Migration stories Poland

Meeting with the mayor of the Office and City of Jelcz-Laskowice and with the Siberians

Migrants' dramas. Youth and witnesses of history

Kasprowicz School Complex was implementing an international Erasmus project "Past and current migrations." From March 2, young people from Poland, Belgium, Bulgaria and Turkey not only got to know each other and make friends, but also explored the serious issue of migration. On March 4, they listened to the shocking stories of the Siberians of the Town anc Commune Jelcz-Laskowice.

The Project days were carefully planned. There was time for integration in international groups, presentations devoted to migration in each of the participating countries and staying with Polish families, an opportunity to learn about everyday life in Poland. The program could not miss visits to the Town and Commune Office, the visiting card of Jelcz-Laskowice. It was there where the meeting with the Siberians was planned to learn about the Polish experience of war deportations and dramatic fate in exile.

Before it happened, the project participants were welcomed by the mayor Bogdan Szczesniak and his deputy Marek Szponar. The mayor recalled the history of the city, its creation from two rural towns thanks to the dynamically developing industrial plant in Jelcz-Laskowice and a housing estate. Bogdan Szczesniak wished foreign students to experience Polish hospitality, take with them the best memories and want to come back. The school Principal Mrs Agnieszka Żak assured that one of the tasks of her students is the promotion of the city and was glad that the School Complex is making a valuable contribution to cultural life and public events in Jelcz-Laskowice.

The block devoted to Polish war migration experiences was very interesting. The historical introduction was presented by Iwona Płaczek, noting the unique history of Lower Silesia in terms of population movement. Tadeusz Kochnowicz from the Siberian Union talked about his childhood in Siberia, illustrating his speech with historical photographs from the exile. It lasted until 1958 , when the Kochnowicz' family, with 9 -year-old Tadzio, finally could return to their homeland. The next speaker was Łucja Michalik- 88-year-old inhabitant of Jelcz-Laskowice, a retired nurse, the author of memories and poetry regarding the exile to Siberia. The testimony of Mrs Łucja Michalik sounded very strongly - she talked about hunger, illness, forced labor in extreme frost, death of her father and sister. The poem, which she recited, for a moment moved those gathered in the land of her childhood to their hometown and home, which the Soviets demolished after exiling the family to Siberia.

Witnesses' account I


Iwona Płaczek, the rezident of Jelcz-Laskowice municipality, a longtime history teacher at a local primary school. Author of the book "Jelcz-Laskowice Nasza Mała Ojczyzna" ("Jelcz-Laskowice - our little homeland") describing settlement in Jelcz and Laskowice.

Iwona Płaczek

During the World War II at the conference in Yalta in 1945, the leaders of the anti-Hitler coalition signed an agreement. In the said Declaration the leader of the USSR Joseph Stalin, the Prime Minister of Great Britain Winston Churchill, and US President F. D. Roosevelt decided that Poland's eastern border would be based on The Curzon Line (eastern line of the Bug River), and in Poland will receive significant territories in the west and north at the expense of Germany (so called Recovered Territories). The implementation of this decision resulted in mass and forced migration movements.

The total number of Germans who fled, returned or were transported from Poland (including the Recovered Territories) to Germany at the end of the World War II and after the war, is about 14 million.

The consequence of the Yalta Agreement was also mass and forced displacement, and resettlement (deportation) of Poles from the Eastern Borderlands in 1944-1947, that is from Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine to the so-called Recovered Territories. About 1.5 million Poles came to Poland, of which about 1 million settled down on the Recovered Territories and about 500,000 in central Poland.

Many of us are fond of visiting the Eastern Borderlands, looking for their family roots there. While nurturing the memory of our ancestors and their houses, we must, however, bear in mind the territorial changes that followed international agreements signed after the World War II, and the agreements must be kept. On the one hand, we should cultivate memory and cultural relations with the Eastern Lands, and on the other hand, we should have in mind the multiculturalism of the Western Lands. We should also support the development of Poles living in the former Eastern Borderlands and cooperation with them, but we must not interfere in the internal affairs of our neighboring country. Moreover, while promoting Polish culture in the western territories, we should bear in mind that for several centuries we were not the only inhabitants of these areas.

Some people are sentimental when it comes to the former lands of Poland. The former inhabitants of Vilnius and Lviv miss their cities, but while analyzing these changes without any sentiments, the western lands are much richer in natural resources. Therefore, we should appreciate that we have western lands, from Szczecin to Lower Silesia, rich regions that we value more and more nowadays. There are some of the most beautiful places in Poland, the greatest number of historical monuments, forests, beautiful mountains, lakes. And every 10 km we come across a beautiful palace or a castle.

