For the older generation of Poles, the 10th February 1940 is an especially poignant date.
From the start of Stalin’s Purges in 1934, throughout the thirties, throughout the forties, and right up to his death in 1953, it is estimated that around four million of his own people died as a result of resettlement to gulags and in executions for trumped up charges. It is estimated that another seven million died in the artificially created famines of 1932-3 and 1946-7.
From 1938 onwards, Stalin had turned his attention to the countries bordering with Russia in Eastern Europe: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland and Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of families from each of these countries were forced out of their homes and dispatched in overcrowded cattle trucks to gulags in Siberia. Thousands died of starvation, extreme low winter temperatures and untreated diseases.
The 10th February 1940 was the day of the first mass deportation of Polish families to Siberia. Three more major deportations followed, the numbers of the deportees adding to over a million people. Every single family was affected by multiple deaths and irreplaceable loss.
My parents’ epic journey and that of thousands of Polish families began in the middle of the night on the 10th February 1940. With frightening shouts and threats, they were woken up by the Russian soldiers, told to pack and be ready in half an hour. They were taken to the nearest station and herded into cattle trucks, eight families to a wagon.
It is difficult to imagine the horrors they endured, the sights they witnessed and the experiences they lived through during that nightmarish journey. On arrival at their destination, things deteriorated further. Their story continued with two years spent in a labour camp where many more of their friends and acquaintances died from extreme cold, starvation and disease.
Today I will be remembering my parents and the many thousands of people like them.