Veteran Stories:
Józefa (Josephine) Obierski

  • Józefa Obierski

    Józefa Obierski
  • Siberia, USSR (1940). Mrs. Józefa Obierski’s mother is on the far left.

    Józefa Obierski
  • Józefa Obierski (middle row, second from left) with the other scout leaders (Tengeru, Tanzania, 1943)

    Józefa Obierski
  • Polish refugee camp (Tengeru, Tanzania, 1944). Mrs. Józefa Obierski is in the third row, standing, fifth from the left.

    Józefa Obierski
  • The wedding photo of Mr. and Mrs. Józef and Józefa Obierski

    Józefa Obierski
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"Tenth of February, 1940, during the night, they [the Russians] knocked [on] the door and they said, “Can you open the door?” And they just walked in the house and they said, “You have just half an hour to get ready. We are taking you out.”"


Tenth of February, 1940, during the night, they [the Russians] knocked [on] the door and they said, “Can you open the door?” And they just walked in the house and they said, “You have just half an hour to get ready. We are taking you out.”*

My mother asked, “Where, for how long we are going?” and one guy said [a Russian commandant], “Oh, just for three days and you are coming back.” And the other guy [another Russian official], I think, he was best – he had a better heart – and he just turned around, “Take everything what you can, just food and clothes because you are not going back in three days.”

[It] took us two weeks by the time I got to Siberia. And they took us to the barracks, to one room, whole family in one room. We had just not many things, [whatever] we can [bring] in.

Then the next day, they called people after 16 up to 65 [years of age] for the meeting. And the commandant had a meeting with people and he said, “You have to go to work, every one of you.” And if you don’t work, you wouldn’t eat. And he said, “Tomorrow be ready and you’re going to go twelve kilometres from this place to cut the wood.” There, my mother and father had to go, and three of us, because we were under sixteen, we had to stay in the barrack where they brought us.

We were able to buy just bread, the children, 600 grams for every day. And every day we have to go and stay in the line for a long time to get that bread. We couldn’t get even, not even salt. We just can get that bread over there.

Lots of people died, and especially children, because [there] was no milk, not anything for them. And mother[s] ha[d] to go to work. And even though [they were] young and couldn’t feed [their children] for long because [mothers were] hungry, [they] didn’t have enough food to eat. And, sure, those children died.

And my grandfather died [in] Siberia, and [so did] lots of people. And the funeral was, they really just dug a small hole, and if their family asked for a coffin, they took some boards and they just put some boards together, whatever they can. And that was funeral, like that.

First of January, 1942, they [the Russian commandants] call us and say, “We are going to a train station to go farther to Russia.”** And everybody [in my family] signed [to leave Siberia]. They asked, “Where do you want to go?” And everybody signed to [go to] south Russia because the climate was much better and it was closer to Poland. And they said, “You can’t go to Poland.”

We travel from Siberia to Shaherzad [Uzbekistan] for two months.

Then on the ship, on the boat to Pahlavi [Iran]. That was Persia then, now it’s Iran. And from there we went by trucks to near Tehran [Iran]. We were there about two months. And we went by train to Karachi [Pakistan]. And in Karachi we stay for two months. We went by train to the port and Mombasa [Kenya], and from Mombasa to East Africa [Tengeru, Tanzania].

The nursing service, when I was in Africa, when I finished high school and they organized nursing courses, I tried to join, but just they took the girls who didn’t have [any]body in the army, didn’t have [a] place to go. And at least they [would] have the [nursing] occupation. But I wasn’t accepted. And I got the job in the office [of the Polish camps in Tengeru]. ***

We were in Africa when we heard that war was over. My mother’s brother was in Canada since 1913. And my mother wrote to him and asked him if he’ll be able to help us, to bring us to Canada. Canada was very happy to bring some immigrants [into the country]. And we didn’t wait for long until we came to Canada.


*Polish deportations to Siberia began on 10 February 1940

**When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1942, the Polish government sided with the Russians in exchange for the release of Polish deportees. Many were sent to British colonies.

***There were six Polish camps in Tanzania, the largest of which was in Tengeru.


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