the secret police (NKVD) immediately began arresting and deporting Polish citizens identified before the invasion. They simply pulled out their lists. . . .
Over one million people "rode the rails" to exile.
The war changed everything. . . .
After the Soviets occupied Eastern Poland, they arrested, imprisoned, and deported Maria’s father in October of 1939. Six months later, in April of 1940, Soviet soldiers pounded on the Zareba’s door at 4:00 AM, demanded entry, and allowed the women fifteen minutes to pack. They gathered a large amount of clothes but only a little food and rode by horse and buggy to Kolomyja where they were ordered to enter a cattle boxcar holding 50 to 60 people. The windowless boxcar was bolted from the outside, and the occupants were only allowed to leave their quarters one time during their month-long journey.
|Deportation to the Soviet Union. Courtesy of Official Composite|
Upon arrival, the Zareba women were assigned to a dirt-type hut with no stove or furniture. Thirty people slept side by side on the clay floor. They dug water ditches for field irrigation, gathered hay during harvest season, and subsisted on very small rations of food. Before winter set in, Maria’s family bartered clothes for food in the villages because there would be little work, and the Soviets didn’t distribute food to those who didn’t work. In the fall, they moved to a small chicken coop and endured the cold, dark, and brutal winter which followed. Snow built up until it covered the entire building.
The Zarebas survived by melting snow for water and making a thin soup, which they ate once a day.
To entertain themselves they sang and played instruments made of combs. After walking to the local villages, Maria’s feet froze, causing festering boils on her toes. Maria’s sister developed large black sores all over her legs that spread to her torso, and she lay unconscious for weeks. Maria developed a milder form of the disease.
In the spring of 1941, the Zarebas worked in the fields and later in huge stables, caring for cattle. The deportees were told they could gather leftover sunflower seeds after the harvest, but other officials drove up and told them they were committing a crime against the state and could be arrested. The officials confiscated the bags of seeds the hungry children and teens had collected, much to their sorrow.
In June of 1941, the Germans invaded Eastern Poland and attacked the Soviet Union. Two months later the Zareba’s manager revealed that the Soviets and the Polish Government in Exile in London had signed an agreement granting the deportees amnesty so they could form an army to help the Allies fight the Germans.
The exiles were free to leave . . .
so the Zarebas sold everything possible and purchased train tickets to go south where General Anders was gathering and training the Polish Army. Traveling for weeks and suffering more hunger and disease, the Zareba women hoped to find their husband and father if he was still alive.
The women arrived in Samarkand and lived on the streets for three weeks, where they were attacked and robbed.
A friend helped them move to Zirabulak where Maria worked in a cotton factory and her older sister labored in the mines. They lived in a little factory living quarters. Maria’s older sister met her future husband, a Polish Army officer, and he helped the family arrange transportation to Krasnowodsk, a port town on the Caspian Sea. From there they crossed over to Pahlavi, Persia, on an overloaded dilapidated ship, full of hungry and ill passengers.
|A ship carrying Polish soldiers and civilian refugees arrives in Iran from the Soviet Union, 1942.|
Courtesy of Wikipedia.
In Tehran a miracle took place. . . .
Maria’s father had survived his imprisonment and was searching for his family. What a joyful reunion took place when they were reunited in Iran. All the Zarebas were together again except Maria’s oldest sister who had fled with an aunt to Romania at the beginning of the war.
|Teheran,1943. The group of Polish students from Junior|
High School. Maria is sitting in the first row (first from right)
Courtesy of the Canadian Polish Historical Society
Maria’s father was sent to England, and the family later followed him. At a Polish Military Resettlement Camp near Liverpool, Maria met her future husband Antek who had fought in the Polish Home Army, survived four years in Auschwitz, and escaped to join the Polish Army in Italy.
|Maria and Antek on an|
Edmonton street. May 5, 1950. Courtesy of the Canadian
Polish Historical Society