Summary of Rysia Bane’s reminiscences
of her parents, Zofia and Jan Wiszniewski
Interview and recording of Rysia Bane (Wiszniewska)
by Adrian O’dell (NPHG) – October 10th 2018
Rysia Wiszniewska has lived in Watton, Norfolk for forty years but was born of Polish parents in Persia (now Iran) in 1942. Her father, Jan Wiszniewski was born in Warsaw in 1900. At that time Poland was partitioned and under the rule of the Russian Empire and Jan became an officer in the Russian Army. In 1917 at the start of the Revolution he tried to escape via the port of Archangel. He was injured during that process when he was shot in the leg but eventually recovered. He was able to get to France by ship and joined a Polish brigade which took part in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. From 1921 until 1939 he worked in banking but when World War II began that year he was recalled to the Polish Army.
He met his wife Zofia Bizon and they were married in May 1939 but when the Germans invaded in September 1939 followed by the Russians from the east they were separated and Zofia was shipped out to a forced-labour camp in Georgia. In 1940 Jan was captured by the Russians and also sent to Georgia, but not to the same camp. Neither of them knew they were in the same region and close to each other. Georgia was the food bowl of Russia and Zofia worked on farms and nourishing food was very limited. She developed scurvy and resorted to various means of getting vitamins from the crops they were growing, particularly melons and mandarins.
Eventually Zofia was invited to stay with a friend and her doctor husband away from the camp. One day in late 1940 her friend Jazdzia was walking along a street in Batumi and accidentally met Zofia’s husband, Jan. By that time Jan who was accountant was working in another camp in the office, helping the corrupt Russian authorities with the bookkeeping. When he heard that Zofia was now living with Jadzia he vowed not to return to his camp but was able to arrange a transfer to the camp where Zofia worked. The couple had a very happy reunion. When the amnesty took place in September 1941, Jan and Zofia knew that they would have to flee the USSR or be refused permission to leave.
They travelled from Batumi to Tbilisi. When the train they were on, Jan got off on the platform to buy some peaches for Zofia but while he was doing that the train set off and Jan was left behind. Fortunately they were able to meet up the following day at the next railway station. They journeyed on to Baku and Rostov en route to Moscow. They reported to the Polish authorities there and Jan was promoted to Quartermaster and flew with General Anders and others to Buzuluk near the Kazakhstan border, where Anders was trying to form a Polish Army. Zofia became a nurse in the Polish army hospital. The conditions were appalling as men and their families from all over Russia were arriving, many of them starving, with no clothes or shoes.
In 1942 part of the Polish Army was evacuated from Russia to Iran via Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea and the new army began training in the mountains near Tehran. Other sections of the Army were transferred to Italy and took part the heroic battles on the Italian front, particularly at Monte Cassino. Jan Wiszniewski was in the 6th Motorized Platoon which was transferred to Southern Rhodesia. Two additional daughters, Mysia and Kris, were born there and the family remained in Africa until Jan was demobbed in 1948. At the end of World War II, all Polish soldiers were transferred to Britain under the Polish Resettlement Act and the family began a new life in the English Midlands. Jan Wiszniewski was employed as an accountant while Zofia worked in a Polish shop but they also opened a restaurant together. Jan died in 1962 and Zofia in 2005 having led adventurous and eventful lives.