Surviving Siberia: The Diary of a Polish Girl, 1939-42,
by Richard Spyrka. 2012
Reviewed by Jan Peczkis
Anne Frank’s Diary is that of a girl in hiding, not one who is actually going through a series of horrible war experiences. Anne Frank’s personal reflections are no different from what every teenager goes through, and her wisdom about human nature is a matter of personal opinion, and no more authoritative than that of anyone else who has gone through a traumatic experience. Yet, because of the Holocaust supremacy that rules the West, Anne Frank dominates the West’s classrooms.
Consider this diary–one that is almost unknown. Author Richard Spyrka hereby publishes the diary of his mother, Jozefa Eva Rataj, who was 18 years old when exiled to Siberia.
UPROOTED FROM THEIR HOMES
Before the German-Soviet conquest of Poland in 1939, Rataj and her family lived in Bobiatyn, Sokal District, near Lwow. (p. 9). In February 1940, the Soviet Communist conquerors forcibly removed the family from their domicile and dispatched them on a month-long train ride to Siberia. Rataj comments, “There were no toilets, and we had to use a hole in the carriage floor, or go outside and under the carriage when the train stood for longer. However, even when someone went outside for this purpose, the NKVD [Russian policeman] would be standing guard over them.” (p. 16). They found themselves in the Arkhangelsk region of the Soviet Arctic. (p. 17).
Their ordeals were just beginning. Diarist Rataj wrote, “Our room housed eighty-two people, which was overcrowded, and the smell was awful.” (p. 18).
THE COMMUNISTS TRY TO ATHEIZE THE POLES
The Communist officials would mock and ridicule those who prayed. Diarist Rataj describes how the Poles refused to give up, “We believed that, through prayer, God would not allow us to be lost and disappear forever in a foreign country that did not believe in God–an atheist country–and that there would arrive a day when we would return to the land of our fathers, the motherland, Poland.” (p. 19).
TORMENTED BY INSECTS
Rataj states, “In this dog’s kennel–this is what we called our home in the woods–lice did not give us the opportunity to sleep. There was no shortage of these tiny creatures, they were everywhere…It was in Russia that I first encountered mites, and they left their visiting card all over my body in the form of sores.” (pp. 29-30).
INADEQUATE FOOD AND CLOTHING
The diarist wrote, “It was easier for us to survive through the summer, but the winter was so difficult and a terrible strain. Firstly, there was the lack of proper covering for our feet, as well as inadequate clothing. Secondly, we had starvation staring us right in the face because, unlike in the spring, there was nothing we could gather or pick to supplement any meals we had. The snow had already fallen by September and there was other work to do.” (p. 25).
The clothing situation became more acute with time. Diarist Rataj relates, “The clothes we possessed became very tatty and were falling apart, but we had no other clothes, no replacements and nowhere to get any new ones.” (p. 28).
FRIGHTFULLY LOW TEMPERATURES
The Siberian winter is a fearsome experience. The diarist commented, “The frost was severe, minus forty-five degrees, which caused us pain and was difficult to endure. There were times when it was even colder, but they would not allow us to stop working.” (p. 26).
DEALING WITH ILLNESS EVEN AFTER RELEASE
These are the diarist’s experience after the Sikorski-Maisky pact that “amnestied” the Polish captives months after the unexpected Nazi German attack on her erstwhile Soviet ally, “It was Arys, in Kazakhstan, when the train finally stopped, and this day will always remain firmly etched in my memory…I lay there with a very high temperature, my head splitting, in unbelievable pain.” (p. 52).
The diarist recounts her experiences with typhus, “At that time, I lost my memory and consciousness of my surroundings…I ate nothing. I became deaf like a tree stump.” (p. 54).
JEWS WERE FAVORED OVER POLES
The customary narrative is that where Poles were favored over Jews, notably when it came to admission to Anders’ Army. The diarist’s experiences, at least near the Tashkent rail station, were just the opposite, “To add to our misery we saw that, on many occasions, the Jewish people were accepted before us, but we were unable to find anyone who would give us support.” (p. 59).
The family crossed the Caspian Sea and entered Iran. From there, the family went to India, and eventually to England. Author Spyrka quickly dispels any myth of white privilege, as he relates, “Life was very difficult at the beginning, as it was for all Polish families, because they had arrived in this country with nothing. My father worked as a miner in the coalfields in Pontefract and Hemsworth.” (p. 75).