Tuesday, 26 March 2013

From the Inhuman Land to the Promised Land

In 2010 my uncle Stanisław Bajkowski was invited  by a Polish historian to briefly describe his deportation from Poland and journey to England. His account was in Polish and was published on a history web site in Poland.

I produced a rough translation into English which is listed below. The article was also published in his local newspaper the 'Earby and Barnoldswick News' in England. (He lives in Barnoldswick, near Skipton in what is now Lancashire in England.)

I 're-discovered' this article a few days ago and though I might share it, even though I am still working on it.

I hope you find it interesting.

Jerzy (George) Neisser

‘From the Inhuman Land to the Promised Land…’


Stanisław Bajkowski gives a brief description of his deportation from Poland to Siberia by the Soviets and his journey into exile

(Translated from the Polish Original by Jerzy Neisser)

  Stanisław Bajkowski was born on 27th September 1925 in pre-war Poland in the village of Hołyszki in the district of Wołkowysk which lies in the Viovodship of Białystok. His father Mieczysław and mother Bronisława (nee Czaplejewska) owned an arable farm comprising ten hectares near the village of Podorosk in the district of Wołkowisk. The Bajkowski and Czaplejewski families had lived in Poland’s North Eastern Borderlands region (the Kresy) for centuries. Stanisław’s nearest relations included a brother and sister, two families on his father’s side and four on his mother’s side. All lived within the North Eastern Kresy region and although the ethnic Polish inhabitants represented only around 20% of the total population, they regarded themselves as Polish and spoke Polish as their mother-tongue.

 The outbreak of the Second World War on 1st September 1939 was a massive shock for the Bajkowskis, made worse on 17th September by the Soviet invasion of Poland from the East. As soon as the Soviets had secured the new frontier and imposed their authority upon the subjugated territories the deportations began. Early on the morning of 10th February 1940 a convoy of five sledges, each one bearing a Russian soldier with bayonet fixed, arrived at the Bajkowski farm house. The family was given barely half an hour to pack all the necessary essentials for a long journey and instructed to take enough food to keep them alive for one month.

 The Poles from this locality - around 600 - were then grouped in the nearby mansion of wealthy local landlord Pan Bochwica. The following morning, in 35 degrees of frost, they were transported 25 kilometres to the train station at Wołkowysk. There they were ‘packed’ into waiting cattle trucks. Inside they found wooden beds, boards and planks allowing them to lie or sit but not stand. The windows were small and grated, and – as if to deliberately make matters even worse - frozen over. In the centre was a so-called heater or small metal coal fire. A hole in the corner served as a toilet. And so it was that in these spartan conditions the Poles began their journey into exile.

 The train took them to nearby Baranowice where they languished for a week until authorization to proceed to the next stage of their journey into the depths of the Soviet Union arrived. Tears were shed by one and all as they crossed the former border of the defeated and now non-existent Second Republic of Poland. Many of them would never return. During the long journey they helped and supported each other. An atmosphere of sincerity and sympathy reigned which transcended their awful fate: everyone, whenever they could, tried to uplift the spirits of others. Stanisław would emphasize: ‘In the foresters’ wagon Chojnowski played the violin beautifully and a young bachelor Pan Witek cracked jokes incessantly….’

 Despite that fact that he had barely reached 15 years of age Stanisław Bajkowski felt proud that he was heading for Siberia along the same route taken by so many great and eminent Poles throughout Poland’s turbulent and tragic history.

 The deportees sustained themselves, in the main, with the provisions they had managed to take with them. Occasionally when the train stopped, an NKVD man would ask someone to fetch soup from a nearby canteen in a couple of buckets slung across the shoulders. This soup would then be shared with the fifty or so deportees in the wagon. When the hole in the corner froze over the train would stop somewhere in the countryside and the unfortunate passengers would be instructed to leave their carriages and attend to their needs in the fields – this was very demeaning.

 Following a short stay in Moscow the train headed northwards to Jarosławia on the Volga and then on towards Archangel. After some two weeks the train stopped at a small station called Kodino which was surrounded by heavily snow-laden forests. Since it remained at the station somewhat longer than at previous stops, Stanisław’s father became impatient and asked an accompanying NKVD man: ‘Where is the next station?’ He replied: ‘This is a cul-de-sac – for you, the end of the world!’

