The deportation was ruthless. The Russian
soldiers came into the house of this five
month pregnant Polish woman, Bronislawa,
and ordered her and her four sons to pack
their things and go to the railway station
immediately. They were not even allowed to
go upstairs where the most necessary things
were. They were loaded into cattle cars and
transported to Kazakhstan. Their crime was
that husband and father was in the Polish
Army. He had been exiled two months earlier
to work in the mines east of the Ural mountains.
"My mum was just trying to subdue despair",
commented later her son.
She made sure she did not forget the family
cross. That was the only treasure they had.
So she put it around her neck. When mother
and children knelt down for a parting prayer,
even the KGB soldier was moved. He removed
his cap and in a hushed voice, whispered
in mum's ears, "Aunt, God will let you
He was right. They did return but only after
six years of pure hell. They lived in a dugout,
a roofed shelter that could not protect them
from the fierce winters with temperatures
that sometimes reached 50 degrees or lower!
"There were times when we froze to the
walls inside the dugout!" They ate roots
dug from under the snow destroying their
digestive system permanently.
The mother and the elder sons had to go daily
to forced labor from dawn to dusk. Work was
so tough that after some time she only weighed
79 pounds. Besides the obvious isolation
- the KGB made sure that no more than two
or three Polish families stayed in the same
village - and acute homesickness, there was
the constant threat of the ravenous wolves
who in their hunger would attack anyone who
dared to come out in the evening. "I
once saw a wolf carrying a crying baby in
One evening, the two younger brothers found
themselves surrounded by two hundred howling
wolves. They saved themselves by climbing
on the top of a silo. "In his inconceivable
providence God saved us."
Then there was the hunger. One day mum cooked
the last handful of malt that she had. She
left it on the side to cool down when suddenly
this emaciated sixteen year old girl rushed
into the dugout and devoured the whole plate.
The kids were in despair because that was
their only meal of the day. One of them rushed
after her. The girl leaned by the door...
and dropped dead! Hunger killed her!
Another day my mother exchanged the wedding
ring for three chickens and some potatoes,
bread, barley and some matches. However she
had to give away the two chickens, tearing
them to pieces in a desperate effort to ward
off the wolves that were chasing her.
Later on, her son remarked, "if my earthly
mother is so good, how much more must my
heavenly Mother be beautiful? I am immensely
grateful to God that I was given such a mother
and Mother from Him".
What kept them alive in all this ordeal was
the family cross that hang always in a prominent
place in the dugout.
"The memory of the cross that was in
our dugout brings me joy. Our lives continually
oscillated between this cross and reality,
a reality that comprised a permanent threat
to each one of us. This cross on the wall
of the dugout was actually everything for
us. The cross was faith, was hope, was a
sign reminding us of our home and homeland
that has been forcibly taken away from us.
The cross gradually gained importance in
my mind and in my heart, it became more real,
friendly, joyful and glorious!"
This was written by the youngest son Antoni
who was born in the dugout. He says how one
day an old gray bearded and wasted shepherd
came into the dugout. When he saw the cross,
he burst into tears. It turned out he was
an orthodox priest and that was the reason
he was deported. This was Antoni's first
meeting with a priest.
"After this meeting, I have been asking
my mom many questions out of pure child's
curiosity - who is a priest? where does he
work? what does he do? what are the priests
in Poland like?" Antoni had never seen
a church neither.
In the meantime, the father, having served
his sentence in Siberia came back to Poland.
He tried desperately to repatriate his family
back home. It was not easy. The first answers
were, "No such persons exist",
"we have no records of these names."
However the persistence of the father made
it possible. In May 1946 the whole family
In 1967, Antoni was ordained a priest. God
did it again. He transformed a human tragedy
Just two years ago, Father Antoni Papuzynski
was murdered. Reasons unknown. When he was
baptized by his grandmother in Siberia, she
took the cross from the wall and put it in
front of the lips of the baby in accordance
with the Orthodox custom.
The cross was his first kiss. Apparently
this was also his last kiss.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright