Carrying soil for Pilsudski Mount, 1935.
From left, brother Tadek, mother, Romuald.
Born on 25 July in 1925, Romuald’s childhood was relatively happy and comfortable; his father was a railroad physician; his mother was a graduate midwife. They lived in Kijowskie Przedmieście, in the suburb of Brześc (Brest Litevsk).
Romuald was 13 when World War II erupted, and 15 when the Russians knocked on the door of their house on the night of 19-20 June 1941 at 02.30, and instructed them to pack for a long journey. Romuald and his parents were taken to Brześc Central station where they were held for the whole day of 21 June. During the night of 21-22 June 1941, the freight train finally left the station of Brześc Central. The Germans entered Brześc the following morning.
After 12 days of travel, they arrived at a suburb of Barnaul, called ‘Vostochnyi Poselok’ or Eastern Settlement, near one of the largest rivers in Russia, the River Ob, which would provide the family with much-needed food during their deportation. Barnaul is the capital city of the region called Altajski Krai.
Romuald’s father was too old to work and his mother worked at the very beginning only of their life in exile, but then was allowed to remain in the barrack. Romuald was too young to help with pulling the logs of wood to the river on horses and was given a job of carrying mortar to the plasterer working on the building of permanent barracks.
Unlike many other exiled Poles, Romuald and his parents’ conditions whilst they were in Russia were relatively much better than those of many other exiled Poles in that they had the fish from the River Ob to sustain them and, in return for medical visits, instead of taking money, his father asked for food.
After the war ended, Romuald studied at the Italian Polytechnic in Turin followed by the French University in Beirut, Lebanon. In 1947 he arrived in England with the Army where he was demobilised and began to study at the University of London in England. He married Iza Zienkiewicz in the summer of 1952 and they emigrated to Perth Amboy in New Jersey, USA where he completed his studies at Newark College of Engineering and graduated in BSc and MSc in Civil Engineering. He worked in this profession for 42 years.
Romuald is now retired and resides in the USA and often takes part in veteran activities and memorial services.
"It isn't easy to write about those turbulent years that went by then. It isn't easy to resurrect the people, the pictures in my imagination, recreate the whole climate and scenarios of those times. I tried many times and somehow always put down my pen with a sigh of helplessness. How to write about experiences that you would like to forget?
But memories follow you around everywhere throughout your life and you cannot shake them off. Sometimes through the darkness of the sleepless night, people that I knew then, that I suffered with, fought with, drank with, shared the most scary experiences with and the most intimate thoughts, come and stand by me so vividly in my imagination that I have an impression that the image is real. Through the " mind's eyes" I see the places where we went to, the faces of the people, they come out of the darkness and seem to be so close...
There are two reasons for writing this memoir:
one, the most important, is that I want you, my dear children, to know more about the past of your parents, how and what we went through before we found peace and security and freedom in this new country of ours. Both of us, your mother and I were deported when we were practically children: your mother at the age of 10 and I at the age of almost 16 (I was deported on 21 June 1941 and my birthday is on 25 July). The war ended in 1945 but we did not resume "normal" lives for a long time due to the fact that we were in various camps as "displaced persons." So, we went through our childhood, teens, and even early adulthood being tossed by circumstances all over the world. That certainly left its trace on our lives later.
The other reason is equally important - millions of Poles were killed by both Germans and Russians. Proportionally, Poland lost more of its population than all the nations involved in the war. Twenty percent of Poland's citizens perished. The fact that all of my siblings and I survived this terrible war was a miracle. This is the holocaust that we both, your mother and I, witnessed. There was a worldwide drama that was in front of us and we were the actors. We were on the stage. But the world does not want to remember this; nobody wants to talk about it. Why bother about a few million Poles who were uprooted from their homes, deported to some God-forsaken land and left there to die?
But this is exactly why I am writing about it. I want to give a testimony of what happened and how it happened."
When news of the amnesty agreed between the Polish Government in Exile in London and the Soviet Union in 1941 reached them, his father organised a group of exiled Poles within the camp to join them on their journey south to Tashkent, if not to join the Polish Army, then at the very least to seek protection from the Polish authorities.
The family left Russia and via the Caspian Sea reached Persia where Romuald joined the Polish Army and was assigned to the 12th Podolski Lancers’ Regiment. With his regiment, he went through Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and actively participated in the Italian campaign. The banner of his regiment was placed at the highest point of the ruins of the monastery of Monte Cassino, as a signal that it had been taken by the Polish forces of the 12th Podolski Lancers’ Regiment. (The City of Cassino was also taken, by the British 10th Brigade of the XIII Corps).
On a Trip. Poland 1935. Romuald second from right.
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