We collected snow in all kinds of vessels. After thawing snow on the stove we washed ourselves with the water. One older woman died in our wagon. Her body was left outside on the wagon’s platform. I was very sad when her body was taken at the next station to be buried, goodness knows where? We passed through villages, fields and forests all covered in snow, for winter here was very severe and during the night, my hair froze to the wagon walls.
Early in the morning of 23rd Feb we left Criechowo, to Pokrowa. Eventually we passed through Pietruszki and Untow. We stopped that evening in Wlademir, where all the houses were in one style and made of wood and again we saw devastated churches. Here we were given coal, bread, cabbage soup and some cereal. During the night we stopped in Gorki. This was the nicest town up to now. The houses were mainly built of brick, the streets were lit by electricity, making the snow sparkle. Here again we got coal and bread. Someone went out and bought milk for the children. Here a few wagons were detached and sent due north.
24th Feb we crossed the frozen River Volga. 25th Feb Sunday morning we stopped in Kirow where we could see some factories. Here we were given fresh water and some small children got a biscuit from a doctor who had come to attend to the sick The transport commander told us that if we had no hold-ups the next day should see us at our destination. We were pleased at the news that our journey was coming to an end, though felt some trepidation as to what this new place was like. For us Sunday passed very dolefully and felt just like any other day. We prayed in small groups, sitting on the bunks. 26th Feb around midnight we stopped at Sobotkow - a typical northern town of small houses built of unpainted wood. In the morning the train stopped at Kotlas, a town on the frozen River Dwina. We left the wagons that evening and stepped out into an open place in front of a school, where they unloaded the large pieces of luggage. We slept on the school floor, sitting on our belongings. The place was packed, as an entire transport was unloaded here. It was difficult to sleep as there was much coughing and children were crying. In the morning sledges started to arrive and they called out names so that, one by one, families departed into the unknown. That day we remained uncalled and so stayed here for a second night. Now there was a little more room. In the morning when we woke up Stepmother was ill with a very high temperature. We waited for a doctor, who examined her and diagnosed pneumonia. She was sent to the hospital in Kotlas. For how long? nobody knew, it was difficult to predict, but all we wanted was that she got well. We were told that we must continue to our destination without Stepmother.
28th Feb we packed our belongings onto one sledge and boarded the other ourselves. We were all despondent but believed that with God’s help, Mother would recover. We quickly crossed to the far bank of the frozen Dwina. A huge snow storm blew up and the temperature was -40oC. We walked part of the way behind the sledges, both to keep warm and to lighten the load for the horses. We were told that our destination was 25 km away. That evening we reached Priwodino and slept that night in an Orthodox church now turned into a club.
On the morning of the 1st March we travelled with our luggage on the narrow gauge railway, through the forest deep in snow and arrived at the station in the evening. Once again sledges waited to take us to some place further, deep into the forest. All of us, about 200 people were packed into one set of barracks. It was crowded and noisy, children crying and we had to sleep on the floor. The children were placed in a few beds along the wall. Large pieces of luggage were placed in a store room. The communal stove had a very small cooking area, so some misunderstandings occurred, however my younger sister Zosia somehow managed to secure a tiny place for our little pot. In the barrack hut itself there was only one small iron stove for heating, but because there was an ample supply of wood from the forest it burned continuously. Near the stove it was very hot but further away it was cold. Because of the number of people it was very stuffy but we couldn’t have the door open, as there was a snowstorm blowing outside. The old people and the children were going down with illnesses and there was no doctor. The place was called Kotowalsk. There were only 4 huts: a storeroom, a communal kitchen, a little shop and the large hut into which we were all squeezed like sardines. In the little shop we could buy Polish sweets and white bread baked locally from Polish flour but this lasted for only a few days. I am sure these luxuries travelled with us from Poland.
6th Mar on Monday the camp commandant came and announced “All men must go to work”. They called a meeting to draw up work brigades. There was no way out. They had to work in the forest. They were issued with saws and axes. They were paid for the work and the roubles would eventually be useful but for the moment there was nothing in the shop. They left the camp, stepping into deep snow. My Father was not going to work but to see Helena in Kotlas. There was no news but we felt sure that she must be better by now. We were left on our own, but I was not afraid. Bogus would return in the evening and we knew a few families from our osada and from the journey. I worried about my Father and Stepmother. Was she still alive? Would they return safely? I cooked what I could with what we still had left from home. I did the cooking for a week until my parents returned. Helena was very weak but well and they were both very tired after the journey. I was terribly upset on hearing that someone had robbed my Father in Kotlas as he stood in the canteen queue - he lost all his money. What was even worse was that some friends had given my Father money for shopping. So next day my Father went to work to earn money to recompense them.
21st March 1940 - my birthday - I was fifteen years old. It was freezing cold and was snowing. On the Saturday before Easter we cleaned the barracks and decorated with fir-tree branches so that it would be nice and festive. We managed to buy one egg. The temperature stayed around -40oC. On Easter day we missed having a priest present. But with a little drop of holy water I had from home, my Father blessed that egg, cut it into minute pieces, said a prayer and shared it among us and those near companions of our adversity. We prayed very sincerely to God and the Holy Mother of Czestochowa asking for a change in our fate. Everybody was crying. This first Easter holiday in exile was very sad, tearful and full of sighs to God. In the afternoon the commandant turned up and read names from a list, ours are included, and told us to pack. We were being moved to another “posiolek” (small settlement) about 4 km from Kotowalsk.
We went by sledge to what turned out to be a better place and we were placed in a smaller hut. This room was intended to be used by three families, a total of 16 persons. As we had a family bunk bed we no longer had to sleep on the floor. Between the huts were wooden planks we used as gangways. This place was called “The Station of Youth” - and was surrounded by forest. The narrow-gauge railway came here so I did not feel quite so cut off from the world. On Easter Monday a group leader came and told me to go to work with the others since they had noticed that I was now 15. We all protested, telling them it was still the Easter holiday... and we were not budging. We learned later that in other “posiolek” people did work. We restarted work on Tuesday. We girls were told to clear snow from the railway line. I worked all day, my hands and back ached. I was paid 3 roubles; my first earned money.
10th April two months after deportation. Now I was working in the forest - removing branches from felled trees which the men then stacked in big piles which were soon covered in snow. The logs were loaded on wagons and taken to the depot. The branches were burned on the spot. As it was now spring the forest work ended. On my day-off I went for a walk with a group of friends - and discovered violets, which reminded me of the sacred dell called Karlowszczyzna on the osada Krechowiecka - my eyes filled with tears.
15th April we and a few other families were moved to a new place. The enormous gate at the camp entrance frightened me. It was surrounded by a tall wooden stockade with guard towers at it’s corners and it looked like a prison. However I soon discovered that the towers contained no guards and the gate was only locked at night. This camp was near Monastyrek, close to Priwodina on the Dwina. The name of the “posiolek” came from the Orthodox Church which was there originally and amazingly still had a dome and a cross, but no longer served as a House of God, but as a storeroom, canteen and shop. There was a saw-mill outside the camp and we were now involved in a different kind of job - working with timber (which we had previously cut) brought from the forest to this mill. There was also an electric generator which powered electric and other devices for wood-cutting. Men cut railway sleepers or building materials, while a few girls stripped the bark and then cut the logs into props and pit-supports. We worked in groups loading these products onto wagons, then pushed them down the incline to the river.
After a few weeks, we were working with electric machines. Janka Oles used an electric saw to cut wood into slices. Those were placed on a machine, which cut them into cubes and two of us shovelled these into a box and took them outside. These cubes were used as fuel for the electric sub-station. There had to be a constant reserve of them. We had electric lights in our camp. Each family had separate quarters. My family had a large room with two bunk beds, a separate small kitchen and beneath, a tiny cellar. So that, all in all, compared with our first “posiolek” it was quite comfortable. The young children like my brother Tadzio and sister Zosia, went to the local school, the older ones worked. Those who did not work - did not get a bread ration. In the canteen there was soup called “u c h a “ boiled with a few fish heads floating in water and another called “s z c z i “ containing a few chopped cabbage leaves. There were also oil-fried pancakes but these were too expensive for our pockets.
The Commandant treated us well. On free days from work, in the summer and autumn I was allowed a pass to go into the forest to collect berries and mushrooms. Without the pass one could only leave the camp to go to work. My Father and my brother Bogus were building small wooden houses - far in the forest – and only occasionally returned home for a day or two. On one such occasion they came back suffering from night-blindness so I went with my Stepmother to the collective farm to exchange some of our possessions for liver, which Helena specially prepared with onion. That helped them - they could now see in the evening. Below our window we had small plot of soil where - in the middle of June - we planted vegetables, potatoes, onions, cucumber and beans. Everything grew rapidly for the days were nice and very hot and it was light almost 24 hours a day. There was also a steam bath, we bathed, some swam in the river- as the water was warm and clean. In August I went mushrooming and Helena cooked them - they tasted wonderful.
A decree was published that from the 12th Aug people would go before a court for even the smallest offence and would be fined or imprisoned. The penalty for missing one day’s work: for the first offence 25% deductions from pay for 3 months; for the second offence one month’s imprisonment. All those above the age of 16 could be taken before a judge.By the 20th Aug we were eating new potatoes from our small plot. Some repairs were also being done in the barracks and six months of misery had already gone by. People worked either on the collective farm, in the saw-mill or in the forest. Many were sick and many died. As long as we had work to do, time passed fairly swiftly
Indeed a whole year had passed since the war broke out (on 1st September 1939, the Germans invaded Poland) and 17th Sep 1940 was the first anniversary of the invasion of East Poland by the Red Army. No-one spoke on our behalf, perhaps no one was aware of what was happening to us, or where we had been deported. Nothing positive was happening. I was very downcast and longed for home and Poland. I turned over in my mind those tragic days, which changed our life into a nightmare. Yet I still hoped for a return to our “osada” and prayed to our Creator and the Holy Mother feeling sure that God would not forsake us.
30th Sep the first snow fell from early morning, while the wind tugged at our clothes. By now we were accustomed to the early winter. 2nd Oct Tadzio broke his leg at school and couldn’t walk, he was in bed and had a very high temperature of 39oC and was in pain. After a week my Father took him to the hospital in Kotlas. At school, Zosia began the fifth form and was proving to be a good pupil. A lot of different work groups were formed in our camp; Father was working in construction - building houses; Bogus with a group of friends was working in the forest, living in Sieviernoje about 35 km from us. I was still working in the saw-mill and floating logs. The work was very heavy, the earnings pitiful but I gave what money I got to my Stepmother. The days were exceedingly cold but free of fresh snow. It was now a week since Tadzio had gone to the hospital. Helena and Zosia went by ship to visit him. He was pleased to see them. He was lying in one position so he had bad sores on his back and there were no creams to soothe them. He still had a temperature and had lost a lot of weight. 28th Oct Zosia was in bed with flu. It was now cloudy and very cold. I went to the forest to collect cranberries, there were plenty of them and they were now particularly good as the frost had crisped them.
11th Nov but nobody was talking about our National Day, as they were all busy at work. Now the snow was falling more often and it was getting colder. We received a parcel from grandmother Salomea in Wolyn. We were all very happy with this - specially since it contained “oplatek” (communion bread), honey, sugar, biscuits and vegetable seeds - in the spring Helena would sow the seeds in our garden to provide vitamins - we needed them so badly.
24th Dec it was Christmas Eve, but I was far from happy, as the family was far apart. For the last two weeks Zosia had been ill in the hospital in Priwodina. I was going with my Father to visit her in order to share “oplatek” with her. It was 3.30 pm. My friends Wanda and Lodzia were working in the hospital. When Lodzia saw us she came up and said “Zosia is already covered “. I had no idea what she meant, but my Father started crying. I had never seen him like this before, with huge tears rolling down his cheeks. I wondered what was wrong with Zosia. When Lodzia lifted the sheet I saw Zosia’s pale face and I realised what had happened, then I also started to cry. We were told that Zosia had died at 2.45 pm – if only we had arrived a little earlier! My Father took her home with us and made a coffin for her. Christmas Day was very sad for us and we all cried. 26th Dec we gave Zosia a very simple funeral. My Stepmother, my Father and I prayed, walking behind the sledge, escorting her to the grave. My Father himself (with tears in his eyes) buried her in the fir forest outside Priwodina. So day by day life went by - with us all working hard - some in the saw-mill, Bogus far away from us in the forest and my Father in construction.
