Saturday, April 16, 2016

Michał Iwanowski - I walked 2,000km to trace my grandfather's escape from a Russian gulag

My grandfather and his brother survived one harsh winter in a Soviet prisoner camp during the second world war before they made a daring escape to the relative safety of Poland.
‘It was haunting to discover that elements of the landscape have not changed in the last 70 years’
It was a treacherous 2,200km journey which saw them separated from their friends during a military ambush, shot at and chased, and took more than three months to complete as they hitched rides on freight trains and dodged Russian troops.

My great uncle kept a record of their journey, taking notes on scraps of paper and drawing out landmarks as they travelled through Russia, Belarus and on toLithuania and Poland. 
The makeshift maps made it to Wrocław in Poland with him and now form part of a rich family archive, as did the metal tobacco tins he made in the gulag to trade for food.

The maps became the backbone of a book he wrote and self-published in 1994, which I used to retrace their footsteps from the labour camp in Kaluga – where they were being punished for partisan activity – to Wrocław where the rest of their family had fled.

It was haunting to discover that elements of the landscape have not changed for 70 years. My uncle described a railway bridge leading into Kozielsk in Russia where they were ambushed and my grandfather was shot. As I stood on that bridge, I could see exactly where that scene had taken place... read more: