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On February 10, 1940, the Soviet authorities carried out the first of four mass deportations of Polish citizens, during which about 140,000 people were deported to the northern regions of Russia and western Siberia.  The deportees died of cold, hunger, and exhaustion during the transport.

The purpose of deporting Poles deep into the USSR was to destroy the national structure in the eastern territories of Poland.


In connection with the 83rd anniversary of the first deportation of Poles to Siberia, we invite you to familiarize yourself with part of the participant’s story, Antoniego Walawendra.

“I recall that during the night of February 9-19, 1940. In the early hours of this Saturday, shocking experiences and struggles for survival befell the citizens inhabiting the eight voivodships (provinces) of eastern Poland. Soviet Army soldiers and collaborating scoundrels, whom Józio describes as kacapy, broke into houses with announcements and orders.

Along the highway south of our house, not more than 400 meters, our family noticed suspicious movements of people and horses pulling sleds.  Dziadek Jan’s house was in our clear view. Early in the morning, at seven o’clock, from the highway, a teenage boy ran along the field road and when passing our house, yelled: The Russians are deporting our people to Siberia. Tata quickly started shouting instructions to us. He asked me to carry to the attic two crosses with round bases; one cross was gilded, while the other one was silver. Babcia, maternal grandmother who was 70 years old at the time, prayed in front of the Christ icon. Tata packed grain into the sacks, collected and laid on the floor, by the door, hammers, saw, axes, silverware, and some other tools and items he thought would be useful.

Mama made a fire in the oven early in the morning and prepared the dough. However, contemplating that the kacapi may arrive any minute, she abandoned the idea of baking bread.

Two soldats (soldiers) and NKVD agents and a local Ukrainian collaborator forcibly entered our house shortly after 7:00 a.m. Our family was forced into a single room under the threat of a rifle and pistol. One of the soldats then read an announcement that from this moment on, we are to be immediately transported to another region.

He then asked if we possessed any firearms, gold or silver. Tata asked me to bring it down from the attic the two crosses. The local Ukrainian collaborator forcefully removed Christ’s picture from the wall and threw it against the wooden floor. Babcia looked at the wall, at the icon, and at the blasphemer, while removing the pieces of glass from Christ’s image. She intertwined her prayers with impolite words and God’s punishment in hell. Babcia then kissed and pressed the picture against her heart. The folded Christ icon traveled with Babcia to Siberia, where she died in May 1941. Mama brought the picture by way of Kazakhstan to Łęgowo.

The Soviet NKVD agent found no weapons in the house, after that, told us sobyreayetsya, to get ready and start packing and loading the sledges. Tata protested, saying he is a hard-working farmer, living in peace with all his neighbors and acquaintances. “Leave my family and me here so we can cultivate our land and live happily.” The local collaborator retorted that he would not trust this Polonized German at all. When the NKVD officer checked the list of our family members, Babcia’s name was not registered. Mama adroitly then suggested that Babcia was visiting so she could go to her son Franek in Chełm. But Babcia emphatically replied: Where you will go, my children, I will go there, with you.

Within forty minutes, we loaded the two sledged in front of the house with clothing, sacks of grain, clothes, father’s implements, and pierzyna (down quilt), a quilt filled with thick layers of feathers. Stasia and Zosia sobbed, clinging to Mama’s skirt.

Józio and I assisted our parents in this sad ordeal. Mama preoccupied with provisions, lamented that we will not have enough bread. Prudent Tata pits into one of the two sledges six sacks of wheat. The enforced journey on the two sledges began at about 7:45 a.m. It led to Mielnica and then to Iwanie Puste. Stasia, Zosia and Babcia shared the pierzyna. On the outskirts of Mielnica, Józio jumped out of the sledge, grabbed his skis which he received from Tata in December, as a present for his hard work on the farm. Tata bought the skis from a policeman, practically for nothing. Józio approached a Ukrainian blacksmith and begged for a loaf of bread, in exchange for the skis. He agreed and had his son, Jozio’s former classmate, get the bread. The guards did not react to this particular transaction.

However, uncle Ludwik, just behind us, had been forced back by the two kacapy, when he tried to bid farewell to his uncle. Dziadek Jan’s brother Ferdinand (the carpenter), in northern Mielnica. People on both sides of the street stared at us with pity. To beholders, it made an impression of a funeral caravan.

Arriving at Iwanie Puste


The station in Iwanie Puste was filled with civilians entering the cars, with soldiers pushing them in and other guards walking along the train. All the deportees to Siberia from Duninow were loaded into the second car, just the back of the front locomotive. But for some reason, we were forced into another car near the middle of the train. Tata’s and Mama’s pleas to transfer us to the “Duninow” car were of no avail. The same pleas were later repeated and ignored in Novosibirsk, where Dziadek’s family and Duninow gang were dispatched to far away labor camps in taiga. So, we found ourselves with about 30 other frightened faces in a cold wooden freight car.

The outside temperature was minus 34 degrees C. A small stove was fixed in the center of the train car, with a pipe for a chimney and a coal bucket nearby. A few feet on either side of the stove were two rows of thick wooden platforms, one above the other. On these fixtures, we slept, wept, prayed, sat, lamented, lay down, and some even cursed.

We were in this train car in Iwanie Puste for three days while additional Poles from neighboring villages were being rounded up for deportation with us. Between the stove and the sealed large door, on the floor, a hole served us as a toilet. Someone had covered the area with a blanket for privacy. The place was smelly, inconvenient, generally bashful, and with cold air, if not covered.


Leaving Iwanie Puste

After three days at Iwanie Puste, the locomotive with about 100 cars, pulled northward through Borszczów to Czortków and then eastward to Husiałyn, on the Zbrucz River. Several times we experienced car bumping, signaling that more cars were being added to the train. The distance from Mielnica to Husiałyn is about 50 kilometers. From the formerly Husiałyn on the Polish side, we crossed between Poland and U.S.S.R., specifically, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, to the small town, also by the same name of Husiałyn.

In the Soviet Husiałyn, the entire transport had been transferred from the Polish freight wagons do Soviet cattle cars. The reason for the transfer was to continue our forced journey on the wider-gauged Soviet rail tracks. The same basic arrangements prevailed: the stove, wooden platforms, the hole in the floor with a covered blanket for privacy.

Babcia did not stop praying and praying; other women accompanied her. We placed our entire faith in God’s mercy and the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Suddenly, when crossing the Polish border at the Zbrucz River, someone cried out:

                                        Pod Twą obronę, Ojcze na niebie,
                                        grono Twych dzieci swój powierza los,
                                      Ty nam błogosław, ratuj w potrzebie
                                      i broń od zguby, gdy zagraża cios.


In Siberia


From Duninów, MielnicaWar War II, Iwanie Puste, Husiatyri, we ( in the cattle cars) trekked through or nearby Vinnitsa, Kiev, Moscow, Gorki, Kazan, Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, Petropavlovsk (in Kazakhstan), Omsk and Barnaul – the distance of about 5,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) in 27 dayes.

Opr. Alicja Karlic

Source: My Journey: Part 1 – Born to Surmount Obstacles by Antoni (Anthony) Walawender




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