While my mother was going from one jail to another, off to a gulag, then gets released and travels hundreds of miles, mostly on foot to freedom, but then what about my dad? Where was he and how did he get to Ander’s Army?
The answer is I don’t know, and I don’t think there is a way for me to find out for sure. As stated before, I never asked the right questions at the right time.
When the Germans invaded Poland, the front line kept moving east, and with the Soviets invading from the east, the Polish military was stretched in many directions trying to defend what they could. One of the last cities to defend was Warsaw. As a result of fighting and destruction thousands of people, going through the horrors of war, were moving towards unoccupied regions. The Polish military, if not caught and imprisoned, too moved toward safe borders. Many civilians and soldiers escaped into neutral countries: Romania, Hungary, Lithuania and Latvia.
My dad was one of those Polish soldiers, trying to avoid capture by crossing into Lithuania in late September 1939. The only documentation of this that I have is from stories told during my childhood, that tatus (dad) was interned in Lithuania along with 14,000 others, according to the Lithuanian Red Cross. Not exactly a story, because the details are sketchy. The word ‘escaped’ was used in telling the story, but after all the years, I don’t remember if he meant that he escaped into Lithuania to avoid capture, or out of Lithuania after he was interned. My childhood fantasy has him heroically escaping from the Lithuanian POW camp! That possibly did happen but probably not in dramatic fashion, as the Lithuanian authorities welcomed retreating Polish soldiers and set them up in transitory camps which were not hostile. They in fact looked the other way as many soldiers simply left. The Lithuanian authorities did this because it cost the government too much per soldier to house. By June 1940, when the Soviets took control of Lithuania, there were only 4,000 Polish internees left in Lithuania and they were shipped off to Soviet prisons and camps.
So what happened to my dad? Did he or did he not leave Lithuania before Soviet annexation? If he did leave, where did he go, and how did he find himself in a Soviet prison after all? Since the outcome is still the same, landing in prison, I’ll fantasize that he escaped, in Steve McQueen style, out of Lithuania and then got arrested.
Correspondence my dad had with his parents and sister in the summer of 1942 recounted that he indeed was in a Soviet prison and he told them “he did not think he would ever be the same again.” This remark disturbed his family, but since the letters were only one sided conversations, they to him, I don’t know what he wrote them about the horrors that left him scarred.
Had my dad stayed in the Lithuanian internment camp and had not ‘escaped’ before the summer of 1940, when the Soviets annexed the Baltic republics, he along with other interned Polish officers would have been transported to camps in Kozielsk and Juchnowo, located southwest of Moscow. Interestingly, several Soviet prisons were former monasteries which the government forced to shut down following the Russian Revolution and the institution of communism. There is much documentation about Polish POW’s, from those two named prisons, later being transferred to Griazowiec prison. It seemed as though everyone eventually went through Griazowiec, which was a former monastery.
Until September 1941 over 20,000 Polish POW’s remained in Soviet captivity, then released after the signing of the Sikorski-Majski agreement, allowing for amnesty.
Since I don’t know when my dad was released or from where, what I do know is that he became a Polish soldier again on January 7, 1942 for the Polish Army in the USSR. It had to have taken him a long time to get to a recruitment site. From the photo on the left, hundreds were signing up sooner, but overall the journey for thousands took months with men pouring out of hundreds and hundreds of prisons and civilian collective farms and state run mines.
Is it possible that both my mom and dad were in the same area at the same time and did not know it?
On March 18, 1942, due to the Soviet authorities inability to provide adequate rations for the growing Polish Army, which was even then sharing its limited food with an also growing civilian population, Stalin agreed to evacuate part of the Polish Army to Iran. The military and civilians were transferred across the Caspian Sea to the port of Pahlavi, known today as Bander-e Anzali, Iran. After the first evacuation wave in March and April, more military and civilian men, women and children were transported in August, again by ship and by land to Iran.