Memories from Deportation to Kazakhstan - Travel to Kazakhstan - Part I

In the effect of the secret protocol of Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact Poland was invaded from the West by Nazi Germany and later from the East by Soviet Russia in September 1939. German attack to Poland on September 1st 1939 is also considered the beginning of the World War II. Although the attack by Germany was anticipated, the Soviet invasion (September 17) caught Poland and the Western world as a surprise. The invasion of Poland from both sides concluded a fourth partition of Poland. The Soviet invasion was followed by massive involuntary deportations of Polish population, especially so called "social enemies" to the East. This operation was done by NKVD and involved about 1 million people. The women and children were sent usually to the remote settlements to the Siberia or Kazakhstan, the men were sent to labor camps where they worked in inhuman conditions, many died. The memoirs presented here depict very well the fate of these people on the example of one family.

by Stefania Borstowa (her photographs included)

Memories from Deportation to Kazakhstan - Travel to Kazakhstan - Part I

Since 1938 Stefania with her husband, Edward Borst and their two children lived in Stanislawow, in Southeastern part of Poland. Edward Borst came from an influential family of textile manifacturers from Zgierz (Lodz area) He was a Polish officer of the reserve. In 1939 his military unit was caught by Soviets during the attempt to cross to Romania after the Soviet invasion. Edward Borst was sent to a forced labor camp in Komi republic and died on dysentery.

April 13, 1940 - Friday, 11 pm. Pounding on the entrance door.

Marysia (home servant) asks "Who" - the reply: "NKVD" (state security). Marysia runs to the bedroom: "Dear Madame, they've come to take us. Please, escape with the children through the window, I'll keep them on hold for a while." I refused to try to escape. I immediately realized the potential future - two small children with no clothes, no money, no food and a very limited number of friends where I could safely hide. Could we have any chance to succeed or would we endanger the lives of others? Everybody is responsible for his own life. I replied: "Marysia, please let them in". Three men came, all in uniforms and armed, with revolvers in their hands. They came to the bedroom where my children slept: Andrzej, three years old and Tereska, eight.

"Get dressed, do not wake up the children"- commanded one of them. Oh, good man, do not wake up the children! Strange, but I felt a wave of warmth in my heart. He discreetly turned away when I was getting dressed. Marysia dressed in the kitchen under the guard of another man. We were not afraid. We were as calm as ice. They ordered us to sit next to each other. One of the men stayed with us and ordered the other two men to leave. After a couple of hours, I wanted to smoke a cigarette; he offered his own but I did not want it. They let me bring my own cigarettes but he followed me and Marysia into the room. Another problem - I had to go to the restroom. He followed me there and did not allow me to close the door. About 5 am, two other men came back. We learned that they had arranged a truck to pick us up about 8 am. They ordered us to pack things up; we prepared 18 suitcases and bags. I was lucky, I asked the son of the neighbors to run to the friends' house with the information that I do not have money, bread or any extra food. Here is the text of the letter I sent to them: "I beg you, help us, give us as much money as you can. They are taking us to Russia, goodbye dear friends". The friend came back with the boy. She brought a loaf of bread and 10 golden French francs sewed inside the belt.

April 14, Saturday: They took us to the railway station at about 10 am. Our train was on the side rail track. The luggage was put into a separate wagon. They allowed us to take with us only the most necessary things. In the freight car (for animals) sixty people were squeezed. People of different sexes and ages- a two-year-old girl was the youngest, a 65-year-old woman was the oldest. These were mainly the families of policemen, prison guards, doctors, lawyers and reserve officers. All of Saturday, we waited for departure. People wanted to drink and they still had bread to eat. They did not let us leave the carriages. In the streets behind the wired fences, there were crowds of people bidding farewell. The guard watches next to the train. I see just in front of the wired fence the artesian well. I ask: "who will give me the bucket; I will bring the water". I got the bucket, jumped off the wagon, and the armed soldiers ran into me. You are not allowed - I try to argue to no avail. I was very upset - in the carriages children were crying; they wanted a drink. I approached the soldier and I told him - be a man, let me go, otherwise I will cut you through the head with this bucket. He let me take the water and the crowd on the street is cheering. I was able to fill up four buckets, since we did not have more.

The first night in the carrier, we took the upper bed - three alongside in the bed and the youngest - my three-year-old son on the top across us. Turning to the other side was almost impossible. On Sunday at 10 am, the train moved out. It carried away about 2 thousand people, mainly women and children.

We did not know each other but there was no animosity or a lack of trust between the passengers. Through the whole journey, we were not allowed out of the wagons. At the stops, Polish railway workers were sharing their food with us; in fields, the Ukrainian people were selling us milk, cooked potatoes, sometimes dry crackers or lepyoshkas (cakes made of flour, yeast and water). We were hungry and there was not enough water. We had to get organized. With an ax, we cut a hole in the floor and surrounded it with some cloth - this was our restroom. We broke the bars in four wagon windows to see the world around us. We were travelling mainly through the steppes, sometimes through some poor villages.

The first big town was Tula. The train stopped there for a couple of hours. Two officers were walking on the platform. We asked them to help us find water. They laughed at us: "maybe your God will help you" - One of the women said - let's pray - we knelt down and prayed to St. Mary for water, all of us prayed. Even the small crying children begged God for water …and something strange happened. The sunny sky gets darker. A sudden shower starts. We stick out the pots and cups to catch some water. St. Mary won and we could not even tell it to the officers, since they were hiding in the railway station from the rain. During the journey which lasted two weeks, we could not change our clothes or take a shower or even wash. In spite of that, we did not get any cloth worms.

All of us were very saddened by a tragedy. A wife of the reserve officer was with us. Her husband was able to escape to London. Her younger son, 15 years old, was able to escape from transport while we were loaded to the trains. The younger son, 5 years old, was with his mother. The mother was very worried about her older son, she was very nervous. One night, somebody noticed that she was trying to suffocate her younger son. He was safe but kept away from her until the end of the journey.

The route of our journey led through Stanislavov, Vinnica, Poltava, Charkov, Tula, Ufa, Chelabinsk, Lubiaza. We left the train on April 29 in Lubiaza.

Read the second part of the story Life in Kazakhian Village and the third part: Memories from Deportation to Kazakhstan - Banya .

Translated by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn and Suzanne Owen

Copyrights Baba Jaga Corner
January 2007

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This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here
Polish History and World War II - selection of articles
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Below are links to interesting literature about Poles deported to Russia, Siberia, Kazakstan etc. Some fragments are available in Amazon to read (click the link)

When God Looked the Other Way: An Odyssey of War, Exile, and Redemption (Paperback) by Wesley Adamczyk

The Brief Sun (Paperback), by Robert Ambros - A passionate account of the resilience of man and compromises that left Poland at the mercy of the Soviets.

I recommend also

The overview of Polish history which was written by Adam Zamoyski and is entitled:
The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture

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Poland & Poles in World War II - Books' Selection

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