1. Personal data (name, surname, rank, age, occupation, marital status):
Gunner Jan Cieślak, army postal service number 160, born in 1905, farmer; I had 4 hectares of arable land.
2. Date and circumstances of arrest:
On the night of 10–11 [February] 1940 at 3.00 a.m., some carts arrived and the NKVD surrounded my house. They stormed inside, aimed a gun at me, and ordered me to stay put. My wife, child, and my parents were told to pack our things and leave the house within 15 minutes, during which the NKVD searched the flat for weapons. They took all the papers they found. I asked permission to feed my child, but they wouldn’t let me do it in the house. I wanted to take the child to a neighbor who lived 20 meters away – they didn’t allow me to accompany our child, and ordered that the 6-year-old go under armed escort; the child fell down three times out of fear. At 10.00 a.m. we were loaded onto carts, and at noon we arrived at the station in Grzymałów, where we were loaded into train cars (on average, there were 50 people in one car), which were then sealed. Nobody could gain access to us.
We stayed for two days in unheated cars, hungry and cold, as the temperatures fell to 30 degrees below zero. For three weeks, the NKVD men gave us eight kilograms of bread per five people, and only four times during the entire journey did we receive a hot meal: porridge. Thirsty children would collect snow from the car’s walls, as we didn’t receive any water. When we arrived in Mursk, we were thrown out into the street and had to wait, even though the temperature fell to 45 degrees below zero. There we were loaded onto cars and transported to a village [illegible] situated 150 kilometers away. The escorting men robbed us of all clothes and things we had managed to take with us.
3. Name of the camp, prison, or forced labor site:
Izyashor no 85. We worked in the woods, even when the temperatures fell to almost 50 degrees below zero.
4. Description of the camp or prison (grounds, buildings, housing conditions, hygiene):
One building had to house fifty people. There was neither a stove nor a window, the area was swampy, and it was 40 kilometers to another village. At that time there was neither a doctor nor any medical assistance. Bugs and other vermin plagued us a great deal; in the summer, someone had to supervise a smoky fire so that the others could get some sleep.
5. The composition of POWs, prisoners, exiles (nationality, category of crimes, intellectual and moral standing, mutual relations etc.):
There were 25 families there, both Polish and Ukrainian; 17 families were Polish. I was deported as a kulak. The treatment of Poles, in terms of both moral and intellectual aspects, was very brutal; we were told over and over that all the Polish “masters” would croak, and that we should forget about Poland. Mutual relations were also very hostile.
6. Life in the camp or prison (daily routine, working conditions, prescribed amount of work, remuneration, food, clothing, social and cultural life etc.):
At 5.00 a.m. we had to set off for work, and we worked until 6.00 p.m.; everybody had to work. Being 20 minutes late even once would result in a court trial, where one could be sentenced to three–six months in prison. Before the sentence was passed, you weren’t imprisoned, but had to go to work with 25% of the daily remuneration deducted. The working quota was 8.5 cubic meters of wood. We had to fell a tree, remove the bark and arrange the wood in a pile. It was impossible for someone to do this who was hungry, cold and forced to wade through snow so deep that it covered a man. As for uniforms, the situation wasn’t good. Mutual relations were very bad. Cultural life was virtually non-existent.
7. The NKVD’s attitude towards Poles (interrogation methods, torture and other forms of punishment, Communist propaganda, information about Poland, etc.):
The NKVD was very hostile towards the Poles, they were eavesdropping on people on Sundays and during the workweek. When people gathered to pray together, the NKVD would react as if they were organizing a political party. They also spread propaganda that nothing was left of Poland, and that they had liberated us from the Polish yoke. They constantly told us that Poland would never be reborn. I was arrested once again in the hamlet and deported to a prison in Syktyvkar, where I was taken for interrogation five or six times, always at night. I was beaten very hard for not providing information that I couldn’t know, that is, what opinions were held by particular Poles regarding the Russians. They told me that they would execute me if I [illegible]. In the prison I received 40 decagrams of bread and a mug of hot water.
8. Medical assistance, hospitals, mortality rate (give the names of the deceased):
The medical assistance was practically non-existent. The hospital was so poor that people were dying of hunger. My brother-in-law died of exhaustion at the age of 36. His name was Szczepan Biesiada. My mother, Wiktoria Cieślak, also died. She was 53 years old. The same fate befell Józef Baka, 56, and Rozalia Kątnik, 33. Stolar, 45, also died of exhaustion and starvation.
9. Was there any possibility to get in contact with one’s country and family?
Contact with our country was very limited. As for food packages, I received only one; the rest went missing.
10. When were you released and how did you manage to join the army?
I was released on 30 August 1941 at 4.00 p.m. I didn’t receive anything for the journey: money, food, means of communication. I ate what I could find myself. I had 310 kilometers to cover in order to reach my family. When I returned to my family from the prison, the authorities tried to force me to sign a one-year employment agreement, but since I refused, they didn’t give me any bread, or the money I had earned before I was arrested – neither me, my wife nor my father received the 800 rubles that we were owed. Then I learned that a Polish army was being raised. I needed some means of transportation. I made a sleigh and pulled my family for 200 kilometers. The NKVD forbade the local populace to give any Pole a ride on their carts. When we addressed the NKVD on our way with a request to sell us some bread, they would answer, “Stay and work, then you’ll get bread”. And they didn’t allow us to buy it anywhere. We couldn’t get any accommodations for the night as well, so we had to sleep in the woods or under some chance roof. When we reached the station, those who could afford it bought tickets, and the rest stowed away. We traveled in goods wagons, sixty or more people per wagon. The wagons were so infested with all kinds of vermin that we thought that they would eat us to death. The journey lasted for six weeks. We arrived in Jalal-Abad, [illegible] region, and from there we were sent to various kolkhozes. My family stayed in the Caucasus, and I was notified to report to the NKVD on 6 February 1942. There they took down my personal details, including physical appearance and the place from which I had come, and on 9 February 1942 I was summoned to appear before the medical board in Suzak. On 12 February I was summoned to appear before the medical board in Jalal-Abad, and from there I couldn’t return to my family. On 14 February 1942 I left for Gortshakovo and in that way I joined the Polish army.