My name is Alfreda Ferschke, nee Winter, I'm a younger sister of Halina Stodolska, nee Winter, whose capsulized life I wish to present to the Emigration Museum in Gdynia.
Our father, Corporal Adam Winter, took part in the Polish-Bolshevik war in 1920. For his combat actions (the capture along with the subordinate troop of the armored train "Communist") he was awarded the War Order of Virtuti Militari No. 3899 and received 24 hectares of land in Kolonia Podryże in the district of Kovel in the Volyn region. We lived in Podryże until 10th February 1940.
On that day, along with a family of five people: father Adam, mother Felicja, daughter Halina (born in 1924), son Tadeusz and me, we were deported to Siberia. I will never forget the tragic night of 10th February: in a hurry, having half an hour, we were told to pack up and leave the farm. In Siberia we lived in village no. 109, in the region of Irbit, Sverdlovsk oblast. I will not write about the conditions of life in Siberia, but I want to point out that we stayed there 20 months and suffered hunger, cold, disease and worked back-breakingly. Devoured by bed bugs, cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes, we received beggarly food rations. In Autumn 1941, the commandant declared that we were free and we could go wherever we wanted, of course within the borders of the Soviet Union. He added that the Polish Army was being formed with the headquarters based in Buzułuk. A lot of people moved out from village no. 109, and with them my father and sister Halina. We received from them a postcard from the place of their residence, in which they described a country with a warm climate and camels.
It was the last message after our family parted with each other. My mother, me and my brother, along with a group of many Poles left for Kazakhstan. Who made this decision, why my father took only my sister leaving earlier - these questions are left without answers. The following description will regard only my sister, Halina Stodolska.
When General Sikorski, together with General Anders demanded information about the fate of the captured Polish officers, Stalin broke diplomatic relations with Poland and stopped recruitment to the Polish Army.
NKVD took authority over all Poles residing in the USSR, who were then placed in the surrounding kolkhozes. In Samarkand there were provided horse wagons and people were transported in different directions. In this group was my father and sister. My sister ran to the market to buy something to eat. When she came back, the wagons had already driven away. She reached a fork in the road and did not know in which direction the wagon with our father had departed. Why our father left and did not wait for his daughter has remained a mystery to this day. Maybe he left a message and did not leave the wagon because he could lose it or he did not see the fork. It was getting dark, and she was alone. It was the last day in her life when she saw him.
Some man escorted her to a group of Poles. What she experienced wandering from Autumn 1940 to March 1942 is difficult to describe. From several sources we learned that my father died very ill, close to insanity, probably at the station in the village of Chu in Kazakhstan. My sister met yet two other girls and they reached the port of Krasnovodsk at the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan. A vessel carrying Poles to the port of Pahlevi in Iran was moored there. She wanted to be transported, but the Polish Army officer said: "Child, we cannot take you because we take only those who have fathers or brothers in the army." She was not able to prove anything, she did not know that at that time father was already dead. She was standing in front of him, haggard, crying and waiting for her fate. At this point, some soldier brought to the officer two young children in rags, poor orphans. The officer ordered: "Take the children and go on board." It was March 1942.
Upon arrival in Tehran, her life changed dramatically: she took a truck driver course, and when she turned 18, she got a military uniform. She belonged to the so-called Women's Auxiliary Service, troops supplying the soldiers with ammunition and food on the front. As a soldier she brought ammunition to the front line at Monte Cassino. She stayed in Italy until 1948, where she met the Captain of the Polish Army Władysław Stodolski. Her husband Władysław was at the beginning of the war in Warsaw and there the Germans caught him and deported to forced labor in the Reich. He escaped from the transport and returned to the family to Terespol. As Russian lieutenant was murdered in Terespol, many Poles were arrested. As a Polish officer he was under suspicion, so he was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor in Vorkuta. After the conclusion of the Sikorski-Maisky agreement he was released from the labor camp and joined the Anders Army. He fought at Monte Cassino. In 1948, Halina and Władysław left for London, where their daughter Bożena was born.
Looking for a better life they sailed aboard the "Mauritania" ship to America. An ammunition box served them as a suitcase, which we are happy to pass the Emigration Museum in Gdynia. They settled in Chicago, where they received support from the Polish community. Homesickness was huge, but she had nowhere to return: the house was burned, the boundaries changed, the Stalinist terror. He is afraid to go back, because the news about the fate of the returning Anders’ soldiers are alarming. They both went to work: Władysław to the roundhouse, Halina worked at an assembly line on night shifts – they produced cans. In Chicago there is the Polish House and there met all emigrants, longing and crying for their home country.
The times were difficult: they did not know the language, their families were left in Poland, the dilemma - to go back or to stay - preoccupied their minds. Slowly they assimilated in Chicago. They bought a house, they could afford much more compared with the fate of compatriots in Poland.
Together with my brother and mother we survived Siberia and Kazakhstan. In 1946 we returned to Poland, settling in the town of Pełczyce in Western Pomerania. The contact with my sister had been established yet in Kazakhstan in 1943, thanks to the activities of the Red Cross. She was at that time already in Italy, and then her first letter came.
It was 1962. Halina, after 20 years of separation, came to us with her daughter Bożena. In 1973, her husband Władysław died of cancer and was buried in Chicago. Halina with her daughter and son-in-law moved to Indianapolis, where I visited her in 1973.
She is already retired, lives in a beautiful house with a garden. Further and further from the Polish community, she looks after granddaughters. Then she moves to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here, in 2013, dies her daughter. Granddaughters are far: one in Houston and another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I visited my sister for the second time in 1999 with my son Oskar, who rummaging in the attic of the house discovered the ammunition box, which we are passing to you. It traveled a long way from Monte Cassino to Rome, then Naples, London, Chicago, Indianapolis, until it reached Tulsa.
Halina, a girl from the village of Podryże near Volyn on 4 June 2014 turned 90, and as for her age is quite fine. Only three months ago she gave up driving a car. We call each other often, but because of our age we will never meet again. In July Halina is moving to her granddaughter to Philadelphia.