Crater's Edge: A Polish Family's Epic Journey In Wartime Russia

Crater's Edge: A Family's Epic Journey In Wartime Russia

On 1st September 1939 German forces attacked and invaded Poland. Michal Giedroyc's father, a Senator in the Polish Second Republic, left the family estate at Lobzow and headed for Warsaw. He arrived on the 6th and found the Parliament deserted. He returned to Lobzow, in the Polish Eastern Marches, on the 12th September. Five days later Poland was attacked again this time from the east by the Soviet Union.

On 20th September Soviet armoured vehicles arrived at the family manor in Lobzow. The Soviet secret police (NKVD) arrested Tadzio Giedroyc, Michal's father, and placed him in jail at Dereczyn. Michal, his mother Ania and his two older sisters Anuska and Tereska spent the night with their father in his prison cell. Their life in eastern Poland as they had known it had come to an end.

Life at Lobzow

In 1926 Tadzio and Ania Giedroyc had been given the estates of Lobzow and Kotczyn by two maiden aunts Helena and Maryina Polubinski. The estates were in poor condition and burdened by debt. Tadzio and Ania accepted the challenge of trying to restore them. They chose Lobzow as their main residence, sold off the grounds of Kotczyn manor and made the Lobzow home farm their center of operations. The old orchards were replaced and planted with new varieties of apple and pears. Bee-hives were placed among the trees and the result was a distinctive Lobzow honey.

The manor house at Lobzow was long and low and of traditional 18th century design. The furniture and book collection had suffered serious damage during the 1st World War but was gradually restored.

Michal was born in January 1929 the youngest of three children. He was 10 when his world was changed forever by the Nazi and Soviet invasions.

Deportation

Ania and her children were released from the jail at Dereczyn and given sanctuary by the Skibinski family in Dereczyn. In late October 1939 the prisioners at Dereczyn jail were moved to Slonim. On 10th February 1940 the Soviets deported nearly 250,000 Polish citizens to Siberia in cattle trucks. The Giedroyc family decided to move to Slonim. Ania frequently handed in parcels of food and medicine at the prison for her husband.

On 13 April 1940 Soviet soldiers banged on their door and told them to gather their things. They were being deported. They were taken to the station and loaded onto a train of cattle trucks. After twelve hours the train began to move. On the 15th they passed through Minsk and on the 17th they reached the city of Smolensk in Russia. Their train crossed the River Volga near Kuibyshev on the 22nd. After two weeks their journey came to an end at a small station called Petukhovo. From there they were taken by truck to a village formerly called Nikolaevka in northern Kazakhstan.

They found accommodation with a former soldier of one of the Russian Imperial rifle regiments. The cottage had only two rooms. Three Polish families moved in to share one of the rooms. Life was harsh. In the Siberian winter temperatures often plunged to minus 40 degrees centigrade. For Michal's mother, paying the rent and surviving were her main concerns.

Nazi Germany Attacks the Soviet Union

On 22th June 1941 Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. In response the Soviet government signed an agreement, with the Polish government-in-exile in London, that all Polish prisoners and deportees held in the Soviet Union would be released so that a Polish army could be formed on Soviet territory. Polish prisoners from all over the vast territory of the Soviet Union headed for a town called Buzuluk in the southern Ural Mountains of Russia. This was where General Wladyslaw Anders, the commander of the Polish Army, had set up his headquarters.

In March 1942 Stalin agreed to the evacuation from Russia to Persia of 30,000 of Anders men.

...the so-called first evacuation...Within a week 34 trains were laid on by the NKVD and between 24th March and 5th April half the Polish Army on Soviet soil was transported to Krasnovodsk, then to Pahlavi, an Iranian port on the Caspian Sea, in 17 or 18 shiploads. The extraordinary aspect of this exodus was that Anders managed to include in it some 11,000 civilians. (p. 98)

In July 1942 Stalin agreed to allow all of Ander's army to be moved to Iran.

Escape from the Soviet Union

In the summer of 1942 Ania Giedroyc received a telegram from Stanislaw Kot, the Polish Ambassador to the Soviet Union, letting her know that they were searching for her husband. She also received a food parcel, from China, sent by Tadeusz Romer, recently the Polish Ambassador to Japan, who had setup an aid programme for Polish deportees.

In June 1942 Ania Giedroyc received documents sent by the Polish Army summoning them to a place called Guzar near the Soviet-Afghan border. This was now the main reception depot of the Polish Army. She took the decision to leave their village and embark on the hazardous journey south. They left on 2 July and travelled the 100km to the railway station at Petukhovo. They obtained train tickets for travel to Guzar at the station. They went to Novosibirsk, a railway junction on the Trans-Siberian railway. There a Polish sergeant helped them by endorsing their tickets with a forged stamp.

My mother understood how dangerous this was. But in Novosibirsk she had come to the conclusion that our journey was no longer a battle of wits with hostile authorities, but a hazardous game with life itself as the stake. (p. 102)

Their train left the Trans-Siberian railway at Novosibirsk and headed south on the Turk-Sib railway. After travelling 2000km they reached Tashkent in Uzbekistan. There they saw many Poles in uniform. General Anders's HQ was only 30km away at Jangi-Jul. The next day they boarded a train for Samarkand. They eventually arrived at Guzar on the 15th July 13 days after leaving Nikolaevka. On that day General Anders issued his orders for the Second Evacuation.

The first batch of trains departed for Krasnovodsk on 30th July...The operation took two weeks and a day. 45,000 men and 26,000 civilians were removed from Soviet soil in 41 train loads and 25 shiploads...The conditions in the trains were appalling. There was overcrowding reminiscent of April 1940, but this time the move was accompanied by epidemic diseases and subtropical heat. (pp. 107-108)

They arrived at the post of Krasnovodsk on 20th August after a journey of 7 days. There they boarded a ship which on 22 August docked at Pahlavi in Persia. They had finally escaped from the Soviet Union.

Life After the Soviet Union

In September 1942 they travelled to Teheran the capital of Persia. They were taken to "Civilian Camp No. 3" set in the grounds of a country house. By October they decided to move out of the camp and fend for themselves in the city. In January 1944 Michal joined the Polish Army as a Junior and left for Palestine. His mother and sisters arrived in Beirut in November 1944. They all later left for England.

In 1948 Michal learned that his father was dead. After the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union the NKVD forced the prisoners in the jail in Minsk, where Tadzeusz Giedroyc was being held, to walk to Mogilev. He was executed by the NKVD when he no longer had the strength to continue walking.

Crater's Edge: A Family's Epic Journey Through Wartime Russia

Author - Micha Giedroyc
ISBN - 1903071240
Publisher - Published in 2010 by Bene Factum Publishing Ltd.
Book Availability - Amazon (UK) - Amazon (US) - BookFinder

Related Material

  • My father's Siberian prison hell by his daughter comedian Mel Gideroy, half of the comedy duo Mel and Sue, in Daily Telegraph (UK) (25 March 2010)
  • Book reviewed in Financial Times (UK) by Stefan Wagstyl (26 April 2010)

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This page was added on 02 May 2010.