Polish Refugees Remember Mexico’s Warm Embrace

See page for author [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Polish children from Santa Rosa, Guanajuato, Mexico. See page for author [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Melita Marie Garza

Chester Sawko arrived in North America in July 1943 and within days learned those words important to a child in any language.

“Lend me your bicycle!” the 13-year-old Polish refugee shouted in Spanish at the curious Mexicans who rode their bikes up to the fence of the temporary safe haven that had been set up for refugee families at Colonia Santa Rosa in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Sawko, now 66, and the president of his suburban Chicago manufacturing firm, never has forgotten the kindness of the Mexican people who obligingly let the refugee kids ride their bikes, even though most didn’t know how.

“It was a real novelty for us because we never had any toys,” said Sawko, whose family members were among 1.7 million Poles uprooted by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and shipped on cattle cars to labor camps in Siberia during World War II when the Soviet Union and Germany divided Poland.

“Mexico was the first place we felt at home, where we realized we were still part of the human race,” said Thaddeus Piezcko, 63, who was 15 when he was resettled in Chicago at the now-shuttered St. Hedwig’s orphanage.

The journey to Mexico was a long one for the refugees, beginning Sept. 17, 1939, when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied part of Poland, then a few months later began mass deportations mostly from the northeastern half of Poland.

Each family has its own story, but they all begin like Sawko’s, with Soviet soldiers banging on the door in the middle of a cold, snowy February night in 1940.

The family was given 30 minutes to pack what belongings and food they could carry on a wooden sleigh. Sawko’s father, a forest ranger, was arrested. Sawko’s mother, then 35 and pregnant, was crying.

An older brother, Stanley, then 16, was allowed to stay and care for a sister, 14, in the hospital. But Sawko and his three younger brothers were forced onto the sleigh with their parents and driven to a city where they were put in a crowded railroad car for a four-week trip to the Soviet border.

Chicago Tribune

Archaeologists Discover Nazi Extermination Camp Gas Chambers in Poland

A rusty road sign outside the perimeter of a Nazi death camp in Sobibor, Poland, on Sept. 18, 2014. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

From “Archaeologists unearth hidden death chambers used to kill a quarter-million Jews at notorious camp”

By Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post

Few sites across war-torn Poland harbor more secrets of atrocity and horror than the Nazi concentration camp of Sobibor. Different from Auschwitz, which almost immediately yielded the full scope of the crimes committed there, the history of Sobibor in eastern Poland was initially hidden and opaque.

Unlike Auschwitz, the fate of Sobibor wasn’t liberation. It was obliteration. The Nazis who had run the camp tried to extinguish every remnant of it in 1943, painting over its grounds with a farm, trees and asphalt. Besides a railroad track and the commander’s house, Haaretz noted, nothing remained of the camp. Save for the testimonies of the few survivors, who could only provide scant recollections of small areas of the camp, Sobibor had been lost to history.

But now, more than 70 years later, relics of genocide have surfaced, bringing more clarity to the murder of an estimated 250,000 Jews there than ever before. Buried beneath an asphalt road were a series of well-preserved gas chamber walls that archaeologists say will help elucidate the secrets of Sobibor. Beneath the road were brick rows, stacked four deep — the exoskeleton of four gas chambers.

“The discovery of the gas chambers at Sobibor is a very important finding in Holocaust research,” historian David Silberklang, editor of Yad Vashem Studies, said in a statement. “It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, these findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people.”

Read more at The Washington Post

The hidden history of the CIA’s prison in Poland

A car drives past barbed-wire fence surrounding a military area in Stare Kiejkuty village in Poland. (Kacper Pempel/REUTERS )

By Adam Goldman, Updated: Thursday, January 23, 11:33 AM

On a cold day in early 2003, two senior CIA officers arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw to pick up a pair of large cardboard boxes. Inside were bundles of cash totaling $15 million that had been flown from Germany via diplomatic pouch.

The men put the boxes in a van and weaved through the Polish capital until coming to the headquarters of Polish intelligence. They were met by Col. ­Andrzej Derlatka, deputy chief of the intelligence service, and two of his associates.

The Americans and Poles then sealed an agreement that over the previous weeks had allowed the CIA the use of a secret prison — a remote villa in the Polish lake district — to interrogate al-Qaeda suspects. The Polish intelligence service received the money, and the CIA had a solid location for its newest covert operation, according to former agency officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the interrogation program, including previously unreported details about the creation of the CIA’s “black sites,” or secret prisons.

The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the first of a trio in Europe that housed the initial wave of accused Sept. 11 conspirators, and it was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the attacks, was waterboarded 183 times after his capture.

Much about the creation and operation of the CIA’s prison at a base in one of the young democracies of Central Europe remains cloaked in mystery, matters that the U.S. government has classified as state secrets. But what happened in Poland more than a decade ago continues to reverberate, and the bitter debate about the CIA’s interrogation program is about to be revisited.

The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to release portions of an exhaustive 6,000-page report on the interrogation program, its value in eliciting critical intelligence and whether Congress was misled about aspects of the program.

The treatment of detainees also continues to be a legal issue in the military trials of Mohammed and others at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

And in December, the European Court of Human Rights heard arguments that Poland violated international law and participated in torture by accommodating its American ally; a decision is expected this year.

“In the face of Polish and United States efforts to draw a veil over these abuses, the European Court of Human Rights now has an opportunity to break this conspiracy of silence and uphold the rule of law,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, which petitioned the court on behalf of a detainee who was held at the Polish site.

Read more at The Washington Post

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