Romuald's story

The journey to Siberia

Photo of Romuald and brother There is something I never understood: the Russians came "to free the peasants from the yoke of the Polish landlords" and yet, many of poor peasants were deported with us to Siberia. Sometimes you could see whole families, old people, small children, etc., arrested and deported. In our box car there was a grandfather, age 72, and two of his grandchildren 5 and 7. What crimes against the Soviet Union did they commit in their lives is beyond me. But this was an example of 'Soviet justice'.

During the night of 21-22 of June 1940 we heard the train moving. We realized that it was the departure time. All of the sudden it became very quiet in the car and then somebody started to sing "Nie rzucim ziemi sk_d nasz r3/4d" ("We won't forfeit the land of our roots"). Some women started to cry. I don't think that at that time I realized the seriousness of the situation and the dramatic consequences of this moment for the rest of my life. It was somehow inconceivable to me that I will leave Poland forever. I visioned myself returning to my native land as a grown-up perhaps, after many years, to find everything the way it was when I was a boy. Just as I read in many of the historical books that I liked so much. I modeled myself right away as one of the characters from my books - a pilgrim coming back to his country from far away lands after many years of absence. Somehow, it was our destiny that practically every generation had to go to Siberia. My father went there twice: once as a Russian soldier and then as an exile; my great grandfather died in Siberia; and now it was my fate to be exiled.

The train was moving quickly, and by morning we realized that we were close to the pre-war Russian border. When we came to Smolensk we noticed that the station was bombed. The party of people who went to bring food to the car found out from the local Russians that there are rumors that Germans invaded the territory occupied by the Ruskis. Of course we were very glad to hear this: at last the two of our enemies will fight among themselves - so much the better. After a short stop we went further inside Russia.

Soon the trip became more or less routine: once a day, at some station, or in the middle of nowhere, the guards would let us out to go to "bathroom". Once a day, we would stop at some station and they would give us food, usually soup or kasha (barley porridge) if we were lucky. Once, I think in Svierdlovsk, the soup had worms so big and so many that it was decided to throw it away. That night we went to sleep hungry.

I spent many hours at the window trying to get a glimpse of the countryside. One could see that it was not a happy land. We were passing villages with small houses with thatched roofs, people going about their daily chores seemed to be subdued, without a smile. At railroad stations there was everpresent NKVD.

At nights I listened to the monotonous sound of the wheels, thinking that every sound takes me further and further away from my country. Couple of times, I don't remember where, we noticed the stations bombed and the rumors about the war between Germany and Russia were confirmed. It became apparent that the Germans started the fighting on the night of our departure from Poland. We started our odyssey in the evening and they attacked in the morning on the 22 June, 1941. Only few hours of difference and how different would be my life. I don't know which would be better. Of what I heard how the Germans treated Poles, I might be grateful to the Russians for the deportation. Otherwise, I might not survive the war.

After 12 days of travel we arrived to the city of Barnaul - which is in Altai Country. It is a beautiful country, resembling Vermont or New Hampshire. We were brought to one of the suburbs of Barnaul "Vostochnyi Poselok" or Eastern Settlement. I will never forget the scene when we were being detrained and a group of Russian women came to us and asked if we want anything to eat or drink. They told us that they were exiled there from somewhere some 10 years ago in similar conditions. I learned later that to be exiled from one place to another was part of normal life in Russia. This was due to Stalin's paranoia and communist system. We were put in a large hall that was used as a "Krasnyj Ugalok", Red Corner in Russian. These were sort of a local community clubs that served as all-purpose assembly rooms, movie houses, meetings and every other purpose imaginable. Of course, every meeting or other communal activity had to be sanctified and approved by the local party boss. In Soviet Russia nothing, absolutely nothing could be done without approval of the Party.

We were sleeping on the floor, next to our things without any privacy whatsoever. There was about 400 people in that room sitting on our belongings. It was really a communal living. I don't remember now if food was supplied to us or we had to provide it by our own means, but I have a vague recollections of my mother cooking something on a makeshift fire outside. We were waiting for some more permanent place to live, killing time by endless discussions about our future, and after a few days press because papers were scarce and additionally, we did not trust the the NKVD told us that we will occupy the temporarily built barracks while the permanent barracks, better equipped for the cold Siberian winters were being built.


Romuald Lipinski
19th April, 1998

Romuald has written other stories about his childhood :


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