Part 1. They always came at night.
Part 1 of a 2 part Spectrum documentary. [See ID33183 for Part 2]
Several unidentified Polish women discuss their recollections of Russian troops coming to their homes in 1941 and arresting their parents. Three of the women are identified, as Krystyna, Sophie and Irena.
This first programme begins with the time their families were arrested in Poland by invading Soviet forces, until their departure as refugees for New Zealand.
(Producer Peter Kingston interviewed the former "Polish refugee children" at a reunion in New Zealand in 1975.)
Several women including Krystyna [possibly Krystyna Skwarko] recall the nights their fathers were arrested by NKVD Russian officers. The intelligentsia were targeted initially, including school teachers.
Then in the summer of 1941, the rest of Krystyna's family were given 15 minutes to pack and were deported. She recalls how the families were herded into cattle trucks for a three-week journey to Siberia. They describe the grim conditions in the wagons, which held over 60 people.
They saw German plans overhead, invading Russia. They sometimes bombed the trains. Eventually they were unloaded at a remote village "kolkhoz" (Soviet collective farm) where conditions were very poor. Krystyna's mother had to do physical work, shovelling manure from a barn.
Another woman recalls there was nightly interrogation of the adult women. A third woman, Irena remembers her mother was taken to prison for feeding porridge to a prisoner, so she and her siblings were all taken to an orphanage.
A woman named Sophie remembers how her mother was attacked with a rake for questioning something, and later died, leaving her as an orphan also.
Russia accepted Polish men to enlist and fight the Germans, instead of working on the kolkhoz. Polish women and children were shifted to southern Russia. A woman says the conditions in the south were almost worse than Siberia, because of overcrowding, which lead to an outbreak of typhus in early 1942.
Children were organised in orphanages as the parents were in the army - or dead. The children's camp in southern Russia was in a place called "The Valley of Death", very dry and desolate.
They lived in mud huts, sleeping on straw. Krystyna describes how quiet the children were because they had been through so much trauma. Krystyna's mother was in charge of the orphans. Some were found on the street on their own and brought in by strangers.
New Zealand agreed to take 500-700 children. A letter (from Prime Minister Peter Fraser?) agreeing to this is re-enacted. They talk about their reaction when they heard they were going to New Zealand. They travelled by train to Bombay then boarded ships to New Zealand with one of the furlough drafts of about 3,000 New Zealand soldiers.
Krystyna says the way the soldiers behaved towards them is her strongest memory, with the men giving them their own rations, teaching them haka and looking after the boys in particular. The women say this was a good omen for what their life in New Zealand would be like.