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JOSEPH BEREZNICKI

TO CANADA
VIA THE GULAG

Joseph Bereznicki
(b. 1932) professional engineer, developer, president of the Canadian Polish
Congress, Alberta District in 19931999. Awarded the Officers Cross of
the Order of Merit, of the Republic of Poland, in 2001. Married to Christine
(nee Strobel), with whom he had three children: Teresa, Henry and Mark.
As a seven-year-old boy, with his parents and his brother, was deported by
the Russians to Siberia from his family home in the village of Studzianka in
the Kalusz region (now the territory of Ukraine). After the Sikorski-Maisky
agreement (30 July 1941), under the protection of his parents, he made
his way to Kazakhstan, where he was admitted to the cadets in the newly
formed Anders Army. He lived in refugee camps in Iran and India, including
Valivade-Kolhapur, where he spent five years (1943-1948). The Bereznickis
emigrated to Edmonton, Canada, in 1948, where Joseph finished school.
Joseph was awarded his bachelors degree in civil engineering, followed by
a masters degree (M. Sc. Eng.) by the University of Alberta. He worked at
Universal Construction (19591970), starting as an engineer, then advancing
to chief executive, and ultimately, to president of the company. From 1971,
he was the owner of a number of private companies in the construction
sector, including Bermark Holdings Ltd. and Bermark Construction Ltd.,
and a director of Parksite Developments Ltd. He is currently retired. For
many years, he actively participated in the Polish Community in the city
of Edmonton and the Alberta district, as a co-founder of the Canadian
Polish Heritage Society and the Polish Academic Club, and president of the
Canadian Polish Congress, Alberta District, as well as a member of several
other Polish community organizations.

To Canada Via the Gulag

To Canada Via the Gulag


JOSEPH BEREZNICKI

WARSAW

The title of the original:


Do Kanady przez Guag
Memoirs of Joseph Berenicki as told to Rafa Ostrowski
Copyright
2nd edition 2016 by Wydawnictwo GOFORIT
ul. Stanisawa Kunickiego 45
01-492 Warsaw
Poland
e-mail: wydawnictwo.goforit@gmail.com

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
ISBN: 978-83-939840-3-9

Translated from Polish by Roman Picheta

Pictures on the cover presenting cranes and buildings come from Shutterstock.
Photographs on pages 199201 and 210213 by Pawe Radzikowski and Zbigniew Mroczek. All the other
photographs used in this book come from a private archive of Joseph Bereznicki.
Printing House
Ergo BTL sp. z.o.o. sp. k.
Biuro: ul. Szkoy Orlt 4,
03-984 Warszawa

Contents
Introduction........................................................................................................................... 7
Studzianka Poland in the 1930s................................................................................. 8
War and the Siberian Golgotha....................................................................................14
The Road to Kazakhstan.................................................................................................23
In the Cadets of Anders Army......................................................................................28
From Persia through Pakistan to India.....................................................................33
Valivade Kolhapur India..................................................................................................37
Voyage across the Ocean.................................................................................................45
Early Days in Canada........................................................................................................48
The Meaning of Work.......................................................................................................55
High School...........................................................................................................................57
A New House, a New Car.................................................................................................63
University Entrance Exam..............................................................................................65
Starting Studies...................................................................................................................68
Life as a Couple...................................................................................................................73
A Rapid Rise at Universal Construction...................................................................79
Living for the Company...................................................................................................85
Domecki was Right............................................................................................................89
New Owners.........................................................................................................................94
At a Crossroads...................................................................................................................99
Striking Out on My Own...............................................................................................102
Pictures...............................................................................................................................111
Semi-Retirement Party.................................................................................................134
On the Verge of Bankruptcy ......................................................................................137
Looking Deep Within Yourself...................................................................................142
A Happy Thought............................................................................................................145
Caesarean Section...........................................................................................................151

Work for the Polish Community...............................................................................153


Polish Community Centre ..........................................................................................159
The Plans to Build a Church.......................................................................................161
The Dispute ......................................................................................................................164
The Plans to Build the Kopernik Senior Citizens Centre .................................172
Looking to the Future ...................................................................................................178
Parents.................................................................................................................................184
ALife Full of Satisfaction.............................................................................................188
People in My Life.............................................................................................................193
Bereznicki Family Reunion Postscript to the first edition.........................199

Introduction

This book is a collection of memories, my personal life story. It leads us first


to Poland, where I was born and spent a carefree childhood, through Siberia,
the Middle East, India and finally to Canada, where I have lived for over 60
years. It was here that I began a new life, completed my studies, found employment and met my beloved life partner Christine; and here our children, Teresa,
Henry and Mark, were born. Today, it is my home and I consider myself a Canadian. In truth, I owe a lot to this country. Here I found excellent conditions, both
for life and for professional employment, which was always very important
for me. But I retain a pride in my Polish roots, and maintain the values, such as
patriotism and faith, that my parents instilled in me from an early age.
This book is not based on any documents or verified historical sources. I call on my own experiences, as well as tales and stories I remember
from conversations with my parents. Did everything happen exactly as described? I believe so. These are the images that my memory has retained
and so I share these recollections, wishing to preserve something of them,
so that my nearest and dearest, and their children, can know of the events
that collaborated to enable the Bereznicki clan to live and prosper in Canada today.
At this point, I would like to thank Janina Muszynska, Wilhelm Chodkiewicz, Fr. Jozef Leszczynski and my daughter, Teresa, who sacrificed their time to supply their valuable remarks. My thanks also go out to Rafal
Ostrowski for editing and giving my memoirs their final shape.
7

Studzianka Poland in the 1930s

Despite the approaching fall, there were still hot days at the end of August.
In the evening, when the light took on a warm colour, gold turning to red, the
rays of sunlight reflected off the gleaming windows and whitewashed walls of
our house, so that the house took on pleasantly blushing colours. Part of the
southern wall, by which I would often play on the grass with my brother, was
covered by vines. The fruit of the vine ripened throughout the summer, and at
this time of year was ready for picking rather tart, but tasty. Not as delicious
as the raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries from our garden, but they
were suitable both for wine and compote.
I remember a paved courtyard, where a swaying cart arrives carrying
hay or harvested grain and stops before the barn. Labourers use pitchforks
to heave the bales up under the ceiling and tightly pack them in rows. On
the roof of the barn, like a cap perched on the top of a head, rests a large
storks nest. A pair of adult birds, together with their young, are preparing
for their first joint flight to the south. The approaching time to depart has
been signalled by the ever weakening light of the sun.
When you looked further, the same red glow of the setting sun illuminated the fields and meadows, partly covered by fresh stubble, and partly
by ripening wheat. Further still on the far horizon, the ground rose to show
the contours of the Tatra Mountains which, though distant, were easily visible on a clear day. Even in the summer months, their peaks often shone
whitely with snow or frost after a violent but short storm, characteristic for
the mountains even at the end of summer.
However, nearby in our garden the scent of flowers abounded and there
was plenty of greenery. Bees industriously harvested pollen, exploiting the
wealth of the still burgeoning flora. They were humming both in the garden
and in the orchard, where a crushed or rotting pear, apple or plum lying in the
compost heap was easy pickings. These delicacies always attracted swarms of
buzzing insects, hovering around their fruit as if at the feasting table.
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We lived in a colony it consisted of a group of loosely scattered homesteads comprising a village by the name of Studzianka, in the Stanislowski voivodship (township). My parents were affluent; my father, Mikolaj
Bereznicki, was well respected in the district. When I came into the world,
he was 32 years old. In Studzianka, where I was born, he held the office
of Soltys village elder. My mother was five years younger than my father; her name was Karolina, but everybody called her Karola. Her maiden
name was Bereznicka, the same surname as my father; this was a random
coincidence of family names obviously these two were not related. In Bereznica, where they were born, many families simply had the same name.
My parents owned several acres of land, and they employed a maid and a
farm-hand. My mother managed the estate jointly with my father. She also
belonged to a housewives circle and travelled throughout Poland with
this organization: to Krakow, Wieliczka or Warsaw.
My parents both came from Bereznica Szlachecka, a village lying a
few kilometres from Studzianka. My grandparents also lived in Bereznica.
My paternal grandfather died when I was only a few years old, just before
the outbreak of the war, and my maternal grandfather even earlier possibly even before my parents were married. My grandparents on my mothers side were named Antoni and Maria, and on my fathers side, Julian
and Maria. My parents had completed six grades of primary school; they
were not therefore highly educated, but they were both blessed with thrift
and resourcefulness. These qualities served them well in life. Their house
was nicer and more prosperous than many in the neighbourhood. Two of
the rooms were heated: my parents bedroom and the kitchen, where my
brother and I slept. The kitchen also housed a large tile stove. The labourer
chopped wood for fuel, and the maid lit the fire. There were also two other
rooms: a bedroom and a day room, and also an attic and a cellar. Cottages
in those days were built of large logs, with the spaces filled with straw and
moss. The filling was then covered with plaster, and finally everything was
whitewashed. There is not much more I can say about this house today. I
remember the roof. Most roofs in the district were thatched, but ours was
better, made of tin. When it rained, the drumming of the rain on the tin roof
was deafening.
My father built this new house with the shining roof in 1934 or 1935.
He burned the old house down deliberately, on account of the bugs which
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kept everyone awake all night and were impossible to remove in any other
way. One of my earliest childhood memories is of the construction of our
new home and of the workers making slaked lime. As I recall, until the
new house was built we moved into the barn.
We also had a bicycle. This was a rare sight in the village at that time.
My uncle, Mikolaj Leszczynski, as voit (mayor of several villages) and wealthy landowner, rode the bicycle to his office in Podmichale.
Order was maintained in the house by my mother an energetic, enterprising and exceptionally disciplined person. She was also very pious
and, it must be said, she possessed an iron character. I believe that, were it
not for her resourcefulness, we would not have survived the horrific journey that we were soon to embark upon. My mother is largely responsible
for our eventual resettlement in a different continent. Her strength of character is one reason why I had, and will always have, a great deal of respect
for my mother.
My parents enjoyed a very harmonious marriage. They loved and
respected one another. I have no recollection of them ever arguing. They
were married in 1927, in Bereznica Szlachecka. There are many Bereznicas in Poland, but only one Bereznica Szlachecka! My parents always said
that they were descended from nobility (Szlachecka is Polish for belonging to gentry or noble). They were proud of this, my mother especially.
My parents had four sons. The eldest was named after my father, Mikolaj. He died at the age of five or six of what, I do not know. My second
brother died at birth. After him, in 1931, my older brother, Walter, was
born. I came into the world fourth, the last of the siblings. I was born in
1932. My mother regretted that she was never able to have a daughter.
We had close ties with the Leszczynskis, who were our cousins. Paulina, nee Bereznicka, my mothers eldest sister, married Mikolaj Leszczynski. Mikolaj was elected voit for several villages. He was considered to be a
very intelligent man, and was the best educated member of our immediate
family, with the equivalent of a junior high school diploma. He read beautifully and had a very elegant handwriting style. He was enormously respected. The Leszczynskis lived nearby and their children, my cousins, were my
childhood playmates.
They were all older than I was: Karol by nine years, Frank by three
and Joseph, by a year. We were also friendly with other families, including
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another family of Bereznickis, as well as our relatives, the Jasinskis and the
Starczewskis. The latter family included my godmother, Maria Starczewska.
I remember our childhood games, on which we spent long, carefree
hours. Instead of toys, we made use of various objects, such as shoe studs
metal screws mounted on horseshoes to prevent the hooves from slipping.
The game involved tossing five studs into the air and catching as many as
possible on the back of your hand. Another homemade toy was known as
the Spinner, made of cans on string containing some burning straw. We
would spin them, and they gave off fire and smoke. In the summer we spent
a lot of time in the fields. We would go there usually after tilling, looking for
cartridges. Since these fields had been the location of the Eastern Front during the First World War, our harvest was often plentiful. We would throw
these cartridges into the fire and wait for them to explode. Our parents
berated us for these dangerous games, but you know what its like: when
there is nothing to do, idiotic ideas come to mind. Our juvenile pranks were
often initiated by Karol, my eldest cousin and a born mischief-maker.
The parish priest at the church in Podmichale was Fr. Sempowicz, kind
and accessible to his parishioners. He was very close to us, particularly to
the Leszczynski family, whom he frequently visited. Sadly, the church where
he served did not survive the war. It was burned to the ground in 1944. The
church mission at Bereznica Szlachecka was also torched, in 1943.
Family holidays, Christmas and Easter, were unforgettable. Each year
the women would gather in one of the homesteads and would jointly prepare the festive dishes, baking cakes and sweet things. At this time, my
father would prepare the cold meats. He knew butchery like no other: he
slaughtered the pigs, cut the meat and prepared brawn, hams, sausages
and blood puddings. The festive table never lacked for these items.
Mikolaj (Mike) Bereznicki was, by the age of 39, a prosperous landowner. He had a talent for making the most of his land. He would plant potatoes and cabbages among the fruit trees in the orchard, so that in addition to
plums and other fruit, he could garner vegetables from the same piece of
ground. Nothing went to waste. He also planted wheat and barley, and at harvest time, he would hire temporary labourers. He himself worked when needed, in the autumn during the harvest or at threshing time. During harvest,
three or four men would work with flails in the barn alongside my father. But
at quieter times, when he did not have to work, he made use of farm-hands.
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We had two horses, as well as cows, pigs, turkeys and ducks. I remember one occasion when a cow was choking; the animal was on its last
legs and surely would have died. My father rushed up, pushed his arm into
the cows gullet up to the elbow and removed a turnip that had wedged in
its throat. Another time, he helped a mare deliver a foal. The foal was twisted in the womb. My father located it with his hands and managed to turn
it, allowing the colt to be born safely. My father approached all such events
professionally. Before each procedure, he meticulously washed his hands
with soap and hot water. He was also able to castrate swine. Having lived
in the countryside since his birth, he learned husbandry and cultivation
from his parents. This was no book learning, but a practical knowledge of
agricultural issues, handed down from father to son.
That was our childhood dealing with livestock, poultry, fields
and crops. We were too small to help with the homestead, but my brother and I observed our parents at work. One day our uncle, voit Leszczynski, persuaded us to help him with the field work. We collected large rocks from the ground. We got awfully muddy doing this and when
we arrived home, my father fell into a fury he even wanted to take
a belt to my brother, who ran away through the fields and escaped.
That was the only time that I remember my father so angry. He was a mild-mannered man, shy even. In contrast, my mother had a truly heavy hand.
In later years when we were in India, we would be punished for skipping
vespers. Under her command, we had to kneel in the corner and stare at the
wall. Looking around was forbidden, and this penance would last for half
an hour or even an hour. In those days, my mother, with iron determination, ensured that we all went to church regularly. Later, we daily thanked
God for allowing us to escape from the Soviet Union. How do I remember
that discipline today? I believe that it was central to building our character;
I even think that it is somewhat lacking in todays young people.
Prior to 1939, we lived an untroubled and quiet life. More and more,
however, people talked of war. There was, in truth, no certainty in these predictions. Rather it was talked about as something possible, but improbable.
The subject came up more and more frequently at the table during evening
conversations. The strength and armament of our army was discussed; its
readiness, if things came to a head and it had to face its enemies, was never
in doubt. It was, after all, a victorious army, which had, in 1920, brought the

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overwhelming force of the enemy to a standstill and prevented Bolshevik


Russia from occupying our country. There was no doubt that similarly, our
brave soldiers would rise to the task and would manfully repel the Nazi
invader. Furthermore, if the need arose, our mighty allies, France and Britain, would come to our aid, and they would crush the German aggressor
like a bug. Yes! we would hear Hitler would be stupid to attack Poland.
He would only get a sound thrashing. There was nothing for him here, was
the conclusion, reassuring to our hearts and minds.
When I first crossed the threshold of the school, I was not yet six years
old. I did not want to stay at home by myself, when my brother Walter, one
year older, began his education. What would I do without him? Fortunately,
I was a good student, so I have only fond memories of school. I was in the
second grade when war broke out. I was 7 years old.

13

War and the Siberian Golgotha

I remember the day we heard that the Germans had bombed the nearby railway bridge. All the boys ran to see what had occurred; we were met by a vision
of a twisted iron skeleton. Soon afterwards, we saw our first German airplane.
My brother and I were playing in the yard when it flew by. Flying machines
generated enormous curiosity, so we waved to the pilot. He flew low over the
house and gave us a burst from his machine gun. We did not even know he was
shooting at us; we were afraid only when we told the story to our parents and
saw how horrified they were.
One night, Polish officers came to the house. The September Campaign had concluded in a crushing defeat. The Germans had occupied the
country, but many soldiers had not laid down their arms. They were heading south to Romania or Hungary so as to make their way to France
and continue the struggle from Western Europe. These brave warriors, in
whom we had had such great hopes, , were given a hot meal and a bed for
the night, as well as provisions for the road. We believed they would continue to fight for Poland to the end. Our neighbours likewise accommodated
the soldiers. This was done in secret and caution was paramount. Those
harboring the soldiers could be denounced at any time; there was no shortage of people hostile to the Polish military.
In the second half of September 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. I remember a bright, sunny day when I saw their trucks on the road
for the first time. Soldiers armed with rifles got out. Some of the local populace greeted them with joy. Most of the Poles, however, sensed trouble.
For us, it arrived in the winter on February 10th, 1940. On that day, at
three oclock in the morning, there was a banging at the door. Several men
entered the room. Initially they were in no hurry; they said they were looking for weapons.
You know that we dont have any weapons, my father tried to
explain.
14

We have to search everything anyway!