 The deportees were divided in to two groups: one group was earmarked for Traktornej bazy, and the other, which included Stanisław, was earmarked for the special camp of Tushilovo in the Archangel Oblast. This was in the Archangel Onezski region (Koze Ozierskoje pocztowoje dzielenie Posiołek Tushilovo).

 The group was forced to walk, mainly across the frozen Lake Onega, for three days to reach Posiołek Tushilovo. Sledges were made available for the sick, the old and small children. They reached their final destination totally exhausted by their long journey in the cattle trucks and their100 kilometers trek.  

 The camp had previously housed around one thousand Ukrainians who had been deported in the early 1930s. When the Poles arrived only some sixty of these Ukrainians were left; the rest had perished. The camp consisted of two separate groups of barracks both located around a large lake called Koze Oziero. The Poles lived in Tushilovo itself and the Ukrainians lived across the lake in a place called Chabarowie.

 There were three so called ‘commandants’ in the camp: an NKVD man, a military man and an administrator. Each family was allocated a small living space in the centre of which was a small metal stove similar to that found in the cattle wagons.  Soon after all baggage had been unloaded and housed securely forest clearing “brigades”, each consisting of ten workers, were formed. Despite the hard work and extreme conditions food rations remained at starvation levels.

 A worker got 800 grammes of bread and soup consisting of water and a couple of spoonfuls of flour. The old, sick and children received 400 grammes of bread only. And of course, this starvation level of subsistence had to be paid for by hard labour.   

 The forestry work, which involved transporting the felled trees by river, was extremely hard and demanding and many workers soon fell ill. There was no medical care in the camp and in the first eighteen months 80 people, mostly young and middle aged, lost their lives. Stanisław’s sister Zosia was one of the first to be struck down by typhus; she survived only by a miracle.

 In this region of Siberia winter lasts nine months and the summer is short but beautiful. Bed-bugs were a major problem during the summer. The bugs formed their nests in the moss which covered the barrack ceilings and during the night they fell onto the sleeping unfortunates.  

 Despite the awful conditions the Poles did not lose hope and believed that someone somewhere would remember them. In June 1941 quite unexpectedly a spark of hope appeared when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. From this day the deportees’ situation gradually began to improve.

 At the beginning of September 1941 a meeting was called in the camp assembly room. The military commandant appeared on the stage smiling and said: ‘Do you know General Anders? And do you know General Sikorski?’ Rather seriously everyone replied: ‘Yes we do’, and he went on: ‘Our government has reached an agreement with the Polish government in London, we will fight the Germans together, you are all free and you may travel anywhere in the Soviet Union apart from European Russia’.

 One of the crowd asked may we sing the Polish Anthem? The commandant replied: ‘Please do, we will listen’. Instead of the Mazurka Dabrowskiego everyone sang the Rotę. The deportees would remember this event and look back on it as an extraordinarily moving and uplifting moment in their ordeal. Soon they all received official papers showing that they were now “amnestied” and free to travel. They were promised help and transport to the nearest railway station.

 Unfortunately the rejoicing lasted only a short time. The promised help took a long time to materialize: things moved very slowly and orders took a long time in coming through. In the meantime more deportees from the special camp and from prison in Archangel arrived on the scene. Amongst them was Stanisław’s uncle who after nine months spent in prison was unrecognizable. He and his family left the camp before Stanisław and, for a while, contact between them was lost. From his uncle’s family of five, four would die from hunger in Uzbekistan, however the last surviving member, his daughter Irena, made it safely to Tehran.

 In the middle of February 1942 the time finally came for the Bajkowski family to leave the camp. There were by then only two or three deportees left in the camp: Stanisław never met any of them again. As they traveled South Stanisław’s brother Leon had a relapse of tuberculosis of the bones. He was made comfortable on a sleigh, while the rest of Stanisław’s family: father, mother and sister journeyed on foot in heavy snow for 100km to the nearest train station Wonguda. They waited for over a week for transport which eventually came in the form of two cattle trucks, almost identical to those in which they were deported to Siberia in 1940 but a tad more luxurious: no hole in the floor!

