Mója Rodzina Polska (My Polish Family):

A story from before the Second World War and after

By John Klopotowski, ©2016, all rights reserved

Containing an annotated translation of a letter from my father,

Henryk Kłopotowski

With thanks to Rafał Kłopotowski for his encouragement to work on this project

Editor/translator's introduction:

I am an American of Polish/Welsh descent and citizen of the United States currently residing in Oakland, California. My father, Henry, was from Siemiatycze, Poland, born in 1921 and died in 1996. My mother is Welsh, and comes from a village named Llanddona on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales. She was born in 1928, and is alive and well in Paterson, NJ. I was born in Bangor, North Wales in 1955, and came to the US shortly after. I have lived here for my entire life and also have an older brother who lives in Los Angeles.

My dad was a Polish soldier in the Second World War and an active Polish veteran for the rest of his life. This was pretty much all I knew when growing up, however he would occasionally mention that he had been sent to Siberia at the start of the war and was a prisoner there in a concentration camp along with my grandmother. I never met her, or my Welsh grandmother for that matter, or either of my grandfathers.

As a youngster growing up in northern New Jersey my dad encouraged me to study Polish and take accordion lessons, both on Saturday mornings, however I politely declined. That said, I was aware of some cultural artifacts, for instance my Polish cousins (girls) would dress in festive outfits on the occasion of Pulaski Day each year. I enjoyed a lot of the Polish food that we would eat, in fact I still do! And not that I can prove this, but my dad was absolutely the best polka dancer I had ever seen. The younger girls would line up to dance with him at the Polish Home in Paterson to get the authentic experience of dancing the polka. He was also an excellent ice skater.

But there was an inescapably dark 'something' about my dad that I found very difficult to penetrate. I would hear the occasional reference to the war years, along with mentions of his/our family and would attribute any barriers that I felt to this difficult history. And certainly as a youth I could not fully grasp that he had to watch his mother suffer terribly when imprisoned by the Soviets, and had also lost his father and sister in the war. He felt that he could not return to Poland as long as the Communist regime was in power and did not return until after the fall of the USSR and Iron Curtain in 1991.

So, I warn readers that this can be a tough story to read and contemplate, and especially so if you really dwell on the matters at hand and allow your mind to imagine being in the situation. To that end, I have discovered a lot of material on the internet that has described other Polish people going through similar ordeals, and also the larger political and historical framework behind the events. I am of the opinion that some historical writing can sanitize inhuman behavior on the part of governments, however I found a book called “Ordinary Heroes” by Scott Turow a couple of years ago and was struck by how he brought the large swath of WWII history down to the very personal level of his characters. The book was very moving and real to me, and got me thinking specifically about my family and their various experiences during that time. I also started reading general histories of WWII and very much understand that it was a nightmarish time for millions of people around the world with staggering death tolls and still untold suffering.

However, as I have explored history from the period I am astonished at the wrongs perpetrated on the Polish people by both the USSR and Nazi Germany. The larger historical frame that I have discovered involves the mass arrest and deportation by the USSR of many Polish citizens located in eastern Poland at that time, and this group includes my dad and grandmother. Following is an account of the larger political issues at work published on the Rice University website “The Sarmation Review,” this analysis provides an excellent context for the events that my dad and grandmother experienced and will help to explain much of the content of the letter.

Poles have been subjected to colonialist deportations into northern Russia and Siberia ever since the first partition of Poland in 1772. The major waves of deportations came after the Kosciuszko Insurrection (1794), the two national uprisings of 1830-1831 and 1863-64, and during the Russo-Polish War of 1919-1920. Deportation was a way of eliminating economically strong and intellectually vigorous segments of Polish and Ruthenian societies, a stratagem designed to weaken the Polish population of the Russian-occupied part of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

As a direct result of the Soviet-Nazi friendship in 1939-1941, four major deportations of Poles took place: in February, April, and June 1940, and in June 1941. According to the Polish government-in-exile, perhaps as many as 1,200,000 people were forcibly removed from the Russian-occupied territories in eastern Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. More recent estimates lowered that figure somewhat. Among the deportees, Polish Catholics were in the majority, but Polish minorities, such as Jews and Ruthenians were also represented.

Existing evidence supports the opinion that the plan of deportations was well thought out at the highest level of the Soviet power structure and then, when the time arrived, efficiently carried out by the military occupation authorities with help from a segment of the local population. Gathering people for deportation followed an established and strictly executed routine. Military squads of the NKVD and the Red Army descended on the victims in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Little time was given for packing. Then people were quickly transported to the nearest railway station where boxcars were already waiting for their human cargo.

In those cattle cars the deportees spent weeks before they reached their destinations thousands of kilometers away. There were instances of dead bodies traveling for hours with those still alive until they were thrown out at one of the stations. The destination of the journey was slave labor.

The German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 abruptly ended Russian-German friendship. A new "alliance" between the Soviet Union, Britain, the United States, and the Polish government-in-exile in London emerged creating a common front against Germany. This led to proclamation of a general amnesty, which was supposed to free all deported Polish citizens. They were given an opportunity to enlist in Polish military units, which were then allowed to leave the Soviet Union. Close to 100,000 soldiers as well as some civilians including children went first to Iran, and from there to what was then Palestine, where they were placed under Allied command.

(From “A Polish Woman's Daily Struggle to Survive: Her Diary of Deportation, Forced Labor, and Death in Kazakhstan: April 13, 1940-May 26, 1941”, published in “The Sarmatian Review”, http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~sarmatia/102/221ptas.html, Translated by Leszek M. Karpinski, Edited by John D. L. McIntosh, with assistance from Bogdan Czaykowski and Kenneth Baulk)  

On a personal level though this is a story of tragedy, loss, the overcoming of tremendous hardship, and ultimately survival in a new land. Before the events of the letter unfold though, my grandfather was arrested, imprisoned, and killed in the Katyn Massacre in April 1940. Also, my aunt Janina died in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 at the age of 24. I always sensed that my dad was a 'survivor' in the strongest sense of the word and that he embodied the attributes of cunning, skill, luck, intelligence, courage, strength and anything else that allows a human being to get through extremely difficult situations like those described. That said, I also suspect that he never fully grieved these losses, and my guess is that the magnitude of what happened overwhelmed him and many other Polish citizens like him and likely prevented a healthy grieving process. And of course, this can lead to unresolved anger and sadness that is expressed in lots of other unrelated ways. In fact, one of the first books I read about any of these topics was the graphic novel “Maus” by Art Spiegelman over twenty years ago. I was amazed at how similar his dad seemed to mine in the depictions – often irritable, moody, and irascible. But the decades have given me the benefit of time to ponder the bigger picture and try to learn from it. My dad and family were caught up in tremendous forces beyond their control and we are still working through the consequences. I am also now the father of two sons and imagine how proud my dad, grandparents, and entire family would be of them if they could see them. I am of the belief that this is the ultimate revenge against Stalin, Hitler, and the forces of totalitarianism.

