To John Kinnear, Feature Writer, Crowsnest Pass Herald
My father Adam and his partner Rose asked that I pass on their thanks for your recent four-part expose “Looking Back – The Story of Aniela Plonka”.
I sent your feature to them in Montreal, knowing that they would strongly relate to the main character’s challenges as having had similar, and in Rose’s case, almost exact history during those chaotic times. As fortune would have it, Rose was thrilled to recognize her friend Aniela (in the middle of the photo of three service women with two locals, in your Part Three).
Adam and Rose, residing at The Manoir Seniors Residence in Westmount QC, are often engaged by local Montreal schools, Polish groups and community organizations to share their history. Here is some of it.
Early in WWII, Rose (like Aniela) was deported by the invading Russians out of eastern Poland to Siberia, then made her way out following the mass exodus of Poles out of Russia to the Middle East. She joined the Polish 2nd Corp attached to the British 8th Army, drove truck and transport, taught high school courses to Polish soldiers and participated in the Army’s drive through north Africa and Italy before ending in England after demobilization. In 2013 Rose was awarded the Gold Medal of the Polish Army for “services rendered in educational and cultural fields to the young soldiers at the time of war”.
My father was a Boy Scout when war broke out (Polish Scouts later honoured by the King of England as the only organized para-military force at the time) and served as a courier, spiriting important military personnel out of Poland via clandestine routes through mountains and forests of southern Poland into Romania. He managed to get his own father, a senior army officer at the time, out that way so that he could join others to form Poland’s government in exile in England.
When his turn to escape came, my father made his way out of Poland to Palestine and also joined the Polish 2nd Corp. In charge of an artillery unit, he fought his way through north Africa and participated in the fall and capture of Italy’s Monte Cassino, a point of great pride in Poland’s history.
Demobilized after the fall of Italy, he also declined returning to his homeland because of Soviet control and ended up in England.
My mother, on the other hand, had a completely different history. When war broke out, she stayed. She took care of her family in Warsaw, then joined the resistance, and later as nurse and “runner” of messages between combat units, participated in the Warsaw Uprising. Upon surrender of the remaining Warsaw combatants in September 1944, she managed to escape with the help of a classmate of hers who was processing the prisoners.
But she escaped without any identification papers, which meant being shot if recaptured. She made her way west towards Lodz (her birthplace), hiding by day and moving by night, sustaining herself by foraging in farmers’ fields for potatoes. (It was many years before any potatoes were served at our family dinner table in Montreal.)
She finally contacted allied forces who moved her to Italy and the internment camps for Polish military where she briefly encountered my father there, as both had been classmates in Warsaw (and who used to dip her pigtails in ink from his desk’s inkwell sitting behind her).
She then made her way to England, re-united with my father, started a family and when invited to join other Poles leaving for Canada, sailed to Montreal in 1952. She passed in 2009.
Once again, from the survivors of those perilous times as well as from their descendants, thank you for carrying on the obligation to maintain their history for future generations.