Just a reminder that this film will be broadcast on TV in Chicago on
Thursday, June 20 at 8 p.m. on WTTW11. Following is a very interesting
article about survivor Wes Adamczyk, who has taken up this cause
"A SURVIVOR'S STORY"
Wesley Adamczyk¹s mother died alone in a Persian hospital after shepherding
her children thousands of miles in search of freedom during World War II. He
fights to hold back tears that have welled up in his eyes as he recalls the
day he learned of her death. His sister brought him the news, along with the
ragged shoes their mother wore through every step of an escape from the
murderers who invaded their homeland. Droplets stream down his gray bearded
cheeks. It¹s as if he is 10 years old again, reliving the fear, the sadness,
the pain of going on without her.
³My mother was my source of strength,² says Adamczyk. ³She prayed every day
and gave us hope. She sacrificed her life to feed us. Sometimes she would
deny herself food and give it to me, the youngest. Were it not for her, I
would not have reached freedom.²
In 1940, Anna Adamczyk and her children, George, Sophie and Wesley, were
among the 1.7 million Poles deported by Stalin from their homeland and
forced to work in slave labor camps throughout Siberia and Kazakhstan. More
than 1.2 million people died in transport and in camps or were executed. In
the Katyn Forest Massacre alone, some 15,000 Polish officers and
intellectual leaders were executed. After the war, a great many of the
500,000 survivors returned to Poland, where they lived under the communist
regime. Until 1990 the Polish government forbade them from talking about
On Thursday, June 20 at 8 p.m. WTTW11 will present A Forgotten Odyssey, a
documentary that weaves historical footage of the deportations with
survivors¹ stories to present a portrait of what has been called the Polish
Wesley Adamczyk was born in Warsaw in 1933 and lived his early childhood on
an estate in Sarny with his father, Jan, an army officer, his mother Anna,
his brother George and his sister Sophie. He spent his days playing in the
gardens that surrounded their home, listening to his father¹s stories about
Poland and learning about art and literature.
His idyllic lifestyle changed abruptly on Sept. 1, 1939, when Hitler¹s
troops attacked Poland from the west, triggering World War II. Sixteen days
later, Stalin¹s army invaded Poland from the east.
³[The Russians] came as allies of the Poles,² says Adamczyk, ³but in a short
time, a quarter-million men, including my father, were taken prisoner.²
Captain Adamczyk was taken to one of three Soviet prison camps near Kharkov,
Ukraine. He was allowed to write home, but after several months the letters
stopped. Wesley Adamczyk would spend the next 50 years searching for his
Soviet soldiers came for Anna and her children in May 1940. They were packed
into railroad cattle cars with thousand of other Poles and shipped to
government-run farms where they lived in flea-infested huts and worked in
After Germany¹s surprise attack on its Russian allies in June 1941, the
Soviet Union was brought into the anti-Nazi Alliance. Britain¹s Prime
Minister Winston Churchill persuaded Stalin to grant all surviving Polish
prisoners amnesty. Many of the freed Poles, including Anna¹s son George,
made their way across the treacherous Soviet terrain to join the Polish
Army, which was being formed in the south.
Hoping to find her husband among the Polish troops, Anna and her children
boarded a southbound train that rattled along for two weeks picking up
Polish refugees. With no washing facilities on board, the stench of
dysentery hung in the air.
³We stopped at one station and I looked into a car with 40 to 50 children,²
says Adamczyk. ³Dressed in shorts and T-shirts, they were lying on their
side in the 100-degree heat. Mother told me they were orphans. Their heads
were shaved, their chests collapsed, stomachs indented. You couldn¹t tell
the boys from the girls until you walked by and saw their testicles. Pus was
coming from their eyes and many were blind. They were too sick to get up so
they were lying in their own waste. At least I had my mother with me. She
was my source of strength.²
In August 1942, the Adamczyks crossed the Caspian Sea on a merchant ship and
landed in Pahlevi, Iran (Persia), where the Polish Army was being trained.
When Anna and Wesley became ill, all three Adamczyks became separated.
Eventually, Wesley and Sophie were reunited.
³Sophie looked sad and I knew something was wrong,² says Adamczyk. ³She
said, Mother died.¹ She was carrying my mother¹s shoes - the same shoes
that went thousands of miles saving us, leading us to freedom. I began to
wonder about God and all His mercy. Where the hell was God when this woman
Adamczyk says his faith in God was restored when in 1943 he met his American
cousin Mary Jean Siepak, a surgical nurse stationed in Persia. After a
tearful reunion in Tehran, Siepak arranged for his and Sophie¹s transport to
Mexico. The day before their scheduled departure, Adamczyk broke out with
Scarlet Fever and they were forced to stay behind.
After the war ended, Wesley and Sophie moved to England. Better to live
there, they decided, than return to communist Poland. A year later, Adamczyk
said goodbye to his sister and boarded the Aquitania en route to North
America. Upon landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he caught a train to Chicago
to live with his American relatives. His journey to freedom ended at Union
Station, where his cousins welcomed him on Thanksgiving Day, 1949. Wesley
Adamczyk, 15, was finally home.
³My pockets were empty,² he says, ³but my heart was full of dreams and
Adamczyk never gave up hope of one day reuniting with his long-lost father.
His search continued for more than 50 years. It wasn¹t until the Russians
released classified documents in 1992 that he learned the truth: Capt. Jan
Adamczyk had been shot dead in the basement of the Russian military
headquarters in Kharkov, Ukraine, in 1940. He was 47 years old.
For Adamczyk, the memory of his parents lives on through his work. The
retired senior chemist and tax consultant is putting the finishing touches
on a book about his family¹s experience that he hopes to publish next year.
In addition, Adamczyk, a resident of Deerfield, often shares his story with
high-school and college students. And he has spent the past several months
promoting A Forgotten Odyssey.
³I¹m doing this to let people know what others did,² he says. ³My father was
murdered for freedom. My mother led us to freedom. Never mind living, the
most precious thing in life is freedom. I am doing this to commemorate my
parents and to speak for the people like them who can no longer speak for
A Forgotten Odyssey airs Thursday, June 20 at 8 p.m. on WTTW11. Following
the documentary, Phil Ponce interviews survivors who live in the Chicago