Then out of the blue came the news that Germany had attacked Russia (the Soviet and German war began 22nd June 41). This lead us to believe that something would change and we hoped it would be for the better. On 31st July 41 we learned of the treaty signed by the Soviets with the Polish Government in London. An amnesty was proclaimed for all Poles in the territories of the Soviet Union. There was great joy that God had heard our prayers. 5th Sep they began issuing the first discharge documents from our “posiolek” and from neighbouring ones. The first group departed, able to go wherever they wished for they were free! They all wanted to join the Polish Army which was being formed within the Soviet Union.
18th Oct a second group received travel documents but not us, we started to show concern, in fact I was pretty annoyed that our documents had not been handed over. The weather was becoming colder and it would be more difficult getting out of there with the onset of winter. The camp commandant, Mr. Organ explained that there were too many people waiting at the station and not enough wagons for everybody. He advised us to be patient. Bogus and some of his friends, were determined to join the army, but Mr. Organ advised against departure. He said that without documents they would be faced with starvation as they would not qualify for either soup or bread at the station canteens. 14th Nov 41 the boys paid no heed but went to work until lunch time, then ran off and were well away before the works foreman and the camp commandant knew they had gone. There were seven of them. Commandant Organ went after them but failed to find them.
As we were now in a war situation we were no longer paid for our work, but received 800 grams of bread (rations were introduced) and watery soup, but those who chose not to work got only 100 grams of bread. From 1st Dec hunger stalked the “posiolek” where only 12 families remained. I was no longer working, because apparently I did not have to, as the new law stated that I was too young. But this also meant that I only got 100 grams of bread and no money. But the main concern was no issue of documentation. Soviet soldiers and recruits were arriving and the need for accommodation for the soldiers meant that we were squashed into one hut. Christmas was approaching and we were still waiting for papers. My dream was that maybe we would get them as a Christmas present.
Instead there was suddenly unpleasant news. The commandant told us to pack, they were intending to move us to “Piaty Kilometr” as they needed the barracks for the army. At this my Father and the rest decided to wait no longer for papers and to escape that very night without documents. But that evening the commandant who returned from Kotlas, announced that we were to have two days holiday (it was very difficult to believe that these people allowed such celebrations) and that our papers would be given to us immediately following that. Yet Christmas was still a sad affair as we had nothing to eat, except a few pieces of dry bread. At night I dreamt of freshly baked loaves. Just a year ago my sister Zosia had died and the memory was painful. Yet, on the other hand, we were pleased that we were soon to leave this place.
At long last, on 27th Dec 41 we received our papers. Next day we packed and waited for the hired horse and sledge, which would take us to Kotlas. My heart was thumping with joy at this departure. It was extremely cold with a lot of snow, but the weather was fine for sledges and we would be in Kotlas in no time. We had only one sledge but there were only three of us (my Father, Stepmother Helena and I) and we had hardly any luggage. We had 25 km to Kotlas across the frozen Dwina. At 3 pm we reached Kotlas station. Tadzio was still in hospital in Kotlas so Father was going to pick him up and bring him directly to the railway wagon. There were crowds at the station. In the canteen we were given 400 grams of bread and some soup (this was noted on the back of our permit “Udostovierenie”). More people arrived and our representative, corporal Janda was run off his feet, helping people to arrange transport. We had already paid for our wagon, 80 roubles per person, 7 families, 28 of us altogether. In the other wagons there were 45 people and so they paid less. We waited patiently for two days at Kotlas station.
1st Jan 42 the wagons arrived, there were six in our transport and we climbed aboard after lunch. It was a great feeling of freedom as there were no guards with rifles and doors which we could open and close ourselves. Without the presence of a guard and not feeling frightened we went to collect boiling water at the station (it was free). Fruits were too expensive. After two years of captivity we were free at last! This feeling could only really be understood by someone who has themselves been deprived of freedom.
