Meet Julie: Polish Refugee from WWII & A Survivor
May 14, 2020 | Stories of Strength
Iora Primary Care is celebrating Older Americans Month with senior Stories of Strength. We are sharing these stories from our patients to offer hope, share their wisdom, and connect one another virtually.
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It’s not every day you hear first-hand refugee stories from WWII. Julie had to grow up all too fast as a child refugee fleeing Poland with her mother and sister. In later years, she lost her daughters and husband all within just a few years. She’s lived a long, healthy life, but a difficult one. In her own words, she is a survivor.
Here’s Julie’s story:
I was born in Poland, January 1, 1936. The second world war started in 1939. They split up Europe. Half went to Russia and half went to Germany. My father was killed in 1939. We were ripped out of Poland and we were taken to Siberia to labor camps. My two brothers joined the Army in Russia because as you know the Germans wanted to conquer the world. From there we were put on a train going place to place as refugees. I was separated from my sister while we were on a train. So then it was only my mother and I. Uzbekistan, we went to Persia (that’s Iran now), we were in tents with the Polish refugees, from there we went to Turkey, we went to India, and from India, we went to Africa, to Tanzania. I loved Africa as a kid. I went to school there in Africa. I was a sickly kid too because of malaria and stuff like that. We lived like the natives in Africa. There was no running water. There was no electricity. There were no bathrooms. As a kid, you get used to changes. My sister, she ended up in an orphanage in Africa and finally got back with us.
We left Africa when I was twelve years old. We had to leave Africa as it was under British Colony. King George V Battleship brought us to England. We landed in Liverpool. I don’t remember my brothers, they were in the Polish army. It was difficult going from Africa to England. In England we ended up in Doddington, Cheshire and from there we went to boarding school. It was a very scary country because we didn’t understand them, we didn’t speak English. We were not allowed to go back to Poland because it was under the Communists. From there I went to school and I moved away from my mom’s to London to a Polish girl hostile. We got a job to support ourselves. And then in 1955, I met my husband. He was in the Air Force. We were not allowed to go out with foreigners. We got married in 1957. We came to the US and had our daughter in 1959. Scrimping and saving money to buy a place for the family. In 1961 my youngest daughter was born. And we owned a house then. A quarter of an acre, brand new house, 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, it cost $15,050.
Now to my sad story. We moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1991. My youngest daughter got cancer. It’s pancreatic cancer. She was in remission for 5 years. She died in 2014. And in 2016, I lost my husband. And in 2018, I lost my oldest daughter. I’m alone. The most horrible thing to happen to a mother is losing a child. I don’t know how much a person can live with. I was angry.
I miss my kids. I miss my husband. I am strong from my childhood. I mean I didn’t have a childhood. Well I tell you something, I would have gone through being a refugee [again]. I could handle that but losing your family is horrible. I cry but then i just say “you can do it.”
I have 4 grandkids who are very close. Rebecca, my granddaughter, is my guardian angel. She calls every day to see how I’m doing. And I have friends and some of them have been through tough times too.
I am a survivor.