I have learned more through this project than I can easily put into words; however, I keep coming back to thoughts of my grandmother, Helena Kłopotowska. As part of my research I discovered the diary written by a Polish woman named Zofia Ptaśnik about her experiences in 1940-41, and sadly Pani Ptaśnik died in June, 1941 in Kazakhstan while a prisoner of the Soviet government. Her diary was smuggled out of the USSR and given to her only son. The accounts of her experiences being arrested and deported and as a prisoner are highly moving and both difficult to read and inspiring at the same time. For example, Zofia will quote Polish poetry from medieval times while also describing extremely difficult situations on a daily basis. I imagine my grandmother going through similar experiences but somehow she escaped Kazakhstan and returned to Poland. I don't know how she got out but she eventually lived in or near Lublin and passed away in 1966. I wish that I could have met and known her but somehow I sense her spirit within me. That said, I do have some surviving hand-written notes and pictures, and she was clearly a very loving woman. Subjectively, she was also quite beautiful however had to be incredibly strong to survive her ordeal. This work is therefore dedicated to her memory and to the memory of all of the Polish citizens who suffered similar unspeakable tragedies. Niech odpoczywają w pokóju.

Grandma Helena.jpg

Helena Kłopotowska, 1937 in Warsaw

My dad eventually recounted his experiences in a letter written in Polish and sent to me in San Francisco in 1989. I asked him to do this before I moved to California in 1988 and he said that he could only write it in Polish because his English was not good enough. I was unable to read the letter for over a decade because the time was not yet right, but with the advent of the internet I located a translator in 2002 through craigslist in San Francisco. There were a few immediate surprises, for instance I didn’t know that my dad and grandma were sent to Kazakhstan, he had always referred to it as Siberia. That said, after doing a lot of reading on the internet it is clear that all these victims thought they were being sent to Siberia, and in fact many deportees were. North Kazakhstan was also considered to be Southern Siberia in many of the Polish writings that I’ve read.

In 2009 I had finished working on a book about my experiences as a young jazz musician and was looking for a new project. I began to consider studying Polish and bought the Rosetta Stone software at Christmas however it sat on my shelf for several years. Events in 2013 led me to take a look at it and I started actively studying on my own around the end of May of that year. Learning Polish has been challenging but also very enjoyable as I heard it spoken often when growing up and have a lot of associations with it. And though I never learned to play the accordion I did study Chopin’s music both as a piano and music composition student and continue to do so. It is clear to me why he is such a revered figure by Polish people and music lovers worldwide. Also, in a series of coincidences, I met a fellow named Rafał Kłopotowski, originally from Siemiatycze, Poland but now living in the US. Rafał encouraged me to translate the letter on my own and I began this project in February of 2015. It has been very painstaking, however my original idea of studying Polish has grown into something much larger and deeper, and even my fledgling knowledge of the language has served me well to this point. I believe language gives tremendous insight into the native culture, and in this case I have tapped into a very old and noble culture.

For Polish readers I have included a retyped version of my dad’s original letter throughout, and also an appendix of the original document in scanned images. I have tried to give a sense of what my dad wrote as colloquial English rather than an exact transliteration of what he wrote. I hope he would approve!

John Klopotowski, February 9, 2016

Henry A. Kłopotowski

Dnia: 29-ty stycznia, 1987r.

January 29, 1987

Urodziłem się w dniu 16-go stycznia 1921r. w mieście Siemiatycze, pow. Bielsk-Podlaski, woj. Białystok.

I was born on the 16th of January, 1921, in the town of Siemiatycze, Poland, located in Bielsk-Podlaski powiat (county), Białystok voivodeship (province).

(Note: I have included maps throughout the text to help locate these events geographically along with family photos in my possession with the intent of showing a bit of life in Siemiatycze before the war.)

Grandma and dad 1921.jpg

Location of Siemiatycze on current map of Poland; photo of my grandmother Helena Kłopotowska and my dad Henryk Kłopotowski as a baby, 1921

Grandpa Edward 1915.jpg Grandma Helena 1915.jpg

Edward Kłopotowski, Helena Kłopotowska, 1915, my grandparents

Grandma with Children.jpg

Moja babcia i jej dzieci (my grandma and her children) – Helena, Janina, Henryk, circa 1925

Siemiatycze circa 1930.jpg

Siemiatycze circa 1930 showing Assumption of BVM Catholic Church

Altar Boys, Siemiatycze 1931.jpg

Altar boys at Assumption of BVM Church, 1931, my dad is on the lower left.

The church was first constructed in 1465, but survived the war and is one of the chief monuments in Siemiatycze.

Grandpa Edward 1937.jpg

Edward Kłopotowski, 1937, in uniform of Polish Cavalry Officer

Grandpa and Aunt Janina 1937.jpg

Janina Kłopotowska, Edward Kłopotowski, Warsaw 1937.

My aunt Janina died in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 (Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw_Uprising), she was a language student in Warsaw at the time. My grandfather was arrested in 1940 as a former Polish Army officer and died in the Katyn Massacre (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katyn_massacre ). Both have been honored as Polish patriots.

Dad and Grandad modified.jpg

My dad and grandpa, Siemiatycze, 1939

W dniu 13-go kwietnia 1940r. wraz z moją Mamusią zostałem wywieziony do Północnego Kazachstanu w okolicy Pietropawłowska. Miałem wtenczas 19 lat. Wędrówka ta zaczęła się od naszego miejsca zamieszkania w mieście Siemiatycze, kiedy to o gods. 2-giej nad ranem w dniu 12-go kwietnia, 1940r. przybyło do naszego mieszkania około 8-miu NKWD’zistów wraz z członkami miejscowej milicji. Oni to właśnie wiedzieli o życiu wszystkich mieszkańców m. Siemiatycze. Po przybyciu do naszego mieszkania, dali nam 15-cie minut do zebrania się i powiadomiono nas, że jedziemy w daleką drogę, skąd już nigdy nie wrócimy. Wszystko co należało do naszych Rodziców - pozostało za nami.

On April 13, 1940 I was arrested and deported together with my mother to north Kazakhstan in the area of Petropavlovsk. I was nineteen years old. This deportation started from our home in Siemiatycze when at 2:00am on April 12, 1940 eight N.K.VD. agents (Soviet secret police) along with members of the local police came to our house. The N.K.V.D. had conducted surveillance on all residents of Siemiatycze for several months in preparation for these arrests. On arriving at our house they told us that we had fifteen minutes to prepare before leaving on a long journey and never coming back. Everything that belonged to my parents was left behind.

Załadowano nas na wóz konny który zawiózł nas na stację kolejowę Siemiatycze. Tam zastaliśmy długi pociąg, składający się z wagonów towarowych, do których przywożone ludzie i dzieci byli wpychani jak bydło. Ja z Mamusią zostałem wsadzony do wagonu, który zawierał około 30-ci osób, przeważnie mieszkańców z okolicy Siemiatycz. W wagonie tym były zrobione prowizoryczne półki (prycze), na których ludzie mieli spać. Jednak nie było wystarczającego miejsca dla wszystkich, tak że wielu z nas musiało ulokować się na podłodze. Przy środkowych drzwiach była zrobiona dziura w podłodze dla celów ubikacji. Ludzie byli w wieku starszym, podeszłym, średnim; sporo młodzieży, a nawet kilkuletnie dzieci.

We were loaded into a horse-drawn carriage that took us to the Siemiatycze train station. There we found many trains with cattle cars, and deported people and children were pushed into them as if they were cattle. My mom and I were thrown into a car which held 30 people, mostly residents of Siemiatycze. The car was modified with makeshift benches (bunks) where people had to sleep. There was not enough space on the benches for everyone and many people had to be on the floor. These included elderly and middle-aged people; many youngsters, and even some babies. There was a hole in the middle of the floor to be used as a toilet.

Po całkowitym załadowaniu naszego wagonu, drzwi zostały zamknięte i zablokowane z zewnątrz, tak że nikt nie wiedział co się działo na zewnątrz. Póżnym wieczorem pociąg ruszył i wtenczas zaczął się wielki płacz wśród wszystkich. Z powodu tego, że umiałem trochę grać na skrzypcach, które ze sobą zabrałem, zaczęłem grać polskie piosenki, co do pewnego stopnia uspokoiło płaczących. Bardzo długo jechaliśmy oczywiście bardzo dużo prześliśmy i aż dopiero w dniu 28-go kwietnia 1940r. przybyliśmy do stacji kolejowej Smirnowo, 40-ci klm. za Pietropawłowskiem. Tam około połowy pociągu wyładowali, a reszta pojechała dalej. Nas załadowano na ciężarówki i przywieziono do kołchoza we wsi Połtawka. Tam zaczęło się nowe życia dla nas „PRZESIEDLEŃCÓW”.

Once fully loaded into our car, the door was closed and locked from the outside and no one knew what was going on. In the late evening the train started moving and there was a great cry from all. I had brought my violin and started playing Polish songs, which calmed their crying. We traveled for a long time, and we arrived at the Smirnov train station on April 28th, 1940, 40 kilometers from Petropavlovsk. There half the train unloaded and the other half continued on to Siberia. We were loaded onto trucks and brought to a collective farm in the village of Poltavka and a new life began for us there as displaced persons.

Map showing distance from Siemiatycze to Petropavlovsk ‘as the crow flies’

Final portion of journey made by truck to Poltavka in Northern Kazakhstan

(Ed. Note - to view and hear a brief but vivid similar account of the arrests and deportations with illustrations please visit this link: http://kresy-siberia.org/galleries/soviet-tyranny/soviet-deportations/ - I strongly encourage sympathetic readers to visit this link.

For a lengthy but invaluable account of these events in Poland, and the arrests and deportation to Kazakhstan, please visit this link: http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~sarmatia/102/221ptas.html. This is a translation of the diary written by Zofia Ptaśnik, a resident of Lwów who was close to my grandmother’s age. It documents on an almost daily basis her arrest, deportation to Kazakhstan, and her time working on a Soviet collective farm. She died in July of 1941 in Kazakhstan; the diary was smuggled out of the Soviet Union by a fellow prisoner and given to her son, Mieczysław Ptaśnik.)

Przydzielono nas do domów zamieszkałych tam przez Ukraińców, którzy zostali tam „przesiedleni” w roku 1936 w czasnie „czystki” na Ukrainie. Mogę o tym napisać b. (bardzo) duży rozdział. Jedynie dodam, że ludzie ci byli dla nas bardzo przychylni i dzielili się z nami czym mogli. Ja z moją Mamusią zamieszkaliści w domiku także rodziny ukraińskiej, którzy byli bardzo biedni, gdyż pracujać w kałchozie każdy był biedny. Płacy nie było, a jedynie dzielono się zyskami pod koniec roku, które pozostały po spłaceniu nałożonych podatków przez rząd sowiecki. Ja zostałem przydzielony do pracy w cegielni. Jeżdziłem po polach bykami, zbierając plewe, potrzebną do mieszania gliny, z której były wyrabiane cegły i t.zw. „samany” używane do budowy domów i t.p. Wynagrodzenia nie było, gdyż stale mówili, że pieniądze jeszcze nie przyszły z „MOSKWY”. Dopiero w m-cu pażdziernik – pieniądze z „MOSKWY” przyszły.

We were assigned to living quarters where we shared space with a Ukrainian family who had been displaced in 1936 at the time of the Ukrainian purge. I could write a lot about this chapter. I will only add that these people were very accommodating and shared what they could. Our Ukrainian friends were very poor; indeed, everyone working in this collective was poor. I was assigned to work in a brickyard and would walk across a cow pasture, collecting chaff required in the making of clay. The clay was used to manufacture bricks that were used in the construction of houses. Wages were not paid, only shared profits at the end of the year which remained after taxes were imposed by the Soviet government. Our wages and salaries were not sent from Moscow for some time; only in the month of October did the money come from Moscow.

Dad in Kazakhstan 1940.jpg

My dad (upper right) in Kazakhstan, 1940

Wypłacili nam zaległe za wszystkie miesiące pracy, a ja postanowiłem okazję tą wykorzystać. Postanowiłem powrócić do Polski. Przyłączył się do mnie jeden z kolegów Mietek Borkowski. Zrobiliśmy przygotowania na tak daleką podróż. Zapasy żywności, a najważniejsze t.zw. „kórzy”, chleb robiony z mąki i wody, pieczony na piecu. Pieszą śzliśmy do miasta Pietropawłowsk, około 60 klm gdzie po przybyciu zatrzymaliśmy się u znajomych rosjan, których poznaliśmy w czasie lata. W Pietropawłosku udało mi się sprzedać moje skrzypce profesorowi na uniwersytecie. Otrzymałem za nie 200 rubli. Dodatkowa gotówka nam się przydała. Na stacji kolejowej po znajomości byliśmy w stanie zakupić jeden bilet do Charkowa. Ciągnęliśmy losy – Mietek Borkowski wygrał. Ja postanowiłem jechać bez biletu. Dużo było przejścia w tej jeżdzie pociągiem posuwającym się 80 klm na godzinę. Przybyliśmy do Czelabińska, oddalonego 500 klm od Pietropawłowska.

