The Polish Poppy Who Became an English Rose: Soviet Enemy

polish family

(For the previous instalment of this multipart series click here)

Soviet Invasion

On the 1st of September 1939 Germany invaded Poland from the West, and sixteen days later the Soviet Union did the same from the East. Their secret pact to shred Poland from existence commencing and leaving the Poles unable to mount a timely resistance on two fronts. After the initial bombing raids, the duel occupiers settled in. Patrols of Russian soldiers became part of the Kresy Wschodnie landscape.

There were initial rumours of Polish deportations. Perhaps the Soviet-Finnish “Winter War” initiated in November 1939 by the Red Army providing a temporary reprieve.1 For as fall rolled into winter Krystyna (Krysia) Borkowska found herself being taught in Russian and required to write with the Cyrillic alphabet in her beloved local school.The Polish curriculum had been quickly tossed aside, replaced with the Russian educational syllabus. The Borkowski children were all of school-age, Krysia would remember she was the equivalent of the US 6th grade, her sister Wiktoria, maybe 3rd grade.2

The Devil came knocking, dragging winter along

Then in the early morning hours, before the sun had risen on the 10th February 1940, Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (NKVD – Soviet secret police) soldiers invaded the Borkowski family home.3 The much feared Soviet secret police wasted no time in setting the tone. Immediately demonstrating their ruthlessness as they drove a bayonet through the farm’s watchdog Murzyn. This was a well-rehearsed operation and one the NKVD was prepared to execute with precision against families, including children, in their own homes.4

Former Corporal Franciszek (Franek) Borkowski of the Second Polish Republic Army, who fought so valiantly twenty years before, found himself hobbled to his knees on the cold stone floor of his kitchen, hands held above his head. A gun sharply focused at him, his five young children looking on in terror as they were patted-down for weapons by the soldiers. The local school-master Piotr Pajkowski acting as an interpreter for the NKVD attempting to add reassurance as the home was then ransacked. Only an old broken bayonet used as a fire poker was found, but the NKVD officer responded with threats, ensuring fear in Franek’s wife Zofia who had begun to shake the moment the soldiers broke into her home.5 At some point, Franek’s fourteen-year-old son Edek was singled out, told to take the gun and shoot his father.6

Zofia, instructed by the teacher to pack what she could into cotton sacks attempted to take a picture of the Virgin Mary but was thwarted by the NKVD officer. However, he facilitated the packing of what few photographs of the children were present in the kitchen.7 Miraculously the entire family survived that traumatic first half-an-hour.

Exiled to Siberia

To Russian shouts of “hurry, hurry, hurry,” the children were loaded into the family sledge. They found themselves being transported with their parents stumbling along beside them through deep snow to the rail station in Świsłocz about a mile and a half or so away. Winter had come hard that year as if Mother Nature herself aligned herself against the Poles. The school-master had encouraged Zofia to layer the children in all of their clothing. A kindness Zofia never forgot. Boarded onto cattle cars bound for Siberia the family began its journey to frozen hell.8

This was how twelve-year-old Krystyna Borkowska a Polish citizen found herself arrested and exiled, charged as one of the “bitterest enemies of the working people” by the Soviet Union.<((Polian, Against Their Will, 116.))

To Be Continued

  1. Wikipedia (, “Winter War,” rev. 06:54, 07 September 2017. []
  2. Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, (2 Rainbow Trail, Denville, New Jersey), interview by Andrzej K. Kalwa, February 2007; transcript and notes held privately by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017. []
  3. Zofia Borkowska, compiled by Mirek Popowicz, “My Involuntary Wanderings”, (photocopy of typewritten unpublished manuscript, 1988), p.18; Salamończyk Family Research Files, privately held by Juli Anderson, Wilmington, NC, 2017.  Contains information on the life of Zofia (Salamończyk) Borkowska as told to her grandson Mirek Popowicz, including information on husband Franciszek Borkowski and their children. Location of original unknown. Photocopy provided to Anderson by her mother-in-law Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, circa 1992. []
  4. Paweł Polian, Against Their Will: The History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004), 110. []
  5. Borkowska, “My Involuntary Wanderings,” 19. []
  6. Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, interview, February 2007. []
  7. Borkowska, “My Involuntary Wanderings,” 20. []
  8. Borkowska, “My Involuntary Wanderings,” pgs. 19-20. Krystyna (Borkowska) Kałwa, interview, February 2007. []

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