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Exile to the Soviet Union

The Polish Deportees of World War II: Recollections of Removal to the Soviet Union and Dispersal Throughout the World, edited by Tadeusz Piotrowski (Jefferson NC and London: McFarland, 2004)

This interesting book contains scores of memoirs of Poles who were swept up in the three great deportations of 1940 and sent to the frozen wastes of Arctic Russia, to Siberia, and to "free exile" in Kazakhstan, and their subsequent escape and dispersal around the world. These were, of course, the lucky ones. An equal number--perhaps many times their number--were left behind in the Soviet Union. The book is available at Amazon in hardcover and also in a Kindle editon. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

"We spent twenty-eight days in the cattle trucks; how we survived it I shall never know. The temperature was often minus twenty degrees centigrade.... The bodies of the children who died were simply thrown out of the train." (pp25-26)

The frontier: "It continued to be patrolled by border guards. There was a cleared strip of about 100 metres with barbed wire entanglements on the Polish side and the same thing on the Russian side." (p28)

The train: "It was pulled by two diesel locomotives. There were 43 trucks, three of them different from the rest. One was situated behind the locomotives, a second was in the middle and the third at the rear. These carried the guards.... There were little towers on the roof and protruding windows on both sides through which the guards could ... observe the whole length of the train." (p28)

"These boxcars were specially designed for deporting 'criminals.' On each side of the car there were two large platforms, an upper one and a lower one, to fit as many people as possible.... There were about 100 people in our car." (p32)

"The living conditions in Kazakhstan were worse than those in an American slum. The lice were as numerous as flies.... The people here never heard of sanitation. There were no toilet facilities, not even an outhouse.... Understandably, there were many health problems, such as dysentery, and quite a few people died not only from hunger but also from the lack of sanitation and polluted water." (p58)

"From the first day they instilled into children that there was no God. There was only Father (Backo) Stalin. In order to prove it to the children they told them to pray to God to give them sweets. And, of course, they did not get any. Next they told them to ask Backo Stalin for sweets; when the teacher pulled on a very thin string sweets fell from the ceiling." (p73)

"We passed the industrialized Ural Mountains and came to an area at the edge of the tundra and steppes which was desolate, where there were no farms. Through the small window I saw low mud huts that were being swallowed up by the earth and frightened poorly dressed people. After a few days the scenery changed--the train entered the Siberian taiga." (p75)

"I was actually old enough to attend school, but because I was of small stature, father made me two years younger so I would not have to go to school and be exposed to more communist propaganda." (p76)

Escape to Persia: "The train moved off again and by morning we reached the port of Krasnovodsk. There, without protection from the intense sun and heat, we waited all day to board the ship. Heaven and earth created such intense heat that it became painful to breathe. Instead of a cool sea breeze, our lungs were filled with the foul odour of oil from the Baku oil fields. We could not reach the water itself because the shoreline and sea were covered with oil." (p85)

Andrzej Szujecki: 2,119 Polish civilians died in Persia (Iran). During the war, the survivors were sent on mostly to Africa and Indian, with a few (mostly orphans) going to Mexico and New Zealand. About 25,000 Polish civilians were living in Iran (Persia) in the fall of 1942. At the end of the war in 1945, still about 4,300 in Tehran and Isfahan; they were evacuated to Ahvaz in southwestern Iran, whence they were sent to Iraq and Lebanon, with the last transport reaching Beruit by train in November. There were about 6,000 Pole in Lebanon in 1946. (p98)

Malaria: "Soon I became sick with a high fever, shivers, darkness in my eyes and splitting headaches." p99

"As we traveled by bus from Pahlevi to Tehran I thought that we were passing through the most beautiful place in the world. This must have been the Garden of Eden." p101

Last transport out of Russia, arrived Pahlevi 31 Aug 1942. p102

In summer from Tehran: "most spectacular view of the sunrise over the snow-covered peak of Mt. Damavand" p106

Confirmed by the archbishop, Monsignore Alcido Marina. p117

Buy the book at Amazon.com

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford