THE DEPORTATION OF BETWEEN ONE MILLION AND two million Poles, sent in cattle cars to the Soviet Union in 1940, and who lived in brutal conditions in Siberia and then Central Asia, is a story that has not received its share of historical attention.
This is a book that tells the full story of a family that survived this horror and succeeded, through intelligence, determination, and sheer strength, to find safety. Marian Wiacek was only ten years old when, at two a.m., on February 10, 1940, Soviet soldiers ordered his mother, himself, eight year old brother and five year old sister to leave their home. The children's father, Antoni Wiacek, was not on hand to protect his family, as he had previously been arrested by the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD) for being a captain in the Polish Reserve, and was subsequently murdered with thousands of other Polish officers in Katyn Woods.
Marian and his family were loaded into a train of cattle wagons equipped with rows of wooden bunks and a hole in the floor for a toilet. These cattle wagons were very crowded, with up to seventy people in each wagon. For two weeks, the transport of thirty wagons rolled deep into Russia. Marian crouched by the only window in the car, that was beside his top bunk, and watched the Russian countryside roll by.
After the train stopped deep in the forest, the people were transported by sledges to a 'posiolek' (or work camp) where all able-bodied people were forced to work, mainly in logging. Regrettably, an epidemic of scarlet fever, diarrhea and scurvy decimated the population. Marian bravely helped his family by going into the forest alone to hunt for mushrooms, berries, and fish.
After the German army invaded the USSR, the Soviets turned to the Poles as allies. The 1941 Sikorski-Maiskii Pact promised an amnesty to all Polish citizens inside the country. Marian's family travelled, again in cattle wagons, for a month with little food, south, through Swierdlowsk, Cheliabinsks, around the Aral Sea to Taszkient, Samarkand and Buchara. In Buchara, Marian Wiacek’s family was moved to a kolkhoz (collective farm) where they had to work clearing cotton fields. Hunger forced them to eat whatever they could find. Again, Marian's cleverness and skill at foraging for food was instrumental in his family's survival.
In August 1942, the Polish Army moved the family to a ship that took them to Iran. Eventually, they were sent to the Polish Refugee Settlement of Koja beside Lake Victoria in Uganda. In June 1944, Marian joined the Junaki, a Polish military organization in Palestine under British command. He attended a mechanical high school in Sarafand and then in Kefar Bill. In September, 1947, his unit landed in Southampton, England, and was transferred to Camp Hursley near Winchester. There he joined the PKPR (Polish Resettlement Corps) under British command, and finished high school. After graduation he was demobilized and obtained a job in Aylesbury. Fortunately, because Marian was employed, his family was allowed to come to England from East Africa.