They turned over the whole house, the stables, the barn they searched everywhere. And then, at around five oclock, they ordered the children to be woken up.
You must leave the house. Harness the horses to the sleigh! ordered
the leader of the group.
A Ukrainian whom my parents knew well was with the group. Karola, gather as much food and clothing as you can carry; you will never return
here, he quietly whispered to my mother.
My father knew what was happening at once. He remembered his
history lessons well. They always transported Poles to Siberia. How naive
we were to believe that the incursion of the Red Army would bring peace.
For us, the entry of the Soviets into the territory of the Republic of Poland
meant not liberation, but further great trials.
The soldiers ordered my father to harness the horses to the sleigh.
We packed everything that we could, and that Mother decided was essential. We moved out to the road and saw there all of the inhabitants of the
Polish hamlet aboard twenty or thirty sleighs. We saw our relatives, Mikolaj (Mike) and Paulina Leszczynski. With them was Uncle Frank Bereznicki,
my mothers youngest brother, still a bachelor, who had come to us on a
visit. One of the Leszczynski sons, Karol, was absent since he was away at
boarding school in Kalusz.
What should we do about Karol? the Leszczynskis wondered. The
boy is 16. Maybe it is fortunate that he is not with us now. Maybe we should
take advantage of the situation and leave him where he is, so that he will
not go into captivity.
It was clear that in Poland, he would not have to suffer the hell of
Siberian exile. But, on the other hand, how was he to manage by himself,
without his family? These thoughts troubled the Leszczynskis. It was an
extremely important decision, which had to be made in very little time. The
boys future was at stake.
What awaits him if he stays alone in Poland? Will we ever find him again, should we return from exile? When will they release us, so we can meet
again? In a year? Two? In ten years? And what if we never see him again?
No, that possibility was too much for the loving parents to bear. My
uncle and aunt decided that it would be safer to stay together, even at the
15

ends of the earth. As soon as we arrived at the railway station at Kalusz,


Auntie Paulina sent for Karol. The Leszczynski family was once more complete. Soon afterwards, we were loaded onto the trains.
They were cattle cars, made of rough boards, whose finger-width
gaps permitted a hellish frost to pierce the wagons. In the middle was a
stove, and on both sides of the wagon were rows of double bunk beds. As
far as I remember, two families crowded onto the lower bunks and two
onto the upper in total four families, between twenty and thirty people.
Next to the stove, there was a hole in the floor. It was not big enough to
allow anyone to escape. It only served to answer calls of nature. There was
no screen to separate this toilet from the rest of the wagon. If someone
needed to use the facilities and required privacy, they asked their father, or
mother, or child to shield them from the gaze of their fellow passengers.
Despite the wretched conditions, we tried to maintain human dignity.
From Kalusz, we went to Lvov, from where we continued on the long
journey to Archangel. As far as I can remember, the journey stretched over
three weeks. Somewhere in the region was the Finno-Russian front. The
Finns were staging a brave resistance to the assault of the Russian Red
Army. We had to wait at stops, while the authorities made sure that the
trains did not pass too close to the front.
Supplies during the journey were meagre. We were given bread and
firewood. We collected snow during the stops and melted it for water. I
have heard stories from other exiles who survived such journeys that often,
when there was no water, they collected snow from the tracks through the
hole that served as a makeshift toilet. In our case, stops were ordered often
enough that we did not have to resort to that method.
The train generally stopped in uninhabited places, in the middle of
nowhere, where it was impossible to escape. Sometimes it stopped in the
middle of a forest, when some were able to slip away and disappear among
the trees. As far as I remember there were three or four such escapes. We
dont know if the fugitives managed to return to Poland; I suspect however,
that nothing good awaited them in the forest probably death from cold
and hunger, or a return to prison, and for a very long time at that.
Whenever one of the passengers managed to escape, at the next station or collective farm near the tracks, the Russians would seize some random person from the place. My father saw for himself how they snatched
16

one poor soul. Nationality or name had no meaning; if so many passengers


had begun the journey, exactly the same number had to arrive at the destination all the prisoners had to be handed over, dead or alive. Snatching
random passers-by turned out to be an excellent way of avoiding punishment for lax security of the transport.
In the 1960s, a film was made of the book Doctor Zhivago, with Omar
Sharif and Julie Christie. In the film there is also a train in which the heroes
traverse Siberia. The film provides some idea of Siberian exile. It must be
said, however, that it completely fails to show the conditions of our journey. We had it incomparably worse. We didnt even have straw on our beds,
only bare boards. After several nights in the pounding train, I realized that
I was unable to lift my head from the bed; my hair had frozen to the boards.
My mother had to cut me free with a knife.
We would not have been able to survive this trek were it not for all
of the things that we had managed to take with us. Those who did not
have sufficient supplies of warm clothes or blankets died. Those who were
more resourceful and thrifty survived. It was a fight for life. The loss of
the will to survive led to a swift death. During the Eastern Golgotha, as the
migration of Poles to the USSR was called, our relative Tekla Jasinska lost
all four of her children, due to sickness and the brutal conditions. She was
the sister-in-law of our Aunt Josie Jasinska, my mothers youngest sister.
Josie Jasinska later got through to Persia, but died there due to sickness
and starvation. The only member of this family who probably survived the
exodus was Josies husband, a soldier in Anders Army, made up of Poles
who, under the leadership of General Anders, were trained and equipped
by the British and fought alongside them until the end of the war. However,
his ultimate fate is unknown to us. He was not found after the war. Maybe
he gave his life on the front, fighting for his homeland.
The train eventually delivered us to Archangel. It was the end of
February, possibly the beginning of March: a hard Siberian winter. My
parents swaddled my brother and me in eiderdowns. The journey by
sleigh through the forest, from the station to the labour camp named
Kamionka, took about five or six hours. It was the site of a prisoner of
war camp from the First World War. The camp had been abandoned for
a long time, but it had been restored. We learned from local Russians
that the forest held mass graves of prisoners of war deep ditches se17

veral meters long. Who were these prisoners and what was their nationality? This we did not know.
I will add in passing, that our relations with the Russian locals were
not bad. We would sometimes go to the collective farm to exchange clothes
for food. Prisoners from the camp, if they had anything to spare, made such
exchanges. The region was, however, a poor one, and the Russians displayed extreme caution. They did not seek contact with us themselves.
In spite of the captivity, the conditions in the work camp turned out
to be, if I can say so, good for us. We were allocated a daily portion of bread;
there was some soup and various additions maybe nothing special, but
something. We were even paid for our work, thanks to which we were able
to buy things in the shop. I dont remember if we were given winter clothing, or if we had to pay for it, but I remember thick jackets and trousers,
rubber boots with felt lining and Russian caps with ear flaps. We bound
our feet with rags and, for additional warmth and comfort, stuffed our boots with straw.
I could also go to school, which was important not only for our morale, but also for my future. The teachers were obviously Russians, and
lessons were in Russian. I learned quickly, however, and the language did
not pose a problem. The grading system was as follows: a green triangle
signified ochen harasho, or very good; a square, harasho, meant good:
and I dont remember the other grades, because I had few occasions to
familiarize myself with them. Most often I got triangles. I easily graduated
from the first to the second grade.
In winter, concerts and shows were organized. We had to learn to recite poetry in Russian. We would appear before distinguished persons who
came to the camp from the towns. These were high-ranking government
or military officials. After the performance they would often ask who we
wanted to become in the future; I remember that almost everyone of us
answered either a pilot or a soldier. In the gulag, indoctrination began
from the earliest age. We were taught that religion was a superstition that
was to be rooted out.
There was also a small hospital, which came in handy, since I had
a serious accident at the camp. I dreamt that I was by the river and was
jumping into the water, which most of the boys would do on some summer
days. Except that, still asleep, instead of jumping from a jetty into the water,
18

I jumped from a high bunk onto the floor; I was further unlucky in that I
cracked my head on the sharp edge of a cast iron pot! My skull was cracked,
with a wound from ear to ear, and blood pouring everywhere. When I regained consciousness, I was lying on the floor in a pool of blood.
Things looked very bad and the prognosis in the hospital could in no
way be considered optimistic. It was even feared that I might die. Fortunately, the Russian doctor kept faith, and my parents watched over me at all
times. My wound became infected with fleas, so my mother came to the
hospital every day to pick out the fleas and crush them. It was a task done
in vain since, every night, new parasites would feast on my split skull. Who
knows? Possibly I should be thanking those fleas for my favorable outcome,
because they may have cleaned the wound and prevented infection! After
a month, my wound began to heal, and after two months I was discharged
from hospital. I was left with a sizeable dent in my skull, but I had survived.
On another occasion, we were clearing the forest and my brother almost lost the little finger of his left hand. My parents had been allocated
a piece of land, which they could clear and cultivate. We thought that we
would remain in the taiga for the rest of our lives, so the whole family quickly got to work. On this small field we were to plant beans, potatoes and
other vegetables, which we could store for the winter. We were cutting a
branch, and my brother rested his hand on the stump, and so inadvertently
placed his hand under my blade. I hit him in the pinkie with my axe; the
bone snapped like a birch twig, and the finger hung by a strip of skin. Screams and horror! My parents came running, and with Walter in their arms
we ran to the hospital. The bones were aligned, and miracle of miracles,
the severed finger grew back onto the hand. The only memento that my
brother preserved from this event was a marked crookedness of his finger.
In common with the majority of the inhabitants of the Siberian camp,
my brother and I were required to work. During the day, the children were
obliged to go to school, but in the afternoons we had to help our mothers
in various tasks, which depended on where they had been sent by the camp
authorities. Often the children also had to strip the bark off the trees that
the men had felled. Only in the winter, during the harshest frosts, were we
not required to go to the forest. Temperatures sometimes fell below -45 C.
My father, however, in contrast to most of the camps population, did
not work in the taiga. He knew a little metalwork. He repaired metal equip19

ment, sleigh runners, springs; he could also shoe horses. Most of his knowledge of the blacksmiths art he had received from his father. He gained additional experience in the Austrian cavalry during the First World War, and
now it paid dividends. No one in the camp knew horses like him, so he was
given charge of all of the horses in the camp. As far as I remember, he was
assisted in his work by Mikolaj Leszczynski. My mother also had an important duty, which gave her certain privileges. She was responsible for the kipiatok, or boiled water. This was a task for the whole day, because water
was boiled around the clock. My mother performed her duty conscientiously
and, in keeping with her character, did not allow anyone to get in her way.
The camp consisted of several barracks built of raw logs, insulated
with moss. The floors were wooden. Inside there was one large room, in
the centre of which stood a tile stove several meters wide. Each barrack
housed about one hundred people. Each family was assigned a bunk; the
parents slept below, the children above. It was extremely crowded in the
barracks, so cooking was done in shifts, according to a set rotation, and the
stove was kept lit at all times.
The latrines were outside. Sometimes a bucket served as a chamber
pot, to be emptied outside later. Women had to cope somehow with their
womanly needs, which was not easy in light of the inadequate access to
sanitary facilities. Hygiene was maintained as far as the conditions allowed. Everyone had a basin for washing and a cloth instead of a sponge.
When hot water was available, we used it; otherwise we had to wash in
cold water. Clearly, under these crowded conditions, the smell inside the
barracks was not always pleasant. No one was offended by this, however. It
was obvious that there was not much anyone could do about it.
Yet, we constantly strove to improve our conditions. The men asked
the Commandant if they could build four-bedroom houses for four families. The Commandant readily agreed.
Our young people also did not lack for spirit, particularly the older
boys. One of their pranks nearly landed them in prison. Several students
for a laugh, or perhaps to unwind after hours of political indoctrination
posted a notice in the common room that was offensive to the Soviet
Union. Clearly the camp authorities lacked the sense of humour to see the
joke, since the next day, NKVD officials (of the Peoples Commissariat for
Internal Affairs, the organization that preceded the KGB) were summoned,
20

who immediately commenced an investigation. Some of our family found


themselves under arrest: Karol Leszczynski, two Franks Jasinski and
Leszczynski and several of their contemporaries. Happily, in the end they
were all released.
The worst sentence that could be imposed on us,under the already
grueling camp conditions, was sickness. It caused the death of part of our
family, the children of Tekla Jasinska. What was the precise cause of their
deaths? In the absence of any diagnostic tools, not to mention medical resources, this was never established.
On June 22nd, 1941, war broke out between Russia and Germany.
Shortly thereafter, all of the Polish citizens deported into the depths of the
Soviet Union were given a so-called amnesty, and we were forgiven the
crimes that we had not committed. Those who wished could join the Polish
army, called Anders Army, being formed in the south of the USSR. We all
knew that we had Wladyslaw Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile at the time, to thank for this new arrangement. The famous Sikorski-Majski Pact, signed on July 30th, 1941, was a turning point
for the lives of many Polish exiles and labour camp inmates, who were now
able to leave captivity. It is difficult to state, even today, exactly how many
Poles were deported into the deepest Soviet Russia in the years 194041.
Some sources estimate this number as 800,000, others claim as many as
1.5 million. Post-Soviet archives show that there were 300,000 to 350,000
exiles. However, many documents have not been disclosed, which prevents
this number from being precisely assessed.
The Pact was a great opportunity for us to escape Communist Russia. My parents did not entertain a moments hesitation over whether to
join the army or not. In those days, my father quietly assumed a leaders
role in the camp. He spoke to people, explained, persuaded. His enthusiasm and organizational abilities were useful for inspiring others to leave and join Anders Army.
The agreement between the Polish Government in Exile and the authorities of the Soviet Union were an injection of hope for us. The migr government had not forgotten us! Despite the defeat of the September Campaign, we still had authorities, who had not surrendered in this
struggle. The war was not yet lost. And most importantly, we, here in
Siberia, had not been forgotten by our own! My father always respected
21

General Wladyslaw Sikorski for that, and he remained grateful to him for
the rest of his life.
Thanks to the intervention of the exiled government and the determination of General Wladyslaw Anders, and his unbending will to liberate
Polish citizens from the Empire of Evil, we were finally able to leave the
Communist paradise so detested by all Poles in exile. We left the labour
camps and I left school. First in my homeland, and now in distant Siberia,
I was prevented from starting the second grade, to which I had graduated
twice, in accordance with all education regulations. I did not yet know that
I was to commence the first grade of primary school for a third time, this
time even farther from home by several thousand kilometers.

22

The Road to Kazakhstan

The journey to the Caspian Sea from Archangel, where our camp had been
located, took several weeks. Once more we were transported by Russian trains. We rode in military cars, significantly better than the cattle cars in which
we had come to Siberia. In any case, the journey was extremely arduous. Often
we were ordered to disembark, as the train was needed by the army. Often we
went hungry, because there usually were no supplies at our enforced stops.
We slept under the open sky, not knowing when we would be able to move
on and continue our journey. It was winter. The nights were horrifically cold.
Fortunately, the farther we moved south, the warmer it got. However, we were
not to enjoy our improved conditions for long. As soon as the frosts ended, the
heat waves started. People desperately sought shade. We waited at stations
and in railway sidings. Often the train would go back the way it had come for
several kilometers; instead of nearing our destination, we were going in the
opposite direction!
As we neared Kazakhstan, my mother got off the train at one of the
stops to buy something. The train moved off before she had returned. We
watched in horror as the station where she had remained disappeared from
view. There was nothing we could do. We fell into despair. Days passed and
we had no news of her. We had become half-orphans, under the care of my
father. At every station, my father went on shaking legs to the station office
and made a heartfelt plea over the loudspeaker, could Karolina Bereznicka
hear him, and if she could, would she go to a designated spot where her beloved husband and children were waiting. Eventually, after a fearful three
days, she was found! As it turned out, she had managed to get onto a military train, where she told everyone of her rebiata, her children, who were
waiting for her, riding through the endless vastness of Russia. Her tales so
moved the hearts of her co-passengers, that they did all they could to help.
We met much kindness from complete strangers, in Russia, as in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan; whether Christians or Muslims, we
23

were able to communicate with everyone. When we stopped somewhere for


a longer period, people found space for us. Once we were allocated a whole
school. For several weeks it housed a hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty
Poles. A far bigger problem than contact with the local populace was presented by the communist bureaucracy. In a totalitarian state, officials are afraid
for their own skins. They treated people with the same heartless indifference that was used, by the totalitarian system, to oppress them.
To this were added supply problems. At one of our forced stops we
had nothing to eat for several days. We lived in one Kazakh or Uzbek kolkhoz without provisions for a month. We were starving and we had to cope.
Some managed to find temporary work; my father was able to slaughter
cattle. Together with Uncle Leszczynski, he also found work as a stove builder, despite the fact that he had never previously built stoves. He worked
for the most important people in the kolkhoz.
We learned that somewhere nearby they were distributing American
provisions from international aid. We went to investigate. All four of us
went, so that if need be, we could immediately carry sacks of food. After
several hours march, what a disappointment we faced we got but a spoonful of sugar on a piece of bread!
I have a hundred people to feed. What am I to do with this? my father raged.
We consumed this morsel on the spot, deciding that it was not worth
the effort to take it home. As we were standing thus dejected, with the vision
of the long trek home with empty hands, somebody told us that there was
a horse in the vicinity, which would make a proper meal for our group. In
truth the beast was a spavined nag, but ... any port in a storm. Contented, we
returned to our group bearing our bounty butchered horse meat. Each one
of our quartet carried a sizeable piece on his back. We preferred to keep silent as to the source of this free meal. We distributed the horse meat, cooked
it, made a roast; we ate it. Everyone immediately came down with the most
dreadful diarrhea. It took us a week to recover from the illness.
We would also go to the bazaar. There it was possible to beg for something to eat. These eastern market places, teeming with life, made a big
impression: camels, turbaned hawkers, exotic costumes. The locals usually
wore long loose shirts that reached the knee, and equally loose trousers,
tied with string at the waist. Muslim women covered every inch of their
24

