89 Books about Poland | Polish War Graves in Britain
In 1940 over a million Poles were deported by Stalin to slave labour camps in Siberia. One of those Poles was Stefan Waydenfeld. In the Ice Road - An Epic Journey From Stalinist Labour Camps To Freedom he recounts his experiences of deportation and his long journey to freedom.
Stefan Waydenfeld was brought up in Otwock, about 20 miles south of Warsaw. His father was a doctor, who obtained his medical degree in Moscow in 1914, and was drafted into the Russian army at the start of the first world war. After Poland gained its independence in 1918 he joined the Polish Army and fought against the Bolsheviks in the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-20.
Stefan's mother, with a degree in Natural Sciences from Warsaw University, ran a clinico-bacteriological laboratory in their home. He had an older brother Jurek who was studying abroad at university when in September 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. Stefan's father and his Uncle Adam, officers of the reserve in the Polish Army Medical Corps left for Brzesc in the general mobilisation, about 140 miles south-east of Warsaw. Stefan, aged 14, left Otwock on 6 September 1939 to try and join the Army.
Deportation to Siberia
On 17 September the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the East. Stefan and his father now found themselves on the Soviet side of the newly partitioned Poland. In November Stefan's mother crossed the German-Soviet divide and joined them in Brzesc. In December they moved to Pinsk.
At 3am on 29 June 1940 members of the citizens' militia banged on their door and told them they had 30 minutes to pack their belongings. They were taken to the railway station and told they were going to Warsaw. It was a lie. They and hundreds of others were ordered to board the wagons of a goods train. The train headed East towards the Soviet Union. After a week their train journey came to an end at a place called Kotlas in Siberia. They then had to travel by truck and on foot to a small settlement of wooden barracks in the Siberian forest called Kvasha. For over a year they would work felling trees.
Poles Set Free
In June 1941 Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. At the end of August 1941 an announcement was posted at the Kvasha camp which said the following:
The Soviet government has granted an amnesty to all Polish prisoners and deportees. The amnesty document will serve as the family passport and as a one-way travel permit to the destination of your choice.
With this document they were free to leave Kvasha. The problem though was how to leave and where to go. The Poles built rafts and set off on the Siberian river Uftyuga hoping to reach Krasnoborsk. The Waydenfelds successfully reached Krasnoborsk and were able to get on a boat which took them south to Kotlas. From Kotlas railway station they took a train to Gorkiy. From there a boat to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea. Stefan's father hoped to be able to join the Polish army which was being reformed under the command of General Anders.
The Polish army scattered in several camps was shortly to be moved to Soviet Central Asia. In October 1941 the Waydenfelds headed by train back the way they had come to Saratov and then by cattle train to Samarkand, a journey which lasted six weeks. It was not until August 1942 that they were able to make their way by train to Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea. A small cargo boat, with thousands on board, took them across the sea to Pahlavi in Persia. They had finally managed to escape from the Soviet Union.
Stefan Waydenfeld died in London on 24 October 2011.
The publishers of The Ice Road are Aquila Polonica. They are a company specialising in the publication of books, in English, about the Polish experience in World War Two. The Ice Road by Stefan Weydanfeld is their second book. The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt by Rulka Langer was their first book. Aquila Polonica was founded by Stefan Mucha and Terry Tegnazian.
Dr James Le Fanu, The Daily Telegraph (London) 11 March 2001, wrote:
Have you, I would enquire of my patients, had any significant previous illnesses that I should know about? Not infrequently this would elicit a list so long and terrifying that it was a miracle they were still alive: double pneumonia, typhus, typhoid fever, dysentery, tuberculosis, and so on. When I asked how they had managed to notch up so distinguished a roll-call of life-threatening illnesses, it would emerge that they were the survivors of Stalin's labour camps in Siberia, to which they had been transported from Poland in 1940 and from where eventually they had made their way to Iran to join the Free Polish Army. I was recently reminded of these patients by Stefan Waydenfeld, a retired family doctor from North London. He has written to say...that for him this epic journey (grippingly recounted in his book The Ice Road) was just one extended exercise in being "a lucky survivor".
Barry Ainsworth, BBC (London) 19 January 2006, wrote:
The Poles, saw their country overrun first by Hitler and Stalin acting in unison, then by Hitler’s legions triumphant over Stalin and finally by a resurgent Red Army victorious over the Nazis. To survive in the successive waves of that maelstrom required rather more complicated strategies than anything encountered in Western Europe. These memoirs of Stefan Waydenfeld grip the imagination not only as a stirring tale of human endurance, but also as an illustration of wartime conditions in very unfamiliar parts of Europe...Stefan wrote the book because he felt that the huge movement of Poles by the Russians was unrecorded and more importantly, unrecognised.