Like most Polish Americans, I have been keenly aware of the massacre of many thousands of Polish nationals in the Katyń Forest that occurred not long after the invasion of Poland by Germany and later by Russia in September, 1939. Accounts of the Katyń Massacre have often prompted me to wonder about the possibility of members of my own family being among the victims.
Recently, and coincidentally just one day after viewing Andrzej Wajda’s film, "Katyń", I came across a reminder on Andrew Golebiowski’s Facebook wall to visit the Katyń Massacre Traveling Exhibit that had just opened at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Andy, a photojournalist for WGRZ-TV and a Polish-American with a nose for local news, pointed out that two of the victims of the massacre were from Buffalo, the city where I grew up and where the American branch of my family has called home for many years. As I took a closer look at Andy’s photos, I noticed
one of the two victims had the same last name as my maternal grandparents. Reserve. Lt. Henryk Franciszek Adamski, according to the information in the photo, was born in Buffalo in 1913 and later became a Polish citizen in 1932. That really piqued my interest and prompted me to investigate further.
I wish I had complete records of my family going back to the time that the legendary brothers Lech, Czech, and Rus founded the Slavic nations, but I don’t. Much of my family’s history is yet to be researched, and sadly we have lost contact with most family members who chose to remain in their beloved Poland. Fortunately, however, I do have fairly accurate records on the Adamski's. Sure enough, according to the Adamski family tree, my grandfather’s youngest brother, Bronisław had a son who was born the same year as the soldier in the photo and died in 1940, the year of the massacre.
I am sure you can sense the dramatic conclusion to this story. I drove to the exhibit to see if I could find out more about this young man and whether or not he was my relative. I was in fact prepared to spend hours combing through church records to satisfy my curiosity, but it didn’t take long for me to discover what I needed to know. Directly above Lieutenant Adamski’s exhibit photo was a picture of a baptismal document that included information that matched my family records; the first and last names of his parents and the names of his baptismal sponsors left no doubt that my mom’s cousin was among the many thousands of Polish soldiers and innocent citizens who were brutally murdered in or near Russia's Katyń Forest. I shivered when I saw my babcia’s name listed as Henryk’s godmother on the baptismal certificate. This chilling discovery stunned and saddened me deeply, not only because a family member just one year younger than my mom and most likely one of her childhood playmates was a victim of such an awful tragedy, but also because it served as yet another reminder of how greatly Poland has suffered throughout its history. Certainly every Polish family has been touched in profoundly tragic ways by the countless atrocities carried out by Poland’s invaders over the years. My discovery made me feel that even ocean barriers and the passage of time cannot guarantee those of us living in North America shelther from history's fury.
Certainly the discovery that a close member of my family was one of those murdered by the Russians has saddened my family and me. It has also given me a better understanding of how far-reaching and deep Poland's wounds must be. Clearly more time is needed for those wounds to heal. Of course the discovery of my family's connection to Katyń came as a great shock to me, but there is more to this story than Lieutenant Adamski's tragic murder. If you are interested in learning about what happened to his wife and his four year old daughter, click here.
Bob Johnson Viewing Photo of
Res. Lt. Henryk Franciszek Adamski
Photo of Res. Lt. Henryk Franciszek Adamski
(my mother's cousin) on display at the Katyń Massacre Traveling Exhibit In Buffalo, New York
Polish Army Officers and Policemen
Born in the USA
Katyń Massacre Traveling Exhibit
Capt. Waclaw Sasiuk
Born on August 28, 1893 in Panxsutowney. He participated in The Polish-Bolshevik was, then he served in the
Border Protection Corps
Killed in Katyn:
Res. Second Lieutenant
Born July 11, 1912 in the USA.
Res. Lieutenant Jan Czubernat
Born May 7, 1912
He was a veterinarian. His remains were identified during the exhumation in the spring of 1943 in the Katyn Forest.
Murdered in Charkov:
Res. Lieutenant Henryk Franciszek Adamski
Born October 19, 1913 in Buffalo.
He adopted Polish citizenship in 1932. A teacher. A copy of his certificate of baptism in a church in Buffalo is displayed to the right of his photo.
Lieutenant Paulin Franciszek Domanowski
Born on December 26, 1906
in Jersey City.
In 1939, he was the company commander. A canteen with his name was found during the exhumation in 1994 in Charkov.
Res. Lieutenant Henryk Kuca,
Born on Juce 6, 1908 in New York.
A clerk. His remains were found during the exhumations in Katyn in spring 1943.
Born on April 19, 1885 in Haverstraw, New York. MD, PhD, a specialist in internal medicine. He studied at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and at the University of Vienna. He joined the Polish Army in April 1919 and took part in the war against th Bolsheviks in 1920. He commanded the field hospitals. He was also the medical chief of the 12th Infantry Regiment. He was awarded the Cross of Valor. The Soviets captured him on September 19, 1939.
Above: Captain Stanislaw Kluk,
Born on December 19, 1906 in Passaic, New Jersey.
He served in the Border Protection Corps
Res. Lieutenant Boleslaw Piotr Kraus,
Born on November 23, 1910 in Staunton, Illinois. He studied at the Chemistry Faculty of the University of Lvov. His remains were identified during the exhumations in Katyn in spring 1943.
Res. Lieutenant Boleslaw Jozef Odbierzychleb,
Born on November 9, 1913, in Lansing, Ohio. He graduated from the School of Commerce in Poznan and he worked at the National Bank of Agriculture in Poznan. His remains were identified during the exhumation in 1943 in Katyn.
On left: Infantry Lieutenant. Jozef Siemiatkowski,
Born in Chicago
Above: Res. Lieutenant Piotr Paprota
Born on September 14, 1908 in Palmer, Massachusetts.
A surveyor by profession.
On right: Artillery Lieutenant Wladyslaw Jung,
Born on September 8, 1913 in Chicago.
A graduate of the Corps of Cadets in Chelm in 1939. He was commander of the battery.
Sergeant Major Wincenty Blaszak
Border Guard, born on May 8, 1894
He participated in the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920.
Murdered in the Soviet Ukraine:
In addition: Senior Constable of the State Police Edmund Bryzgalski, born on May 18, 1903 in Pittsburgh, Sen. Const. of the State Police Wlaclaw Kozlowski, born in 1912, in San Francisco, Jan Nowaczyk, born on August 26, 1887 in Chicago, Const. of the State Police Edmund Skrzypczak, born on October 18, 1911 in Ewing. Const. of the State Police Antoni Sobkowiak, born on December 26, 1905 in Ewing.
Res. Lieutenant of the Signal Corps
Born on November 27, 1900 in Pitsburgh. He worked as a clerk in the Volyn Voivodship (provincial)
Res. Captain Boleslaw Rowicki PhD
Born on April 13, 1899 in Baltimore. He volunteered for the Polish Army in 1918, and took part in the war of 1920 against the Bolsheviks. He escaped from Soviet captivity and was awarded the Cross of Valor and Cross on Independence. He was the head of the Treasury House in Lvov.
Res. Lieutenant Waclaw Boleslaw Borczyk, MA
Born on September 13, 1906 in Chicago.
A town-district judge.
born in 1914 in New York
The above memorial plaque was unveiled on the 40th anniversary of the Katyn Forest massacre. A short distance from Smolensk in Russia, Katyn Forest is where in April 1940 the NKVD [the Soviet secret police], on Stalin's orders, shot and buried over 4000 Polish Army officers and service personnel whom the Red Army taken prisoner in September 1939 when the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the East as Nazi Germany was invading it from the West. Since 1980, it has been revealed that in 1959, the KGB (the successor Soviet agency to the NKVD) reported that Stalin's order of 5 March 1940 resulted in 21,857 Poles being shot. Of these 14,552 were shot and buried in the Katyn Forest. They came from the POW camp at Kozielsk. In like manner in April and May 1940, 6,311 Polish officers from the Ostashkov POW camp and 3,982 from the Starobielsk POW camp were shot and buried in the vicinity of Kalinin (Tver today) and Kharkov, respectively. The burial sites of the remaining 7,300 are not known.
Stanislawa Adamska and her daughter, Danuta
The compelling story of Lt. Adamski’s wife, Stanislawa, and his four-year-old daughter, Danuta, represents yet another dark chapter of Polish history and should not be overlooked. Unlike the characters in Wajda’s film who remained with their families in Poland throughout the war, Stanislawa, and Danuta, were among the estimated 1,500,000 Poles deported to the Soviet Union in 1940 and forced to work in remote labor camps. One can imagine how shocked I was to learn the brutal details of their ten-year-long struggle for survival and freedom. Here is their story:
Polish Refugees Recount Their Experiences of Exile, Dispersal and Resettlement", which recounts the plight of countless Poles that were relocated to Soviet labor camps but ultimately resettled in Australia. The General Langfitt was the name of the ship that in 1950 took them to their new home in Australia. I have included here only the comments made by Lt. Adamski's wife, Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska), but you are encouraged to click on the links to read the transcripts of the other refugees that shared her ordeal.
