Summary of Rysia Bane’s reminiscences

of her parents, Zofia and Jan Wiszniewski

 

Interview and recording of Rysia Bane (Wiszniewska) 

by Adrian O’dell (NPHG) – October 10th  2018 

 

Ryszarda (shortened Rysia) Bane has lived in Watton, Norfolk, for 40 years.  Born of Polish parents in Persia, now Iran, in 1942. Jan Wiszniewski, her father, was born in Warsaw in 1900.  At that time Poland was partitioned and Warsaw was under the rule of the Russian Empire.  In 1917, Jan was in Russia, probably in St Petersburg, training to become an officer when the Russian revolution broke out.  With a group of other officers, they made their escape by sailing from the port of Archangel to France.  In the process of escape Jan was shot by a dum dum bullet which shattered his leg.  A skilled surgeon managed to save it and once recovered he joined the Polish Brigade under the leadership of General Haller and returned to Poland to take part in the Polish Soviet War of 1919 – 1921.  From 1921 to 1939 Jan worked in banking.

 

During this time he met Zofia Bizon, born in 1920, a professional ballet dancer.  They married in May 1939.

On the 3rd September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, Zofia was visiting her friend in Grodno.  Jan, meanwhile, had been called up as a reservist.  The Russians had made a non - aggression pact with Germany in August 1939, and so when the Germans invaded Poland they too crossed the eastern border and began capturing and sending people to concentration camps and forced labour camps to various locations in Russia including Siberia and Georgia.  Zofia and her friend were sent to Georgia to the region of Chakve known for its tea, citrus, fruit and tobacco plantations. The work was hard and food provided very meager.  Despite an abundance of fruit, the workers were forbidden, under threat of imprisonment, to take any produce from the fields, but to show that the workers were not prisoners the Russians paid them a small wage and occasionally gave a pass to visit the nearby port of Batumi. Due to lack of fresh fruit and vegetables Zofia developed scurvy and it was only through the ingenuity and courage of her friends who managed, somehow, to smuggle out water melons and mandarins, from under the nose of the security guards, that her health improved. 

 

In January 1940 Jan was captured by the Russians and was sent to Georgia but not to the same labour camp as Zofia.  As an accountant and speaking fluent Russian he was able to persuade the camp authority to put him in charge of the book keeping.  In May 1941 he was in Batumi and amazingly bumped into Jadzia, Zofia’s friend, who had married a Georgian doctor.  She told Jan that Zofia was staying with them but was not well enough to come to Batumi.  Jadzia brought Jan to her home and her husband went to Zofia’s room to tell her she had a visitor. They had a wonderful re-union.  Jan was not going to lose her again so he persuaded the Chakvi Tea Factory manager (this was where Zofia was working) to engage him as book keeper and to arrange his transfer from the other camp.  When the amnesty took place on the 30th July 1941, Jan was one of the first to hear the news and immediately started arranging for them to leave the camp and travel to Moscow where General Anders was forming a Polish Army.  Unable to persuade anyone else to go with them they left Chakve with the necessary documents on 9th August 1941 and travelled to Batumi, and then to Tblisi.

 

En route the train stopped and Jan got off to buy some peaches from a fruit vendor. In the process the train began to move off.  Jan shouted to Zofia to get off at Tblisi and wait for him. With no other trains leaving that day he jumped onto a coal train arriving late in Tblisi and, in his diary wrote, “looking as black as the devil.” He couldn’t find Zofia as she had been turfed out of the station, so he stayed the night at a nearby hotel while Zofia spent the night huddled in a doorway. He found her tired and cold the following morning. After resting and freshening up in the hotel they continued their long and slow journey to Baku and then to Moscow. They reported to the Polish authorities, Jan was promoted to Quartermaster and around the 10th September 1941 flew with General Anders and other officers to Buzuluk to set up the headquarters for the formation of the Polish army. Zofia became a nurse working in the Polish Army hospital and with other nurses had to deal with people suffering from appalling conditions including starvation and typhoid.  She herself contracted typhoid and miraculously pulled through.

 

In March 1942 the Polish Army began evacuation from Russia to Iran. The transports went by train to Krasnovodzk and then by ship to the port of Pahlevi in Iran.  Properly equipped the army began training in the mountains near Tehran. In 1942 part of the Polish army was transferred to Iraq and Palestine, and some sent to Italy where they took part in the battle for Monte Cassino. The remaining army, Jan included, was transferred to Africa where they fought with the British forces.  Two further daughters Maria (Mysia) and Krystyna (Krysia) were born and the family settled in Southern Rhodesia where they remained until 1948 when the Polish army was demobbed. Polish soldiers were transferred to the United Kingdom under the Polish Resettlement Act and the family began a new life in the West Midlands.   Jan died in 1962 and Zofia died in 2005 having led adventurous and eventful lives

 

September 2018

Click icon to read extended summary of Jan & Zofia Wiszniewski's life stories

04C.V.ArmyCareerofJanWiszniewski1915-194
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Jan Wiszniewski Russian document 1941

(Click to open as PDF)

C.V. Army Career of Jan Wiszniewski

(Click to open as PDF)

06RussianPass1941.jpg

Russian Pass 1941

(Click to open as PDF)

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Polish pass to leave camp 1941

(Click to open as PDF)

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Polish Armed Forces Command certificate 1942

(Click to open as PDF)

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Evacuation Command Base July 1942

(Click to open as PDF)

Jan and Zofia Wiszniewski Tehran 1942

Memento of displaced

Polish people from Iran 

Tehran c.1942

Souvenir Portrait of Zofia at Resettlement camp Tockoy  1942

Zofia Wiszniewska c.1942

Jan Wiszniewski Tehran 1942

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