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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 08:28 GMT 09:28 UK
65 years on: Tales from invaded Poland
By Liam Allen
BBC News Online

Nazi troops tear into Poland
German troops tear their way into Polish territory
On 1 September, 1939, German tanks, infantry and cavalry penetrated Polish territory on several fronts.

The Germans were closely followed by the Soviet Union, whose troops invaded from the east on 17 September.

Sixty-five years on, BBC News Online talks to one London-based Polish woman about how the invasion changed her life irrevocably.

Teodozja-Zofia Glodowska discovered her country had been invaded through snatched snippets of conversations from her parents.

Little was she to know what impact the invasion would have, not just on her life, but also on the history of the world.

"I was a schoolgirl so I found out from my parents.

"My father just said 'go out to play'.

Mein Kampf
Teodozja-Zofia's father was horrified by Mein Kampf
"Everybody was talking about it but they were trying not to transmit the information to the young children because that would have worried them."

Soon it became difficult for the adults to keep the secret any longer.

"Day and night, we would hear the aircraft and, I'm not sure why, but we would put pillows in the windows. I suppose it was to stop bullets or to stop the glass breaking."

Teodozja-Zofia's family had already moved from western Poland to her father's other estate in Dubno, in the east of the country.

Her father, who had obtained and read with horror a copy of Adolf Hitler's Nazi manifesto Mein Kampf, had hoped the Germans would not encroach on eastern Poland.

"We thought we'd be safe in the east but that wasn't to be," Teodozja-Zofia says wistfully.

Packing up

Sixteen days after the Nazi invasion, the Soviet Union entered Poland from the east.

Memories of the coming months are sketchy for Teodozja-Zofia, who does not wish to reveal her age, but her next clear memory - of 10 February, 1940 - will stay with her for ever.

Teodozja-Zofia Glodowska
Two Soviet soldiers woke us up and said 'you have half an hour to pack your stuff and then you are going to a different area'

"It was very early in the morning. I will never forget it. It was very, very dark.

"Two Soviet soldiers woke us up and said 'you have half an hour to pack your stuff and then you are going to a different area'.

"I asked my parents what was going on? My mum was in tears.

"But I was very brave, I was packing up and put three dresses on, to make sure I kept them.

"My mum said stop worrying. She didn't say where we were going. She didn't want to upset me."

Cattle train

After gathering whatever possessions they could, the family - mum and dad plus Teodozja-Zofia and her brother - loaded a sledge before being marched through the snow to the nearest town of Shepetovka, just across the Soviet border.

"We went there on sledges, everybody was carrying all their belongings. It was very cold because it was the middle of winter."

23 August 1939
Non-aggression pact signed by Germany and the Soviet Union
1 September, 1939
Germany invades Poland on several fronts
17 September, 1939
Soviet Union invades Poland from east
10 February, 1940
Teodozja-Zofia's family ordered to Soviet labour camp
22 June, 1941
German forces invade the Soviet Union
30 July, 1941
Poles to be freed from Soviet Union to fight against Hitler
Autumn/winter 1941
Her mother dies of typhoid; father joins Polish army in the Soviet Union
Teodozja-Zofia arrives in Nazareth for schooling
7 May 1945
Germany signs unconditional surrender ending war in Europe
Teodozja-Zofia sent to London where she has lived ever since

From there the family, along with hundreds of other Poles, were forced to board a cattle train.

"There was no lavatory," remembers Teodozja-Zofia, "just a hole in the compartment which people queued to use."

None of them knew where they were heading.

Eventually, the train arrived in Kotlas, deeper into the Soviet Union.

"From there, we got our sledges again," says Teodozja-Zofia.

"We walked through lots and lots of woods and snow. Woods after woods and snow after snow.

"Eventually we stopped at a labour camp."


At the camp, the children were forced to either work or have "an education".

Teodozja-Zofia said: "It wasn't education, it was indoctrination and my mother would not let me be indoctrinated.

"So I had to hide in the barracks from the guards when I should have been at indoctrination."

The overseer walked from barrack to barrack and said 'you are free'

She would roll herself in a blanket and hide at the foot of the bed.

"I fooled the guards a few times doing this," she says.

On 30 July, 1941, an amnesty agreement enabled all Polish people to be freed from the Soviet Union - which had by now been invaded by the Nazis - in order to form an army to help defeat Hitler.

Teodozja-Zofia has fond memories of hearing the news.

She said: "The overseer walked from barrack to barrack and said 'you are free, you can go wherever you like'.

'Leaving hell'

Most of camp inmates made the slow, painful journey back to the train station at Kotlas.

"We walked village to village. We stopped at one house and a woman with us had a child that was just freezing cold.

"She asked for some food for the child and unwrapped it from its blankets.

My mother died in front of me in the hospital bed I was sharing with her

"The child was dead. There must have been millions of instances of this happening."

When she and her family eventually arrived back at Kotlas, Teodozja-Zofia remembers thinking 'I have left hell'.

But her joy was short-lived.

She and her mother were taken to hospital near Kotlas, both suffering from typhoid.

"My mother died in front of me in the hospital bed I was sharing with her. Somehow, my survival instinct must have taken over."

Around this time Teodozja-Zofia was also separated from her father, who left to fight Hitler in the Soviet Union's newly-formed Polish army.

She never saw him again.

Nazareth reunion

Teodozja-Zofia also lost touch with her brother when she and hundreds of other Polish girls were taken by train, from Kotlas all the way to Nazareth, in what is now Israel.

"There was a proper school in Nazareth just for girls on the site of a monastery. We lived there too.

"I was very happy there - it felt like a home."

But, although separated from her brother in Kotlas, the pair were to meet again in Nazareth.

"My brother was firstly taken to a place in Russia but we were reunited in Nazareth where he went to a boys' school.

"We were allowed to visit each other from time to time."

When the war ended, Teodozja-Zofia left Nazareth for London and has lived happily in the capital ever since.

But although she tries not to discriminate over past wrongdoings, her experiences have left deep scars.

"I feel cold towards the Germans, but towards the Soviet Union I feel frozen."

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