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Between Earth and Sky

Olivia Woods

In September 1939, Germany and Russia invaded Poland, resulting in the military defeat and collapse of the Polish state. Poland was divided in half, with the Nazis laying claim to the west and the Soviets taking over Eastern Poland.  

Immediately, the Russians began a reign of terror. Community leaders were taken from their homes in the night and executed. Street round-ups and mass arrests of young Polish men began. The Russian secret police interrogated them mercilessly and charged them with false crimes. They were loaded into cramped, dirty cattle cars and exiled to forced labour camps across the vast Siberian wasteland, where they suffered at the hands of the Soviets. Many thousands died from exhaustion, hunger, disease and hypothermia.  

Multitudes of other men, women and children were forced from their homes and deported to colonies in the harsh elements of the Soviet Union. They were treated with sadistic cruelty.  

In a twist of fate, the suffering Polish men from the labour camps found themselves marching thousands of miles across a frozen continent in search of the Polish Army in Exile. Those who made it to the army eventually fought alongside the Allies in the frontlines of fierce battles, where their tragic tale continued. They fought valiantly in the hope of returning to their homes in a free and independent Poland, but that was not meant to be. Records of the Russians’ abuse and torture of the Polish people were destroyed, and it took years before the details of the Polish people’s story came to light. 

The Polish people’s story is one of horror, hardships and suffering, yet in spite of the devastating gloom, moments of humour, joy and hope persisted. Jozef and Lilyana’s love story proves that good triumphs over evil.  

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