bodies, including their faces. All around was the scent of fruit, spread
out for display at the stalls, and the aroma of spices. We walked hungry
among these stalls. To obtain something for us to eat, my mother would
often pretend to taste raisins or nuts: she would take a couple of grains
into her mouth, meanwhile discreetly pocketing a handful into her skirts.
We had heard that punishment, in those parts, was terrible. It could result in the loss of a hand, but we took the risk: we had no choice. We had
to eat to stay alive. My mother took us to the bazaar so that we could do
the same. The vendors saw what was happening, and sometimes someone would catch us by the hand and make us drop what we were hiding,
but most often the sellers turned a blind eye. They were good people,
the Muslims; they could see our situation. It was like that in Uzbekistan,
Tashkent, and I dont know where else.
Eventually we arrived in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, near to
Kermine, 150 kilometers northwest of Samarkand. This was the place where the 7th Infantry Division was being formed, under the command of the
hero of Narvik, Brigadier General Zygmunt Bohusz-Szyszka. I do not know
how we were allocated a room with a kitchen a certain distance from the
muster point. The enlistment point and army camp were a couple of hours
away from the kolkhoz in which we were staying. After a family conference,
it was decided that my brother Walter, and Joseph and Frank Leszczynski
would try their luck in the cadets. Auntie Paulina Leszczynska escorted
them to Kermine and came home a day or two later. The first contact with
the army did not, however, go at all well. After only a few days, we heard a
banging at the door in the middle of the night; in the doorway stood my eleven-year-old brother Walter, alone. He was soaked to the skin and covered
in mud. My parents burst into tears.
What are you doing here? asked my terrified mother. I didnt like
it, he curtly explained.
It turned out that camp life was too hard for such a small boy. It had
rained constantly for those several days. Water had no trouble finding its
way into the tents and army uniforms. They were all soaking wet. Under
these circumstances, my brother decided with Jozef Leszczynski to return
home. They went to the railway station and found a train home. Someone
knocked Jozef off the train, but my brother stayed on the train. Luckily he
recognized the correct station. Afterwards, in the dark he followed a camel
25

led by one of the inhabitants of the village. This was a little boy, lost in the
middle of the night in a foreign land, thousands of kilometers from his homeland. It is a miracle that he did not get lost. Eventually he recognized the
kolkhoz in which we were living.
For several weeks we could not get transport out of the place. It was
not possible to buy train tickets for such a large group. We wanted to get
to the mustering point in Kermine. My father started looking for an alternative mode of transport and found a truck. Russian soldiers were offering
transport. All they needed were people willing to pay the high price.
In the end a sizeable group was gathered, mainly women and children, because most of the men had already joined the army. We managed
to fill the truck and we were off! After two or three hours, near Kermine,
where the Polish army was forming, the truck stopped. It stood on a hill,
with a fantastic view of the surrounding area. On the horizon, far below,
was a camp filled with khaki tents. It was our destination, but we were
still some distance away. All around was the boundless desert: no trees, no
plants, the baking sun and no water.
Why have you stopped? asked my father, surprised.
If you want to continue, you must pay more!
It was useless to remonstrate with the driver; without money he would
not continue, and that was that. We had some packages, burdens, loose items.
There was no chance of trudging through the desert with all of that. The women began to cry, the children too, and immediately we were all thirsty.
The driver was unmoved. There was no alternative, so we made an
additional collection of money.
Give what you can, my father ordered. Negotiations with the carrier
lasted maybe an hour. Eventually we moved off, and we arrived close to
the camp. There was still about half a kilometer to go, when we handed
over the money extorted from us during the journey. The driver could have
done whatever he wanted with us. There were travellers who paid for a
similar adventure with their lives.
In Kermine, registration took place in one of the camp tents. My mother took my brother and I to the enlistment point.
I am in poor health, my husband is sickly. But I have two sons: one is
10, the other 11 years old. I shall leave them with you, and you do what you
want with them. I do not have the means to keep them.
26

I have to admit, my mother bent the truth somewhat, so that they


would take me. I was not yet 10 years old, and not eligible for the army.
Someone turned a blind eye, however; I was issued a uniform and thus
became a cadet.

27

In the Cadets of Anders Army

The army wanted to help us. We had managed to be part of the last recruitment of cadets. The last transport! There were about one hundred and fifty of
us, and I was the youngest of the group. We went through a training course lasting several weeks, perhaps a month. What did our training look like? We got
up around 6 a.m. for gymnastics then military training. There was a field gun.
They showed us around it, opened the breech ... and even though I was not yet
ten, I quickly realized that it was all a waste of time. My boots were made for
an adult! Even by tying the laces very tight, my feet bounced around inside of
them. After a while, the toes of the boots curled upwards, making them look
they look comical. My army shorts reached my ankles and, of course, I had to
have my shirt sleeves rolled up. My backpack was very heavy two blankets,
a mess kit, underwear, towels; when everything was packed, I could barely
stand up from the ground. In addition, instead of sitting on my back, the pack
rested below my backside.
As orderlies for a certain lieutenant, my brother and I were given duties around the camp. We cleaned his boots, swept the floor and carried
water. For water, we had to stand in a queue at the well. The officer slept in
a separate room, a baked clay hut covered in straw, and we slept outside,
on the sand under blankets. So that the sand did not get into our eyes, we
pulled the blankets over our heads. When there was a sandstorm, we would be buried under so much sand that it was difficult to dig ourselves out
from under it.
My parents were staying two or three kilometers away, in the civilian
camp, which had the same supplies as we did. The civilian camp followed
the army all of the time, and eventually it was evacuated from the USSR
together with the soldiers. Thanks to the proximity of our parents we felt
much safer. They visited us every other day with a kettle of boiled water.
Drinking fresh water could end badly; many soldiers fell ill. Near the hut
where our officer lived there was a road. Beyond that, at a distance of about
28

three hundred meters, were pits dug by the soldiers. Thats where all the
dead were thrown. Undertakers passed back and forth in this small section
between the camp and the pits constantly, almost twenty-four hours a day.
We were plagued by the bloody flux, or dysentery. It was easy to be
poisoned by the water, and this was all taking place in unbearable heat. All
around was the desert. It began with diarrhea, which would become bloody diarrhea. The patient lost a lot of blood and that was the end. We saw
many officers, even colonels and generals, being carried out like common
soldiers to the pits beyond the road.
Only those who were most resilient survived. Everyone became sick,
but he who had care, drank only boiled water and was strong, could survive the disease. Kermine earned a very bad reputation among the soldiers:
they called it The Valley of Death.
We spent four months, more or less, in the army camp. We continued to drill, and every so often we were transferred from one camp to
another. In this way, in accordance with military custom, they kept up
our morale. It was not good to leave soldiers idle for too long. A change of
location was refreshing. An army needs to be given objectives. We would
go on foot, not a kilometer or two, but ten or more, in appalling heat. My
backpack was mercilessly heavy; from time to time an older boy would
help me out, and carry my kit for a while. In this way we changed camps
about three or four times.
From these various camps, my fondest memories are of an oasis near
Kermine, where tents stood in the shade of palm trees. Watermelons grew
just beyond the wall. The walls were of stone or clay bricks, about two or
three meters high. Some of the boys dug under the walls to steal watermelons and grapes from our neighbours, but I decided not to participate. The
oasis was obviously more pleasant than the desert, but even here, the heat
was pitiless.
Near to Kermine, my father would go into the desert at dawn and
gather turtles. I dont know where he got the idea from, as there were no
locals people from whom to adopt the idea. Our camp, which stood close
to a well, had been built by our soldiers. Nonetheless, each morning, when
the turtles emerged from the sand, my father went hunting. Whatever he
gathered, he shared with other families. This went on for several weeks.
The turtle broth was very valuable, since it settled the stomach.
29

These turtles were the size of a small plate, but they had such sharp
claws, that when they scratched through his back pack, my father would
return with a bloody shirt.
In Uzbekistan I received my confirmation. A Polish bishop, Jozef Gawlina, made a special trip to confirm us. All the boys who had not received
the sacrament of confirmation due to the upheaval of war received it now. I
chose the name Stanislaw. I dont know now why my parents were not present at the time. I do remember that we were prepared for the sacrament
by some secular person, probably one of the soldiers. We did not have priests in the camp regularly.
It is interesting that the confirmation took place in a country under
the aegis of Communist Russia. Oddly, we enjoyed considerable political
freedom and liberty of conscience. Uzbekistan was a sort of autonomous
region within a totalitarian state. There was no interference in our everyday matters. At least, I did not notice any influence on the part of the Soviets. For the whole of this period, we were under British administration.
Apart from the confirmation, there were also other ceremonial occasions. From time to time we would have a parade, usually before a high-ranking Polish officer. Sometimes, representatives of the British and Russian armies were in attendance. Soldiers would take part in the parade,
and the company of one hundred and fifty cadets, of which I was a member,
would also participate. I remember that I always marched at the end, as the
last, youngest cadet. At the head of the rank marched some high-ranking
officer and he alone would salute the commander. But when he saluted at
the front, I thought that I ought to salute at the back. Apparently, I thought
that it was fitting to somehow close the procession. My salute provoked
gales of laughter and applause. I remember that to this day.
From Kermine, we moved out to Krasnovodsk in Turkmenistan by
truck. The Polish Evacuation Base was by the Caspian Sea, from where
ships sailed to Persia. At this time we were joined by my parents. We were
loaded onto a ship with many other Poles. It was one of the last transports
carrying Poles from the territory of the USSR to Iran. The Russians created
ever more difficulties in the evacuation of Poles from the Inhuman Land,
as we called the USSR. The ship we were to travel in was significantly overcrowded. Due to lack of space, everyone on deck sat or stood it was impossible to lie down. The voyage took several days. On the ship, despite the

30

large number of passengers, there were, only two lavatories. It was difficult
to push through the crowd to the water supply. After waiting in the queue
for a long time, my father managed to get a bucketful of water, but before
he finally brought it back it was only half full; the rest had been spilled by
the turbulent crowd.
But the worst was that everyone was suffering from dreadful runs;
we had to go over the side. It was a task to drop your trousers and lean
out far enough. When the ship arrived at the port of Pahlevi in Iran (today
called Bandar-e Anzali) it was covered in shit. What was more, along the sides there were smears of blood, because some people were suffering from
the bloody flux.
Everyone was sick. There was not one healthy person on the whole
ship; people were dropping like flies. There were no doctors, no medicine.
The only aid was in the form of British hardtack, which we were issued by
way of military supplies.
During the voyage, I had soiled my pants, because I couldnt hold it.
It all flowed down into my boots. When I stood on dry land, I took off my
boots and tipped out a ton of powder; everything had evaporated, turned
to dust. And my friends asked, Hey, Joe, what have you got in those boots?
When we arrived in Pahlevi, immediately upon disembarking from
the ship, we all went to bathe in the sea. But it was not enough. All of the
clothes and boots that we had been wearing were discarded. Nothing was
washed, everything was burned. A bath-house with hot water was organized for us under a tent, so we were finally able to properly wash and shave
everyone without exception: men, women and children. We shaved so
that not a hair remained on our bodies! We had to get rid of all the fleas and
bacteria. We were issued fresh uniforms and kits including new backpacks and blankets. We began a quarantine that lasted about three weeks.
Over these three weeks in Pahlevi, we were to rid ourselves of dysentery and other diseases. We also prepared our stomachs for a new cuisine;
we lived on the hardtack, because we had been prescribed a diet. We were
given no fruit or vegetables. But since we were given pay, and we wanted to
stave off the hunger somehow, we would go shopping to the bazaar, where
we bought onions and eggs. For us, these were great rarities, which we had
not seen in a long time. They were simple produce that, most importantly,
did no harm. Boiled eggs were rather good for the digestion, and onions,
31

its well known, a source of vitamins. The local market quickly adapted to
the influx of Polish customers. Iranian vendors would advertise their wares, calling in Polish, Cebule, jajka! Cebule, jajka! (Onions, Eggs!). Only
their diction left much to be desired, and we laughed that they were calling,
Co boli? Jajka! (Whats hurting? Eggs! in Polish eggs is slang for testicles.)
Thanks to the improved supplies, better conditions and new rations,
we got rid of dysentery and typhus. In Pahlevi, however, we contracted something else. Almost everyone had problems with their eyes. Each morning, our eyelids would be stuck together, so that we had to part eyelids
with our fingers. By nightfall, you were as blind as a bat. We called it chicken blindness and it was several weeks before we were rid of this affliction; by then, we were already in Tehran.
Back in Pahlevi, we had to part ways with our parents. They were not
in the army, so they had to move to the civilian camp, which was in Ahwaz,
several hundred kilometers to the south of Tehran. My brother and I waited for transport to the military camp at Tehran.
The journey to the Persian capital was filled with wild experiences.
We were transported by truck over steep mountains to face sand, thirst,
heat and those twisting mountain roads. Below us, a steep drop, but the
driver did not take his foot off the gas pedal. On some sections, more than
one of us was resigned to die. We breathed a collective sigh of relief when
at last we stood on level ground.
Eventually, we arrived at our destination. It was a desert, just like
the ones we had seen in Kazakhstan. The only shade was under a tent;
and to protect ourselves from the tropical rainstorms, we dug drains inside the tents around our bedding. Of course, we had with us clothing and
blankets all of the equipment that we carried on our backs during the
memorable marches.

32

From Persia through Pakistan to India

My brother and I supported each other we had to. My brother, older


than I, always watched over me and was always ready to come to my aid. It
was obvious, however, that neither he nor I were suitable for military operations. My parents entrusted the task of getting us out of the army camp
to Auntie Paulina Leszczynska. She came for us after about three weeks
of our stay in Tehran. As agreed with my parents, she took us out of the
unit, bought tickets for us to Ahwaz, and put us on the train. There was no
problem with money: during our service with the cadets, as soldiers we
received a riflemans pay.
Our parents awaited us in Ahwaz. This was a transit camp for civilians
awaiting relocation to another place. The majority of the Poles were heading
for Africa, where camps were being built for them that had a less temporary
character. In Ahwaz, I once again started school. This was a Polish school,
which provided elementary education for refugees from Poland.
I have to admit, things were good for us here. The camp that we lived
in had been built before the Second World War by Germans. It was clean,
comfortable and the sanitary conditions did not provoke any reservations.
The excellent, brick buildings had polished concrete floors and three- or
four-meter high ceilings, under which turned large fans. Rooms like this,
about ten by twenty meters square, were used to house us civilians.
So that the heat would be even marginally bearable, the ceiling fans
worked nonstop. Enormous blocks of ice were placed by the walls around
the rooms. These were rectangular slabs; each weighed several kilos and
was half a meter high. These blocks were so massive that they would melt
throughout the day; they did not even leave a puddle, as the water would
immediately evaporate in the heat. The next day, new blocks would be delivered, and so on throughout our stay. Ice houses constantly froze new
blocks. Oil was used to power the generators. We were given the ice for
free, the same as the food; our provisions were no worse than the armys.
33

In Ahwaz, the heat was so intense that between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.,
we were not allowed to leave the buildings. We were all issued British pith
helmets hard, thick with a large brim. If someone wandered outdoors
without headgear, he was likely to be arrested. This was the order of the
authorities, because being out in the sun risked heatstroke. Temperatures
reached 48 C. We could fry eggs in the heat; we just placed a frying pan in
the sunlight; once the pan was heated, just add eggs, a little salt, stir and,
presto scrambled eggs.
And the taste of the local grapes! They ripened extraordinarily quickly in the sun, and they were as sweet as honey. We also feasted on meatballs; they were similar to our mielone, but they were larger and excellently spiced. Even though we were still in exile, when it came to the food,
clothing or shelter we received, it would have been a sin to complain. The
time of penal servitude, which had lasted from the time we had been evicted from our home, was over.
My father, as always, quickly found his feet in the new place. He befriended the officer responsible for rations, and so was assigned work in
the food warehouse. Since leaving the USSR, our situation with regard
to provisions continuously improved, in no small part due to my fathers
work. Soon after arriving in Ahwaz, however, he was drafted into the army,
and had to leave this occupation. He was sent to serve in Iraq.
The time of parting was very painful for us. We suffered the separation all the more keenly, since we had experienced a certain traumatic
event. The camp housed mostly women and children, since the men were
in the army. We were therefore alone when some men dishonourably discharged from the army came to the camp. There were two or three of
them, powerfully built over two meters tall and broad-shouldered. They
would burst into a room where there were maybe one hundred people and
drag one of the women or girls out by force and then rape her. Even though
we had been warned about them, there was nothing we could do to stop
them. They terrorized us; they were suspected of murder, and I suspect
that they were mentally unstable. Their night-time raids were such a horrific experience, that it was difficult to get any sleep, for fear that they would
come. My heart beats faster to this day just to think about it.
When we heard that they had been caught, we all breathed a sigh
of relief. Even greater joy was provided by my fathers return. He never

34

stayed in the army for long. In Kazakhstan, they hadnt wanted to take him
due to his poor health: he was 42 years old and suffering from bad rheumatism, particularly knee pain. He stayed in the army just long enough to
have a medical exam, at which point the commission deemed him unfit for
service. This happened about two or three times. Having failed the exam,
he quickly returned to Ahwaz.
My father soon got a new job, thanks to a certain Persian he had
befriended. He was employed in the ice house. I still have a photograph,
showing a Polish platoon leader, my father and the Iranian who helped
arrange the position. My fathers skill in developing close relations with
people was extremely useful to him. It came in handy everywhere, from
the USSR to Canada. And it was no different in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where he built stoves for important people in the kolkhoz. Together with Uncle Leszczynski, they dabbled in building walls, even though
they had never previously been bricklayers. The key to survival was to
be resourceful.
One day in our camp a small boy, more or less eight years old, a little
younger than me, fell into the latrine. Someone noticed and he was pulled
out of there he was covered from head to toe in excrement. He was lucky;
he had nearly drowned!
After about eighteen months, we were transferred from Ahwaz to
Malir, a transit camp for Polish refugees near Karachi. Just as before at Tehran, we once again landed outside the town in the desert. There was not a
single tree in sight. Tents stretched as far as the eye could see. One of them
housed the canteen, where you presented yourself at the table with your
mess tin. In addition to food, we were also issued money. Not much, but
enough to buy a banana or some fruit, because we were not provided with
any. Usually they gave us rice with meat or bread or cheese, or some soup
sometimes. Provisions, mainly tinned meat, came from England or the States. Poles baked the bread, and water had to be brought into the camp by
tankers.
It was in Karachi that I first had contact with the Boy Scouts. My
brother and I both enlisted in the troop. However, since we both already
had experience of the army, it seemed a lot less exciting for us. We already
knew how to march and we felt that, thanks to the army, we had already
experienced this particular pastime at a higher level.
35

We stayed in Karachi for three or four months. We still believed that


one day we would return to our homes in Poland. Meanwhile, we waited
in Karachi for transport to a less temporary camp. Nearly everyone was
going to Africa. My father learned, however, that there was a particularly
good camp in India. It was not easy to get into, but we applied anyway. We
were lucky, or maybe my fathers acumen paid off again. Either way, thats
where we were sent.

36

Valivade Kolhapur India

The camp was named Valivade Kolhapur India, and lay about almost four
hundred kilometres east of Bombay. It had its own schools, libraries, and fields
and courts for sport. Young people could study and play basketball, soccer and
tennis. Adults were provided with cash and had to fend for themselves. Most
of the occupants were women and children, since the young men had earlier
enlisted in the army, and the older ones had not survived the murderous trek.
I dont know if in the whole camp, of about five thousand people, there were
more than a hundred men.
All of the buildings were built on stilts, which rose thirty to fifty centimeters above the ground, as protection from the rains of the monsoon period. At those times, the road would become a raging torrent. The current
was so strong that a person could be swept away, so children had to be watched carefully. The barracks were long and comprised of many apartments.
Each apartment was accessed by stairs; the walls were made of bamboo
mats and the roof of baked clay. The ceiling was supported by beams, which
at night played host to the scurrying of rats. We had two rooms and a small
kitchen. In one room there were two wooden bedframes with mattresses.
There was also a table where we ate our meals. In the bedroom, my parents
occupied one bed, and my brother and I the other. We slept in the European
style, under sheets. Over our beds hung mosquito nets made of strong nylon,
which protected us, not so much from malaria-bearing mosquitoes, of which
there were few, but from everything else that stung or bit.
We always had to pay very careful attention to where we placed our
feet as we moved about the camp, and after dark we walked with torches.
Once, as my brother and I were returning from the meat-packing plant late
in the evening, we happened on a cobra curled up on the steps of the house; it was warming itself on a stone that had heated up during the day in
the sun and kept its temperature into the night. Fortunately, we noticed the
shape in the light of the torch and avoided treading on it.
37

We debated for a moment what to do; if we drove the snake away, it


would probably keep coming back. The knowledge that a cobra was lurking somewhere close to the house was certainly disturbing. We carried
strong bamboo staffs, about one and a half meters long and three and half
centimeters in diameter, to ward off dangers. This was very hard wood;
you could strike a concrete post and the staff would not break. My brother
approached from one side, and I came up from the other. We struck with all
our might; the cobra rose up into a threatening stance, extending its hood
and looking quite impressive. There was no retreat, it was us or the snake;
we increased our efforts. Eventually the cobra fell lifeless; it was about six
feet long, almost two meters.
Night-time also brought scorpions emerging from the ground, rats
digging holes in the foundations, and the ubiquitous geckos running wild
in the camp. They were not dangerous, but quite repulsive. The mosquito
nets separated us from the whole of this untamed world. At night they gave
us the impression that we were secluded in a private secure space, beyond
the reach of the omnipresent fauna creeping into our abode. Whenever
even the smallest tear appeared in the netting, we immediately repaired it
very thoroughly.
Throughout our stay in the camp, each of us my mother, father, brother and I drank a shot of vodka every morning. It was one of my mothers
rules, which she upheld with iron determination. Apparently, the booze
kept us healthy and protected us from malaria. We did not make the vodka
ourselves, but we bought it from somewhere. Everybody knew, however,
that it was homemade moonshine. I think I caught malaria once, but only
briefly. My parents did not get sick nor, I believe, did my brother. Others
did often people talked of malaria running in the family. In spite of this,
in contrast to many of our earlier stops during our journey, in Valivade, the
gravediggers did not have much work.
The floors of the houses were of clay, covered by a layer of cow dung.
To create such a floor covering, first the dung had to be dried, and then
dissolved in water. This created a kind of paste, and this was smeared over
the whole floor area. Once it dried, it looked wonderful. A floor prepared
in this way lasted about a week, and then began to crack. When this happened, it was ripped up and a new layer applied. This was always done
by a native woman. The dung on the floor had a characteristic aroma, but

38

interestingly, we eventually got so used to it, that afterwards we actually


missed it. Some Hindus so liked the dung, they spread the paste on their
hair. The camp was laid out in the shape of a wheel. Its geometric centre
housed the administration centre and the school. Here the sports halls and
common room were located. The outer ring around this base consisted of
barracks. They were divided into five sections, each containing a large water reservoir for the use of the residents. Water was delivered in tankers.
The reservoir was not covered, so water evaporated in the heat and, when
there was a gale, it would become filled with debris. The water always had
to be boiled on primus stoves before consumption. We washed in bowls,
and clothes were laundered in the river, which was relatively close. Hindu
women were paid to do the laundry.
It was also possible to bathe in the river, but the boys preferred the
local communal reservoirs belonging to the Hindus. These were tanks similar to the ones we had in the camp; they were several meters in width
and length, and maybe several meters deep. The boys loved to dive into
them. This provoked numerous complaints from the locals, some of whom
owned villas neighbouring the camp.
Our administration was often shamed by the acts of vandals who desecrated Hindu temples. These pranks decidedly went too far. No one was
ever caught in the act, but it caused friction in relations with the natives.
Otherwise, relations were generally not too bad; there were even marriages between Polish women and Indian men. Yet, in my opinion these relationships were not totally successful. Cultural barriers proved to be a serious obstacle. Most significantly, the women lost some of their rights. You
could say that their wifely roles resembled servitude to their husbands,
rather than that of life partners.
At the beginning of our stay in Valivade, my father was placed in the
role of police commandant; this did not please my mother very much.
You are 43 years old, she told him. You are wasting your time in the
police. Why dont you try something that will bring in more money? You
know about packing meat. Why dont you get involved in production?
There was a lot of demand for meat in the camp. In truth, there were
three meat-packing plants in operation, but they were run inefficiently. The
owners were older people, without little motivation to work. They readily
sold their businesses, a fact my father was pleased to take advantage of.
39

Meat supply was provided by Hindu hunters, who went out every morning,
to the jungle or to the steppe, where they killed wild pigs. The hide was a
different colour from the game we knew, but the processed meat was the
same quality as we had in Poland. We made sausages, ham and brawn. We
were not able to keep any stock, as there were no refrigerators; we had to
sell everything the same day, or it went into the trash!
We processed pork, poultry and lamb never beef, as Hinduism forbids the killing of cows. Our clients were mostly Poles, and sometimes the
English came, mainly for ham and sausages. The conditions for business
were ideal; for the last two and a half years of our time at the camp, there
was no competition at all because my father had bought out all of the
meat packers operating in the camp. For the last year, my brother and I also
worked in the family business, sometimes for many hours, into the evening
or well into the night.
Such hard work earned our family respect throughout the camp. Of
course, whoever wanted to could just sit on their hands; everyone in Valivade was given money anyway. You could also work in the school, the police or in administration for a small wage. But we preferred to roll up our
sleeves and do something profitable. This allowed us to put aside savings.
We hired one Hindu worker; and we were a little surprised when he hired
another, and the second one hired yet another. We paid one man, and three
did the work.
The bazaar was located at the edge of the first region. This was the
primary supply base for the camp inhabitants; everybody bought there. As
I have said, every month, everyone was given money for upkeep. You had
to arrange for food, clothing and everything that you needed. Hindus ran
most of the trade.
My mother also quickly discovered a means to make a profit in local
trade. She began to sell luxury products. She imported rugs, clothes and
vodka from Bombay. Her stock included clothing sent to India by Polish-Americans; she bought it from the Indians! India was riddled with corruption; Polish officials received transports with aid for refugees, but instead
of distributing it to us, they sold it to the Indians. My mother then bought
these goods from them, and in turn sold it to Poles.
Education in the camp was of a high standard; geography, Polish history, world history good Polish textbooks were imported for all these
40

subjects. We were taught by professional teachers; the headmistress of


the school was a PhD. I commenced my education in India from the third
grade, and my brother and I caught up on the fourth during vacation. We
passed our exams thanks to private lessons, and so graduated to the next
grade. By the end of our stay in India, we had completed all four grades of
junior high school equivalent to the Canadian eighth grade.
This was also the time when boys my age began to show interest in
girls. Just before our departure, I was invited to a house party, where boys
and girls from the camp partied together; there were no parents. I really
liked the fact that we could be so independent.
It was a time of growing up a hurricane of hormones. Some of the
boys aged fifteen or sixteen even started to frequent brothels. Some of my
friends brought home some embarrassing diseases.
The camp also housed a movie theatre. I remember that we watched
a world championship boxing match there; the champion at the time was
Joe Louis, the famous African-American boxer from the USA. They also showed American westerns, and a fairy tale about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. All of the screenings were in English; we mainly soaked up the images,
because we did not understand much of the dialogue.
We played soccer almost every day in the camp in India. The exception was the monsoon season, when it rained in torrents. The field was
very uneven, with a sandy, stony surface; blood flowed at every fall, and we
always had torn toenails and grazed knees. Much less injurious, but no less
popular, were ping-pong and jumping over a vaulting horse. We also had
athletics competitions. We spent our days either in school or on the playing
field or in church.
School lasted more or less until noon, followed by soccer or other
sports. In the evenings we went to vespers; it was a sacred duty to go
to church every day. Mother made sure we fulfilled our obligation and,
as was her way, she could impose her iron discipline. The main church
was in the fifth district, and I think that we had two priests in the camp.
When it came to religious sentiment, my father did not display any great
fervour. I think he was neither hot nor cold, but rather indifferent. Zeal
was simply not in his nature.
We spent five years (19431948) in Valivade. Generally speaking, life
was good in India. Sometimes someone would suffer from malaria, but it
41

wasnt a huge problem. No one complained about a lack of bread or lack


of activity in the camp. We had fruit, vegetables, meat and milk everything in abundance. There were organized scout camps and even tourist
excursions; we could visit, for example, Ceylon. Truth be told, neither
I nor my brother were particularly interested in tourism. Maybe after
years of wandering, wed had enough of seeing the world. Throughout
our stay in Valivade, the farthest we went was to Kolhapur, about ten kilometers from the camp.
It was in early 1948 that we learned that we would have to leave Valivade. The camp was to be closed. No one wanted to return to Poland. In
any case, our lands had been annexed by the Russians. None of us wanted
to live in the Soviet Union. We were well aware of the political situation
at home; who was in charge and what it was like. We had heard of the
agreements between the powers in Potsdam, about the meetings between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. It was clear that the Soviets intended
to stay in Poland; who wanted to return to communism? We had no desire to move ourselves back into that hell. There were, however, some who
returned to the homeland. This group included mostly people who were
very lonely, with nothing to look forward to, or people who had been torn
from their families and who missed their relatives back home. But among
those who had connections in the West, I heard of no one who was anxious to return to Poland.
Western periodicals, which came from Australia, the USA or Canada, helped us dream of a better future in the West. They were delivered
regularly to the camp libraries. I saw pictures of beautiful asphalt roads
flanked by rows of trees, with a white line down the middle of the road,
with modern cars driving this way and that. This was my early concept of
life in developed countries. Perhaps we could get to one of these wonderful
countries? Maybe we could have one of those cars, and drive on those wide
asphalt roads?
Except that I never dreamed of a house. I had spent the last eight
years wandering among tents and barracks. Clearly, the concept of a place
of my own was completely alien to me.
Some families from Valivade applied for transport to Australia, and
we also submitted an application, but we were unable to meet certain
criteria. They accepted families with older children, who were ready to
42

enter the labour market. My brother and I were too young. My father was
most keen on going to the USA, but this was not possible since the quota
for Poles was filled.
One way to avoid returning to Poland was evacuation to Frankfurt,
Germany; after the war, emigrants from Poland were allowed to settle there. This option did not fill our family with enthusiasm, since Germany was
the country of our erstwhile oppressors the scars were too fresh and
too painful. The prospect of going to Germany, therefore, we regarded as
a temporary solution at best. We intended to explore the possibility of going from Frankfurt to some other European destination or even a different continent. There was no certainty that our plans would succeed. Once
more we were at a turning point in our lives.
Ever since the war had ended that is, for two or three years my
father had been corresponding with Uncle Leszczynski, who was in London with his whole family. Their road to the British Isles was undoubtedly interesting. Since we last saw each other in Persia, the war had managed to scatter their whole family around the world. Peace had enabled
them to join together in one country. Mike Leszczynski, as a soldier of
the Polish army, went first to Italy. Paulina followed the army into Egypt.
Karol, their son, also a soldier, was posted to England. The younger children, Frank and Joseph, who were too young for military service, initially
stayed with us in Tehran in the cadet unit. When my brother and I left
the army, they went to Baghdad and Palestine. After the war was over in
1945, Frank and Joseph travelled by ship to England, where they were
reunited with the rest of their family.
The Leszczynskis did not plan to stay in Great Britain for long. Two
or three years after the end of the war, they wanted to emigrate to America. These plans were the subject of the correspondence Uncle Leszczynski
conducted with my father. He wrote about his distant cousin, Jozef Jakimowicz, who had emigrated to Canada before the war. For Mike Leszczynski,
Jakimowicz was a third or fourth cousin. He was a distant relation, but he
could now play a substantial role. The Leszczynskis hoped that Jakimowicz
could invite them to come stay with him, which would enable them to emigrate to Canada. Unfortunately, they had lost contact with Jakimowicz. All
that was known was that he had left Poland in 1937 or 1938. Where was
he now? No one knew.
43

My father also remembered Jakimowicz; they came from the same


village, Bereznica Szlachecka. The chances of making contact with him
were small, however. Anyway, we had never been very close in the first
place, so it was doubtful we could count on an invitation from him. My father remembered him only dimly. Simply knowing that Jakimowicz was in
Canada, did not give us cause to make plans to go to that country.
When we left Valivade, we had with us about twelve thousand Indian
rupees. This amounted to more or less one thousand British pounds or
three thousand American dollars. This money was largely profits from the
meat-packing business, but some was from the trade that my mother had
conducted. Once my father concluded that another journey lay ahead of
us, he began to set aside funds to ensure we would be well provided for on
the road. Somehow, he managed to scrounge some huge metal containers.
They had a base about thirty centimeters square, and were about sixty centimeters high. My father packed them with dry Krakowska sausage, covered everything with lard, and sealed the containers. I think we had six such
containers. Thus equipped, we moved off into the unknown.

44

Voyage across the Ocean

There was a railway station close to Valivade. During the demolition of the
camp, we were transported there and then by rail to the port in Bombay. We
boarded the ship General Stewart, an American military transport. Mighty
guns adorned the deck, but the barrels had been sealed; with the war over,
the ship performed only transportation duties.
Mombasa (in Kenya) was our interim port of call, where a layover of several days was planned, during which time the ship was repainted and reloaded.
From there it sailed on to Europe. Most of the passengers left the ship in Kenya,
and dispersed to various parts of Africa to camps that had not yet been closed.
People chose Africa as a temporary solution to gain a little time, hoping to secure authorization to emigrate to England, the United States or to Australia.
My father had befriended the ships captain, a man with Polish roots.
He spoke very little Polish, but it was enough to communicate. We learned
that Genoa was not the final destination of the ship, but that it would sail
on to Halifax, Canada and thence to New York.
My father held on to his dream: Maybe there is some way to get to
America? Who could help us in this? He tried to find a solution.
Under the circumstances, the only person whom we could turn to
with our dilemna was the captain of the ship. So, after a few days at sea, my
father took 300 US dollars, one tenth of his entire fortune, put it in an ivory
box and handed it to the captain.
I want to go to Canada or the US with my family and settle there. If
there is anything you can do to help, I would be enormously grateful.
The captain stood in silence, clearly struggling with his thoughts.
During the several days of the voyage he had come to like my father,
who had a gift for bonding with people. This issue was, however, exceptionally difficult. The strict immigration regulations prevented millions
of hopeful people, Europeans and others, from achieving their dream of
entering America. What chance did we have?
45

The captain saw the desperation in our eyes. After thinking for a while, he asked, Is there anyone in Canada or the United States who could
issue you an invitation?
Thats the biggest problem, my father said despondently. We dont
know anyone who could vouch for us in Canada. In fact, there is one man
that probably lives there, named Jozef Jakimowicz, but we have not had any
contact with him since he left Poland.
The captain thought for a minute, and then he said: Please tell me
everything you can about him, anything that could help in any way. There
may be a chance to find him.
Strangely enough, the meagre information that my father had, the
mans name and the date that he emigrated, enabled the captain to take
very decided and dynamic actions. He radioed the Red Cross in Geneva,
and convinced someone in Switzerland to patiently go through telephone
directories. Then, he called the immigration office in Ottawa. There, another person had to carefully go through the archives. As a result of these
efforts, by some miracle, they found a farmer living in a place called Tomahawk, 100 kilometers from Edmonton, Alberta, who went by the name
Jozef Jakimowicz. He had no telephone, but he could be contacted by mail.
The efforts undertaken by the captain of the General Stewart, and
their results, went beyond our expectations. Without a doubt, we were
very lucky that we encountered such goodwill from complete strangers.
Not only are we indebted to the employees of the Swiss Red Cross, there
are also the Canadian civil servants who helped us arrange the appropriate
paperwork. And finally Jozef Jakimowicz himself, without whom our immigration would not have been possible. All gave a helping hand. By the time
we docked at Genoa, (that is, in the course of several days) the formalities
had been arranged. Jakimowicz had arrived in Edmonton, signed the invitation and guaranteed our stay. To the great joy of the whole family, we
were able to sail to Canada.
The whole journey from India lasted forty days. At this time, on the
Mombasa-to-Genoa leg, a girl caught my eye, by the name of Halina; she
was fifteen, and I was half a year older. I remember her cheerful blue eyes,
pretty smile, light blonde hair and silky skin, lightly tanned by the tropical
sun. We met several times on the ship, always in the company of others our
own age. We would sit on the deck and gaze at the endless waves of the

46

Indian Ocean. Even though it was only a few moments, my meetings with
Halina left a lasting impression on me.
Despite the thousands of women in the camp, my brother and I had
essentially grown up without much contact with girls; we were surrounded by many friends, but the company of girls was alien to us. Therefore,
this cruise became for me the place of my first youthful infatuation
When we sailed from Genoa, our family had a separate cabin to ourselves. This was a tiny space, with four metal berths, all painted white, like
in a hospital. The sea was rough, and the ship swayed constantly. Whenever I rose from my bed, I felt seasick. I endured the entire voyage lying
lifeless in my bed. We were not even drawn to the galley, since whatever we
ate we immediately gave back - especially during storms.
When we arrived in Halifax, we aroused some curiosity Poles, having lived thus far in India, crossing thousands of miles to live in Alberta! It
was something singular. Our story was even told on the national radio station, CBC. We learned of the broadcast, more or less six months later, from
Poles in Edmonton. Customs officials in Halifax probably told our story to a
journalist, who decided that it was worth presenting to the listeners.
In Halifax, we had the first opportunity to test our English. My brother and I had had some lessons in India. During our last year in Valivade,
my parents had arranged for us to have tuition from an elderly lady, a seventy-year-old Englishwoman, who taught the language. We had two or
three hours of lessons per week. It wasnt much, but it was enough to learn
the basics, which would enable us to buy something in a shop or to ask the
way in a foreign country. When we went through customs and passport
control, we noticed that many Poles from Europe had difficulty communicating with the Canadian officials. My brother and I were thrilled to be able
to provide some assistance.
Once again, my parents foresight proved useful, since they had spared no expense to foster our education. This allowed us to overcome the
vagaries of fortune. Thanks to my parents resourcefulness and their determination to survive, even the murderous trek thrust at (and endured
by) hundreds of thousands of Polish displaced persons, did not break our
spirit. As a family, we emerged from this trial victorious.
47

Early Days in Canada

Once we cleared the passport and customs control in Halifax, we were


able to continue our journey to Alberta, the province where our sponsor, Jozef Jakimowicz, lived. My brother and I didnt even know Jakimowicz! We
embarked upon a long, five-day journey by train. We were not really sure
where Edmonton was, and we had absolutely no idea how to then find the
village, our final destination. In addition, my parents were concerned for my
health. I was suffering so badly from rheumatism, that I couldnt bend my
knees. I contracted the condition on the ship crossing the Indian Ocean; it
was winter and the beginning of spring, and we slept on a metal deck. During
the day it was quite warm, but the nights were sometimes very cold. Now, I
was in so much pain that I could hardly walk.
A fellow passenger provided some assistance. He was a Polish immigrant who was travelling from Africa to Canada. As luck would have it, we
were on the same ship, and then we were on the same train, as he was also
heading for Edmonton, where his brother lived.
Maybe the brother will help us get to the hospital, my father thought.
And so it was. When we arrived at the railway station early in the
morning, I first went to the brothers house, and the next day was transported to the hospital in Edmonton, where I stayed for two weeks of treatment. The treatment was successful, but for the next three years I wore
elastic bandages on my knees and had to apply heating ointments.
While I was in hospital, my parents took Wladek and rushed to the meeting arranged with Jakimowicz. They were to meet in Gainford, a village 100
km to the north of Edmonton. When they arrived at the station, there was a problem, since there was no one there to meet them. They waited with their luggage for some time. Eventually, my father started to look around the local area.
He went to the shops, he questioned passing people. There were
many immigrants there, and it was not difficult to find someone who spoke
Polish or Ukrainian.
48

We have come from India. An entire Polish family; we dont know


anyone. We are looking for Jozef Jakimowicz; he should be living somewhere nearby.
Finally, to my fathers relief, someone offered to help.
I know where Jakimowicz lives. It is 16 miles from here. Im going
that way; I can take you there.
Jakimowicz was surprised by our arrival. As it turned out, no one had
told him of the date we were due to arrive. My father had actually sent him
a telegram from Halifax, but it arrived a few days after we had, very delayed.
After two weeks, my father collected me from the hospital. It was not
simple. In the course of a single day, he had to travel to Edmonton from
Jakimowiczs farm and then return there with me. It was after dark when
we arrived in Gainford by bus, from where it was a further 25 kilometres to
Tomahawk. I was wearing my Sunday suit, my best clothing. I turned up my
trouser legs, so that they would not be soiled during the march. The spring
thaw had changed the road into a quagmire. My feet sank into the mud up
to my ankles; I had to take care not to lose my patent leather shoes.
Is it far? I asked after half an hours marching.
Not so far, we are getting closer, said my father, trying to comfort me.
After an hour, we repeated this exchange, then again after another
hour, and then... I was probably asking every fifteen minutes. We walked, as
far as I remember, for four hours. We arrived in Tomahawk in the middle of
the night and I was exhausted.
The Jakimowicz family lived very humbly. Their four sons worked in
the forest, in the sawmills felling trees. They did not go to school and were
a little older than us. Jakimowicz took care of the farm, aided by his wife.
The family lived in an old shack that could not have been more than about
fifteen square meters in size. There wasnt even space for six persons. I suspect that in the summer, the boys slept in the barn or in the stables. There
were two beds inside, and that was enough to fill the space, with no room
to get past. You had to tread on the bedding. In the centre stood an iron stove with a metal pipe leading to the chimney which, when heated, acted as
a radiator. Wood burned in the stove continuously throughout the winter
and summer. There was no lavatory; you simply went outside.
Tomahawk itself was a very small town with one shop and a post office. The distance between farms was on average three miles. Throughout
49

the spring, the dirt roads became rivers of mud, and we had to wear rubber
boots the entire time. We really felt we had reached the end of the world.
These conditions completely failed to match the expectations of my
parents. On one hand, they were grateful to Jakimowicz for enabling them
to enter Canada; on the other hand, they did not imagine that they could
live on such a farm. This was not an environment where it was possible for
someone to spread their wings and where children could get the education
that was necessary in life. This was not the future that we had envisaged
when we dreamed of emigrating to Canada. We had seen something completely different, leafing through the periodicals in the library at Valivade. In a moment of frustration, my father said he would rather return to
the Soviet Union than continue living in Tomahawk. After a week, maybe
two, my parents decided to leave the farm and move to Edmonton, where
they wanted to look for a better opportunity to begin their life in Canada. My brother and I remained in Tomahawk until the end of the school
year, which was about two months. From the middle of April to the end of
June 1948 we attended a Canadian school. This was a rural school, with
only one classroom for all the children of various ages from first to ninth
grade and one teacher, who worked miracles to control this menagerie.
Walter and I were the only immigrants. We spoke English poorly, so poorly
in fact that we could not be given any homework, as we simply could not
understand the tasks assigned. Making things worse, we were older than
everybody else, and studied in the same class with 6-year-olds. They looked upon us as weirdos who spoke a different language. We were not
able to learn anything there, so after the end of the school year we moved to Edmonton. My parents had found a two-room apartment in the city
owned by a Canadian with a Polish surname. My father went from door to
door asking if there were any odd jobs to be done. It was early spring, the
gardening season, so he found work digging gardens. After a month or two,
he got a better job at Edmonton Spring Works on Jasper Avenue. It was a
small factory producing automobile suspension springs. My father worked
there for a few years as a blacksmith. Later, he found a job at C. W. Carry,
where he stayed until his retirement in 1960. My mother got a job at Puritan Caf, a restaurant owned by a Polish-Canadian. It was a popular place
among Polish expatriates. My mother washed dishes for a year or two and
then concentrated on running the household.
50

When my brother and I arrived in Edmonton from Tomahawk, we


started to look around for something to do. We didnt know anyone who
might help us, but my parents decided to arrange some work through the
parish. However, in this country, still so foreign to us, even finding a Polish
church proved difficult. People did not have telephones and they worked
away from home during the day; you had to go round several times to meet
someone. It was only after a couple of weeks that my mother found out
where the Polish church was, from the restaurant owner. It was less than a
kilometer from our house! We walked there. I was always unassuming, like
my father, but my mother was able to stand up for herself in such moments,
and she went to talk to the parish priest, Father Kaluzny. She introduced
herself and us and said that her sons were looking for work.
Can they do anything? asked the priest. Of course they can, they
are capable boys!
They can come to the presbytery; they can clean the cellar, ordered
the pastor. The next day we went to work for the parish priest. We cleaned
and tidied all week; we didnt get anything to eat or drink. The whole time
we expected that perhaps in the end we would get paid. Once he took us
out for an afternoon, for about two hours, to drive around the city in his
car; he had a nice car. He knocked on two doors:
Do you have any work for two boys? No? Okay. Too bad.
And that was that. We were very surprised. Once again, we were looking for employment.
No more than a mile from where we lived, there was a building with a
Coca-Cola sign. We decided to ask if they had any work there. To our great joy,
they hired us as bottle washers. Bottles came in crates of 24. Two people working side by side unpacked the crate. The task involved stacking the bottles
onto a feeder. From the feeder, they went by conveyor belt to a great kettle,
where they were washed. We took six bottles from the crate at a time, three in
each hand. After a couple of weeks, we performed this work twice as fast. We
got so efficient that only one of us was needed at the crate to unload. He was
able to do alone exactly what had previously required two workers.
When our boss came to the plant at nine oclock in the morning, he
would stop for a while to observe us at work. He was impressed by our
pace and developed a good opinion of us. We worked there the whole summer, and in August, we went to school.
51

We enrolled in the ninth grade at Sacred Heart school in Edmonton,


a junior high school run by Catholic nuns. The only male member of the
teaching staff was the vice-principal, Mr. Dunigan, an Irish-Canadian; the
rest of the positions were filled by nuns. Every lesson began and ended
with a prayer. In the entire school there were only three foreigners: Joseph
Leszczynski, my brother Walter and myself.
The Leszczynskis arrived in Canada shortly after we did, also on Jakimowiczs invitation. We arrived in April, and they came in June or July.
They initially went to Seba Beach, where Jakimowicz had his new farm,
which he bought assuming that he would sell the homestead at Tomahawk
to my father. The Leszczynskis likewise did not stay with him long. After a
couple of weeks, they joined us in Edmonton where we were their hosts.
So now, together with Joseph Leszczynski, Walter and I sat in lessons
and watched as our contemporaries struggled with their education. We
ourselves did not undertake to attempt the material; we still spoke English
poorly. As was the case in Tomahawk, we alone in the school had the status
of free listener.
Children of Polish parentage actually went to this school, but from
families that had settled in Canada long before, and they wanted nothing
to do with us. They were ashamed to speak Polish. They surely knew the
language; I am certain that they had to speak Polish at home, to talk to their
grandfather or grandmother.
We learned once, for example, that one very pretty young lady at the
school had Polish roots. We approached her to say a few words.
Oh, Im sorry, I dont speak Polish, she responded in English. The
wind immediately went from our sails and flirting lost its appeal. These
beginnings in a new country, when it came to developing acquaintances,
were not easy for us.
Unbeknownst to us, a couple of months before the end of ninth grade,
the nuns made a bold decision; they would quickly prepare us three immigrants for the state exam that determined whether a student would graduate to the next grade, and consequently, from junior high to high school.
The challenge, applicable only to Joseph Leszczynski, Walter and myself,
seemed insurmountable, but the nuns were undaunted.
Sister Teresa, the head of the convent and vice-principal, displayed
particular determination in the heroic endeavour to push us through the

52

exams. For eight weeks, she daily spent an hour or more with us after school and systematically proceeded through the entire ninth grade curriculum. She made us answer the questions, provided materials from previous
years and filled us with the faith that we were capable of passing the exam.
In other words, she bent over backwards to help us.
The day for announcing the exam results arrived; I got a B and graduated. I was accepted to the high school on a three-year program together
with those who had achieved an A. All those whose exams were assessed as
a C could also go to high school, but on a four- year program.
My brother Wladek got a D. It was not enough to graduate. To continue, he would have to repeat ninth grade; he was almost seventeen, and
a year older than me. He did not want to repeat. The decision was made;
Walter went to work. Thus he joined Frank Leszczynski, who was 19 and
had been working from the beginning of his time in Canada.
For a few years they both worked as plumbers mates. Then they went
to plumbing school, where each year they had to devote a couple of months
to study. They studied during breaks in their periods of employment, over
the course of two or three years. In this way, they received plumbing qualifications and became tradesmen. Karol Leszczynski was the oldest and he
also went to work straight away; he became a male nurse. Jozef Leszczynski graduated to high school and continued his schooling with me.
No one disputed for a second the wisdom of studying further. My parents understood the value of education from the start. I dreamed of becoming an engineer. I want to stress how much I owe to the nuns at Sacred
Heart school; were it not for their dedication, I would not have had the
opportunity to continue learning.
I admit that I was a good student; certainly more disciplined than my
brother. Maybe I had a greater passion for education. While I spent time
poring over books, Walter was more interested in sports and socializing.
He always had his harmonica with him, which he taught himself to play and
with which he was always able to impress his contemporaries. I was the
opposite: I was less sociable, somewhat shy. I guess that books were often
a substitute for the company of friends.
Shyness is, after all, my problem. It is extraordinarily hard to deal
with. Up to twelfth grade, so more or less up to the age of twenty, I did not
have any girl friends. My whole world was school and work; there was no
53

time for leisure. My father also worked continuously. Mother too; for the
first two or three years until she retired she worked really hard. Thanks
to the combined efforts of my parents, together with the Leszczynskis, in
1949 they were able to buy a house.