 The plan was to go to Uralsk. However just before they set off something unexpected happened. A man of some 30 years of age jumped into the wagon and asked if they would take him along since he had heard that the train was heading south.  No one knew this man so they refused, saying that there was no room. He left without hesitation but very shortly after returned, knocked on the door and as it slid open he threw a sack into the truck, after a moment he threw in another sack and then jumped in the wagon.  As it transpired he had stolen two sacks of macaroni from a neighbouring wagon! He asked for a bowl and divided the macaroni equally amongst everyone.  After a while he introduced himself. ‘My name is Wanka Nowik, I am a White Russian from Minsk, I have been imprisoned in a camp for 12 years and have escaped. And you Poles, if you want to live and not die from hunger you will have to steal, otherwise you will never see your beloved Poland again’. This man, it would transpire, would save the lives of this particular cattle truck’s inhabitants.
And so at the next station Oboziersk a dramatic event occurred. Six of the men folk from a neighbouring wagon went to find bread taking with them all their respective family documents. In their absence the train unexpectedly set off leaving the men behind. Without documents none of the men’s families and relations could get hold of life-saving sustenance and would begin to starve to death. In these circumstances the new passenger’s skills (namely Wanka’s) became priceless. On their onward journey they stole – under Wanka’s expert supervision - whatever they could: bread, sugar, fish, and so on and attempted to accumulate a reserve, for there were times when it was not possible to steal. There was a period during which for eight days, apart from sugar and hot water from the steam engine, there was nothing to eat. After a few days of such a diet the stomach could take no more. Many vomited incessantly whilst others could no longer stand up on their own two legs. Without Wanka’s ‘expertise’ many would have perished.

 After the War in England Stanisław actually met some of the men left behind. Together they looked back at those tumultuous times and discussed and contemplated how their families, heading south, cheated death from starvation and how they had managed to survive in the Soviet Union without those documents in their possession.

 The route from Archangel to the south passed through Vologda, Jaroslaw then Moscow and on to Wlodzimir and: ‘There a miracle occurred’. Although on the verge of exhaustion Stanisław’s father Mieczysław, by a massive physical exertion, managed to arrange a meeting with the local war committee. He had had a good Russian education and spoke the language very well, and making the most of this he pleaded with the commandant to send someone to the cattle wagons to witness the people there starving and dying from hunger. The commandant turned out to be a very decent man, he replied: ‘I believe you’ and issued instructions to the town bakery to issue enough 400 gram loaves for 60 people to last six weeks. Mieczysław then, with the help of a market trader and his large sleigh, returned to the train with the priceless cargo. From then on everyone slowly began to regain their strength: they had water and bread - death from hunger no longer threatened them.

 Travelling through Rozajewka, Saralow, Uralsk, Aryse, Tashkent, Oktubinsk and Kagan, by degrees Stanisław and his family neared their objective. At Okubinsk Stanisław’s brother Leon died. His body was wrapped in a blanket and laid on the station platform. Stanisław’s father wanted to stay behind to bury him, but this risked being left behind and possibly loosing contact with his family forever. Stanisław’s mother Bronisłąwa persuaded Mieczysław that he must leave his dead son and journey on. She told him that: ‘We still have two living children, our duty is to ensure that they survive at all costs’.  

 Following their arrival at Dzambul on the borders of Uzbekistan and Kazachstan another miracle occurred. The plan was to journey on to Aumaaty, however whilst their wagons were temporarily parked in a siding awaiting a replacement locomotive to take them on, a small locomotive unexpectedly arrived, linked to their wagons and pulled off! They soon realized that they were traveling in an unknown direction. After some time they stopped at a small station called Czak-Pak in southern Kazakstan. There to their amazement a train full of Polish soldiers was waiting. A Polish officer told them: ‘You will now travel with us to Iran as military families’. Stanisław felt that this must be some sort of fiction – for it cannot possibly be reality!

 It transpired that General Anders, taking full advantage of the chaos reigning in the Soviet Union at that time, had ordered the Polish Army to take any means and make every effort to rescue Polish citizens and escort them to freedom – and the army was fulfilling its orders!

 At the end of April 1942 they arrived with the Army at the port of Krasnowodsk on the Caspian Sea. There the transport ship Moskwa awaited them. During boarding no one was checked: ‘We were herded on to the ship like sheep’. As the badly overloaded ship set sail for Pahlevi in Iran, an unusually violent storm erupted forcing the exhausted and emaciated exiles to lie on the decks for safety adding further to their seemingly never-ending ordeals.    

