Friday, 24 February 2012

Rare newly unearthed interview of my father from 1979 talking about Siberia

45 minute interview from Scotland's Radio Clyde in 1979 of my father Jan Stepek when he was 57 years old and a highly successful businessman. It covers his memories and reflections on his deportation to Siberia, the death of his mother and the survival of her three children, his war service, his demobilisation and settling in Scotland. Profoundly moving and philosophical. 

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Family Home, Haczow, South-East Poland July 2010

Family story has it that Stepeks lived on the land pictured here since 14th century and in this house since it was built at least a hundred years ago, may twice as long ago. It looks like it could easily last another thousand years. Here my grandfather Wladyslaw returned, first in 1917 after being a prisoner of war by the Czarist Russians for agitating against their occupation of Poland, second in Septermber 1939 when he was being hunted by Stalin's NKVD as a potential resistance leader near Lwow. Even as a place of hiding he had to hide all day in the corn fields in 1941 or 1942 when the Nazis took revenge for a resistance action by taking out one male from every home in Haczow and executing them. Finally he left this home in 1943, fatally ill with cancer, to seek possibly healing in the beautiful mountains of Zakopane where he died before his body was returned here to be buried. What a tale these old beams of wood could tell us, what a tale of suffering, of loss, but also of resilience, love of country, love of family and love of the soil.

We Love You Who Never Knew You

Haczow, South-East Poland July 2010.
Gravestone at my grandfather's burial place, with words of memorial for my grandmother Janina who is buried in Teheran. The inscription says that the family in Scotland and England request prayers for her. Soft sad words on hard marble from her children who watched her fall ill and die of hunger and exhaustion so many decades ago.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Wladyslaw's summary of his early life

My grandfather Wladyslaw was asked to give a summary of his early life in a 1937 document which was part of a recommendation to award him the high honour of Cross and Medal of Independence. I received a photocopy of the full seven page documentation that comprised the report on his award from the Central Archives of the Military in Warsaw in a letter dated 24 July 2008. It contained a full A4 page in Wladyslaw’s own handwriting, translated as follows:

I was born on 19 September 1893 in Haczow, son of Josef. I finished six years high school in Sanok, and I went to practice as chemist in Strumien, in Silesia.

In 1914 I was conscripted to the Austrian army. In April 1915 I was captured and taken to a Russian prison camp where I was employed to work as a chemist in a factory in Sartana near Marjanpol [at the Azov Sea in far south east Ukraine]. Whilst imprisoned here I was charged with political agitation for trying to persuade the factory workers to rise against the Tsar and Russia. They put me in an underground cell and then sent me to Barmuta where they told me I was to be deported to Siberia.
I managed to get free thanks to giving money to the guards. In my place, with all the necessary papers, they sent another prisoner.

In 1916 the Russians sent me back to Austria as a TB sufferer. There I was still in hospital in 1917 for tuberculosis in Lesa Wielenski.

In 1918 I came back to Haczow on unlimited sick leave from the army. Here for agitating against Austria I was again sent to prison in Przemysl. After leaving prison I returned to Haczow and persuaded 170 people to desert the Austrian army. A group of us disarmed the Austrian army garrison at Nohermerjew on the 30th October 1918 following an order given to me by the Polish army organisation.

The next month, November 1918, I volunteer to join the local military unit at the war and was able to persuade about 100 others to volunteer from Haczow.

On 11 May 1921 I travelled to Lwow to volunteer to take part in the uprising in the region of Gorny Slask [Upper Silesia, a German-Polish region whose territory was disputed and was made subject to a League of Nations sponsored referendum on which country it was to be part of] but I wasn’t sent to the front.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Portrait of dad at around fifty

Well, dad recovered from everything that life, war, disease and hunger could throw at him. He became a very successful businessman and this portrait of him was made at the peak of his energy and vigour at around fifty in the early 1970s.

Danka and Zosia, Pahlevi, Persia, August 1942

Two young girls in Polish uniforms on the beach at Pahlevi. The clothing looks fine but the faces, especially the expression in their eyes, cannot hide what they have been through. Aged fifteen and seventeen respectively they have known violence, death threats, ethnic cleansing, forced labour, hunger and near starvation, repeated bouts of disease and sickness, and the slow fading away of their mother.

The Stepek Family Farm, Haczow, Poland

Great Aunts Helena and Aleksandra enjoy the sunshine in this photo taken in the post-war years.

The family farm house in thick snow. It is a typical wooden farm house of the area in south-east Poland at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, close to Slovakia to the south and Ukraine to the east. I hope some day soon to visit for myself and add some new photos of the house to this blog.