54

The Meaning of Work

During the summer of 1949, I did not go to work in the Coca-Cola plant as
I had in the past. Together, the three of us, my brother, Jozef Leszczynski
and I, went looking for better wages at an oil company in Red Water, near
Edmonton. We would get up at five-thirty in the morning, get onto the
trucks at six, and at seven in the evening, after thirteen hours, we would
return home.
We worked with shovels outdoors; it was hard. After only a few days,
we had had enough, but we stuck it out throughout the vacation. It was not
work for us; it was too hard. The next vacation, I returned to Coca-Cola. Initially, I only intended to stay on for a couple of months, but when summer
was over, I didnt quit my job. I continued to work in the afternoons. School
finished at half past three, and I got on my bicycle and rode to Coca-Cola
for an eight-hour shift. There I finished at midnight. I kept this schedule for
two years, day after day, except for Saturdays and Sundays.
At Coca-Cola, I managed to get promoted; I started as a bottle washer,
and later I was a salesman. I made deliveries all over the city. I left the job
only once I had graduated to university.
It was hard work, but thanks to the job I did not need the help of
my parents. When we arrived in Canada, my mother washed dishes in a
restaurant; my father dug peoples gardens. I thought to myself, how can
I allow my mother to wash dishes, while I go to school? Thats why I went
to work. I was able to pay for my schooling and my other expenses myself.
I did not have to spend a lot on food. We still had not exhausted the provisions we had brought from India those six metal containers with dried
sausage, drowned in lard by my father. For the whole first year, we used
these reserves. We bought flour, to bake bread, and we did not really have
to do much other shopping.
I remember meeting people in Red Water. There were many young
people, and they could easily tell by our accents that we were foreign. We
55

aroused their interest. They asked us what we thought about Russia and
communists. These questions often perplexed us.
What would you do if you met a communist? the boys would ask. I
dont know what answer they expected. Nothing clever came to mind. This
was after all a free country! We didnt like communism, but what were we
supposed to do about it?
Sometimes we were treated very badly. We would hear insults directed at us.
Why do you speak English so poorly? I was often asked. When we
talked in our own language on the bus, or exchanged two words in Polish
in company, immediately we would hear: Speak English!
There were still few immigrants, and we felt pressure to assimilate
to our surroundings. That was the atmosphere at the time. A Canadian prime minister even said that, yes of course, Canada is for everyone, but only
under certain conditions. We have one Canadian flag and one language. If
someone doesnt like it, let them go back to where they came from.

56

High School

I commenced my studies at the all-boys St. Josephs High School in August,


1949. It was the only Catholic boys high school in Edmonton at the time. The
school was run by priests, but there were lay members on the teaching staff as
well. Girls attended St. Marys High School, a few kilometers away.
I started tenth grade, and was a good student. I had nothing to fear;
I was ambitious, as only good grades guaranteed admission to university,
and that was my goal. It was only in the twelfth grade, near the end of high
school, that I came to understood that school could be stressful. Now I really wanted to pass the exams that would open the door to higher education.
But going to school and working for Coca-Cola from four in the afternoon
until midnight was exhausting.
On weekends, we went out with our friends, but these were exclusively meetings in the company of Poles from the Polish Hall. The Polish
Hall was a place where adults could drink beer and talk to their friends,
and young people went to dance. It particularly served as a meeting place
for new immigrants who had not yet managed to put down roots in the
new country, and for the older generation who were not able to or had not
wanted to integrate. The next generation, those born in Canada, frequently
assimilated completely and no longer felt the need to visit the Polish Hall.
In practice, due to my tight schedule, the only chance to maintain
contact with my friends at school was during my hour-long lunch break.
But this was the time when I usually did my homework. Throughout most
of my time in high school that was my routine: during the lunch break, I
prepared for the next days lessons. The system worked, and I was happy
that I did not have to dedicate more time to studying.
For lunch, I ate sandwiches that I brought from home, most often with
mortadella it was the cheapest cold meat or with sliced banana, all washed
down with Coca-Cola since, as company employees, we could drink unlimited
amounts; often we drank fifteen bottles or more per day per person.
57

Bearing in mind my packed schedule, it is understandable that I accumulated few memories of fun times with my school friends I remember
one Sunday, when Steve Bruskiewicz and I were walking in the vicinity of
Dawson Bridge. We met Ed, a guy of Polish extraction, a football player, almost two meters tall. He was walking arm in arm with a very pretty, equally tall girl who was not Polish. I dont know if he wanted to impress us with
his rudeness or if it was just his sense of humour, but when asked about his
attractive partner he replied in Polish, so that she wouldnt understand: I
bang her from time to time. It was an impertinent joke, even lewd in light
of the times, and our age, but I think we were amuzed because we were
momentarily stunned, and then burst out laughing. We would often recall
the scenario at various future occasions. I kept in touch with this cheerful
soul after I had completed my studies. He trained as an electrician, and
remained as entertaining and sociable as he had been in high school. Was
he actually banging the beauty, or was that only his crude retort, no one
knows. In any event, we would meet him and his beautiful wife first encountered by Dawson Bridge many times over the next thirty years, during
vacations in Hawaii. Spending time with him was always a source of great
pleasure for us.
In tenth grade, we were taught religion by a French-Canadian teacher
named Pickard. He inspired us with his brilliant intelligence and mature
world view. We liked to provoke him intellectually, as far as our age and capacity allowed us. My friend Benny Stein asked him a theoretical question:
Please sir, would it be a sin if a boy slept with a girl in one bed and
never even touched her?
If you can manage that, son, then you are a better man than I, replied the teacher, without a seconds hesitation.
I met Benny Stein in tenth grade, in 1949. Of a similar height and build
to me, he had brown hair combed with a part and was a good athlete he
played football, and was popular, well liked and very well behaved. He showed me a lot of kindness during my tough beginnings in Canada. He was
one of those individuals, rare at that time, who was interested in my wartime experiences. He saw me as a person someone with a unique history
who, despite his tender years, had already experienced so much. After all,
this teenaged boy from Poland had travelled a big part of the world, several
continents, before ending up in Canada. For him, I was more than just ano-

58

ther immigrant, one of a flood that was drowning North America. I greatly
appreciated the interest.
As I have already mentioned, I could spend time with my friends essentially only on Saturdays, Sundays and during lunch breaks. On summer
weekends, we would drive out to the lake in a large group to swim. At the
time, I kept ties mainly with the Polish community centered around the
Polish Hall and the Polish church. There were boys and girls of our own
age. We circulated constantly, therefore, in a Polish language community.
To an extent this was restrictive but more convenient for us, at least for
me. I suspect that most of my friends thought likewise. In those days, we
immigrants were not always looked on kindly. If someone spoke English
with a noticeable accent, he was not readily accepted. We were comfortable only amongst our own language group. Here no one demonstrated any
prejudice towards anyone else. I belonged to the Polish Canadian Association and the Polish Veterans Association. Furthermore, frequently and
with passion, I danced the krakowiak at the Polish Hall.
Throughout high school, I travelled to school by bicycle. Once lessons were finished, I rode my bike to work. It was not hard to notice
that some students did not work, but drove cars to school. One of these
was Steve Bruskiewicz. In Poland, the family had been named Brzuszkiewicz. Sz and rz must have posed a formidable challenge for Canadians, both in pronunciation and spelling, and so the name had been
simplified. Steve Bruskiewicz was a single child. His father, a businessman, owned a coal mine. In those days they were still very primitive
mines, but business was good. In eleventh grade, Bruskiewicz drove to
school in his own car, a gift from his father on his sixteenth birthday. It
was, to the envy of all, a dark-green four-seater Buick coupe, one of the
most beautiful cars of the time.
Walter and I had drivers licences; we had taken a driving test in India. One day, a vacancy opened up at Coca-Cola for a driver and salesman,
delivering and selling product to shops.
Do you know how to drive? my supervisor asked me. Of course, I
responded immediately.
I wasnt, however, suicidal; before I was ordered to sit behind the
wheel, I quietly went to the Alberta Motor Association, and asked if someone could remind me what this driving lark was all about.
59

The Alberta Motor Association hired a taxi driver who gave lessons,
with a car that had an automatic transmission. But once I was given the
delivery truck to drive, it turned out that everything looked entirely different. I tried to put it into gear, but I couldnt; I tried with all my strength it
wouldnt go. All I achieved was the grinding of gears.
Fortunately, I stopped one of the other drivers before he left on his
own route, and he showed me the proper driving technique and how to
change gears. Until that time, riding as drivers mate, I had never been able
to understand the quickstep that the driver performed on the pedals.
Another friend from high school was Eddy Tworek, a tall, well-built blond, who was serious for his age, a very good student and a football
player. His father, Joseph Tworek, had been a founder and first president
of the Polish-Canadian Association, the oldest Polish migr organization
in Edmonton, which had been established in 1927. When I was completing
the twelfth grade, our high school principal, Fr. MacDonald, selected Ed to
give the valedictory speech during the graduation banquet. It was a great
honour, which usually went to the best student. I immodestly submit that
I played my part in this success; the principal initially approached me to
represent my graduating class. Were it not for my bashfulness and fear of
public performance, I would most probably have said a few words at the
gala on behalf of my classmates. However, I lacked the courage. Recognizing the enormous distinction, I decided not to risk ridicule, and turned
down the proposal.
Around eighty boys from two classes of the boys school, and a similar number of girls from St. Marys High School, were invited to the Catholic
schools graduation ball. There was a cover charge of about five dollars a
head. Naturally, you were expected to pay for the girl that accompanied
you to the event; it was a big expense for those days. But the evening was
really sophisticated. I remember that I had a problem when I received a
plate with half a grapefruit and tiny spoon, smaller than a tea spoon. I did
not really know how to approach this; I looked once or twice to see how my
friends dug out portions of fruit, and eventually, I uncertainly began to eat.
Joe Bereznicki was more at home on the sports field than in the
ballroom, however. In 1949, I enjoyed some success in soccer, playing as
an outside right attacker for the White Eagles club. Another Joe, my cousin Joseph Leszczynski, played in midfield, my brother Walter (Wladek)

60

played on the left side of the attack and Frank (Franek Leszczynski) in
defence. There was another Bereznicki, also Franek, who played in goal.
With five of the players being related to one another, we dominated the
premier team and turned it almost into a family enterprise. We played on
full-size fields in the Edmonton league. Our sports club had been in existence since 1949, and was sponsored by Edward Prodor of Prodor Construction. He bought our uniforms; Prodor Construction, was written
on the front and White Eagles, the team name, appeared on the back.
Our colours were white and red!
Canadians had their sport, football; we, immigrants from Europe,
were pioneers in Edmonton with respect to soccer competitions. The matches attracted crowds of Europeans, who supported their teams. Apart
from the Poles, the Edmonton league had teams of Scots, Ukrainians and
Germans. Later we were joined by several teams of Canadians of no particular nationality. We played at Clark Stadium, the main stadium in Edmonton at the time.
The Scots had the best team, and matches between us were always
fiercely contested. In one of our matches, one Joe Bereznicki you may
have guessed, I mean me scored a goal directly from a corner kick. My
shot soared into the net. The Scots were stunned, and they had in their
ranks several players who had played professionally in Scotland. In 1950,
sadly, we terminated our sporting activities. Soccer had to give way to studying and work.
In my class there was a student by the name of Smith tall, very handsome and audacious. Both in his appearance and his way of being, he evoked a lot of interest among the girls. He could walk into the staff room and
surreptitiously take a peek at the notes teachers had made. Later he would
boast that he knew what each teacher thought about us. Whats more, he
wasnt shy about sharing the information. His revelations always attracted
curious boys and girls. After finishing school, he did not go to university; he
set up his own bricklaying company, and later organised tourist trips to Las
Vegas. Even during his school days, he valued a free and light-hearted life.
Smiths parents had the surname Schmidt, but both were Poles.
Smith spoke Polish, but poorly. In contrast to some of the boys, he made no
attempt to hide his origins. It must be said that there were those who used
the language of Mickiewicz and Kochanowski very well, but when asked at
61

school, they pretended that they didnt understand a single word. Truth be
told, at school, whether in class, in the hallways, even on the street or in the
playground, we avoided speaking our native tongue. Even Eddy Tworek,
who spoke very well, never said a Polish word at school. Polish was spoken
only at home.
When the children returned home, a completely different authority
played out. Eds father did not allow his children to utter a single word in
the family home in a language other than their native one. Once the doors
were closed, the whole Anglophone world, willy-nilly, had to stay outside.
This kind of behaviour was highly educational. I only found out that Eds
Polish was excellent in 1952, when we bought a new house and began to
build a garage. We had ordered windows from a wholesaler, which turned
out to be Eds father. It was Ed himself, the owners son, who delivered the
order. He unloaded everything and asked for the money; that was when I
heard his flawless Polish and perfect pronunciation for the first time.

62

A New House, a New Car

From 1949, we had lived in a house bought together with the Leszczynskis.
Only part of it served as our home; the rest we rented out. This added a significant sum to the household budget, which was composed of the combined
earnings of the whole family. Income was so good that in 1952, my parents
bought a new house less than four years after arriving in Canada!
The newly bought house also generated income for us. My parents
occupied one bedroom, a kitchen and one other room; the rest they
rented. Squeezing into a small space maybe wasnt comfortable, but it
enabled us to put savings aside regularly. The Leszczynskis acted no
differently.
There was one more benefit from these self-imposed restrictions.
We had at our disposal rooms that we could rent out, or if need be, rooms to accommodate guests from Poland. In this way, in conjunction with
the Leszczynskis, we hosted a twelve-person family for six months, giving
them time to establish themselves during this first, most difficult period of
their new life in Canada.
Apart from the income from the rent, we had my fathers salary and,
for the first two years of our time in Canada, also my mothers wages. My
brother and I both worked summer jobs; Walter started regular work when
he failed the exam in ninth grade; and I worked full-time shifts at Coca-Cola
every day after school for two years.
All of the money we brought home went into one pool. There was no
division no you earned this much, and I that much. Everything went to
the domestic budget, where my mother held the purse-strings. She decided
which expenses were necessary and which not. She approached this with
firm discipline. The children received pocket money five dollars a week.
We lived very frugally. If you didnt spend money on going to the cinema or
to restaurants, then you could save quite a lot of money. Our expenses were
therefore kept to a minimum.
63

My parents did not need to spend a single cent on me. Even what I
earned in the course of two or three months in the summer, was enough
for my upkeep for a year. My earnings throughout the school year were
a bonus.
It may be hard now to understand why we chose to impose such
strict discipline on ourselves. We worked conscientiously, huddled in a tiny
space, and throughout this time, no one rebelled or claimed special rights
to their own possessions. Our family unit was like a prosperous company,
where everyone worked for the greater good. Our president was my mother. This company was the key to the survival and development of our
family. Thanks to this discipline, we were able to aspire to begin a decent
life in a new environment and buy the things that we needed. The company
functioned as long as my brother and I did not leave the family home. Even
when Walter, as a grown man, was going out with his fiance, for the year
leading up to his wedding, he still put everything into the communal pot.
Yet, when we did leave home to establish our own families, our parents
equipped us for lifes journey.
Three years later, in 1955 we bought a car. It was a beautiful Ford
Fairlane, with whitewall tires. As I have mentioned, both my brother and
I already had driving licences, which we obtained in India. We were more
familiar with the car than our father, who was 52 years old by then and did
not have a licence. To pass the test, it was necessary to speak English reasonably well . My father spoke poorly, he wasnt sure he could pass and consequently never took the test. In any case, he was not particularly drawn
to such things. He drove a little, but always one of us, Walter or I, accompanied him. My parents paid the bill, but it was my brother and I who chose
the car and primarily we who used it. My brother drove it for several years,
even after moving out of our parents house, and the car looked fantastic
the entire time.
In this way, the Bereznicki family firm prospered. The new house was
our mutual success; all of us had worked for it.

64

University Entrance Exam

Your grammar is not bad, but you have no imagination, assessed Fr. Fitzgerald, poring over my English language exercises. In truth, I had passed all
of my twelfth grade exams very well. I had no difficulties with mathematics or
physics. I had achieved an overall grade of 80 percent. I had the fourth highest
score in the entire school. The only problem was my fluency in English; I had
not passed the English exam!
I had been granted admission to the University of Toronto, but I
had not been accepted by the University of Alberta, which was more important to me. My high school principal, Fr. MacDonald, suggested that it
was worth the effort to take a remedial exam in English at the end of the
summer vacation.
For two weeks, apart from Sundays, I went to the English parish,
where the deputy parish priest was my teacher, Fr. W. P. Fitzgerald. I wrote
a total of fourteen essays on literature and poetry. It cost me a lot of effort,
but more so my teacher. Fr. Fitzgerald, marked them all, freely! He simply
wanted to make my new start in life easier. Without him, I would not have
gained admission into the University of Alberta, just as in 1949, without
the help of Sister Teresa and her invaluable tuition, I would not have got
into high school. These were breakthrough moments, when the generous
help of other people gave me a leg up. I must say here, that without the
selfless intervention of these nuns and priests, today I would be an entirely
different person. Thanks to Fr. Fitzgerald, at the end of the summer I passed the remedial English exam and was able to pursue my desired studies.
Without doubt, I also have a debt of gratitude to the principal of the
school, Fr. A. D. MacDonald. He was a strict and serious teacher, demanding
much of his students. If someone made a mistake, they were punished. In
those days, corporal punishment was still acceptable. Father MacDonald
had a leather strap, known as discipline. I did manage to find out how this
strap felt when it made contact with my skin, but I do not now remember
65

what the cause of my punishment was. MacDonald took me out to the hallway and whacked me on the hand five or six times. He struck in such a way
that the students in the classroom could hear the thwack. I could clearly
see that he was doing it, put delicately, without pleasure. It was the first
time in my life that he gave me such a hiding; but he wanted to demonstrate that the same rules applied for everybody, and that he had no intention
to have favourites. Was I a favourite? I was a very good student. MacDonald
knew that not only was I studying, but after school I went to work. He respected that. I think he appreciated how I was able to combine being both
a good student and an employee.
Father MacDonald was also a teacher of Latin. In my final year, when
he was reviewing exam papers, his attention was drawn to my grades. He
considered them to be low. According to him, I should have got 99, and not
90 percent. He could not correct it himself, since, as my teacher, he had no
right to influence the assessment made by the examiner. He decided that
my exam should be re-graded. An application for a second assessment could be requested only by the interested party me.
One afternoon, a car pulled up outside my house. Fr. MacDonald
knocked on the door and asked me to step outside.
I have seen your exam, Joe. I consider the grade to be unjust. I want
you to apply for a second assessment. Here is a letter that I have prepared,
he said, handing me an envelope.
The white envelope was already stamped and addressed. Inside, in
addition to the application, there were five dollars, the fee required to submit an application. I was enormously grateful to Fr. MacDonald. Not only
because he stood up for me, but because he treated the matter as his own.
Finally, he wished me luck in my English exam, which I was to take at the
end of the summer. Thanks to this intervention, I achieved the highest score in Latin in the whole of Alberta! And my overall grade was now the third
or fourth highest result in the school.
In 1952, we received a truly surprising bit of news: my cousin, Joseph
Leszczynski, had decided to become a priest. He applied to a seminary and,
in the same year that I went to college, he left for Rome. It was a complete
shock for us. He had never mentioned this vocation before, and nothing
indicated he was considering such a choice. He had been interested in the
same things as the rest of us: girls, sports, dancing Jozef danced a gre66

at krakowiak. But suddenly, he became interested in the seminary. Auntie


Paulina was thrilled. With her husband, they were both proud of him and
supported their son in his decision.

