Slavery victims we must never forget

Recently, much has been written about black slavery in past centuries. However, during World War II, 12 million slave labourers, most of whom were Eastern European, were used in the German war economy by 2,000 firms still thriving to this day.

My father, Franciszek Plaziuk, was one of them — taken from his family in Poland aged 19, never to see his parents again. His mum died in Poland in 1945 after stepping on a landmine and his dad (my grandfather) died three weeks later.

Dad was taken by Germans early in 1942 as a slave labourer, first to Germany, then Austria. There he worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, in a factory and then in the Austrian Alps.

Despite arduous working conditions and being arrested twice for leaving his workplace and threatened with Auschwitz deportation, he survived. Dad then joined the Polish Army across the border in Italy as the war finished. He came to England in 1947 and was demobbed.

In February 1940, my mother, Maria Kralski, at the age of nine was forcibly deported with her whole family (along with 1.5 million other Poles in Eastern Poland) by the Soviets to Siberian gulags. They spent three weeks in a cattle truck to reach their destination. Her sister died there and her father was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, never to be seen again.

In the gulag, those aged over 14 were forced to work long hours cutting lumber, and were only allowed to stop when temperatures dropped below minus 40c. In 1942, after an amnesty was agreed stopping the persecution of Polish citizens, the family were released and, along with 38,000 other civilians, made a 3,000-mile journey through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and across the Caspian Sea to Persia (now Iran). Civilians were then dispersed under British Colonial protectorate status to African colonies. Mum lived in Koja, Uganda, with her younger brother and mum, who died there.

In December 1948, she arrived in Southampton on board MS Empire Ken. She was 17 and an orphan. She met my dad in a Polish resettlement camp in Lincolnshire. They married in 1951 and settled in Scunthorpe. Dad was an iron ore miner and steelworker and Mum worked for the NHS for 25 years as a cleaner, raising my brother and me. Dad only saw his brothers and sisters again in 1966 when we drove to Poland. Their story is typical of the 200,000 Poles arriving in England in the post-war years, but rarely written about.

Author: Edward Plaziuk

Pictures: Edward Plaziuk’s family archives

The article has been published in Daily Mail