An unusual post-war mixture. Breaking away from the old place and creating a new society turned into something surprisingly unique. For example in 2003 in the western and northern territories we could observe the greatest number of supporters of the European Union, and theoretically it should be just the opposite. The new spirit of many cities, such as Jelcz-Laskowice, contains the element brought from the Eastern Borderlands. Post-war migrations are part of the family history of modern residents of the Regained Territories.

After World War II, as part of the resettlement action, new inhabitants came to Jelcz-Laskowice. Some came from the Eastern Borderlands, others settled here after returning from the exile deep into the USSR, others came from different parts of Poland.

Therefore, the entire heritage of Jelcz-Laskowice was created by our ancestors of Polish origin who spoke Polish, have lived here and worked for generations.

Witnesses' account II


Łucja Michalik was born in 1932 in Biała, Zaleszczyki district, Tarnopolskie voivodeship. In February 1940 she and her family were deported from there to Siberia. She is a member of the Sybirak Associations and lives in Jelcz-Laskowice. She worked as a nurse for 42 years. She wrote the book "Ja to wszystko pamiętam" ("I remember it all") in which she described what she, her family and other Poles exiled to Siberia had experienced there. The book also contains a collection of poems concerning the tragic fate of the Sybiraks on the "Inhuman Earth."Lucia Michalik:

On February 10, 1940, the Russians transported me and my parents, my two sisters and my grandmother, deep into Russian territories. I was 8 years old. The journey in freight wagons lasted for about a month.

When we were taken from our home, in Poland, my mother took a little barrel with the frozen bacon, sausages and other meat all covered with fat. It was saving our lives for a long, long time.

In winter, we suffered frost reaching -50 degrees and in the summer scorching heat that exceeded + 40 degrees. People were starving. If someone was sick and could not work, they did not get any food. Hundreds of Poles were dying because of frost, hunger, hard work and epidemics.

In 1941 my father died tragically when rafting wooden logs. Then, at the age of 12 my older sister also died after a serious illness. My grandma was taken to some other areas and we have never seen her again.

For Christmas, we mainly wished each other a happy return to Poland. In the spring of 1946 we were allowed to return to Poland. We came back because we had earlier refused to accept the Russian citizenship.

Witnesses' account III


Tadeusz Kochnowicz was born in 1949 in Bobryk, Pińsk district (now Belarus)

He is currently retired and lives in Jelcz-Laskowice. He is a member of the Wrocław division of the Sybirak Associations. He was awarded by President of the Republic of Poland Mr Lech Kaczynski with the Siberian Exiles Cross and Honorary Siberian Silver Medal.

Tadeusz Kochnowicz:

On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. This is how the Second World War began. On September 17, 1939, Russians invaded Poland from the East. Both invaders split our country among themselves. The time of fear, arrests and exiles began. Thousands of Poles were sent in cattle cars deep into Russian territories. The transport was conducted in inhuman conditions. People crowded in very tightly traveled in the cold and heat, hunger and thirst, not knowing what awaited them at the end of their journey. This ordeal sometimes lasted for several weeks, and people were dying of thirst, hunger and epidemics. The drama of our compatriots is visible in the numbers: during the first two years of the war more than 1 200 000 people were transported from the eastern Poland. When the war ended only about 200 000 people returned to the country.

In the autumn of 1951, I was deported from my homeland with my close family. We were sent deep into Russia behind the Urals by the Russian soldiers. My parents and uncles worked in the taiga at clearing the forest. The felled trees were manually pulled by hand to the river shore. Then rafts were built and floated down the river. Work was very hard as it was performed by hand without any specialized equipment. For their hard work people were given the food rationing stamps, so that they can get food that there was never enough of. At first we lived in some huts and then in the barracks made of wooden logs where all the cracks were clogged with moss. There were no barbed wires or window bars around. There were no roads, only the untouched taiga where wild animals like bears, wolves and snow leopards lived. The inhabitants were under strict control of the gendarmerie. As deportees living in Russia, we had no basic rights and liberties. Without the consent of the local military, we could not travel, even to a doctor. There was a ban on wearing religious symbols and speaking Polish. Whoever did not want to comply with these orders was punished with imprisonment. At school I attended for three years there was a military regime. We were harassed and humiliated. In that way the Russians wanted to force us to accept Russian citizenship. Poles who surrendered could not return to their homeland later on. We returned to Poland in 1958. I was nine years old.