'Sybiraków' (so named) relationship refers to the tradition begun 1928 and reactivated in December 1998.
Hard to believe that 22 years have passed since the founding, and actually reactivation of the Association of Siberian Deportees.
It was the beginning of the year 1989. Nobody expected that it would bring many changes in our homeland, still muted by the defeat of Solidarity and re-introduction of martial law. It seemed impossible, even to the surviving 'Sybiraki' that a branch might be reinstated in Kraków especially as there was no sign of 'Solidarity' re-emerging as a power. Then in November/December 1988 we heard, on the grapevine, unconfirmed reports of the re-emergence of a branch in Warsaw (Warszawa). By February the following year more whispers, this time on the radio and television, were being broadcast of the possibility of the re-emergence of a 'Union of Siberians.'
As the message spread by word of mouth, through church congregations and other outlets the first of many meetings were arranged. The Parish priest of 'Joseph in Podgórze' put us in touch with Tadeusz Wilczynski (now deceased) and Wieslaw Krawczyński who had attempted to organize a "Founding Group of the Association of Siberian Deportees," as it was officially called then. From that followed an 'initiative meeting' held at the Headquarters of the Association of War Veterans. I invited Dr. Agnes Winiarska, who, like myself was a "Deportation survivor" and who worked at the University history faculty. We had known each other for years and often reminisced about our shared Siberian experience.
We attended this inaugural meeting with a sense of anticipation and uncertainty particularly as at this stage we didn't yet know any of the other attendees on a personal basis. Our discomfort and uncertainty stemmed from the government stance on former deportees on whom they had detailed information and records - resurrecting those memories and experiences was still not encouraged. Many of us had suffered harassment from the authorities in the 1950s. And although our uncertainty was justified, we were absolutely convinced of the decision.
This first meeting was attended by Tadeusz Wilczynski, Wieslaw Krawczyński Joseph Halski, Eugene Galos, Mieczyslaw Pudek, Bohdan Kalba, Lech Trzaska, Tadeusz Mrozowski, Agnieszka Wine and myself. To start with we were all encouraged to recount our personal experiences of the period. It was a kind of preliminary verification, very personal and moving. I remember that my voice trembled when I was talking about myself and my family. I held back my tears. For the first time publicly I and all present were talking about their acutely painful experiences of Siberia. As I listened to the shared stories I discovered that many of those present had been soldiers and who had been sent to Siberia in 1945 and not released until anywhere between 1953 and 1956. Of our group of our deportees in 1940 during the so-called first Soviet occupation, only three were at the meeting, myself, Agnieszka Wine and Lech Trzaska. Lech escaped from the Soviet Union via General Anders Army and eventually returned after service in India but Agnieszka and I returned only in 1946. We represented almost a full cross-section of the fate of Polish exiles. Having believed that my father had perished in an extermination camp I discovered that he had in fact been murdered in the judgement of Katyń.
Following the inaugural meeting it was decided to hold the first general meeting and to record the particulars of those who wished to register; no-one anticipated that the numbers that responded would lead to queuing beyond the corridors of the building as they waited to register!
May 13, 1989, the first founding general meetingwas held in the auditorium at the Academy thanks to the then Rector of the University Professor Mieczyslaw Rozmus who handled all the red tape still associated with the Communist regime. After the inaugural speeches of welcome lively discussions ensued and the first board of the Association of Siberian Deportees - Branch in Kraków was elected. Perhaps a more formal style should be written memoirs report from that meeting. However, I briefly want to focus on the problems of indicating what time it was created for us, and in fact the reactivation of the Union, which we tied the expectations and hopes of its creation. What have you done, and what we did not manage to do. Our objectives at this time were limited as the ruling Polish Communist regime did not allow for the creation of free associations, and especially not an Association of Siberian Deportees!
With the shadow of Katyń ever present it was difficult to access records and even when it was possible the restrictions were prohibitive but in time we were able to identify a proportion of the missing and to the proceed to attempt to find and visit the cemeteries and mass graves. Data, even to this day is sketchy.
Our aims and objectives are to disclose the historical truth and document the fate of Siberians, using numerous published memories of those living inside and outside of Poland but there was still opposition from parliament. Luckily we did have support among Solidarity and Senators Richard Reiff and Roman Ciesielski. As a result of these efforts, in 1991 we received permission to publish a list of the status of many of the deprtees and secured an amendmentmade to the Act entitled Sybirakom status of a repressed person.
Over the years the Union of Siberians has been recognized as the most numerous and important in the public perception, Veterans Organization.This is due both to the experience of its members, almost half a century of silence about the fate of those exiled to Siberia, where women and children were in the majority, as well as a large patriotic and social involvement of members of the Union after 1989.
Those who were unable to return or whose remains were never identified are remembered in all the events that have been organised by the Association. The Main Board is entitled to grant Honor Badge Siberian. This badge is awarded to members of the Union particularly involved in activities for preserving the memory of Zesłańcach Siberia, as well as supporters, people from outside the Union, supporting our patriotic activity. Furthermore, the long-term legislative work in October 2003 granted all Sybirakom Cross exile of Siberia, which is handed after a thorough verification carried out by the Association.
It seems that after so many years now, you can express the joy of the existence of our Association and at the same time regret that it happened so late and prevented valuable data from being preserved for future generations. Hence the need for a difficult application for continuous expansion to work with young people to continue the ethos of the Association of Siberian Deportees, of exploring and consolidating the historical truth about the fate of Poles - Sibir Exile.'
Page updated : 8th February 2017