67

Starting Studies

In September 1952, I proudly began courses at the University of Alberta as a


student of the faculty of Civil Engineering. I began to penetrate the secrets of
the properties of materials, hydromechanics, surveying, road and canal building, and everything else that an aspiring engineer ought to know.
During the vacations, I always went to work; throughout the four-month summer break, most students worked to pay for their education.
From the beginning of May to the end of August, I worked in the laboratory
of Professor R. M. Hardy, who was the dean of our faculty, and one of the
best specialists in Canada in the field of testing the suitability of soil for
the purposes of building foundations. He had been educated in this field in
the United States. In Canada, he opened a new masters degree program;
soil mechanics was a relatively new field and the professor enjoyed an illustrious reputation.
In the laboratory, I met Bill Porter. He was my age, but despite not yet
being twenty years old, he was balding on the top of his head. Like me, he
was supplementing his income in the laboratory during summer vacation.
Bill and I were able to hold heated discussions for hours, often on abstract
or philosophical subjects. I was convinced, for instance, that a professional
is someone with a diploma; he claimed that this was not necessarily the
case, since it was possible to be a professional at laying bricks. For me, professionalism was synonymous with a good education, for him it simply denoted knowledge of the profession. When the discussion reached a boiling
point, Professor S. R. Sinclair would stride into the room and say through
clenched teeth: Gentlemen, please be quiet!
Since by nature, I was extraordinarily shy, I probably did not ask
a single question during lectures throughout my studies. Sometimes,
due to language difficulties, I did not understand some things. I needed
to overcome this in some way. The best method was hard work; in this
I was tenacious. Once I had taken a decision, there was no power that
68

could deter me. Neither close friends nor complete strangers were able
to sway me.
In my second year at university, I met Margie, a Polish-Canadian. We
met at the Polish Hall, and I invited her to my cousin Franks wedding.
My mother thought this entirely inappropriate.
How can you invite a person to the wedding that you barely know?
she reproached me, clearly allocating to herself the responsibility for decisions about my personal relationships.
Initially, I remained silent, but finally I decided to take a strong position.
I am already an adult and this is my life, I replied, considering that
this argument should end the discussion.
From that moment, we did not exchange a single word for the next
four months. I was left to manage alone with my life that I had fought
so hard for. Doing my own washing, ironing and cooking; everything that
had thus far been prepared and placed before me, now fell upon my shoulders. We passed each other in silence. My mother thought that I ought
to apologize; from my point of view, that was out of the question. As an
aside, I will add that nothing came of it with Margie; we went out maybe
three or four times in all.
My third and fourth years of college proved to be crucial, when it
came to my friendships. I finally started to spend time with people who
were outside our Polish migr circles. For example, Don Anderson a bright, smiling blond with a sense of humour. He liked to arm-wrestle, and
was ready to challenge anybody who wanted to take him on. He was very
strong and well built. After university, he completed his doctorate in the
USA, and became a professor, lecturing in a university in British Columbia.
I should also mention Ralf Ulveland, who was eight or nine years older than we were and already had a family. At a rather advanced age, he
had decided to get a degree as an engineer. His desire for self-improvement
inspired respect. It is not easy to start studies after ten years, particularly
when you have three children. He had a house, but surely must also have
had savings that allowed him to continue his studies. By profession he was
a carpenter. After college, he worked for Muttarts, a large concern in construction and building supplies. Afterwards he established his own company building retirement homes for seniors; he owned and operated four or
five such establishments.
69

Douglas Hodgkinson lived in the center of Edmonton; a genuinely


nice guy, tall, slim and bespectacled. Behind his thick lenses, his eyes seemed to be twice as small as normal. I remember him not only from lectures, but also from meetings and gala balls. Our gang also included George
Brown; originally a carpenter by trade and a mature man, ten years older
than us. He also built houses. He did not return to carpentry; after university, he went to work for a large energy (gas) company in Alberta. Over
time, he became managing director of the company and happily retired
at the age of 65.
Without a doubt, I did not have a closer friend at university than
Harry Basler. Harry and I always worked together on joint projects, when
hydraulics laboratory exercises required working in pairs. We knew each
others strong and weak points; I took care of the mathematical aspects of
the project, and he wrote the conclusions based on calculations. If we needed any help, we asked Douglas Hodgkinson, the friendly chap with thick
glasses, who perfectly complemented our team.
Between the third and fourth years of our studies, I introduced Harry
to Annette the woman of his life and currently his wife. Annette came
from a small town and lived with her aunt while studying in Edmonton.
Her aunt was the mother of Angela Bukowiecki, my sweetheart. I had met
both of the cousins, but since Angela had caught my eye, I decided to introduce my friend to her cousin, Annette.
Harry and Annette got married in 1957, two years after they first
met. Under his wifes influence, Harry converted from Lutheranism to
Catholicism, and became a model parishioner at one of Edmontons
churches.
During our university days, Harry contributed to my love of tobacco; he always had rolling papers and made roll-ups. Initially, I took them
from him but, before I knew it, I had my own rolling papers and was rolling
my own. I did not manage to stop smoking until the 1970s. I suppose that
whereas Harry can thank me for getting addicted to his beloved wife, I can
thank him for my addiction to smoking. But only one addiction was worth
breaking, and it still took me twenty years to do so.
Smoking cigarettes did not prevent Harry from leading a very athletic lifestyle. Once, he had a serious skiing accident. As a memento of his
broken collarbone, he has a slightly stooping shoulder to this day. Harry

70

always loved ski-jumping; but other sporting passions, soccer and football
at the forefront, did not arouse the slightest emotions in him.
Annettes cousin was, as I have mentioned, Angela Bukowiecki. I
met Angela when she finished eleventh grade; she was 17, I was 22. At
the end of school, before the summer break, I took twenty five dollars
from my mother and went to the shop to buy her a present. It was a pleated tartan skirt. I gift-wrapped it, took the Ford Fairlane from my father
and went to deliver the present.
The dark-blue car gracefully pulled up by the gate. Angela met me at
the gate; I handed her the gift, and asked her if we could meet the next day,
on Saturday.
Call me. I will see if I can, she said.
When I called, it turned out that she could not meet me that day. I
was disappointed. Tough, maybe she is busy, I thought, trying to soften
my feeling of rejection.
On Sunday, I went to church.
What did you do yesterday? I asked a friend.
A whole bunch of us went to the dance hall at Elk Island Park. Who
was there? Did Angela go?
Sure, she came with some guy. She had a great time.
I felt as if I had been kicked in the teeth. I suppose that I have never,
before or since, been as offended by anyone as I was by Angela at the time.
When I heard her voice on the telephone, I immediately hung up. I terminated all contact; I didnt call and didnt want her to call me. Eventually, after
a month, I answered the telephone.
Joe? This is Angelas mother do you recognise me? I wanted to talk
to you. Angela told me what happened. She is really very sorry. Do you
think you could forgive her?
There was a moment of silence. I do not remember what thoughts
were raging in my head. My heart was pounding like a hammer.
I do not want to see her anymore, I told her, my voice shaking.
After several months, I heard that Angela had entered a convent, and
after a few years, she took vows; she spent her life behind convent walls.
The experience moved me deeply. It was not until much later, as a mature man, that I was able to overcome my youthful emotions, and consider
it from another angle. Back then, I was not only immature and foolish, but
71

also jealous. I was 22 years old, and she was not yet 18. She was young. She
did not understand, maybe didnt even realize, how serious I was, and what
a crushing blow she would cause me by going to the dance with someone
else. I never saw Angela again, after that memorable Friday, when I gave
her the pleated tartan skirt.

72

Life as a Couple

In the summer of 1955, a year before graduation, I met Christine. We caught


each others eye at the wedding reception of some mutual friends. She was a
bright blonde with an artistic soul. She liked to dance and have fun. We were a
little tipsy; maybe that helped me overcome my natural shyness. In any event,
we began dating.
She was attractive, and I was also captivated by her character. She
had a wonderful nature in that she was always able to see the best side
of a person, and she always justified faults. This was a woman whom I could share my life with, I thought at the time. I knew what I wanted; I was
23 years old, older and wiser than I had been during my first, youthful
attempts to engage in relationships with girls. I acted deliberately, but at
the same time, I didnt let the grass grow under my feet: I bought an engagement ring before Christmas and asked Christine to marry me. From that
moment we began to plan our life together. In early spring, I received my
university diploma and soon after, with my parents help, we bought a plot
of land on which to build a house. We hired a builder, and began construction in May. The house was nearly finished before the end of the year, and
we got married on November 10th, 1956. The wedding took place in the
Polish church, Holy Rosary, and the reception was held at the Polish Hall
with 180 guests attending.
Thanks to my parents connections, we borrowed three thousand
dollars that we needed from a Pole, Jan Blonski. I had a permanent job as
an engineer, so a loan without additional security was not hard to come
by. We had been living in Canada for eight years, so we knew people who
trusted us. As far as I remember, we spent a total of ten thousand dollars on
the house. We were able to pay back the money we had borrowed within
two years.
We bought the building together with my brother. It was a duplex,
with two separate apartments in the same house, one for each family. Wal73

ter had married Janka Bereznicka. Strangely, it was the same situation as
my parents: they were both from families named Bereznicki, though they
were not related. They lived together with my parents for almost six months, before they moved into our new common home. Christine and I took
the first floor, Walter and Janka the ground floor.
My parents, like those of my wife, were devout people; they worked
hard and honestly. Krysias father, Rudolf, had trained as a jeweller in pre-war Poland. For several years after finishing elementary school, he was
apprenticed to an experienced master craftsman in Lodz. Together with
his wife, Elizabeth, a trade school graduate, they established their own jewellers shop in Lodz; it exists to this day, though now it is distinctly more
modest than it was. During the war, Rudolf was transported to Germany
to work as forced labour. When the allies liberated the camp he was in,
he joined the Polish Army, and he was demobilized in England soon after
the war. In 1946, he brought his wife and two children one of whom was
Christine from Poland to Britain. In Canada, he worked as an instrument
technician for an airline. His daughter, my future wife Christine, repaired
aviation clocks for the same company.
Christines parents looked very favourably on our marriage. We respected and liked each other; we never had any cause to argue. On the
other hand, Christine had a hard time with her mother-in-law; my mother
thought that her son, who was an engineering graduate, should find a better match a woman with a higher education. The tension was palpable
whenever conversation drifted towards a controversial subject. Yet Christine, despite the difficult beginnings, was able to win over first my father
and eventually also my mother.
In 1956, I was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree and, as a newly-minted engineer, I departed the reassuring walls of the university. At that
time, I began work at Haddin, Davis and Brown an Engineering Consulting company specializing in design and supervision of installation of underground facilities (sewers, water mains, etc.) It was a good job, but entirely devoid of any prestige. Despite being a specialist, I came home every
day covered in mud. My mother observed my labours with pity. My clothes
were always much dirtier than those of my brother, who worked as a plumber. What was worse was that I didnt like my job. Everything that I constructed from installations to pipes was buried underground. This cre74

ativity gave me no satisfaction or sufficient source of pride. I was drawn to


larger visible projects houses, high-rise buildings, bridges thats what I
wanted to build, not to bury my ideas in the earth.
Furthermore, I wanted to earn more money. The path to my ambitions seemed simple enough it demanded further study. In 1957, I returned to university and began to study for a masters degree. In order to
support myself and my wife, I also worked at the university. As a graduate
student, I taught three or four subjects. I was paid more or less the same as
I had earned working at Haddin, Davis and Brown.
In 1957 or 58, we met Doctor Henryk Wojcicki. By profession he was a
psychiatrist, and he was actively involved in Polish migr life. He had founded several organizations and had been president of the Alberta District of
the CanadianPolish Congress for two or three terms. He was also involved in
work for the Catholic Church. Many nuns and priests, if they had psychiatric
problems, would visit him. He was well liked and respected. In appearance he
was a tall and broad-shouldered man with an immense sense of humour.
His wife, Zofia, nee Szablewska, had been a volunteer nurse with
the Polish Armed Forces in France during the war, and later had transferred to the Polish Military Hospital at Taymouth Castle in Scotland, where
she met Wojcicki, who was working as a neuropsychiatrist. Zofia was an
efficient, slim woman, with dark hair and a wonderful, sunny disposition.
They emigrated to Canada in 1953, where Zofia actively supported her
husband in his involvement with the life of Polish expatriates and the
Catholic Church. She filled the role of president of the Polish Womens
Federation, Branch No. 3, in Edmonton, for many years, leading the organization with utmost dedication. The Wojcickis had three children two
sons and a daughter.
I dont remember where we first met, but I recall inviting them to
visit our newly built house. It was not even finished I think that we were
still painting and there were rolled-up carpets everywhere. The Wojcickis
came with Zofias brother-in-law, Marian Strzelecki, who had recently emigrated from England and was working in an engineering consulting firm.
Wojcicki was always joking; to this day, I remember the joke with
which he burst into our circle of friends (where he remained for many
years). The joke was entirely inappropriate, but in light of the fondness I
have for Wojcicki, I will gladly repeat it. The joke went like this:
75

A guy goes to the restroom, sits on the toilet seat, and sees some
buttons on the wall. The buttons are labelled: HOT WATER, COLD WATER,
BLOW DRYING and one enigmatically marked ATR.
Everything is easily understandable he thinks to himself but
what is ATR? Ill press it, and see.
He pushes the button, and immediately lets out an ear-shattering
scream, as blood spurts everywhere.
Hearing his screams, passersby come running to help. What happened? You must have pressed the ATR button! But what the hell is
ATR!? he moans through the agony. Automatic Tampax Removal! And
here is your penis!
His directness made us laugh. Christine was a young woman who
had not yet had a child, and he came out with a joke like that! After that
convivial evening, we became best friends. We always had the highest
respect for Wojcickis, and regarded them with a great deal of fondness.
Everyone felt good in his company. He had an enormous gift for getting
the best out of people. Bursting with energy and an urge to sing, he was
the life and soul of any party; it made no difference whether the company was Polish or English-speaking, or mixed, he was always able to
gather a group around himself and stand at its head. He could cope in
any situation.
I also valued Wojcicki for his faith. He was devout and before our family meetings he would lead us in prayer. He was grateful for the gifts that
his family had received. This was important to me; I liked and respected
him. The Wojcikis set an example for us, as to how to bring up children,
how to behave in marriage. You could learn from them. It did not always
work out, but if I needed a model, then he provided a model for me. I was
impressed with the way he spoke to his wife. He had three children who
presented him with the challenges of parenthood, but he managed to handle everything without forcing them to do anything. When Cardinal Karol
Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, visited Canada in 1969, Wojcicki served as his personal driver and guide around Alberta.
Christine and I are extraordinarily proud that Doctor Wojcicki was
our friend and considered us as his friends too. Although he was only sixteen years older than me, he treated me almost as a son. Later, we often
reminisced about that first memorable evening.