We were eventually paid all our overdue wages and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and return to Poland. I was joined by a friend, Mietek Borkowski. We prepared food supplies for a very long journey and most importantly kasha bread made from flour and water and baked on the stove. We walked on foot to Petropavlovsk, about 60 klm, where on arrival we stayed with Russian friends whom we had met in the summertime. In Petropavlovsk I was able to sell my violin to a professor at the university. I received 200 rubles* for it, additional cash that came in handy. With the knowledge that we could purchase only one ticket to Kharkov (in Ukraine) at the train station, we drew lots and as fate would have it Mietek Borkowski won. I decided to go without a ticket. There were many transitions on the train ride at 80 km per hour but finally we arrived at Chelyabinsk, about 500 klm away from Petropavlovsk.

(*Ed. Note: 200 rubles in 1940 would convert to about $550 U.S. Dollars in 2015, everything else (exchange rates, inflation, etc.) being equal. I mention this to give a sense of the value of my dad’s violin in current terms. It was probably a low cost but decent student instrument. That said, after reading Zofia Ptasnik’s diary I am also aware that 200 rubles could have been the equivalent of a month’s pay at the time and could represent a large sum of money to anyone in that situation.)

Map showing distance from Petropavlovsk to Chelyabinsk, Russia, 631 klm distance

Pożegnaliśmy się na dworcu i Mietek pojechał dalej w podróż do Charkowa. Ja natomiast w Czelabińsku kupiłem bilet do miasta Złotoust – 200 klm od Czelabińska, dalej nie mogłem biletu kupić. W czasie jazdy pociągiem do Złotoust, spotkałem polskiego żydka, który był na wolnej pracy w Bałcharzy nad jeziorem Bałcharz, gdzie przyjechał z Polski z innymi do pracy jako ochotnik. Praca ta była wykonywana m.in. przez młodzież pochodzenia żydowskiego, którzy tam dobrowolnie z Polski przyjechali. Ten mój towarzysz podróży dużo mi opowiadał o tej miejscowości i pracy tam wykonywanej. Po przybyciu na dworzec kolejowy w Złotoust, udaliśmy się do kasy aby zakupić bilety na dalszą drogę. W między czasie obserwowali nas agenci N.K.W.D. którzy po krótkim czasie nas aresztowali. W czasie przesłuchania ja podałem, że jadę a Bałcharzy do Charkowa, tak samo jak i mój towarzysz podróży polski żydek. N.K.W.D. nie bardzo wierzyli i powiedzieli, że nas odstawią spowrotem do Bałcharzy. Ja nawet nie wiedziałem gdzie jest Bałcharz. To miało miejsce w dniu 5-go listopada, 1940r. Dzień 7-go listopada, będąc rocznicą zwycięstwa komunismu, spędziliśmy w więzieniu w Złotoustym. Następnego dnia wsadzono nas do wagonu więziennego, który był przyczepiony do pociągu trans-sybiry jakiego, w celu odesłania nas do Bałcharzy. Pierwsze zatrzymanie mieliśmy w więzieniu w Omsku, gdzie byliśmy przez prawie dwa tygodnie.

We said goodbye at the train station and Mietek went on to Kharkov. However in Chelyabinsk I bought a ticket to the city of Zlatoust – 200 klm from Chelyabinsk.

On the train to Zlatoust I met a Jewish man who had come from Poland with others to work as a volunteer in Balkhash, Kazakhstan at Lake Balkhash. People of Jewish origin who came there freely from Poland found work, and my companion talked about the village and the work done there.

After arriving at the train station in Zlatoust, we went to the cashier to buy tickets for the rest of the trip. While we were waiting we were observed by agents of the N.K.V.D. who went on to arrest us. When interrogated I told them that I was going to Balkhash from Kharkov with my traveling companion. The N.K.V.D. said that they did not believe me and cancelled our tickets to Balkhash. I didn’t even know where Balkhash was! This was on the 5th of November, 1940. We spent the 7th of November in jail in Zlatoust; this was the anniversary of the victory of communism. The next day they put us in prison wagons which were attached to the Trans-Siberian railroad in order to transfer us to Balkhash. We were first taken to the prison in Omsk, where we stayed for almost two weeks.

Po tym spowrotem do Pietropawłowska do więzienia na parę tygodni, następnie do więzienia w Karagandzie, skąd po paru tygodniach trafiliśmy do więzienia w Bałcharzy. To już było prawie pod koniec grudnia r.1940. Po przyjeżdzie – mój towarzysz podróży został odesłany spowrotem do miejsca pracy i ja już go więcej nie widzałem. Natomiast moja sprawa poszła w złym kierunku. Z powodu, że nie mogłem udowodnić mego pobytu w Bałcharzy, zostałem posądzony o szpiegostwo. Mam na imię Henryk, co na język rosyjski tlumaczy się GENRICH, które jest wzięte z języka niemieckiego, więc zostałem powiadomiony, że może mi grozić kara śmierci za szpiegostwo. Nie majać wyjścia – przyznałem się do prawdy wozasie mego przesłuchiwania przez oficera N.K.W.D. Powiedziałem mu, że zostałem wywieziony z moją Mamusią do Kazachstanu, skąd starałem się powrócić do Polski. Po sprawdzeniu przez N.K.W.D. wiarogodnosci mego zeznania, miałem być postawiony przed sąd.

We then went back to Petropavlovsk jail for a couple of weeks, then to prison in Karaganda where after a few weeks we were transferred to prison in Balkhash.

This was already the end of December 1940. Upon arrival my traveling companion was sent back to work and I did not see him again. In contrast, my affairs went in a bad direction: because I could not prove a reason for my stay in Balkhash I was accused of espionage. This was because my name (in Polish) is spelled Henryk, but in Russian the spelling is Genrich, which is the same as the German spelling, so I was informed that I could face the death penalty for espionage. I had no choice – I admitted the truth during my interrogation by an officer of the N.K.V.D. I told him that I was deported with my mother to Kazakhstan, from where I tried to return to Poland. After the N.K.V.D. checked the credibility of my testimony I was to be sent before a court.

W dniu 20-go stycznia odbyła się sprawa sądowa w mieście Bałcharz i ja zostałem skazany na 2 lata więzienia za ucieczkę z miejsca zesłania i za fałszywe zeznania. Parę tygodni póżniej zostałem odstawiony do więzienia w Karagandzie. Więzienie te było bardzo przepełnione. Cele były małe, do których napakowano tyle więżniów, że nie było miejsca gdzie się położyć. Pod koniec lutego 1941r. zebrano konwój około 500 więżniów i załadowano nas do wagonów towarowych. Wieżli nas przeważnie w nocy, tak że trudno było się zorientować gdzie nas wiozą. Jednak gdy pociąg zaczał się pruć w góre, to wtenczas niektórzy mówili, że my przejeżdżamy góry Uralskie, t.zn. że jedziemy w stronę Europy. I tak się to sprawdziło. W początku marca 1941r. przywieziono nas do obozu pracy „Lagier” w okolicy Astrachań nad rzeką Wolga. I tam zaczął się dla mnie nowy tryb życia. Zostałem przydzielony do flotylly (kałony) połowy ryb na morzu Kaspijskim. Flotylla ta (kałona) składała się z 35 statków rybackich. Z początku było dla mnie bardzo ciężko; nie przyzwyczajony do życia do statku – bardzo chorowałem, a zwłaszcza w czasie burz, które na morzu są bardzo surowe i w miesiącu marcu jest ich dość dużo. W tym czasie wiosennym łowiliśmy śledzie. Załoga statku składała się z 7-miu więżniów i jednego strażnika wojskowego. Wszyscy byli Rosjanami i ja jeden Polak. Dużo mogę opisać o tym przeżyciu. Co najważniejsze miałem okazję nauczyć się języka rosyjskiego; mówić, czytać i pisać. Uczył mnie jeden z więżniów, który jako inżynier skazany był na 10-ć lat więzienia za to, że ktoś wsypał piasek do jednej z maszyn, gdzie on pracował. Bardzo się z nim zaprzyjażniłem.

On the 20th of January (1941) I was convicted by a court in Balkhash and sentenced to two years in prison for escaping and supplying false testimony. A couple of weeks later I was transferred to the prison in Karaganda. The prison was very overcrowded. The cells were small, and filled with so many prisoners that there was no space to lie down. By the end of February 1941 about 500 prisoners were collected and placed on freight cars. We were taken at night so that we would not know where we were going. However, when the train started to travel through the mountains some said we were crossing the Urals, i.e. we were going into Europe. And so it proved. In early March 1941 we were brought to our labor camp (“Lagier”) in the area of Astrakhan on the Volga River.

Map showing location of Astrakhan, Russia and distance from Karaganda.

And there a new way of life started for me. I was assigned to a fleet of fishing boats on the Caspian Sea. This fleet had 35 fishing boats.  From the beginning it was very hard for me; I could not get used to life on a ship – I was very sick from many storms, which on the sea are very bad in the month of March. At that time we fished for spring herring. The ship’s crew consisted of seven prisoners and one guard. All were Russian and I was the one Pole. I could write much about this time. Most importantly I had the opportunity to learn the Russian language – speaking, reading, and writing. One of the prisoners taught me, an engineer who had been a prisoner for ten years who was arrested for putting sand in the machinery where he worked. I became very good friends with him.

W m-cu czerwcu flotylla rybacka powraca do bazy z powodu tego, że w mięsiącach czerwiec i lipiec jest zabroniony połów ryb. Tam właśnie w tej bazie odbywał się remont statków, a my więżniowie pracowaliśmy przy rozładowywaniu soli, materiałów budowlanych, jak również ładowaliśmy inne barki lodem, który był zebrany z rzeki Wołgi w zimie. Obóz ten nazywał się „ASTRACHAŃ ŁAG”, położony przy jednym z ujść rzeki Wołgi. Dowiedziałem się tam, że rzeka Wołga ma 12-cie dorzeczy, wpadających do morza Kaspijskiego. Drugą rzeką wpadającą do tego morza jest rzeka Ural. Z tych własnie dwóch rzek morze Kaspijskie otrzymuje słodka wodę, która na tym morzu zawiera obszar około 200 klm dlatego jest mnóstwo śledzi i innych ryb, które w tym rejonie składają swoją ikrę. Obóz ten składał się z tysięcy ludzi (więżniów). Byli nimi przeważnie Rosjanie, następnie sporo Ukraińców, Litwinów, Łotyszów, Findlandczyków, a nawet i Koreańczyków. Życie w tym obozie było bardzo trudne, a wyżywienie pod psem. Godziny pracy były od 5-tej rano do 7-mej wieczorem.

In the month of June the fishing boats returned to base because fishing was prohibited in June and July. Ship repairs were done there, and the prisoner’s jobs were to unload salt, construction materials, and blocks of ice that were taken from the Volga River in winter. The name of the camp was “Astrakhan Camp” situated on one of the tributaries of the Volga River. I learned there that the Volga River has twelve river basins which feed the Caspian Sea. A second river feeds the sea from the Urals (Ural River). Together these two rivers supply fresh water to the Caspian Sea in an area of about 200 klm, with plenty of herring and other fish and their eggs. The camp held one thousand prisoners. There were many Russians, and also people from Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and even Korea. Life there was very tough, and we were treated like dogs. Work hours were from 5:00 in the morning to 7:00 in the evening.

Pod koniec lipca r.1941 nasza flotylla rybacka powróciła na morze, gdzie zaczęliśmy połowy ryb niewodamy, t.zn. 2 statki ciągnęly przez 2-ie godziny tan „niewód”, a potym ryba była wyciągana na pokłady statków, zawsze tony tych ryb wyciągało się. Pod koniec dnia ryby te odwoziło się do specjalnego dużego statku, gdzie pracowały przeważnie kobiety (więżniarki), zajmując się czyszczeniem i pakowaniem tych ryb. To samo miało miało miejsce na wiosnę ze śledziami, jednak procedura była inna.

At the end of July our fishing boats returned to the sea, when we started fishing for mid-year fish with dragnets which were returned to the decks of the ships and hung up. They were then taken to a special large ship where women prisoners cleaned and packed the fish. The same thing had occurred with the spring herring, however the procedure was different.

W dniu 28-go sierpnia 1941r. rząd sowiecki po umowie z Gen. Sikorskim, zarządził amnęstję dla wszystkich polskich obywateli przebywających na terenach Z.S.R.R. Naczelnik naszej flotylly (kałony) przeczytał o tym w rosyjskiej gazecia „PRAWDA” i w połowie m-ca września powiadomił mnie o tej dobrej nowinie. Ja musiałem pisać podanie w języku rosyjskim do naczelnika łagru, wyjaśniajać, że należy mi się zwolnienie jako Polakowi. Zajęło to kilka tygodni i w polowie pażdziernika zostałem odstawiony do głównego obozu. Po dłuższych badaniach i przesłuchiwaniach, kiedy to musiałem udowodnić, że jestem Polakiem, wreszcie zostałem zwolniony z tego łagru i pozwolono mi powrócić do wsi Połtawka w Południowym Kazachstanie, gdzie zamieszkiwała moja Mamusia. Długo jechałem różnymi pociągami, w czasie czego dużo przeszedłem. O tym można napisać cały rozdział.