Australia's history has always been an interesting one. But the arrival of over 5.5 million people from so many different lands in the years since 1945 has added immeasurably to its fascination. The fascination derives in part from the past experiences of settlers, which flow on by oral and other tradition to current and succeeding generations. These earlier experiences become part of individual and collective group consciousness in a diverse and varied society.
The General Langfitt Story combines excellently the extraordinary background account of a group of displaced persons, mainly women and children, from Poland who arrived in Australia in 1950, and their subsequent experience in Australia.
The harshness of the life of some immigrants, such as the General Langfitt Group, before arriving in Australia, is not fully realised or adequately documented. The stories of survival of those in the group who were deported from Poland to work in remote labour camps in the Soviet Union, are nothing short of remarkable. And it is important for Australian history, and the broader record of human endeavour and endurance, that these stories be told.
The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.
In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.
Out of that total, between 12 000 and 15 000 officers were interned in camps near Katyn, Ostaskow and Starobel'sk. Relatives received intermittent letters from them until the spring of 1940. The occupying German army in April 1943 discovered the Katyn officers in a forest graveyard. According to Ascherson (1987, p. 123), no trace of the 4000 officers at the Starobel'sk camp nor the 6500 prisoners at Ostaskow has yet been found. Although Polish research in the post communist years is bringing to light more information about localities where NKVD (the secret police, now known as the KGB) victims, including Polish officers, were 'buried', nothing appears to have been published in English. The silence and uncertainty which surrounded the fate of these Polish officers left an enduring, if often understated, impact upon their friends and relatives. Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska), whose husband had joined the army three months before war was declared, summarised the events surrounding his disappearance with simple candour:
I received a note from my husband from Rostov, in Russia, where he was taken with other members of the Polish army. The note was brought to me by a man who came back from Russia. The ordinary soldiers came home but all the others were kept in the Soviet Union. I received only one more letter from him asking for boots and a belt. I found out that he was dead after I arrived in Australia. My brother sent me a book from Poland with all the names of those killed, Lista Katynska, which I still have. My husband's name is there, Henryk Adamski.
Stanisława, Danuta and Henryk Adamski
Exile in the USSR
Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (then Adamska) was 33 years old when she and her daughter were deported to Kotlas, north-east of Moscow.
When the train stopped there were people with horses and sleighs who loaded our things and took us to this clearing in a big forest, a little distance from the train stop, where there were big buildings. Someone told us that they were built during the first war by Italian prisoners of war. The buildings were empty and there was a terrible smell of insecticide. Night was falling, nobody was there to look after us, nobody was interested in us. There were about eighty to a hundred of us, including some Jewish people, some teachers like me, just women and children and a few old men. Some people had a little food, some women gave me some bread. During the eight days in the train we had been given some fish, very salty. We had water from the train, but only if you had something to put it in.
We were there for around eighteen months. Gradually we made things a little better. We divided rooms off and built a clay oven. The old men made bread for us, not for sale but to give out. We traded possessions, clothing and shoes for food and milk from the few cows. If you had nothing you could not get milk. I found a goat. In my country only Jewish people drank goat's milk, but in Russia it was good and my daughter became healthy. All this time I was praying to be able to go back to Poland.
Amnesty and the Journey South
The status of Polish deportees in the Soviet Union began to change when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 in Operation Barbarossa. Ultimately it led to the announcement of an amnesty which released Polish exiles from their labour camps and allowed them to travel south in search of freedom and the Polish army. This was being reformed to help fight the German army which was rapidly advancing into Soviet territory.
Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska):
We had no choice of where to go, we just went where they took us. All of us women were taken to a place near a railway. There I suddenly saw a soldier in a Polish uniform, with a Polish emblem. We knew little of what was happening as we had been so isolated so I ran to ask him information; it almost seemed to me that it was my husband. I asked, 'Do you know other officers, someone named Adamski?' He told me that the soldiers who were taken to Rustov had disappeared. I sought out my friend Tokarzewska, she was the daughter of General Tokarzewski's brother, who came from Poland. He told us where to stay so I went with her and her daughter. The road was so muddy and thick. We stayed in this place for a few weeks and from there we were sent to the Aral Sea, near the Syr-Darya River, which means the river of life. Here we were put on a barge to Nukus, south of the Aral Sea
The journey took three weeks and it was very cold. To go to the toilet people had to stand on the edge of the barge. There was plenty of ice and many children slipped off into the river and were lost. From Nukus it was 100 kilometres to Uzbekistan. Many people were taken there by camels but my daughter and I went by bullock cart with another woman and her daughter. Here we worked the land which was very fertile. We grew djugara, a grain you had to grind. One day this other woman came shouting, 'They have come to take us home!' Her husband had found her. I was crying, frightened and praying because without his help I would have had to stay there. He said, 'You will come too as my wife's sister. At the moment they are not looking at documents'. He was not an officer but he had a position with some soldiers under him. I paid him by giving him my husband's boots. This is how I left Russia.