 At last early in the next morning as the sun rose: ‘We made it from the inhuman land to the promised land’. Following quarantine they were billeted in accommodation around Tehran. Unfortunately in a very short time epidemics of typhoid and dysentery broke out. It was the 26th of April 1942. Stanisław’s mother had enjoyed freedom for not quite three days before contracting typhoid. She died two weeks later and was buried in the French cemetery in Tehran amongst 2000 other Poles.

 From the ten members of the two Bajkowski families deported to Russia only four made freedom: Stanisław, his younger sister Zofia, his mother Bronisława and father Mieczyslaw.


 In Tehran Stanisław and his father joined the Polish Army. Stanisław’s father was a platoon leader and as a consequence also one of the commanders of the Guard Company. He was based in Military Camp No. 4 until its liquidation, he then moved to Palestine. In February 1943 Stanisław traveled to Iraq where he stayed for two months. He then volunteered to join the1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade forming in Britain. In June he was in Scotland, where, notwithstanding fatal accidents amongst his trainee comrades, he passed out as a paratrooper.

 In September 1944 he took part in the battle of Arnhem. During the first phase of the battle his battalion was forced to abort its intended drop at the last minute, turn back in mid-flight over the English Channel and return to England because of poor conditions. Unfortunately the 2nd and 3rd Battalions had already landed. At the second attempt the 1st Battalion dropped into Grave with the American 81st Airborne Division. The battalion then linked up with the main body of the Brigade at Driel, however by now the element of surprise had been lost, and as the paratroopers took up their positions they were subjected to heavy German machine gun fire.     

 Lacking artillery support they could not execute their tasks and on 25th September they received orders to withdraw. They did so in good battle order and under enemy fire, which fortunately proved to be ineffective.

 For his part in the Battle of Arnhem Stanisław was decorated on several occasions.

 From 11th May 1945 to 1947 Stanisław was stationed with the Polish Parachute Brigade in Bramsche in Germany as part of the post-war occupation force.   

 Following demobilization he settled in Great Britain where he married and brought up a family. He has a son, two daughters, nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He is the last Bajkowski of his generation to have passed through Russia. From the Czaplejewski side of his family the son of his cousin lives currently in Minsk in White Russia, he speaks Polish and feels himself to be Polish.
Stanisław Bajkowski would like to thank the people of Iran for welcoming him and his family and the Polish deportees so warmly into their country: ‘I have a great affinity towards the Iranians’.

(This is a translation from the Polish original)




An old and patriotic Polish song often sung instead of the national anthem of Dąbrowski.
The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade consisted of four battalions, Stanisław was in the 1st Company, 1st Battalion.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Polish Navy Exhibition at the Sikorski Museum


On Thusday 21st March 2013 I spent some time in the Sikorski Museun examining SPK archives as part of my research into the evolution of the Polish emigre community in Great Britain. During a break I came upon an exhibition dedicated to the Polish Navy and since there has been discussion recently within the Kresy-Siberia group on this topic I thought members might be interested in some photographs I took with my mobile (they're not the best quality; better images can easily be produced on demand.)

The display includes symbols of the Polish Navy, models of Polish destroyers, a lifebelt imprinted with 'Pilsudski', a couple of ship's bells (as shown), a plaque with 'ŚLĄZAK' written upon it, plus other memorabilia.

The last photograph is not connected with the Polish Navy, it is the Polish flag that was hoisted above the ruins of Monte cassino on reaching the summit by members of the 2nd Corps. (It looks pretty threadbare in real life.)

The Main Display


Thursday, 14 February 2013

I am based at the University of Manchester where I am undertaking research into the growth and evolution of the Polish Post World War II Diaspora with particular emphasis on Great Britain. Both my mother and father were Polish: my mother was born in a small village called Natalin, near Wołkowysk in the Białystok Voivodeship in the Eastern Polish Kresy region, now part of Bielorussia; my father was born in Poznań in Western Poland. My mother was deported along with many members of her family to a Siberian labour camp - part of Stalin's Gulag system. After an odyssey of many thousands of miles, she and the surviving members of her family arrived in  England in 1947. My father came through Germany and France arriving in England in 1944. They met in a Polish Resettlement Camp in Chorley, a small mill town some 20 miles north west of Manchester. In this blog I attempt to tell the story of their individual odysseys - just one tiny thread comprising the, at once, tragic, noble and glorious story of the Post World War II Polish Diaspora.