Saga of Polish War Children - Escape from the Soviet Union

Saga of Polish War Children

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Lucjan Krolikowski was a teenage seminarian in Poland. He was studying philosophy at a monastery in Lwow. On 1st September Nazi Germany invaded Poland and two weeks later the Soviet Union followed suit from the east. They divided Poland between them.

The Soviets proceeded to arrest and deport to Siberia over 1,500,000 Poles. The deportation of civilians was massive during four periods:

February 1940
220,000 deported in 110 trains.
April 1940
320,000 deported in 160 trains.
June and July 1940
240,000 deported.
Later deportation
200,000 deported.
Of those deported 380,000 were children.

The deportation trains were unheated cattle trucks. The journey took two to three weeks. Small children died en masse during the journey. After arrival in Siberia and Kazakhstan many died from cold and hunger.

The death harvest among these Poles was terrifying. By 1942, almost one half of them were dead. (p.17)

Arrest and Deportation

The Soviets arrested and deported Lucjan Krolikowski. In August 1940 his deportation train travelled 2,000 miles. He was taken to the north of Russia, to a camp near Tarza, Archangelsk.

Life in the camp was hard.

  • A ladleful of porridge at noon
  • In the evening a watery soup with some cabbage leaves
  • 600 grams of bread
  • No fats, meat or potatoes
  • Work in the forest from 7am until 6 or 7pm
  • No rest at night because of the bedbugs

Release from Captivity

On 22 June 1941 Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. An agreement between the Polish government-in-exile in London and the Soviet leadership led to an amnesty and the release of Poles from Soviet captivity. A Polish army under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders was to be formed in the Soviet Union.

After release the task for the younger Polish men was to find the Polish army and join it.

But what about the women and children, the old and the infirm and the sick? Where would they go? We did not know. (p. 27)

Lucjan Krolikowski headed south toward Soviet Central Asia. At every railway station and junction he came across many Poles. They were all looking for food.

The road to the South was a veritable Calvary for the Polish families. From time to time, after two or three days without food, they had to break their journey in some larger city to find some. (p. 29)

The Polish Army was being formed in Buzuluk, to the west of the Ural mountains. During the winter of 1941-42 it was moved to Uzbekistan and Kirghistan. Thousands of Army recruits died from infectious diseases. Food was in short supply.

The Polish women and children sought refuge with the Polish Army.

Despite the general hunger, the military did not give up caring for the civilians, particularly the children...Through the time that the Polish Army remained in Russia, death gathered a rich harvest among the children, but in the initial stages this crop was terrifying. (pp. 49-51)

In 1942 Stalin agreed to allow the Polish Army and some civilians to be evacuated from the Soviet Union to Persia.

General Anders issued an order that the transports had to include as many children as possible, even the gravely ill... (p.67)

Crowded ships filled with Poles left from the port of Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian Sea, for the port of Pahlavi in Persia.

...amid the joy, none of us could forget that we represented only a very small percentage of all the Polish people deported to Russia between 1939 and 1941... (p. 68)

The Polish Army left Persia and headed for Iraq. From there they made their way through the Middle East and under British command fought against the Germans in Italy. Lucjan Krolikowski became a priest and was appointed as chaplain to a Polish military hospital in Egypt.

Africa

The British government offered the Polish refugees hospitality in her African colonies. The first children left Persia toward the end of 1942. There was 22 African Polish settlements which had a total of 19,000 inhabitants (about half of them were children). They varied in size between 350 and 4,000 people.

The largest settlements were:

  • Tengeru, Tanzania, near Mount Kilimanjaro. 4,000
  • Masindi, deep in the jungles of Uganda. 4,000
  • Koja, Uganda, on the banks of Lake Victoria. 3,000

Father Lucjan Krolikowski arrived in Africa in November 1947.

Journey to Canada

The Second World War over the post-war communist government in Poland was demanding that the orphaned children in Africa be returned to Poland. A demand that Lucjan Krolikowski and the others looking after the children were determined to resist.

In November 1948 the representative of the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) suggested that the Polish orphans be sent to a camp in Italy. The fear of those looking after the children in Africa was that:

Without at least a guarantee of asylum for all the children in a free country, they would not be safe in Europe, especially since it would take much time to obtain visas and this delay would be to the advantage of the Polish communists. (p. 177)

The Canadian government had agreed to accept the Polish orphans. The IRO continued to demand that the 150 orphaned children be sent to Italy. On 4 June 1949 the children boarded the Italian steamship Gerusalemme at Mombasa, Kenya. Two weeks later they arrived in Italy and were placed in an IRO camp in Salerno.

In August the IRO revealed that the communist government in Poland had demanded of the Italian government that they be given control of all Polish orphans in Italy. The IRO presented a plan to Father Lucjan Krolikowski and the others looking after the children that they escape to Germany by a special train.

Could we risk the fate of 150 children? What if this were a ruse to transport the children via Germany to Poland? ... Wasn't it better to accept this plan before the Italian carabinieri surrounded the camp and forced the children onto a train bound directly for Poland? Uncertainty tugged at us. (p. 206)

They decided to accept the plan. The train left for Germany and arrived in Bremen. The communists in Poland protested at the abduction of the children.

Canada granted 150 visas to be issued at the discretion of the Canadian consul and medical staff. The Canadians accepted 123 of the children. On 29 August they left Bremerhaven on board the IRO transport USAT General Stuart Hienzelman bound for Canada.

The sailing of the ship was delayed for two hours as the captain waited for three additional passengers. The communists had obtained Canadian visas for three passengers with the expectation that they would take over the management of the orphans when on board. They did not show up and the ship sailed without them.

As the anchor was raised the children sang the Polish national anthem.
As long as we live, Poland has not perished.

The children arrived in Canada on 7 September 1949 to start a new life.

Stolen Childhood - A Saga of Polish War Children

Author - Lucjan Krolikowski
ISBN - 978-0969158806
Publisher - Published by Father Justin Rosary Hour, New York , USA in 1983. Republished in 2001 by iUniverse with ISBN of 978-0595168637.
Book Availability - Amazon (UK) - Amazon (US) - Bookfinder.com

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This page was added on 21 January 2012.