Written by Naomi Martin, Director at New Horizon Centre and Commonside Community Development Trust
Many British people know that the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 was the trigger for Britain to declare war. My father used to tell me how he was in the bathroom of a petrol station in Devon when he heard the news and knew that meant that as a country we were now at war. He described the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.
Fewer people in UK know that on 17th September 1939 the Red Army invaded Poland from the East. Polish families and others living in that part of what was then Poland, were ripped from their homes, killed or sent in inhuman conditions on trains into exile in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Many of the men who survived walked hundreds of miles to join Anders Army in 1941, fighting for example in the Battle of Monte Cassino, 130km south of Rome, Italy.
Amongst millions of others, some of the deported Polish families were able to finally settle in Britain after 1945. It took years and years to settle and reunite those who survived and the traumas they endured were largely unaddressed. Polish veterans who fought in the British Armed Forces were not always well treated in the post-war Victory celebrations – they were told they could not take part in the March Pasts for fear of offending Stalin and the USSR government…
Even less well known in UK today is that this part of pre-1939 Eastern Poland (known as ‘Kresy’) is now part of Ukraine. Post-war Europe was carved up by Britain, US and USSR and Poles and Poland fared badly. This was a bitter experience that lives on in Polish memory.
So the Ukrainian families we see fleeing westwards and queuing for hours to get into Poland and other neighbouring countries, are fleeing over and from those same lands from which Polish families were torn in 1939.
THAT is one of the reasons why within hours on Friday 28th February, over 3,000 (and today 370,000) Polish people had signed up to a Facebook page headed ‘Help for Ukraine: lodgings and other help for Ukrainians’. Offers of transport, shelter and food were posted within minutes.
The lands that these people are fleeing are Tim Snyder’s ‘Bloodlands’ (Vintage Books, 2010) and history is repeating the war’s ravage and torment of innocent souls. A true nightmare. A nightmare that their grandparents and great-grandparents saw unfold with their own eyes.
Polish Family Association is working with these partners to support them to support refugees from Ukraine. All refugees.
We have set up a Crowdfunder page and would be very grateful if you are able to donate. The money will be properly managed and accounted for and will be used to pay for example, for additional expenses borne by Polish host families, the extra petrol needed to move people around and for first aid and medical supplies.
You may have read about the Scottish Journalist who was stuck in the traffic jam trying to get out of Ukraine at the weekend, with his wife, daughter and their tiny two-week old baby. He is now in Poland, sorting out visa requirements for UK and we know at least he, his children and his wife, have somewhere to shelter, eat and recuperate before they embark on the next stage of their journey.
This is thanks to the huge hearts and immediate practical action of people in Poland. They know of the ordeals, they feel them, and they leapt up to serve. Help us to help them.
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