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A cross to wear for atrocities of war

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  • Lucyna Artymiuk
    I disagree with this title - these werent attrocities of war - THIS WAS GENOCIDE - the people were civilians (men, women, children) - not military - and this
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1 2:13 AM
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      I disagree with this title - these werent attrocities of war - THIS WAS GENOCIDE - the people were civilians (men, women, children) - not military - and this wasnt a military action but straight out murder
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      Madwiga McLeod is pleased the Polish government has recognised her with a Siberian Cross. Picture: Ben Fraser (270606bf1)

      A cross to wear for atrocities of war

      By Kelly Makiha

      When Rotorua woman Madwiga McLeod was 10, she was forced out of her bed and on to a train at gunpoint.

      It's been more than 60 years since she was a prisoner in forced labour camps in Siberia. Tears roll down her cheeks when she thinks of what she went through during World War II.

      The then 10-year-old had been visiting her aunt in Poland when armed Russians burst through the doors in the middle of the night, demanding they pack up and get on a train.

      It was the start of a five-week journey to Siberia crammed in carriages designed for cattle.

      The food was rationed but it was hardly worth waiting for - water with bits of cabbage in it.


      Many died from starvation or disease.

      "If a baby died the train wouldn't stop, you just threw the baby out the window," Mrs McLeod said.

      After two-and-a-half years in the camps and six months in orphanages in Russia and Iran, Mrs McLeod came to New Zealand.

      "It wasn't safe for us any more as the war was getting too bad. They asked different countries to invite us out. New Zealand Prime Minister Peter Fraser allowed 700 children and 100 adults. We didn't know much about New Zealand, we just knew we were going to freedom."

      Sixty years later, the Polish Government has finally recognised the atrocities its citizens faced by presenting them with the Siberian Cross, signed by Polish president Lech Kaczynski.

      About 310 former Polish wartime refugees in New Zealand will receive the medal.

      Mrs McLeod said her excellent health helped her survive her wartime ordeal.

      She also excelled at bartering for food, swapping her clothing or possessions to survive.

      At times the weather was -40 to -60C and prisoners had no shoes.

      "We would just get boards and wrap cloth around it to hold it on. We lived in mud huts with a fire in the centre. Being a mother now, I feel more sorry for the mothers back then. We were young and weren't as affected by what was going on around us."

      Life in New Zealand at the age of 14 was "like heaven".

      "We had warm beds and there were bedside tallboys - we used to just put our clothes in old bags and sacks."

      After learning to speak English at special schools set up at Pahiatua Camp, between Palmerston North and Wellington, she went to boarding school in Wanganui. At business college she met her future husband Norman McLeod.

      The couple moved to Rotorua where Mr McLeod was a police Detective Sergeant. They went on to have seven children.

      Mrs McLeod said there was only one reason she was still living.

      "My faith and my prayers. We are strong Catholics. Without that, I wouldn't have survived."
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