2nd Jan 42 the train set off and we travelled into the unknown - but our goal was –the Polish Army! I thought about Bogus - whether he had made it? just how had they managed? and how hungry did they become? Our own journey took ages and we passed through such town as Kirow, Zuyowka, Molotow, Kama, Szalja, Kuzma, Hropik. 19th Jan Swierdowsk - a very busy large station near the Ural Mountains. Then Czelyabinsk, Kartal. 3rd Jan Aktibinsk, and a different landscape, with houses made of brick or mud, very little snow and stepes covered in dry grass. We crossed the wide River Syr-Daria. Then Turkistan. 10th Feb Arys, here we met some Polish soldiers in English uniforms and were visited by a Polish lady doctor. Here I saw people riding camels, donkeys and mules but rarely horses.
13th Feb it was night when we stopped in Tashkent. My Father and three other men went off to buy bread and were left behind at the station because the train made a very short stop --- and they were carrying all our documents! We travelled along the Jordan valley through Gorczewo and Bagish, but there was no sign of my Father and I was very worried. Finally we stopped in Dzalal-abad not far from the Chinese border. 17th Feb we turned back from Dzalal-abad and found Father and the other missing men on the station at Andizhan. We were deliriously happy at finding him even though he had no bread. 21st Feb it was beautiful weather. From Kagan station we travelled very fast, all night through the desert towards Turkestan.
22nd Feb we stopped at G u z a r - our journeys end - the Polish army. The 7th Division was in Guzar. Despite their haggard faces the Polish soldiers looked very smart in their English uniforms. Just gazing at them made me feel happy and I dreamt of joining the army. Stepmother Helena was very much against the idea but I finally convinced her and she gave in. On 24th Feb with a friend, Stasia Kolacz, I went to the Polish Women’s Volunteer camp. Stasia was accepted. But when I was asked my age I told them the exact truth, that I would be 17 in four weeks time. So I was advised to go to the schoolgirls camp. I didn’t want to join the Girls School but the real army, along with Stasia. I stood on the bridge disappointed, with tears falling into the muddy Amu-Daria. Two passing soldiers asked why I was crying. I answered that the army would not take me, as I was only 16. The older one (perhaps 20 ) replied, “wipe your tears away, then go back and tell them you are 18”.
So that is what I did and on 25th Feb 1942 I was accepted into the Polish Women’s Auxiliary Service (PWSK). I felt so proud that I’m sure I grew one centimetre taller. I was issued with a man’s military uniform, that was all they had. The trousers reached up to my armpits and the flies began at my chin! The battle-dress reached well below my hips and my hands were lost in the sleeves. The shoes had laces and were much too big so that I lost them with each step I took! It helped a bit when I wrapped the trouser legs round my feet and then put on my shoes. I embroidered the eagle badge on the forage cap myself. I was given guard-duty for which I received a rifle and a bayonet. My orders were that if anyone approached I was to challenge them twice with “who goes there?” and after the third time I had to shout “Stop or I will fire”. In reality I had no bullets, but I thought “only I know that”. Then came the wonderful news that Father had found Bogus. He was in hospital but luckily was cured of typhoid. He told us how difficult their journey had been and how they had suffered from hunger before finally being accepted into the army. Now I received a proper Women’s Auxiliary Service uniform. Although it was an English uniform there was a Polish heart beating inside it.
Next day 24th Mar 42 we left Ghuzar on the first military transport to Krasnovodsk. Where we were going now - nobody knew - as it was a military secret. This time we travelled by passenger train, which after cattle-trucks was a real luxury. We travelled through Aschabad to Krasnovodsk near the Caspian Sea and on from there to Persia. We arrived in Krasnovodsk on 27th Mar, ate lunch and then waited for the ship. During the night we boarded the cargo boat along with 5,000 soldiers. On the next vessel were families, among them Mother, Father and Tadeusz. (Although Bogus travelled with the army, we never met him as there were far too many people on board) A lot of people on the boat were ill and there were even a few deaths - mainly caused by serious illnesses like typhoid and dysentery. One main trouble was a lack of water - but far greater was the lack of toilets - this caused long queues and many people simply relieved themselves over the side. I felt desperately sorry for those who died on the very threshold of freedom.
