Timaru man Richard (Wladyslaw) Miron has received the Siberian Cross from the Polish government in recognition of surviving deportation to Siberia.
By coincidence on the same day of the presentation, December 16, his policeman father in Bialystok was arrested in 1939 by the Russian occupiers of Poland. Soon after his family were deported to work in Siberia.
The crime was being aligned to the Polish government through his father's work.
Through strength of will, quick thinking, courage and luck the family survived -- their father did not.
At Sunday's ceremony in Christchurch the honorary Polish consul granted the Siberian Cross to six survivors of Siberia.
Mr Miron stressed the cross was for survival and was also recognition the event had happened and the suffering imposed on Polish people.
"I'm not a hero, but I am a survivor."
Mr Miron's story of being deported at 16 is hard to comprehend in terms of danger, hardship and death. It took courage to survive and Mr Miron's experiences could be told as an epic adventure. However, he said it was about the will to survive, and hunger made him act.
"When you are really hungry you just do it without thinking."
Mr Miron said the events now seemed implausible, even to him, but they did happen.
The family were caught between the forces of Russia and Germany and were carted in cattle carriages to Siberia and people started dying early on the trip. A quick decision to join a queue heading to collective farms rather than mines probably saved the family.
There was little work for them, but they tended gardens. They went through winter trading what they carried for shelter and wheat.
The people on the collectives could identify with the Poles, but were also close to starvation. They despised the regime as well. German atrocities were Stalin's best recruitment propaganda.
The family's situation changed when Germany invaded Russia in 1942. As "allies" they were able to travel, even join the Polish army.
Another winter of being undernourished in -55C temperatures would have killed the family. They headed south to warmer conditions. Mr Miron intended to join the Free Polish army and leave Russia. However, there were holdups, and his mother needed to be looked after having caught malaria. The family was taken to another collective and spent the next winter in Kazakhstan.
Eventually Mr Miron joined the Polish free Army in Persia (Irak) and fought in Italy including Monte Cassino.
He said it was important the Polish story of the war was understood; how the entire army officer class of 15,000 were executed and how Stalin had carried out genocide on Polish people.
"Hitler used gas and the concentration camps and Stalin just used starvation."
n Herald Staff
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