Great story, thanks for sharing Lucynka.
Some of the facts are of course confused, and the chronologies backwards...
it might have been Leon, or maybe the journos got it mixed up (it happens).
Nothing disasterous, but do you think it is worth correcting?
PS to Martin and Eva - it would be good to interview Leon and get his story
into the KSVM Hall of Testimonies.
On Behalf Of Lucyna Artymiuk
Sent: Tuesday, 5 October 2010 16:30
Subject: [Kresy-Siberia] Leon's journey from pre-war Poland to peace in
Leon's journey from pre-war Poland to peace in Scotland
Leon Gierasik on a despatch rider's bike in Italy during WWII
Leon was a despatch rider for the Polish Free Army
An old cooking pot in Leon Gierasik's kitchen is a constant reminder of the
journey which took him from a peaceful pre-war Polish farm to a new life in
He was used as slave labour, separated from his mother and sister, served as
a soldier and became a refugee - before finally being reunited with his
family in Scotland.
The pot, which his mother took with her from Poland to Scotland, now sits in
the kitchen of his home in the Borders.
It was only while he was heating milk in it one day that Leon's son-in-law
Eric Fleming found out where the pot had come from and learned the full
details of the family's story.
The pot now features as part of the digital collection which has been
created as part of the A History of the World project.
Eric said: "I look at the pot in a different way now. It's an ordinary
little pot, but its resonance is with history."
Born in 1925, Leon lived on a farm about 70 miles from Warsaw with his
father, mother and sister.
The family stayed there until the outbreak of World War II, when Leon was
The signing of the Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact on 23 August 1939 by Josef
Stalin and Hitler led to German forces invading Poland on 1 September that
year. The Red Army moved to occupy eastern Poland later that month.
Leon Gierasik with the cooking pot
Leon's mother took the cooking pot from Poland to Scotland
Following the Blitzkrieg of Poland, Leon's family ended up in the
Russian-dominated side of the country.
One day the family heard gunshots. The approaching Russian army had shot all
the farm dogs.
Leon and his family were moved to Siberia for a year.
In a cold February, the family travelled for three weeks on a cattle truck
before boarding a sledge, pulled by tractor, for a further two weeks.
Hungry and in freezing conditions, the family were used as slave labour.
Leon did building work and lived in a yurt.
The family tasted freedom when an agreement between Stalin and Churchill
allowed the Poles to go free.
Leon remembers hearing news of a train which was to come to the labour camp
the next day. He walked back to the farm under starlight to share the news.
Weak with hunger
The train took the family to a refugee camp in a desert area of Kazakhstan
which was under the care of the Allies. They stayed there for about seven
Times were hard and Leon recalls one incident when his mother gave him
jewellery to buy bread.
Weak with hunger, Leon set off for the local town and collapsed on his way
back. When he awoke, the bread had been taken.
They were forced to use drastic measures to combat starvation. Pillowcases
were used to collect desert turtle eggs, although only the yokes were
Leon Gierasik pictured in 1945 or 1946
Leon served in the North African campaign, the Sicily Landings and Monte
The family were then moved to another refugee camp in Tehran, where they
stayed for seven months.
Leon's mother and sister then boarded a ship with refugees of many
nationalities. Several countries refused to let the ship dock and they ended
up in Uganda, where they remained until 1953.
At the age of 15, Leon went to Libya to join the Polish Free Army where he
was initially employed as a despatch rider.
He went on to serve in the North African campaign, the Sicily landings and
at Monte Cassino.
Meanwhile, his father continued to work as a resistance fighter and survived
the war. He came to Britain with very few worldly goods and went on to be a
successful antiques dealer, buying two houses within a few years of starting
Father and son were reunited in London in 1947 by the Red Cross, with Leon's
mother and sister joining them in 1953. The family then settled in
Leon's aunt stayed in Siberia and went on to have a family there, while the
family farm in Poland was taken over by Leon's uncle, Tomek.
In the early 1990s Leon moved from Edinburgh to Duns, which had a small
Polish community. The local park has a monument to the Polish armoured
division which was posted there during the war.
In recent years, young Polish agricultural workers have come to the area,
giving him opportunity to converse in his native tongue.
Leon remains self-sufficient, making jam and growing apples.
The cooking pot is now part of the A History of the World digital
collection, created through a collaboration between the BBC, the British
Museum and museums throughout the UK, after being put forward by Eric.
The idea is to tell use objects to tell the story of mankind. Objects can be
relevant to your local area, important to your family or of global
You can get involved by going to the A History of the World website and
uploading a photo and a few details of your object.
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