30th Mar 42 after crossing the Russian-Persian border we arrived in the port of Pahlevi and disembarked in the afternoon and were directed to tents pitched on the beach. It was so nice and warm on the sand. Persian men came around selling boiled eggs, figs and dates. We were advised against buying anything because our shrivelled stomachs must gradually accustom themselves to richer food. We went to the baths, leaving our possessions behind in the tents, but I had taken with me a small case with my documents: birth certificate, 7th Form graduation certificate, a few photos, a medical book (volume 2 because my brother had the first volume), my diary and some underwear. After disinfecting and washing we were shown to new tents, as the previous tents, together with our possessions were being burned.
On our second day 1st Apr 42 we came under British command in the Middle East. We were driven in lorries to Teheran. 3rd Apr we arrived at Camp No.1 in Teheran. A few days later my parents arrived with Tadzio. Father put him into the care of the Zaplatynski Clinic in Teheran, where General Doktor Szarecki promised to operate on Tadzio’s leg - to clean it up and straighten the bone. He was now in a lot of pain, but we hoped for a cure so that he could walk again. 29th Apr Father, now relieved of worry for his family, joined the Polish Army and departed almost at once. Where to, we were not told, it was secret. The letters we received were posted in South Africa, Canada and then later - Scotland.
We celebrated the Easter Holiday most joyfully. There was Mass and it was very warm and very pleasant. I thanked God for our salvation - owed to the Polish Government in Exile in London headed by General Sikorski and to General Anders for the formation of the Polish Army in the Soviet Union and then leading us from the USSR to freedom. While I and Stasia and another friends were training to be nurses, at the special courses held by the Polish Red Cross in Camp No. 4 in Teheran I became ill with typhoid fever. I was taken to the hospital on 18th May 42 and considered myself lucky that there was both medicine and attention available. I left the hospital on 1st Aug. But meanwhile my friends had finished their nursing course and were working in the military hospitals.
I joined the Transport Office and in October with a group of friends we left Teheran for Iraq where two transport companies were formed. On 5th Jan 43 we arrived in Palestine for an Army Transport course in the theory and driving of heavy vehicles. I completed that course on 14th Mar and then went to Egypt to collect vehicles at Te-Elkabir and drive them to Palestine. I served in No.316 Transport Company PWSK (234 total strength) delivering supplies to units of both men and women. In Feb 1944 we left Palestine and were temporarily stationed in Egypt. We left our lorries with tears in our eyes in Alexandria. At the end of April we left on the Batory sailing under the Polish flag and arrived in Taranto, Italy on 4th May 44. We served courageously in the Italy Campaign delivering supplies, petrol and ammunition to the second line of the front and on the way back taking war prisoners back to the camps.
Following the end of the war I married 2nd Lt. Jerzy Gradosielski on 19th Aug 1945 at Porto San Giorgio. In October of that year I was transferred from the 316 Transport Company to the Army Grammar School in Porto San Giorgio. Then all the Army Schools in Italy (and my brother Bogus with his school) were transported on the luxury liner Empress of Australia to Great Britain. We landed in Liverpool on 18th Aug 1946 and the Porto San Giorgio School was housed in the PKPR camp in Foxley near Hereford. The school became subject to a new Authority, the Interim Treasury Committee. Here I completed my secondary education
In May 1947 I joined my husband in the Hermitage Camp at Newbury. My first daughter was born in 1948 in the Polish military hospital in Penley near Wrexham. In April 1949 we moved to London and I am still living in Forest Gate. We have six children, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren at last count. My brother Stefan Bogus and his grown-up family are living near Southend, Essex. Tadeusz with his family live in Toronto, Canada. My Father died on 9th Mar 1974 and my husband Jerzy on 30th July 1989. My Stepmother Helena, died just recently.
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Courteously provided with permission to reprint by Elizabeth Olsson