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July 1999


Fascinating interview which is full of personal detail about the narrator’s childhood, in which he survived Siberia, cold, hunger, and separation from his family. He talks poignantly about the time when his family was taken from their home in Zyrawa (now in Ukraine) by the NKWD and transported by train to Siberia. Although he was only seven, he remembers details of the long journey, especially how “terribly cold” it was – “I once touched a rail with my tongue, and it stuck”. Not long after he arrived, his mother was placed in prison and he was taken to an orphanage (where he stayed for four years). He decided to escape, after learning that his mother was about to leave Siberia. When he finally caught up with her, she appeared not to want him. There was no food and she “was broken down. I felt sort of unwanted, as if I had come there to take away from them what they haven’t got even for themselves”.

In 1944, when “Poland was freed” (by Soviet forces), they traveled to Kuban in the south of Russia which “was like a paradise, compared with Siberia”. After 1946 they moved west, to the “recovered land” of Poland, where their father eventually traced them (through the Red Cross). He does not regret being moved to Sudety, but he admits that there is a lot of tension between the original inhabitants of the area and the post-war settlers like himself: “the original inhabitants, ‘autochthons’, have always held and still hold some sort of a grudge against us. As if we were the cause of their co-patriots having to leave their homeland. As if we had not been deported as well.” As a result, he finds that the Siberian deportees of the Klodzko Valley stick together. He is a member of the Siberian Deportee Association. He also briefly recalls the 1997 flood and the damage it caused to his property.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Early life history: born in Zyrawa (district of Zydatów). Remembers the night when the NKWD came and his family was taken by railway “into the heart of Russia”. Six months later they arrived and were placed into a barracks in the town of Jasnok
Section 2  Fondly remembers a horse they were given, which helped them to survive. When it died, they were so desperate they ate it. His mother was sent to prison and the children to an orphanage. Recalls life there and the constant hunger.
Section 3  Spent four years in the orphanage, because his “mother didn’t want to take us back cause she had no means of supporting us”. In 1944 he escaped.
Section 4  Eventually he found his mother, but she could not provide for him. He considered returning to the orphanage, but remembered the terrible punishment he received when he had previously run away.
Section 5  Recalls the long journey to Siberia and also his first impressions. Intense hunger and cold feature strongly in his accounts, and much resourcefulness. Compares the Siberian environment to the Sudety mountains – “nature is beautiful [in Siberia], the taiga is enchanting” with lots of fruits, berries and mushrooms in the forests.
Section 6  Learnt Russian at the orphanage. Returns to his earlier recollections of meeting his mother after his escape in 1944 – Poland was freed and so the “Russians didn’t want us to go home in such a bad state” so they fed him and his family. Later they all traveled to Kuban on the shores of the Black Sea, where there was no shortage of food “and our life… was like heaven”. In 1946 they moved to the Klodzko Valley, to the “so-called ‘recovered land’”
Section 7  Says he liked the new area - unlike some, who found the change from a flat landscape threatening. “I have always liked diversified scenery, I wouldn’t feel well in flatlands”. He does not miss his homeland.
Section 8  Describes the initially tense relationship between the Siberian people and those who were deported there after 1939. Recalls aspects of Siberian culture, personality, their homes etc.
Section 9  Notes that there is still suspicion between those original inhabitants of the Klodzko Valley and those who settled after the war. Talks briefly about the Siberian Deportee Association.
Section 10  Tries to compare life in Ukraine with the present situation. Does not blame anyone for his time in Siberia. It “hardened” him and he will now sleep anywhere, eat anything. His wife contributes a little of her family history too.
Section 11  Recalls how he was affected by the 1997 flood, which “caused a lot of damage” to his home. Says the flood was a “natural phenomenon”, although he wonders why it was not predicted. Said the animals “felt it was coming”.
Section 12  Remembers the “darkness and silence” after the floodwaters came. Ends the interview by noting that he lives a “quiet, peaceful life” with his wife. If someone gave him the chance to visit his homeland now, he’d go: “I’m very curious what it looks like now.”