Dispersal in Africa
Kidugala settlement was located in Tanganyika, near the border of Nyasaland. Królikowski (1983) estimates that there were around 1000 Polish residents at this settlement. Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowski (Adamska) recalls her time there with great pleasure:
When I arrived I expected the land to be black, but the land is not black, the people are black. When we first arrived in Africa we were told we could go to Tengeru, Ifunda, Masindi or Kidugala. I thought about these names. Kidugala was the highest place, some 2500 metres above sea level, it was cooler and I liked the name. In May and June it was quite chilly there. We liked it there and I think it was the best camp. It was small, not like the other camps, and we felt like one big family. We lived together in big groups and a Polish priest by the name of Maciaszek helped to keep the village in good spirits. There were lots of children there so there was a high school where I taught Polish language and geography and I was busy with Scouts and Girl Guides. It was a good time there because after the time in Russia we started to feel free. We had a very good quartermaster who taught us some English. We never thought we would ever need this language!
Resettlement in Australia
Maria Sosnowska recalled how hard she found the first years in Australia. While in East Africa she had been surrounded by her compatriots in a 'little Poland', but in Australia she 'felt estranged from Poland. It hit me then that there was no way back. Part of the reason I broke down soon after arriving was that it was so strange for me'. Other women had been hopeful that they might be able to resume work for which they had been trained. Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska) spent six hard months learning English:
[I was] hoping that I would find work as a teacher because I had good papers and good references. But I was told not to hope too much because Australians are very jealous and it would be very hard to get a job as a teacher. And it was true. After six months I found that I had very little chance. They were expecting me to work a two years contract. I didn't know much about hospitals but somebody advised me that there was work in hospital kitchens so three of us went to Royal Perth Hospital. I worked there with Mietka Gruszka's mother, Maria Szuster-Nowak for many years.
Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska) passed away in 2003. Her daughter Danuta married and now lives in Perth, Australia.
Recent Photo of Henryk Adamski's Boyhood Home in Buffalo, N.Y. (919 Clinton Street)
Murdered in Kalinin:
Family photograph 1931
(Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)
Katyn Memorial, 1980, hammered copper
Entrance Lobby, City Hall, Buffalo, NY
THIS PLAQUE WAS PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF BUFFALO BY THE POLISH-AMERICAN CITIZEN’S ORGANIZATION IN MEMORY OF THEIR FELLOW BROTHERS-PRISONERS OF WAR-MASSACRED BY SOVIET RUSSIA AT KATYN FOREST IN THE SPRING OF 1940.
MAYOR JAMES D. GRIFFIN WAS ASSISTED IN THE UNVEILING OF THE PLAQUE ON APRIL 27, 1980 BY FAMILY MEMBERS OF THOSE POLISH OFFICERS MURDERED AT KATYN.
Produced by Academy Award winner Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, THE OFFICER'S WIFE follows a son who makes a startling discovery. After the death of his father, a forgotten safe deposit box reveals his grandmother's autobiography,old photos of an army officer
and a mysterious postcard that all link to a concealed crime: the Katyn Forest massacre. Weaving dramatic interviews with bold animation, THE OFFICER'S WIFE probes the collision of truth, justice and memory in a shrouded family tragedy. For more information visit www.theofficerswifemovie.com
Trail of Hope: The Anders Army, An Odyssey Across Three Continents
November 24, 2015
by Norman Davies (Author)
Following the conquest of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939, hundreds of thousands of Polish families were torn from their homes and sent eastwards to the arctic wastes of Siberia. Prisoners of war, refugees, those regarded as 'social criminals' by Stalin's regime, and those rounded up by sheer chance were all sent 'to see the Great White Bear'. However, with Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa just
two years later, Russia and the Allied powers found themselves on the same side once more. Turning to those that it had previously deemed 'undesirable', Russia sought to raise a Polish army from the men, women and children that it had imprisoned within its labour camps. In this remarkable work, renowned historian Professor Norman Davies draws from years of meticulous research to recount the compelling story of this unit, the Polish II Corps or 'Anders Army', and their exceptional journey from the Gulag of Siberia through Iran, the Middle East and North Africa to the battlefields of Italy to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Allied forces. Complete with previously unpublished photographs and first-hand accounts from the men and women who lived through it, this is a unique visual and written record of one of the most fascinating episodes of World War II.