Dear friends in the Kresy-Siberia Group,
It is Christmas Eve already in Australia and we have again had the joy of a
semi-traditional Polish "Wigilia" (Christmas Eve) meal with our family here.
At this time of year especially, we can count our blessings and be grateful
for the survival of our families - whose Christmases were not always so
fortunate, especially when they were held in captivity by the godless
Soviets in Siberia and Kazachstan during World War 2.
As we enter 2011 and mark the 10th anniversary of the Kresy-Siberia Group, I
invite us to rededicate all our efforts to helping each other to research,
remember and recognise the experiences of our families, and of all the
Polish citizens who struggled for freedom in eastern Poland and in exile
during World War 2.
I would like to leave you with an excerpt from a moving posting to the group
by Robert Ambros in December 2003, with the Christmas recollections of his
mother. You can read the entire posting at
"Santa Doesn't Visit Siberia
By Adele Ambros
I remember Christmas time in Eastern Poland when I was a little girl. The
season was filled with Christmas carols as my sisters and I waited for Santa
to bring us toys, candy, and cookies. But the most important part of the
Christmas season was the dinner on Christmas Eve. The dinner traditionally
began when the first star became visible in the sky. The Christmas Eve
dinner table and the decorated tree were sites I will never forget. The meal
consisted of twelve meatless courses to symbolize the twelve apostles but
the gathering started with the sharing of the oplatek. This was a wheat
wafer much like the Host and it was even blessed by a priest. Every person
offered a piece of the oplatek to every other person at the dinner and
wished them the best for the year to come. After the meal, I remember the
whole family going to church for midnight mass. The carols sung on Christmas
day still echo in my ear.
But all the changed with the outbreak of World War II. Poland was invaded by
Germany in the west and by the Soviet Union in the east. In Eastern Poland,
the Soviets sent many families to Siberia. In all, over 1.5 million Poles
were deported to the Soviet Union. On a cold day in February of 1940 a knock
came on our door. Armed Soviet soldiers told us to collect our things and
get on their sled. Together with my mother who was a widow, my two sisters,
and my brother we were taken to a train and led on cattle cars that took us
to Siberia. The trip lasted for weeks and many people died on the way. The
Russians just threw the dead bodies into the snow beside the tracks without
burial. From the trains we were taken to a series of barracks deep in the
Siberian wilderness and we were told one of the wooden barracks was our new
home. Each barrack consisted of a large open hall with a single stove in the
middle for about 50-60 families. Each family was given 2 single bunks
regardless of their size. There was nothing else, no closets, tables,
bathrooms or sinks. Water was brought up from a nearby river. There were no
stores or schools only the big deep forests covered with snow. The adults
and the older children had to work all day in the woods cutting down trees.
They were paid with meagre rations of bread; many people were sick and went
on to die. My family was constantly preoccupied with getting enough food to
I remember my first Christmas in Siberia when I was eight years old. I was
very disappointed when someone told me there would be no Christmas or Santa
Claus in Siberia. But then I heard my mother say she will try to gather some
extra food for a Christmas Eve dinner. A few days before Christmas, my
mother took a piece of clothing she had, it was either a scarf or a blouse-I
can't remember-and told us she was going to a village known as a kolhoz to
try and exchange it for some food. So the next day, my mother and I together
with an elderly man named Mr. Medrala started out in the snow toward the
village. We walked for three or four hours in the deep snow and finally made
it to the kolhoz. My mother was lucky enough to exchange the cloth for some
potatoes. On the way back, Mr. Medrala suddenly shook his head and said he
couldn't go on any more. When he told my mother he couldn't feel or move his
legs she quickly removed his lapcie. Most of us didn't have shoes and we
covered our feet with rags and then held them all together with string;
these were known as lapcie. She removed the rags and rubbed his feet and
lower legs as hard as she could with snow. I saw the skin of his pale white
legs slowly turn pink. She put his foot rags back on and all three of us
made it back to our barrack safely.
I was happy that now we would have potato soup for Christmas Eve dinner.
Soon after that, I had the idea to go to a nearby Russian family and ask for
some food. Russian families were scattered around nearby our camp. Unlike
the Soviet government, the Russian people themselves were good and kind to
us, but they were poor themselves. The Russian woman at the door agreed to
give me some food if I did some work for her. I was so happy we would have
more food for Christmas Eve! I eagerly peeled her potatoes and she let me
keep the peels; she also gave me some goat's milk.
Christmas Eve finally came. I pulled out a small fir by its roots and took
it to our barrack for our Christmas tree. The only thing I had to decorate
it with was small pieces of white paper. We had no tables or chairs so all
five of us sat together on the floor together with our bowl of potato soup
enriched with the potato peels and goat's milk. My mother started the rosary
with the words: "Thank you God for life, thank you for this food, thank you
for everything." I started to cry. My mother took my hand and said: "you are
alive, right? You are healthy too." Then my mother said: "we are alive but
so many people are dying every day, many of them are children." She also
reminded us that one widow died when a falling tree fell on her and crushed
her leaving her three children orphans. Then my mother put her head down and
started to cry herself. Then my younger sister who was five years old cried
that she was hungry. We ate our soup and then quietly sang Christmas songs.
On Christmas morning, I was disappointed when I found out all the adults had
gone to work. There was no day off for Christmas in the Soviet Union. All
the Poles had to go back to work cutting trees down and I was left alone
with my two sisters. Then, sadly, the father of the family next to us died.
He had a wife and two little boys. The mother was sick herself; she could
not take care of her children so the Russians took them away to the
orphanage never to see their mother again..."
Blessings to you and your families for Christmas and for the year ahead.
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