On August 28 1941, the Soviet government, after an agreement with General Władysław Sikorski, ordered amnesty for all Polish citizens residing in the U.S.S.R. The commander of our fleet read this in the Russian newspaper Pravda, and in mid-September informed me of the good news. I was required to write an application in the Russian language to the head of prison camps explaining that I had an exemption as a Pole. It took a few weeks, and in mid-October I was escorted to the main camp. After long hours of interrogation and research in which I had to prove my status as a Pole, I was released and allowed to return to Poltavka in southern Kazakhstan where my mother was living. I travelled on a large Russian train that took a long time. I could write a chapter about this.

Wreszcie w połowie grudnia przybyłem do stacji Smirnowo i szedłem pieszą, kilkanaście kilometrów, aby dotrzeć wsi Półtawka. Zaraz po wyruszeniu nadeszła wielka burza śnieżna i ja o mało, że nie umarłem; jednak dziećki Panu Bogu uratował mnie jeden z tubyłców (KIRGIS), który się mną zaopiekował w drodze i w swoim domu, starając się abym na drugi dzień został odwieziony do wsi Połtawka, gdzie moja Mamusia przyjęła mnie z wielką radością.

Finally in December I arrived in the state of Smirnovo, and then hiked many kilometers to the village of Poltavka. Immediately thereafter a large snow storm arrived that almost killed me; I was saved by a child of God from the village of Kirgis who took care of me on the road and in his home, and then took me to the village of Poltavka, where my mother received me with great joy.

Location of Smirnovo, Kazakhstan, south of Petropavlovsk

Po kilku dniach na rozkaz miejscowego N.K.W.D. – zostałem skierowany do pracy w t.zw. „SOWCHOZIE” im. „KIROWA”, oddalonego kilkaset kilometrów od naszej wioski w kierunku Karagandy. Cieżka tam była praca na polu przy zbieraniu skoszonej przenicy. Pracowało się tam tylko od godz.11-tej rano do 3-ciej po południu (popołudniu?), ze względu na srogą zimą i wielkie mrozy. W początkach m-ca lutego 1942r. dotarła do nas wiadomość, że organizuje się Polska Armia w Północnym Kazachstanie. Więc ja natychmiast zrobiłem poczynania aby tam się dostać. Po trzy tygodniowej podróży wraz z innymi, dostałem się, do miejscowości ŁUGOWOI, gdzie tworzyła się 10-ta Dywizja Piechoty i inne oddziały, pod dtwem płk. Szmidt. Zostałem w dniu 28-go lutego 1942r. przydzielony do 27-go Pułku Piech. 10-tej Dywizji. Z wielką radością nałożyłem mundur polski, wierząc, że mundur ten doniosę z weilką chwała do Wolnej i Ukochanej Ojczyzny. Było b. (bardzo?) zimno w tej dolinie gór ALMAATY, niedaleko od miasta SIEMIPAŁATYŃSK, jednak każdy z nas marząc o Wolnej Polsce, zimna tego nie odczuwał. Przynajmniej tak się zdawało.

After a few days I was assigned to work in a so-called Sovkhoz in Kirov on orders from the local NKVD, hundreds of kilometers away from our village of Karaganda. I had a difficult job there collecting harvested wheat. Work hours were between 11 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon due to severe cold and great frost.

Location of Kirov, Russia, north of Moscow.

In the beginning of February, 1942 I received a message that the Polish Army was being organized in North Kazakhstan. I immediately arranged to go there. After three weeks of traveling with others I arrived at the village of Lugovoy where the Tenth Infantry Division and other troops were being formed under Colonel Szmidt (and General Władysław Anders). (Ed. note: Lugovoy is actually in Southern Kazakhstan.)

Red arrow points to location of Lugovoy, South Kazakhstan, near Almaty

I was assigned on February 28, 1942 to the 27th Regiment of the 10th Infantry Division. I wore my Polish uniform with great joy, believing that I would return in it to our great, beloved fatherland. It was very cold in the valley of the Almaty mountain, not far from the city Semipalatinsk, however I believed in a free Poland and did not feel the cold. At least that is what I thought.

(Ed. Note: This is the point in my dad’s story where I initially began to discover a great deal of historical material on the internet and led to my discovery of other links I have included. For a general overview of the historical events of WWII related to Poland I suggest this website: http://www.derekcrowe.com/post.aspx?id=156 – (Poles and Poland in the Second World War). Derek Crowe provides an excellent overview of the early events described in this letter, the amnesty offered by Stalin, and accounts of several key figures including General Sikorski and General Anders. To date the best historical account that I have discovered of this time period is “An Army in Exile” by General Anders. In a small coincidence, my dad introduced me to General Anders at a rally in Hartford, Connecticut when I was six years old.)

W dniu 25-go marca 1942r. ładujemy się na pociągi i przez miasta Taszkient i Mary, dojeżdżamy do portu nad morzem Kaspijskim – KRASNOWODSK. Ja poznałem morze Kaspijski z dwóch stron. Przedtem ASTRACHAŃ a teraz KRASNOWODSK. W Krasnowodsku ładujemy się na statek i w dniu 1-go kwietnia r.1942 – przybyamy do portu PAHLEWI w PERSJI. Tam następuje nasze wyzwolenie zpod jarzmu komunistycznego, a dla mnie osobiście dodatkowo początek nowego trybu życia, jako żołnierza Polskiej Armii na Środkowym Wschodzie.

On March 25, 1942 we were loaded into trains near the city Tashkent and Mary, and taken to the port of Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea.

Krasnovodsk is now Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan

I had met the Caspian Sea on both sides, first at Astrakan and then Krasnovodsk. In Krasnovodsk we were loaded onto a ship and taken to the port of Pahlevi in Persia (currently Rasht, Iran) where we arrived on April 1, 1942.

Route to Pahlevi, however the Polish 2nd Army sailed across the Caspian Sea

There followed our release from the yoke of communism, and for me personally was the beginning of a new life as a soldier of the Polish Army in the Middle East.

