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They came with guns drawn in the dead of night, pounding on the door to awaken those inside to their calamitous destiny. The Soviet NKVDers dragged us out into -40C temperatures, with only a few small bundles of our belongings in my father’s hands and me in my mother’s arms. The lucky ones were allowed a place on sleighs while others, as Father, walked in knee-high snow to the railway station where cattle wagons awaited their hapless passengers. That was on February, 10, 1940 in Sarny, Poland – in a Country invaded by Germany from the West and by the USSR from the East, just five months prior.
The five-week-long trek across the frozen terrain under inhumane conditions – 70 people per wagon – men, women, and children – inside stifling, stench filled wagons with no sanitary facilities and little food to sustain life, took its toll on the victims. Those who succumbed were thrown off the train like nothing more than a piece of garbage while those remaining prayed to the God who seemed to have forsaken them.
As residents of a forced labor camp in Darovatka, Siberia, we fared not much better. Cutting down trees and laying RR tracks in sub zero degree weather, with only adulterated soup and a piece of bread for sustenance, made skeletons out of robust people. Once trading with the peasants in the surrounding village was permitted, the little one brought from home (Poland) bought a carrot or potato for the family to feast on. The two year ordeal there came to an end and another, longer yet begun when Poland’s enemies chose to war with one another. “Amnesty” was declared, a misnomer since no crime was committed by the inmates of these camps to be released under this context.
A Polish Army was forming in Uzbekistan and our men, itching to free their Country from the shackles of both enemies, strove to join the British forces in their fight against Germany rather than ally themselves with the Soviets who caused such misery in our deportation. A mass of starving and debilitated humans made their way across Asia, the men enlisting upon reaching our destination while their families came under the protection of the Polish Army where food and medical care became available.
From Iran, my mother and I as others were able to make our way to resettlement camps under British rule in Rusape and then later in Gatooma, South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa. My father, fresh from battles in Monte Casino, Ancona, Bologna and such, finally located us and once the war was over, we joined him in Hodgemoor, England in 1948 where he was being demobilized. We were warned in coded correspondence by our family who remained in Poland, not to return there since Poland had been given away by the Allies to Stalin as spoils of war and was now once again in the shackles imposed this time by the Communists. Our family then chose instead to accept the invitation from other family members living in Detroit, Michigan to immigrate to the Land of the Free, knowing the opportunities in the USA would be boundless.
For the past 56 years, from the time I was 12, I’ve lived and loved my adopted country. It was not easy to adapt to varying cultures, customs and language of the countries I’ve lived in, but we assimilated immediately. One of the proudest moments of my life came at age 18 when I became a naturalized American citizen. As I look around now, I gratefully acknowledge how fortunate I am to live in the USA in total freedom, surrounded by the love of my husband, children and grandchildren, encompassed by the comforts of the highest standard of living in this world and know that nowhere else would I have been able to achieve this sense of security and prosperity. May God continue to bless – The United States of America!
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