to Siberia: A Polish Child's World War II Journey by Klaus Hergt (2000),
was only ten years old when World War II started.
On the very first day German bombers attacked his hometown, for it had
a strategic rail importance. His happy childhood instantly ended. It is
amazing how many fond memories remained with Hank as he recalls them,
including his friend Rex, the faithful dog. Soon thereafter dramatic events
took place, some of them caused by different ethnic origins of his parents.
For American readers it may be incomprehensible, but in that part of Eastern
Europe it was often a common problem. The father became a fugitive from his
family. If apprehended, his fate would have been sealed as it was indeed for
20,000 officers, policemen, or other Poles who ended up in Katyń or similar
places. Yet his going into hiding did not protect the family; Krasne was
annexed by the Soviet Union. A short time later they were shipped to Siberia
in a cattle car along with 70 other local residents of whom only twenty
survived. They were found to be "in need of correctional labor"
otherwise known as anti-Soviet elements. They were given 30 minutes to pack;
fortunately, grandmother remembered to take along a tea kettle, which proved
to be an invaluable treasure.
the family's stay in Siberia, suffice it to say that they were
transported north of Tobolsk,
behind the Ural Mountains. The author spares us horror stories; rather, he
repeats the narrative of Hank and his little sister, who was only
five-year-old at the time. These little children were completely helpless,
particularly after their mother suddenly died. A year and a half later the war
between Nazi Germany and the Soviets broke out, and a modest Polish rescue unit
appeared, searching for orphans and other people in distress. There came a
parting of the children from their grandmother, who wisely allowed them to
leave. Again the author refrains from expressing agonizing thoughts while
remaining a sympathetic but impartial narrator.
last part of this sorrowful odyssey relates the travels of Hank and Romana
from Siberia via Samarkand, Krasnovodsk, and across the Caspian Sea to Persia,
a seemingly endless voyage through deserts, never knowing where the next stop
will be. This trek continued via Karachi and Bombay, where an American ship
took 700 wounded U.S. soldiers and 200 Polish orphans on a six-week trip via
Australia and the South Pacific to California. For political reasons (the
Soviets were America's allies at that time), the children were promptly
re-shipped to Mexico; they proved to be an unwanted human cargo. Their misery
ended in 1946, when this sorry group arrived
at their ultimate destination, the United States. Finally, they had reached
the end of the tunnel, and the sun of hope came over the horizon. From here on
the story is cheerful, but the end will-not be revealed.
author includes an extensive bibliography and a long introduction by Dr.
Piotrowski of the University of New Hampshire. Let it be stated that two
thousands Polish orphans were brought out of Siberia in this manner to safe
locations elsewhere in the world.
Last update: 01/18/2016