Volunteer Leokadia Kapelańska, born in 1920 in Radziłów, unmarried, student, no profession.
I was deported on 13 May 1941 from Radziłów to North Kazakhstan Oblast, Kokchetav region, to a Kazakh kolkhoz, Karabulak [?].
As far as this area is concerned, one would have to see it to get any idea of how it looked. The conditions were beyond description. Back in Poland I couldn’t have imagined that people might live in such conditions. Living in straw huts without floors, but with all kinds of bugs and among dirty, lice-infested, wild Kazakhs, our life was one of real torment. First of all, being unable to communicate with the Kazakhs, I found life there so difficult that during the first days I was on the verge of insanity. My parents and siblings, who had been deported with me, tried to convince me that we would soon return to Poland, and I admit that for some time I deluded myself into believing that we would leave Kazakhstan and go back to Poland.
There were 15 Polish families in my kolkhoz; there were a dozen or so elderly people, and the rest were families with little children. There were quite a few young people in the kolkhoz, but they were so dejected all the time that at first any social life was out of the question. However, we grew closer as time went by. At first our Kazakh landlords were indifferent towards us; besides, they little realized whom we were and for what we had been brought there. I couldn’t get used to their household appliances (besides, there were none in that Kazakh shed except for a low, round table and a samovar). As far as Kazakh culture is concerned, it is so undeveloped that there is virtually nothing to write about. I still remember the sight of the Kazakhs killing lice in their teeth; it’s such a despicable memory.
My life in the kolkhoz was very monotonous. The kolkhoz was so poor that it couldn’t feed the Kazakhs themselves, let alone the Poles – we found ourselves in a truly tragic position. For weeding fields in summer and collecting grain, which was very meager by the way, we didn’t receive any remuneration or prepayment in grain. Almost every day we discussed the fact that there was nothing to eat, and we would eat a piece of dry bread with utmost pleasure and great appetite. All we heard all day long was, kto ne rabotayet, ten ne kushayet; net chto kushat [those who don’t work don’t eat]. We talked a lot about bread although we never had it.
Like everything, the kolkhoz was supervised by the NKVD. This abbreviation struck fear into the hearts of all the inhabitants of the kolkhoz. Very often a car with the NKVD nachalnik [chief] would come during the day or at night, actually almost exclusively at night, and take people straight from their house. During such a visit we, the Poles, were usually questioned, and so we were asked, “Do you believe in God? What was it like back in Poland? Is everything alright here in the kolkhoz?” Of course our answers were always brief, identical and vague. The nachalnik ’s attentions filled us with great fear. His derisive questions often drove me crazy. He refused to acknowledge that some people were too sick to work. You cannot be sick!
As for medical assistance in the kolkhoz, there wasn’t any. At all! And no medicaments, either. Such a painful memory comes to me now that I can barely write. My father was left without any medical assistance; he fell ill with pneumonia and died. I cannot write because of the rush of emotions.
When I was in the kolkhoz, from time to time I received a letter from Poland. Although it took a lot of time for the letters to be delivered, at least I had a chance to learn some bits and pieces about the situation in Poland.
I wasn’t in the kolkhoz all the time. After a few months, on the NKVD’s order, I left with my sister and brother for proizvodstvo, that is, for work on the railway. I worked at a railway depot construction. Of course many of my acquaintances from the kolkhoz worked there with me. It was there, that is in Kushmurun (where I worked), where I learned that women were also being admitted into the Polish Army. I felt so happy I could have jumped for joy. All the Poles were happy, because we knew what it meant that a Polish army was being raised. Shortly afterwards the men we knew began to leave for Buzuluk. It was in winter, and very often we gathered in some barrack for an evening meeting devoted to the subject of service in the Polish Army that was being formed. I remember these moments, truly emotional and sublime.
In February I left with a transport of all the laborers for a railway depot construction in the area of Tashkent, and straight off the transport I went with my sister and several friends to join the army. I went through a lot, I must say, because it so happened that I got separated from my friends and was left all alone, without any money or identity papers – just as I got off the train. On the way to Guzar I met a military transport, and although the commander forbade me to do so, I got in and arrived with the transport in Kitab. I was to appear before the draft board there, but I unexpectedly fell ill with typhoid fever and was taken to a Soviet hospital, as the Polish military hospital hadn’t yet been organized. Of course medical care in the Soviet hospital meant that the sick were left to their own means. I endured this grave illness thanks to my constitution, and towards the end of my convalescence I learned about the possibility of going to Persia. I was very glad that I would finally leave the Soviet Union, and indeed about a week later a sanitary train took me in the direction of Krasnovodsk. I felt very bad during the sea journey, but in spirit I was already in the beautiful Persian lands, and all I had suffered and gone through during my stay in the USSR was only a horrific memory, which by the way cannot be erased.
I went to Iran, although I didn’t know whether or not my mother had also left Russia. Fortunately, my mother also came to Iran, but on the second transport from Russia, when I had already been in Tehran for a long time, and I gave my mother a tearful welcome in Pahlavi. Now I am truly happy and I can finally sleep at night, knowing that all of this has passed like a terrible nightmare.