February 3rd, 2021 ~ Vol. 91 No. 5
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Freedom and Hope – Aniela Plonka’s Story
Part III
Looking Back
John Kinnear Map
Map showing route taken by Aniela that ended in Palestine
Read: Part I - Surviving the Gulags - Aniela Plonka’s Story
Read: Part II - Hardship and Release – Aniela Plonka’s Story

Continuing on with Aniela’s story we find her in Alma-Ata in 1942, in Kazakhstan struggling to make her way west. Aniela goes on to say in her memoirs, “In Alma-Ata, we worked in the cotton fields for a while. We lived in a small cottage built of clay and straw. When we lay down at night, we could see the stars shining through the holes in the roof. There, I got sick with a severe case of dysentery, and I thought I wouldn’t survive. One morning, a Russian soldier came to our door and said he was collecting all the Polish people he could find to get them to one place for a transport. The place was near Tashkent. He was sorry to see me so sick. He put us on a wagon and gave us some bread and boiled water to drink.

Gradually I got better. We called the soldier an angel of mercy sent by God to help us. He was the first Russian I met who acted like a human being. From Alma-Ata we went to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, another Russian-occupied country. The Polish army was forming near Tashkent, in a town called Jang-Jul. In August 1942, I enlisted in General Anders’ army on Soviet Union territory in Jang-Jul. The army’s camp was full of Polish men and women just released from Russian prisons who had joined the army. There were also some Polish Catholic priests who’d joined the army.”

Author’s Note: In June 1941 after Germany invaded Russia, Stalin needed help to fight this new enemy. A Polish-Soviet treaty was agreed allowing the release of all Poles held in labour camps and the formation of a new Polish army. But the Russians were reluctant to lose their slave labourers, and out of the million deported Poles who had survived, only 160,500 managed to escape from the camps. This included Aniela and her husband to be Czeslaw Plonka.
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The Poles struggled to reach southern Russia, where the Polish army was reassembling under General Anders. But the food, clothing and equipment promised by the Russians did not arrive, and thousands of Poles died of starvation and disease. In 1942 Anders’ army and Polish civilians were evacuated from the Soviet Union to British-controlled Iran. Anders’ army joined the Allied forces in Europe. Polish children and families were sent from Iran to India, Africa, Mexico and New Zealand where they remained for the rest of the war.

Aniela continues, “For nearly three years, we had no chance to attend church or hear the Holy Mass. The following Sunday we gathered in an open field to hear the Holy Mass for the first time since our release from Russian prisons. There were thousands of men and women, young and old. It was very emotional; the tears were flowing as we prayed and sang, “Boze Cos Polske” (God save our Poland).

In October 1942, I was transported with the Polish army to the Middle East. We travelled from Port Krasnowock (Krasovodsk Peninsula on the east side of the Caspian), through the Caspian Sea and arrived in Port Pahlevi (Bandar Anzali) in Iran.

Iran was a nice place. I met many nice people there. For eight months, I worked in a Tehran hospital as a volunteer. I worked night shifts. Every night I started two hours earlier because I took nursing classes. It was a crash course, but it helped my work in the hospital. The hospital was a new building, not finished yet. There was no electricity, no telephones.
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We had to use lanterns. There was a shortage of doctors and nurses. Transports of Polish civilians came from Russia, filled with people with diseases like typhoid fever, tuberculosis and others. Most of the people died in hospital.

When I was transferred to Iraq, in the 7th Division, Polish army, I worked in the YMCA canteen. The 7th Division was stationed in Quizil-Ribat near Bagdad. Bagdad is a nice city. The Tigris River flows right through the middle of Bagdad, and palm trees grow there. Iraq has a very hot climate, no rain, not a cloud in the sky, only sun and sand. When the wind blew, the sand hung in the air like a cloud.

In Iraq, we lived in tents. Big nets were tied around our beds to protect us from dangerous stings from scorpions, tarantulas and other poisonous creatures. Many Polish people got sick with malaria from mosquitoes and other insect bites. The Arabian people were used to their climate and their kind of living. The Polish army in Iraq didn’t have any entertainment. While working in the canteen, I was asked to sing for the soldiers.

With another soldier, I was sent to many camps and divisions. We sang solos and duets. If we put on a play, I took part in it, too. In Iraq, I met the man who became my husband; he was a Polish army officer. He was also a former Russian prisoner of war.

He left for England to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) a few days after we met. I didn’t see him for a year but we kept in touch by writing letters. From England, the RAF sent him to Canada for navigation training for nine months. When he returned to England he was stationed at Newcastle and flew a two-person plane called a Mosquito (they were also called Night Fighters) His duty was to spot German bombers flying towards England and shoot them down.
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In July 1943, I was transferred along with the 7th Division to Palestine. While travelling in Palestine, we saw a beautiful mirage. It looked like a big city and water lying ahead of us, but when we got there—nothing. The view had moved a little farther away. We travelled through a corner of Syria then through Jordan. Our transport stopped by the Jordan River and we went in the water for a splash.

In Palestine, I continued working in the canteen. Our camp was located in Haifa by the Mediterranean Sea. It was hot there so we would go to the sea and swim. We also took bus tours to Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv. It was just like Hawaii there. I went to Jerusalem four times.

We visited the Holy Land and churches and went to Bethlehem and Nazareth. I also took a tour to the Dead Sea. I enjoyed every minute of it. Because I wanted to do more than work in the canteen, I applied to join the air force and go to England. I was accepted.

In December of 1943, around Christmas time, our transport left for England. We travelled by train to Alexandria, Egypt, and embarked on a big ship on the Mediterranean Sea. The ship had to go slowly and very carefully because there were mines in the water. We had to stop right by Gibraltar and wait there a week until the navy fished out all the mines. The first week of January 1944, we arrived in Glasgow, Scotland. In February I enlisted in the RAF with the WAAF. (Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force). They sent me to the Halton Station near London for a mechanics course. In eight months I finished the course, and was a flight mechanic E, working on engines on Lancaster bombers stationed at Silloth (between England and Scotland).

Living in England for four years, I visited many cities and made a lot of friends. It was there that I married and had my son George, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since August 1939, when I last saw my mother, I didn’t know what had happened to my family. It was useless to write because the Russians and Germans fought on Polish territory.

The Polish army fought for freedom on many fronts; in Poland, the Battle of Britain, in Italy and Monte Casino, Narvik, Norway and other areas. But it didn’t bring freedom for Poland.”
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“The conference at Yalta, in the Crimea, USSR was held Feb. 4 to 11, 1945, by American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian Marshal Joseph Stalin. They decided the future of Poland.

Stalin demanded the eastern part of Poland- Lwow, Wilno and many other towns like the one my mother lived in. Stalin also demanded to take Poland under his wing and set up a communist government there. Poland was not very important to Roosevelt or Churchill so they agreed. The Polish army fought and died for nothing. Poland did not regain her freedom!

The Polish army that had fought with the Allies wanted to have an independent government elected by the people- not one ruled by the Soviets. That’s why, on return to Poland, the Polish soldiers were treated as enemies of Soviet Russia.

Author’s Note: Czeslaw Plonka and hundreds of other Polish pilots flew with the RAF in 15 squadrons during the war and distinguished themselves in the Battle of Britain. They were brilliant and fearless flyers who all felt betrayed at the end of the war as they were not even allowed to attend victory parades. Cold war politics.

Nor could they return home for fear of imprisonment by the now communist regime that controlled their beloved homeland. Next week I’ll wrap up Aniela’s story, one that brings this remarkable woman to Canada and ultimately to Fernie, BC.

Read: Part IV - A New Life in a New Land – Aniela Plonka’s Story

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February 3rd, 2021 ~ Vol. 91 No. 5
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