|The Kresy-Siberia Foundation in conjunction with the Polish Siberyaks Association in Victoria and the Polish Museum and Archives of Australia hosted on 20 Nov. the AUSTRALIAN INAUGURATION EVENT of the SIBERIAN DEPORTATION AND SLAVE LABOUR TESTIMONIES PROJECT at the Richmond Library in Melbourne, Victoria.The function was attended by about 60 “Sybiraks”, or survivors of exile in Siberian labour camps, and their families to witness the project being officially launched in Australia by the Consul General for the Republic of Poland, Mr Daniel Gromann. Mr Gromann highlighted that the Project has the full support of not only the Polish authorities but also the Consulate. He was delighted to see that these important stories were being preserved for future generations utilising modern technology.
Amongst the guests present was also Dr George Łuk-Kozika (the Honorary Consul in Melbourne for the Republic of Poland), Mr Krzysztof Łańcucki (President of the Polish Community Council of Victoria), Mr Jerzy Fiedler (President of the Katyń Families Association) and Mr Andrzej Weiss (Polish Senior Citizens’ Club of Melbourne).
A highlight of the evening was the presentation of Adam Paszkiewicz, a 20 year old Australian-born Polish Scout leader, who in the presence of his Australian born parents and Sybirak grandmother presented in fluent Polish his view of why it is important to maintain historical memory. Having three of his grandparents being Sybirak survivors, has lead him to a full appreciation of the conditions in which he has been brought up and the dramatic background of his families’ journey to the Antipodes.
From left: George Łuk-Kozika, Krzysztof Łańcucki, Daniel Gromann, Jerzy Fiedler, Zosia Skarbek, Andrzej Weiss
His great grandfather, Tadeusz Wojtasiewicz was arrested and executed by the Soviets in Lwów’s Brygitki prison as the German armies were advancing after they attacked the Soviet Union. The family only discovered his fate after the Soviet archives were opened up in the 1980s. Adam is a third generations Scout leader, with his grandparents and parents being instrumental in developing the Polish Scouting movement in Australia, while his great-grandfather was involved in the Sokoły Movement (the precursor of the Polish Scouting Movement in Poland).
The view of the second generation was presented by Sophia Turkiewicz, Australian film maker of “Silver City”. Turkiewicz presented the trailer for her future documentary “Remember Me”, which describes the traumatic journey of her mother Helena from Poland to Kazahkstan to Persia, Africa and finally to Australia. The documentary, which still requires resources to be completed, also tells of Sophia’s own journey in recording and maintaining the history of her mother’s experiences. This was especially poignant as Helena’s memory had been fading over the past decade due to dementia and she eventually passed away a couple of weeks ago.
Three generations of Paszkiewicz family, from left: Monika, Krystyna, Wiesława, Aleksander, Daniela & Adam
From left: Wiesława Paszkiewicz, Urszula Koziełł, Krystyna Marczyńska & Fela Chwasta
The presentation of the child survivor and President of the Sybirak Association of Victoria, Mrs Zosia Skarbek, who with great emotion and pride described her grand-daughter’s interest in the Sybirak histories and in the conscious effort she has made in researching her roots.
The life experiences of many Sybirak’s have been tightly linked over the past 70 years. Mrs Skarbek was deported in the same train cattle car as Mr Łańcucki, who as one of the speakers presented a short synopsis of his own experiences as a child survivor. Both Mrs Skarbek’s and Mr Łańcucki’s fathers were amongst the Polish officers captured and executed by the Soviet Union in 1940, in what is popularly known as the Katyń massacres. Many of the Survivors in the room had travelled to Australia on the troopship, the General Langfitt, then spent time in the same settlement camps throughout Australia and had been community activists over the years and were instrumental in building Polish community organisations in Australia.
The Kresy-Siberia Foundation (www.Kresy-Siberia.org), together with the Polish Museum and Archives in Australia (PolishMuseumArchives.org.au), has already commenced recording Australian Survivor Testimonies of World War 2 Soviet repression, deportation and slave labour. The official inaugration of the Project has heightened the interest of more Survivors to have their accounts recorded. These eyewitness accounts will form a unique picture of this little-known history. Funded by the Polish Senate and conducted under the patronage of the Polish Consulate General, this project will be a fundamental tool for world-wide education and research.
From left: Irena Zdanowicz, Andrzej Rajcher & Ania Zamecznik
The testimonies collection will be available for educational, documentary, family history and research purposes. The films will be preserved in the Polish Museum and Archives, and excerpts incorporated into the English and Polish Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum for world-wide access. Copies of testimonies will also be available to Polish and other historical institutions. Personal documents and artefacts will be scanned for inclusion in the digital Virtual Museum, and returned to their owners or preserved in the Polish Museum and Archives. The names of the Survivors and those who perished will be inscribed on the Virtual Museum’s Memorial Wall of Names.
The Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum tells the World War 2 story of the million or more Polish citizens of all ethnic and religious backgrounds (including Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Jewish) deported to slave labour in Soviet Siberia and elsewhere, or who suffered under the Soviet and German occupations of eastern Poland, or who fought for freedom in exile, including in the Polish squadrons defending Great Britain, the Polish military under the command of General Maczek liberating Western Europe, General Anders’ army liberating Italy, and other military formations as well as civilian families dispersed in refugee camps throughout the world. Many of those who survived the war came to Australia to start a new life.
The Kresy-Siberia Foundation is continually seeking funds to fulfil its mission and is hoping to find assistance within the Polish community. It should be noted that all donations are tax deductible in Australia.