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Medal ceremony brings back painful members for Polish community
8:25pm Thursday 31st May 2007 in News
A GROUP of men and women have finally reached the end of a journey that began at the other end of Europe almost 70 years ago.
When Russia invaded Poland in 1939 hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were marched onto cattle trucks and transported in appalling conditions to the icy wilderness of Siberia. Many of those who survived the journey died either from hunger or from back-breaking slave labour.
They were given official recognition for their experiences at a ceremony at the Polish Community Centre in Whitbourne Avenue.
Wladyslaw Surma, a former chairman of the community centre, was one of the 21 proud recipients of the Siberian Deportee Cross, given out by Poland's Consul General, Janusz Wach.
Mr Surma, 65, of Stratton, said afterwards: "I hope this is the end of the journey. Swindon has been good to us and we have made our homes here but we are still proud of who we are."
He was born in Siberia in 1941 after his family were deported from their homeland. His sister did not survive the month-long journey to Siberia. "She died on the train. My parents were devastated and my mother never mentioned it, but I was told later that they wrapped her up and had to leave her on the snow as the ground was too hard to bury her," he said.
"It brought tears to my eyes being reminded of what my parents went through."
He believes the ceremony is a milestone for the Polish community in Swindon.
"A lot of people don't want to talk about this as it reminds them of the hardships they went through but it is very important that there has now been recognition by the Polish government that people were forced out of Poland and into labour camps."
Mr Wach, based at the Polish consulate in London, took the opportunity to call on the Russian government to apologise for the mass deportations. Historians' estimates differ but many believe the number involved could be up to two milliion.
He said: "These crosses are being awarded on behalf of the president of Poland to people who can be described as the silent heroes of the Second World War.
"Poland was invaded from the West by Nazi Germany and then within a fortnight from the east by Soviet troops, as decided in a secret bilateral agreement between Hitler and Stalin.
"They entered towns and villages and simply deported everyone. In Siberia they suffered from starvation and most of them did not make it back.
"The crosses are being bestowed as a symbol of remembrance of those who suffered and those who perished.
"It's a matter of human decency to at least apologise and say that it shouldn't have happened."
He called on anyone who could be entitled to a Siberian Deportee Cross to either contact Swindon's Polish Community Centre on 01793 523184 or write to the consulate at 73 New Cavendish Street, London, W1W 6LS.