By the summer of 1940, a quarter of a million Polish prisoners of war had already been sent to Soviet prison camps. More than a million civilians deemed undesirable by Stalin were packed aboard cattle trucks to the far east of the Soviet Union. Many died on the journey, many more would die in the harshest conditions, toiling, starving and freezing on collective farms or labour camps in Siberia, the Urals or Kazakhstan. But then unlikely salvation came with the opportunity to join Anders Army.
TO BE ANNOUNCED
Listen to past radio broadcasts
Syrena Songs - BBC World Service available on Iplayer
Broadcast on 5 August - Monica Whitlock tells Syrena Record's story and travels to Warsaw to hear from a new generation of musicians recreating Syrena's sound. Syrena Records was created in 1904. It sold millions of discs to new audiences hungry for shellac delights - opera singers, cantors, political humour and Yiddish theatre. Success allowed founder Juliusz Feigenbaum to invest in state of the art recording technology. By the time independent Poland was reborn in 1918 Syrena was well placed to shape the sound of a new nation.
Hot tango and jazz were performed by superb musicians and singers, mostly Jewish, mostly of a generation breaking away from the old world and facing the new. Adam Aston, Hanka Ordonka, Henryk Wars, Mieczysław Fogg and others cut disc after disc before playing in the elite nightclubs of Warsaw. Some 14,000 records by artists at the top of their game. Outpourings of Yiddish tango, slinky foxtrots, romantic ballads. Records in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish. Songs such as The Last Sunday and Donna Clara went international.
In 1939, invasion and war ended Syrena and the Polish nation. Its factory and archives destroyed, its artists murdered or scattered in exile. But there was one last tune to play. Henryk Wars, former musical director at Syrena, formed an orchestra that became the soundtrack of Poles in exile and in military uniform. From Tehran to Palestine to the fortress of Monte Cassino, those musicians and singers that had once been the heart of Syrena now played songs of a lost nation, creating the anthemic Red Poppies of Monte Cassino.
Available on repeat on BBC Iplayer radio - now expired.
A Helping of History - Broadcast on North Manchester FM but available online
Broadcast on Tuesday 7 August - Ann Siburuth is interviewed about the Resettlement Camps in North Manchester and tells of the story of the people of wartime Kresy.
Still Here: A Polish Odyssey - BBC Radio 4 available on Iplayer
Broadcast on 6 and 8 August - Jane Rogoyska meets Polish people who were exiled to Siberia as children by Stalin and their descendants. The changing winds of war took them from Siberia and Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan, Persia (now Iran) and onto India or Africa - then to Britain. They thought that Britain was another stopping point on their odyssey home to Eastern Poland but they and their descendants are still here. With the participation of Kresy Family members.
Available on repeat from BBC Iplayer radio - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bd7zj4. Expiry date TBA.
The Odyssey of General Anders' Army
Listen to the radio program by Monica Whitlock by clicking here
Formed in the aftermath of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, in a deal brokered between Churchill, Stalin and the Polish Government in exile, this was, on paper, to be an army formed of Poles now held on Soviet soil to help fight the Nazis. Stalin reluctantly released 390,000 Polish prisoners of war and their dependents. Less than half would finally make their way to freedom.
General Wladyslaw Anders, who had languished for two years in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison, fortunate not be shot along with 33,000 Polish officers at Katyn, took command. He remained insistent that as many women and children who could would join this new fighting force. Anders knew this was the last and best chance of escape for everyone.
What followed was a 9000-mile journey to freedom. Thousands died en route before crossing the Caspian Sea to safety in Iran. Orphans found new homes in Isfahan. Large numbers of Jewish Poles - including Menachem Begin, who became Israel's sixth prime minister - left to become part of the fledgeling Zionist army in Palestine. Thousands more fought on as the Polish 2nd Corps in the crucial final battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in May 1944.
By the war’s end, General Anders had gathered 41,000 combatants and 74,000 civilians, and brought them to freedom. But for the majority, there could be no return home to a Soviet-dominated Poland. The majority settled in Britain, others lived new lives as far apart as New Zealand, Kerala and Kenya.
Although this astonishing odyssey has changed the lives of two generations of Poles - and Poland itself - the story is not well known: suppressed in Communist Poland and barely told in the West.
The survivors of Anders Army, Danuta Czerkaska, Elizabeth Piekarski, Michal Giedroyc, Jadzia Osostowicz, Majer Bogdanski and Danuta Gradosielska, tell their story.
Kresy Family Polish WWII History Group
acknowledges and thanks
the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London, the Polonia Aid Foundation Trust,
Forever Manchester and Kresy Family members
for their financial support of our projects
Image: General Władysław Anders (left) and Michał Giedroyc, Credit: Giedroyc family
Forthcoming Events 2021