Marathon County woman recounts time spent in Siberian labor camp

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TOWN OF BEVENT, Wis.(WSAW) -- "It hurts, it still does," that's what a 91-year-old woman from Bevent, Wis. said as she shared her journey of survival in a Siberian labor camp.

Halina Jaworski had only shared her story in public two other times before sitting down to talk about her experience, hoping it would somehow help others.

Just the thought of being forced out of her home in Poland is something Halina said still haunts her no matter how hard she tries to forget.

"I live it, I can't sleep nights," said Halina.

She was only 13 years old when Germans attacked Poland and many people consider that attack the beginning of World War II. But for Halina and her family, it was the start of something that she said would change her life forever.

"But then came February 10,1940. At night, they were banging on the door and my mother went to open the door. They ordered hands up from my father and had him sit down with him not moving. They said, two soldiers, armed soldiers, they said start packing; you're leaving."

Halina, her parents, brother, sister and grandmother were taken to a nearby train station.

"There was a long freight train standing and they were packing Polish people inside already. The soldiers opened up the door and they hollered out Constantine Skravronski, that was my father. He was with us of course, but they ordered him to go with him. As he was saying goodbye. He said, 'I don't think I'm going to see you again.' Those were prophetic words and we never saw him again."

In that moment, Halina said she knew life had taken a turn for the worst.

"About two weeks, I guess, we were traveling and then we got there they unloaded us out in the snow. Vicious, vicious temperatures. I looked around hoping my father was there and no, we did not see them. There were sleds and they took us to the camp about 20 miles down in the forest. There were wooden barracks waiting for us and there were Ukrainian people left over whoever survived from the first World War when the communists took over. They were saying same thing is going to happen to you, but of course we didn't believe it, no."

But it did and just like them Halina said they were forced to work day in and day out.

'"It was not easy, especially on an empty stomach; we were hungry all the time. But they said, you know, you're here, this is where you work, and you live until you die. That was the only end for us like those Ukrainian people."

"In spite of, you know, us trying to survive, unfortunately older people, children and infants none of them survived. If there were any children brought with them or born there, they would not live because mothers could not support them, there was no food for them. There was one horrible death, I witnessed it. A baby boy was born and two weeks later, he died. Poor mother, she was desperate. Her father made a small box, wooden box for the baby with bells and when they put that baby in the makeshift grave, I thought she was going to lose her mind. I can still hear her yell to God, 'Where are you?'" cried Halina.

More than one million Polish people were sent to Siberian labor camps during that time. Halina and her mother were among the few thousands that survived. In 1941, they were eventually granted amnesty so that young Polish men could join the Soviet Army after Germans invaded the Soviet Union. But many of them were not able to leave the camps until 1943.