Z Persji tubylce wiozą, nas ciężarówkami do Palestyny, gdzie w miejscowości ISDUD, otrzymujemy nasze nowe miejsce postoju. Po kilku tygodniach pobytu w Isducie, z innymi zgłaszam się na ochotnika do szkoły przeciw-pancernej organizowanej przy 2-giej (drugiej) Brygadzie 3-ciej (trzyciej) D.S.K. Zostaję przydzielony do 5-go (pięćgo) Batalionu 2-giej (drugiej) Brygady 3 D.S.K. Zaczynają się intesywne kursa w obronie ppanc., biorąc pod uwagę to, że Armia Niemiecka pod dtwem Gen. Rommla zbliżała się do Al A Main, a potym Kairo i była obawa, że się przerwą i pójdą, w kierunku Damaszku. Myśmy byli między Beirutem i Damaszkiem.

From Persia we were taken by trucks to Palestine, where we were stationed near the town of Isdud (currently Ashdod, Israel).

Red arrow points to location of Ashdod on current map

After a few weeks in Isdud I volunteered for the second anti-tank brigade D.S.K. I was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 2nd Brigade 3 D.S.K. I started an intensive course in anti-tank defense, considering that the German Army under General Rommel was stationed at El Alamein, and creating anxiety in Cairo with the fear that he would attack the city of Damascus. We were between Beirut and Damascus.

W czasie naszego szkolenia otrzymaliśmy angielskie 40 mm działka ppanc. Póżniej otrzymaliśmy zdobyte od uciekających wojsk niemieckich działka ppanc. 38 mm i 50 mm. Te działka 50 mm były najnowocześniejsze w obronie ppanc. Zdobyliśmy dużo doświadczenia używając te działa. Chciałbym dodać, że szkoła ppanc. 2-giej (drugiej) Brygady 3 D.S.K., składała się z żołnierzy pochodzących z 3-ch (Trzych) batalionów tej Brygady. Dowódcą naszej szkoły był ppłk. Antoni Dołega-Cieszkowski, a jednym z instruktorów był por. Jan Obierek. Póżniej przy organizacji 2-go (drugo) Korpusu w Iraku – ppłk. Antoni Dołega-Cieszkowski został mianowany Dowódcą 7 Pułku Artylerii Przeciw-Pancernej, a por. Jan Obierek – d-cą baterii 3-go (trzygo) Dywizjonu 7 P.ART.PPANC. W m-cu (mieścu) wrzesień tego roku zachorowałem na malarię, w rezultacie czego byłem w szpitalu w Damaszku, a póżniej w angielkim obozie wypoczynkowym koło Beirutu; tamtąd z innymi „malarczykami” zostałem skierowany do Obozu O.Z.A. w KHANAQUNIE w Iraku, gdzie przybyliśmy po dłuższej podróży przez Beirut, Damaszek i pustynię przyłaczeni do konwoju angielskiego, który transportował bomby lotnicze do portu Basra w Iraku z przeznaczeniem dla Rosji Sowieckiej.

In time we received training on the English 40mm tank cannon. Later we received training on the German 38 mm and 50 mm anti-tank cannons that were left behind when they fled. The 50mm cannon was our largest defense weapon. We gained a lot of experience with these weapons. I want to add that the Second Brigade anti-tank trainers consisted of soldiers from the Third Battalion and Brigade. Our training was led by Antoni Dołega-Cieszkowski and also from Lt. Jan Obierek. Later in the organization of the Second Corps in Iraq Lt. Col. Antoni Dołega-Cieszkowski became the commander of the 7th Anti-Tank regiment, and Jan Obierek became the Colonel of the Third Division Anti-Tank Battery. In the month of September that year I contracted malaria, the result being that I was sent to a hospital in Damascus, and later to a British hub camp near Beirut; there the other ‘malarias’ stayed as directed to Camp O.Z.A. in Khanaqin, Iraq, where we were taken on the long trip to Beirut, Damascus and joined the British convoy, which transported aircraft bombs to the port of Basra in Iraq for Soviet Russia.

Dad in Khanaquin April 1 1943.jpg

My dad in Khanaquin, second from left, April 1943

Po przybyciu Obozu O.Z.A. w KHANAQUIN, zostałem przydzielony do nowo tworzącego się pułku ppanc., który póżniej otrzymał nazwę 7 Pułk Artylerii Przeciwpancernej. Ponieważ, że umiałem pisać na maszynie – zostałem przydzielony do Kancelarii D-twa Pułku, gdzie służyłem do czasu mego zwolnienia w r.1947. Moim bezpośrednim zwierzchnikiem był Szef kancelarii chorąży Zygmunt Molas. Bardzo pracowity i szczerze oddany człowiek – Ślązak. 7 Pułk Artylerii Ppanc. przeszedł piękną i chlubną drogę w czasie działań wojennych. Wszyscy marzyliśmy o powrocie do Wolnej i Ukochanej Ojczyzny, jako jednostka wojskowa, która na to zasłużyła. Jednak stało się inaczej. Zostaliśmy rozproszeni po całym Świecie w poszukiwaniu lepszego jutra z nadzieją, że doczekamy tego DNIA, kiedy wreszcie nasza Ukochana Ojczyzna, o która walczyliśmy, naprawdę będzie wolną i dostępna dla wszystkich.

After arriving at Camp O.Z.A. in Khanaqin, I was assigned to the newly formed anti-tank division, where later we received the name 7th Anti-tank artillery regiment. Because I knew how to type I was assigned to the 10th Chancellery Regiment, where I served until 1947. My direct commander was Chief Warrant Officer Zygmunt Molas, a very hard-working and devoted member of the Silesian 7th Artillery Regiment. We all dreamed of returning as a unit to a free and beloved fatherland, which we deserved. But it happened differently. We were scattered around the world in search and hope of a better tomorrow hoping to live to see the day when we would return to our beloved fatherland for which we fought to be free and accessible for all.

Dad in Naples June 4 1944.jpg

My dad in Naples, Italy, June 4, 1944, second from left. This was following the battle of Monte Cassino, April-May 1944.

Dad June 21, 1947.jpg

My dad in a photo that he later signed and gave to my mom, June 21, 1947

(Ed. note: I have discovered several excellent internet sources with personal accounts and other comments from members of the Polish 2nd Army. Here is a very interesting website from Franek Rymaszewski: http://www.rymaszewski.iinet.net.au/6escape.html. This recounts his story of being released from a concentration camp in Siberia to join the Polish army forming in Kazakhstan under General Anders and choosing to emigrate to Australia from London after the war. Pan Rymaszewski also has painstakingly researched his family tree, he has traced his roots to the year 1546!)

W r.1950 Kongres Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej przeprowadził ustawę, która została podpisana przez Prezydenta Trumana, aby 18-cie tysięcy b. żołnierzy Polskich Sił Zbrojnych w Wielkiej Brytanii wraz z rodzinami mogli osiedlić się na stałe w U.S.A. Ja, mając Stryjka w Paterson, N.J., który mnie zaprosił do siebie dzięki staraniom Zjednoczenia Polsko-Narodowego w Brooklynie, N.Y., skorzystałem z tej okazji i w r.1951 wyemigrowałem z Anglii do U.S.A. Rok póżniej sprowadziłem moją żonę (Walijkę) z synem z Walii Pólnocnej. Po przyjeżdzie do Ameryki wstąpiłem w szeregi Placówki 154, S.W.A.P. w Paterson, N.J., jak również zapisałem się do Tow.Św.Szczepana, Gr. 38, Z.P.N. Przez wiele lat pełniłem różne stanowiska w tych organizacjach. Ostatnio od wielu lat pełnie funkcję Adiutanta Finansowego Placówki 154 S.W.A.P. i Sekretarza Finansowego Tow. Św. Szczepana, Grupa Nr. 38, Z.P.N. Mimo zawału na serce, które dostałem w r. 1977 nadal staram się brać czynny udział w życiu tutejszych organizacji polonijnych i pracować dla dobra sprawy polskiej z myślą o Wolnej i Ukochanej Ojczyżnie. –

In 1950 the Congress of the United States of North America passed laws, signed by President Truman, allowing 18,000 Polish soldiers and their families stationed in Great Britain to settle in the U.S.A. I, with an uncle in Paterson N.J., and with thankful effort from the Polish National Alliance of Brooklyn, N.Y. took advantage of the occasion and emigrated from England to the U.S. in 1951. One year later I brought my wife and son from North Wales. After arriving in America I joined the ranks of Group 154, S.W.A.P. in Paterson, N.J. and St. Stephen’s Society, Group 38, Z.P.N. I served many years in these organizations. Recently I served as financial secretary of St. Stephen’s Society, Group 38. Despite suffering a heart attack in 1977 I still try to take an active role in the life of Polish organizations here and work for the good of my free and beloved fatherland.

Henryk A. Kłopotowski

Arrow points to the Isle of Anglesey, off the coast of northwest Wales.

My dad was stationed there after the war and met my mom at a dance in the town of Beaumaris. I was born in Bangor (on the mainland) in 1955 at St. David’s Hospital.

IMG_1411.JPG

Gravestone of my great-uncle Vincent and his family in Paterson, NJ.

I think of my great-uncle as one of the ‘unsung heroes’ of this story, he provided my dad and our family with safe harbor in the U.S. My middle name is Vincent in honor of him.

Current thoughts

I first read a translation of this letter in 2002. It’s hard to measure a reaction, this is for me incredibly difficult material to fully comprehend, and actually ‘comprehension’ seems to be a moving target. But as a story or collection of facts it revealed much that I had not known. Understandably, my dad did not want to discuss or revisit the history with me while he was alive, other than the general info that I mentioned in the introduction. And there was always the formidable barrier of the Polish language. At the age of sixty I also now have a fuller understanding of the cultural and historical barriers that were in place. For that reason, I am very definitely an American of Polish descent and this placed an immovable virtual divide between me and both of my parents. I really never could understand their early lives, and given the time and place that I grew up in, they could not possibly know what life was really like for me.

But – this is my family and the years have taught me that genetics can supersede the substantial differences that mark our upbringings. I did make a real effort to get to know my dad as well as possible while he was alive, and to this day I feel ‘complete’ with him. To pick up the threads of his story, he was unable to visit Poland while the communist regime was in power however he kept close contact with my grandma and Aunt Helena in Lublin. My grandma died in 1966, and I don’t know what became of my aunt Helena.

My dad did start to visit Poland in the early 1990’s however my mom didn’t want to join him. When he returned he was celebrated as a WWII veteran and Polish patriot, and also found that the exchange rate at the time from dollars to zlotys was very good. Due to his status as a veteran he could also live in a home in Warsaw if he chose, and he started to lay a plan to do this. Sadly, my mom did not want to join him and he left the US in 1992. He took up residence in Warsaw and got busy with a project that he conceived of to pay tribute to the family. I have letters from him to my auntie Kay about a family gravesite in Bródno Cemetery in Warsaw that was established. My grandmother is buried there, and my grandfather and aunt Janina are memorialized.

We received word of my dad’s death shortly after New Year’s Day of 1996. The official date was January 2 but he was found sitting in a chair fully dressed and my guess is that he suffered a final fatal heart attack, perhaps after celebrating the New Year. (My great uncle Vincent was said to have endured seven heart attacks.) My dad was honored in a funeral ceremony for veterans and is buried in the family gravesite in Bródno Cemetery.

The last and current segment of the story involves planning to visit Poland in person sometime. If at all possible I would like this to be around the time of August 1 because this would be the commemoration day for the victims of the Warsaw Uprising. I have seen a very moving video of how this date in commemorated in Warsaw, interested viewers can view a short film of it at this link: https://youtu.be/ykBTvP6ZX9s

In closing, I was visiting my mom in October 2014 when I saw a show on CNN about family histories featured a story about the correspondent Wolf Blitzer. (The entire segment is about thirteen minutes and can be seen at this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MaiaIdjcK8) His parents came from Western Poland, and if I remember correctly they not only met at but also survived the Auschwitz camp. There were interviews with his family from Buffalo, NY and his mom remembered how she cried when she saw Blitzer on TV for the first time. She said that this was the ultimate revenge on tyrants and murderers like Stalin and Hitler: the survival and prospering of families, even in new lands. To this end, my parent’s chief dream in moving to America was to create a better life for their children, and I believe that my brother is the first college graduate from our family. Recently both of my sons have had important graduations, and I very much share these sentiments. If only their grandparents and great-grandparents could see them, they would be beyond proud. But in very important ways we have survived and prospered.

I thank any reader who has gone this far with me. It has not been easy at all to work on this project, and coping with the Polish language was the least of the challenges. In fact, I have really enjoyed the fact that my dad has in some way played a big part in my learning of Polish. I look at any individual sentence or paragraph that he wrote and see new words or grammatical structures on a continual basis, and it is like he is teaching me from beyond the grave. I have also cried many tears as I contemplate all of these stories, but also know that I am a descendent of a long-standing beautiful family and culture. May we all continue to live long and prosper!

Jan Kłopotowski

February 21, 2016

Appendix – images of original letter

letter from Dad - Polish version - p1

letter from Dad - Polish version - p2

letter from Dad - Polish version - p3

letter from Dad - Polish version - p4

letter from Dad - Polish version - p5