From Poland to Russia, to Iran, then to Iraq, across the Black Desert of Jordan to Palestine and Syria, followed by Gaza and Port Said, Egypt to Palagiano, Italy and then up the northern coast. This journey was not an exotic vacation of a lifetime, but the places my parents experienced, good and bad, from 1939 to 1944. Locations similar to those are found in old movies like Laurence of Arabia, or Casablanca. My mom talked about going to an Oasis which was near one of the hospitals in the desert, just to see what they were all about and what the people were like. The locals would meet there, to eat, drink, smoke and catch up on gossip. There were restaurants and stores surrounded by dozens of palm trees, just like in the movies.
Stanislawa and Zdzislaw were married on October 3, 1943, in a field hospital tent in Palestine with a doctor and nurse as their witnesses. She mentioned to me that her wedding dress was a nurse’s uniform from which she saved the belt as a memento, now a part of the collection of memorabilia in the box of letters. Having gone through all the papers, letter and photos from the box in the attic, sadly I found no photos of the wedding ceremony or of their honeymoon, except for some street scenes.
They were able to honeymoon for two weeks and travel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, visiting all the biblical sites. They definitely were able to see much of the world on the army’s dime. My dad trained in Kermine, Uzbekestan, Kirkuk, Iraq, Khanaqin, Syria, and Egypt before heading to Italy to fight the Germans, and my mother was close by at the field hospital. I can only imagine the exciting sights and sounds they experienced while going from post to post and traveling on their honeymoon. Even if their trips were not glamorous, what they saw and the people they met must have made it quite an adventure to remember.
Growing up, our family stayed close to home, spending summer vacations on different Western Pennsylvania lakes. Aside from the fact that the family had limited financial resources, my parents did not like leaving home. Once I got older I did ask why they were reluctant to travel, and the answer was that they saw the world and traveled enough when they were young.
During those war years when they were apart, there were letters and more letters written. Primarily they wrote about what each of them was doing, how much they missed each other, why doesn’t he or she write more. Every once in a while, I find a nugget of information that tells me more of what was happening to them.
One letter was very melancholy, written by my mother. Since she had been so ill from typhus the year before, she experienced random recurring illnesses. This letter talked about her not feeling well and that she received a letter from a Mister Wrobel, giving her information about her father. She, of course did not write about what she learned, but only said that when she and my dad get leave, she would read him the letter. This kind of information does me no good and who is Mister Wrobel?! Even though I know that her father did not survive Siberia, having a bit more insight would be helpful and enlightening, needless to say.
In another letter, which dad wrote mom, talked about how he now saw her in a new and different light; how she was not the young girl he met in Kosow so long ago. After a weekend together, in the safety of my dad’s presence, she broke down and went into a long oratory about the traumas she experiences which were tearing her apart. Again, there were no details in the letter about what she said. He only mentioned how impressed he was with her strength. I can only guess that she may have told him the details of her imprisonment, the late night interrogations, the mental torture, the disgusting physical conditions, the hunger and thirst, the long trip out of Siberia-mostly on foot, eating from the streets, her illness with typhus, the loss of her father, not knowing about her mother, and her fear for the future.
Even though they were married they could not always be together and they were not able to spend their first Christmas together. My dad’s unit was still in Egypt while mom was in Port Said waiting for transport to Italy in December/January 1943-44. Once on Italian soil, they made their way north along the northern coast, as an army. Prior to the Poles landing in Italy, the Allies invaded Sicily, then the continent at the ‘toe’, both in 1943. At that time the Allies were planning the invasion of Europe through France, and Roosevelt felt it was important to eliminate Italy from the war. The elimination of Italy as an enemy would also enable Allied naval forces to completely dominate the Mediterranean Sea, massively improving communications with Egypt, the Far East, the Middle East and India. In addition, it would mean that the Germans would have to transfer troops from the Eastern Front to defend Italy which would help the Soviet Union advance from the East.
The first spring offensive in 1944 that involved the Polish Second Corps was the Battle of Monte Casino. They were well trained and ready to fight the Germans.