76

In 1957, Christine and I were expecting our first child. At the end of
the year, on the last day before Christmas, I drove my wife to hospital. I was
not particularly concerned; everyone said that Krysia (Christine) would
not have any problems with the delivery. I considered it to be a completely
natural process. I awaited the birth of our child at my in-laws. We expected
the new arrival at any moment, and we were already drinking, celebrating
the birth. We were placing bets on whether it would be a boy or a girl. The
majority bet on a boy. When the phone finally rang, we learned that it was
a girl; everyone thought that I would be disappointed. Never! I was over
the moon. The sex had been guessed and the bet won by my uncle, Mikolaj
Leszczynski. Teresa was born on Boxing Day, December 26th, 1957. She
had long black hair; we were even more ecstatic. This was the first grandchild for both my and Christines parents. We arranged a rousing celebration to be held the following Saturday at our home.
At the same time, we were hosting a visitor from Poland, my uncle
Bogdan Bereznicki; his father and my grandfather had been brothers. He
arrived before Teresas birth, and left when she was a few weeks old. In all,
he stayed with us for three months. Bogdan had become a lawyer before
the war, and he was the best educated member on my mothers side of the
family. He was well respected. He was able to talk about religion and politics; in fact, he was so outspoken that in Edmonton, he made friends and
enemies with equal ease. We liked him a lot.
In 1959, I was granted my masters degree in civil engineering. My
dissertation was entitled: Reinforced Concrete Pavements in Alberta. The
purpose was to examine what type of highway design and construction
was most suitable, taking into account the prevailing weather conditions
in diverse parts of the province. As we know, roads are subject to various
temperatures and loads; they are of a varying thickness and built with varied amounts of reinforcement. The problem of road usage seemed so interesting that, at the end of my studies, I started finding out whether further
research into the subject was possible, as part of a university career. I felt
that this concerned my future; I wanted to climb the academic ladder.
I submitted an application and, after receiving my masters degree in
civil engineering, I was offered a position as an assistant professor at the
university. Filled with youthful enthusiasm, I started regular employment
as an assistant professor in September 1959. The prospect of an academic
77

career appealed to the sensitive part of my soul. The work was not well
paid, but the position was very prestigious.
Unexpectedly, I was very disappointed about the allocation of my
workplace at the school. I was put in a tiny, windowless room, along with
another assistant professor. This was where I was supposed to spend most
of my time? The modesty of my surroundings along with my meagre wages
undermined my hitherto unshakeable belief that I could fulfill my potential
within the groves of academe.
At the same time, I received a phone call from Mieczyslaw Domecki,
owner of a building company, Universal Construction, and he invited me
to lunch. I had known Domecki already for several years, as he hired me
to work at Universal Construction over the summer holidays after my sophomore year at university, once I completed the surveying course. I worked for him on several occasions thereafter, including the summer of 1959.
While I was waiting for the universitys response to my application for the
assistant professorship, I told Domecki of my intentions and my desired
academic career.
I like you and I trust you, he told me over lunch. I want you to commit to our company full-time. I can offer you a starting salary of two hundred dollars more than you are getting at the university.
It was a tempting offer. At the university, I could not even count on a
significant pay raise in the future. Moreover, I had become convinced that
climbing the academic career ladder would require sacrifices from me that
I really had no desire to make. Seeking the favour of the professors, vying
for membership in various university cliques, and the incessant infighting
and internal politics of this community these dynamics I feared, and they
completely discouraged me from working at the university. Domeckis financial lure, the poky little room at the university, and my rather negative
assessment of relationships within the academic community, sealed the
fate of the budding assistant professor.
And so, the academic career that I dreamed of during my studies
came to an unexpected and accelerated conclusion. Instead, I entered the
healthily competitive world of the construction industry. I remained in the
field for several years, traversing all of the stages of a professional career; from a rank-and-file engineer, to vice president, president and finally
owner of a construction company. I have never regretted my decision.
78

A Rapid Rise at Universal Construction

Mieczyslaw Domecki, my new employer, found himself in the construction


business in the right place at the right time. He came to Canada in 1948 and
encountered a ripe, postwar economy. His success was based on the fact that
he was able to exploit the situation. Initially, he built small houses in Winnipeg,
and then relocated to Edmonton, where he anticipated greater business possibilities. Domecki was a technician by trade; he graduated before the war from
the respected Hyppolite Wawelberg and Stanislaw Rotwand School in Warsaw. It was a vocational school with a mechanical-technical profile, with an
illustrious professorial staff. After the war, it operated as an engineering school until the 1950s, when it was merged with the Warsaw Polytechnic. He was
a skilful and shrewd businessman, and he had an extraordinarily ambitious
wife, Irena, who constantly encouraged him to undertake business challenges.
Although his given name was Mieczyslaw, his wife and friends always called him Slawek, and to Canadians he was Mike. The construction
company he founded in the early fifties was called Universal Construction.
He also operated a building supplies wholesaler, where he sold timber to
residential contractors. And he owned a carpentry workshop, for which,
in about 1960 or 61, he bought a state-of-the-art machine from Germany
that enabled the mass production of any shape. In this way, Domecki was
able to successfully compete in the carpentry market.
Karol Szylling, an employee of the firm and Domeckis friend, was to
have a significant influence on my further career at Universal Construction. Szylling was the son of Antoni Szylling, the Polish general who had
commanded Army Krakow during the September Campaign in 1939. The
Szyllings came to Canada after the war ended. Karol studied engineering
in Montreal, where he lasted until the third year, but he never graduated.
What happened then, I do not know, but when I joined the firm, he had
already been working there for about two years and was the companys
general manager.
79

His contribution was above all a change in the way that Universal
Construction operated; when you erect buildings with a view to selling
them later, it involves a lot of risk and speculation. Under Szylling, the company limited this type of risk, and began competing for tenders. We tendered offers for the construction of schools and government buildings, both
federal and provincial. Domecki valued Szylling for his prior construction
experience, including a period working for a company building large concrete granaries. He envisioned Universal Construction building such structures all over Canada in the future. This dream never came to fruition: Karol Szylling was killed in a road traffic accident in 1959. It is possible that it
was this tragic accident that opened the doors for me, a young graduate of
the faculty of engineering, to managerial positions in Domeckis firm. After
Szyllings death, I was the only qualified engineer at Universal Construction. And so, thanks to my education and the trust that Domecki had in me,
I was able to reach the very summit within the company organization.
Initially, I designed small shopping centres, from half an acre to several acres in size, with parking. Then I supervised their construction.
I designed according to my own concepts; we didnt have an architect.
Domecki claimed that architects had no idea what was needed. In these
malls, the majority of the space, around fifty thousand square feet, was
taken up by a grocery store. The building also housed a small mall with
shops and services such as a laundry or beauty salon. The number of
shops ranged from just a few to more than a dozen. We would build three
or four such centres a year.
I took care of designing these projects for a term of six to nine months; thereafter we began to outsource the work. Among other projects, I
designed our company headquarters and the carpentry workshop. I also
supervised the building of these projects, hired the workers and directed
their activities. I first had to teach myself, so that I would know how it
should be done. When I was supervising, I often had to make inspection
trips to Calgary or Lethbridge, to source materials, find contractors and
subcontractors, and negotiate prices. A typical commercial centre would
require a workforce of twenty to forty people. I was responsible for coordinating all of the elements necessary for the building to be completed.
I was ambitious and determined to be successful; I worked hard and pushed myself to the limit.

80

Mike Domecki hired a management consultant to examine how we


organized our work. He observed how roles were divided in the company, and assessed how to increase productivity. His conclusion surprised
me: he recommended that the erstwhile general manager be demoted (to a
simpler management position) and be replaced by Joe Bereznicki. Domecki didnt waste a moment: he immediately summoned me to his office and
informed me succinctly: Joe, from now on, you are the general manager of
the company. Swap offices with Don.
Not a chance, I said. I dont want him to feel bad on my account. I
like the office I have now.
Soon after, the former general manager left the company on his own,
and the office swap was no longer an issue.
Thus, in 1961, more or less eighteen months after starting with Universal Construction, I became the companys general manager. My duties
included hiring and firing employees, supervisors, foremen, assessors for
property valuations, together with the preparation of all kinds of reports.
We entered into one tender every day. Sometimes these were small jobs,
worth about 300,000 dollars, sometimes ten times bigger. I spent hours
reviewing our offers, checking for errors large and small. If you made a
mistake in your valuation, it could be quite costly.
I gave everything I had to my work; it was a constant race against
time. Usually we worked on our tender until the last possible moment, and
then it was taken by the driver to be submitted where necessary. After that,
all we could do was sit and wait and gnaw on our fingernails, wondering
what would happen. When we got the contract to build the Peace River Jail
for 6 million dollars, our tender beat the nearest rival by only 200,000
not much. Of the four other tenders, the highest was for 7 million dollars.
Sometimes it happened that five or six contractors bids were within fifty
thousand dollars of each other. Competition was tough, and the valuations
were often extremely close. It was not easy to predict the costs so precisely.
Often the logistics of the project were challenging, such as in the case of the
Peace River Jail. We had to send people to work four hundred miles to the
north, and all of these costs had to be accounted for in the tender.
In 1960, we managed to relocate two families, Jozef and Franciszek
(Franek) Bereznickis, to Canada from Znin, a small village near Bydgoszcz.
In total, twelve people came from Poland to stay with us and the Leszczyn81

skis. They were my mothers brothers with their respective families. Before
the war, the brothers had lived in the eastern part of Poland, like us, but they
were never deported. They had stayed in Bereznica with Grandmother Maria until the end of the war. They often had to go into hiding in the forests
to survive the dangerous and turbulent times. In 1947 two years after the
borders of Poland, as the result of post-war international treaties, were shifted to the west, and the Borderlands were annexed by the Soviet Union the
Bereznickis managed to move to Rogowo, in the Bydgoszcz voivodship.
Franek Bereznicki first visited Canada in the fifties, when he came
on holiday at my mothers invitation. Later, his older brother, Joseph, also
came on holiday. They both liked Canada very much. Obviously, they both
wanted to relocate permanently. My parents and the Leszczynskis (especially the two sisters Karolina and Paulina) helped their two brothers to
move to Canada with Grandmother, in all a dozen people.
They managed to emigrate from Poland thanks to Uncle Bogdan
Bereznicki, the lawyer, who had connections in Warsaw. He put a lot of
effort into it, but how he managed to achieve the desired result, he alone
knew. Perhaps he paid someone off? I have no idea. In any event, both
families found themselves safely in Canada. The five-person family of the
elder brother, Jozef, lived with my parents for a few months. With his
wife, Maria, he had three children: Danka, Janina and Zenek. Franek, my
mothers youngest brother, together with his wife Stefania, and four children Zenek, Danusia, Lidia and Adam, and my Grandmother Maria, all
lived at Auntie Leszczynskas.
It was six months before they found work and started to provide for
themselves. I was able to help a little in this. By 1960, I was a qualified engineer and was working for Domecki. I found jobs for both of my uncles at
Universal Construction. I told them: I will arrange getting jobs for you, but
treat this with respect; whether you keep them, well, thats up to you.
Franek, Donna Bereznickas father, became a very good concrete floor finisher. He managed so well, that after three or four years, he decided
that he didnt want to work during the winter any more. He earned enough
money during the summer, that in the winter he was able to manage simply
on unemployment benefits.
Franeks wife, Stefania (maiden name also Bereznicka), also worked
outside of the home. Their children were still small and went to school. In
82

those days, if you lived frugally, you could qualify to get a mortgage for a
house after a few years. Then you could pay off the loan within a short time.
And that is what they did. Within two or three years, both Franek and Jozefs
families had worked their way to their own houses.
The next generation also became successful in Canada; two of Franeks
and Stefanias four children that came to Canada, Donna and Zenon attended
university. Zenon graduated and qualified as a professional engineer, a path
later followed by one of his sons. Donna became a dentist; in turn, her daughter studied dentistry and may take over Donnas practice.
In the case of the other Donna, Jozef and Marias daughter, she was already 17 or 18 when the family arrived in Canada. She went to work straightaway as a nurses aid at the hospital. There she met a young medical student,
Bronislaw Bochinski, and married him. They had three sons and a daughter.
The sons all went to medical school; one is a urologist, another a dentist and
the third is an podiatrist. Their daughter became a registered nurse.
Of the whole family, only one of Jozef Bereznickis daughters did not
really settle in Canada initially. Janka returned to Poland for a year, met a fine
young man named Ryszard (Richard) Kruszelnicki, married him and then
moved with him back to Canada. Ryszard made money quickly, and earned
a well-deserved retirement before he was 60. They are happily living in Canada to this day.
These two families which we had brought to Canada also brought over
their own relatives. Stefania Bereznicka, Franeks wife, drew her two brothers Gienek and Frank. In the end, I think that there were three Frank
Bereznickis in Edmonton, and an equal number of Josephs Bereznickis. The
Bereznicki clan was growing, and naturally grew due to various marriages.
Take, for example, Frank Leszczynski, who married Jadzia Hulko. I will add
in passing that his brother Karol married Jadzias sister, Tosia. The Hulkos
had six girls; each of them got married and established her own family, but
we were able to maintain ties. In this way, there were ever more of us. In the
nineties, when we organized family reunions at Father Joseph Leszczynskis
parish, often about two hundred relatives would show up.
Regarding the example of Frank and Jadzia, and Karol and Tosia, this
was not the first time where following the marriage of one couple, the siblings of the new husband and wife got to know each other, which in turn
led to another wedding. This was not uncommon, thats how we immigrants
83

behaved. What were we to do? Every young man wanted to marry a Polish
girl! I myself married a Polish Catholic. Life was hard enough and life as an
immigrant even more so; if a couple was from different ethnic groups or faiths, this would only complicate things. Adding further hurdles to overcome
would be an unnecessary risk and impediment. It was easier if a couple shared a language, religion and culture. We made these choices for convenience,
peace of mind and to simplify the raising of children. Back then, thats how
we thought. It would be easier if everyone had the same roots; to my mind,
this line of thinking had merit.
It has to be stressed, that these successes of the Bereznicki family were
largely attributable to the work of two people Karolina and Paulina, nee
Bereznicka. It is thanks to the hard work and determination of my mother
and her sister, that so many of us found prosperity and a good living in Canada. They spared no effort to bring their loved ones to this country, and they,
in turn, did everything to provide the same for their relatives.
I must mention one other visit that was important for our family. In
1960, my aunt Paulina invited Janka Bereznicka from Warsaw for a three-month holiday. She did not belong to our Bereznickis thats to say that
she was not related to us, but rather to the Leszczynskis. Janka caught the
eye of my brother Walter. He married her and she stayed with us for good.
My mother also invited Basia Radzikowska from Warsaw, to stay for a
couple of weeks her maiden name was also Bereznicki (!). These Bereznickis found themselves in Warsaw after the war, thanks to Basias father, a lawyer, who relocated his family from the recovered territories. Basias aunt
also accepted my mothers invitation to come to Canada. Then Basias aunts
husband, a man named Plotka, came, and my cousin Kruszelnicki. Customarily, each holiday trip of this kind was also an opportunity for these visitors
to earn some money and return to Poland bearing a few precious dollars.
In the 1950s and 60s, these guests sailed on the TSS Stefan Batory
to Halifax. They usually spent a few weeks with us, sometimes more. Some
would stay, further expanding our familys presence in Canada. Generally,
people found a job, worked hard and settled down, and soon were capable
of supporting themselves. Canada was a synonym for a good life. If someone
was healthy, determined and wanted to achieve something, it was possible.
The road to a prosperous life was open to everyone.
84

Living for the Company

Domecki promoted me to the position of General Manager of Universal Construction in 1961, giving me responsibility for the management of the company. I was responsible for staff, sub-contractors and project management,
and Domecki took care of loans and financing. We submitted tenders for
the construction of bridges, government buildings and various public utility
structures. I often worked long hours, not paying attention to the time. I didnt
have to do it, but I was determined to be successful and felt the weight of responsibility. I was totally dedicated to the company, not so much on account
of Domecki, who had given me the job, but because of my fondness for the
people who were employed by Universal Construction and whose livelihoods
depended on the companys fortunes.
We needed contracts; if the company didnt have any, we wouldnt
have the funds to pay the wages. The employees relied on me and were
dependent on me. Thats how I saw it. They put a lot of effort into the company, were honest and fulfilled their duties conscientiously. I valued them
for that and I felt that I should do all I could to secure contracts for the
company. I wanted us to do well.
I got to know Domecki better; we understood each other well, even
though we did not agree on everything. He focussed on details; he wanted
to get his mind around every detail of the plans that passed through his
hands. I always preferred to see the big picture. I tried to think of ways
that we could expand to begin to do greater things and undertake larger
challenges. I frequently delegated responsibility to others. I was interested
in how to hire better people and make more money. These were the things
that seemed more important to me. In practice, Domecki usually would
deal with the details until he got tired; then I would step in, take everything
over and quickly finish what he had started.
I was a decent engineer, and Domecki valued my effectiveness. Obviously, there were things that I didnt know about; above all, I needed to
85

acquire the skills of financial management. I wanted to learn how projects


were financed and how to determine whether one had enough money. I
had not been taught that at university and Domecki did not seem willing
to share such information with me. I had to mine him for the information on how to finance a project or plan a budget. Some solutions I had to
work out through my own observations. I think that people are reluctant
to share, freely, the experience that theyve had to gain with the sweat of
their brow.
Sometimes, I got the impression that Domecki thought that I should
feel indebted to him for giving me the job and appointing me general manager. Apparently, he believed that I should give even more of myself, more
than that demanded by my normal responsibilities. For example, he often
expected me to supervise his private enterprises - after working hours and
for no extra pay.
Mister Joseph, he would state, I would like to do something for my
family. Ensure my wife and children a secure future. I want to build a residential building and put it up for rent. Will you help me out?
I always agreed. Usually, the entire project was left to me after that.
Domecki didnt even have to look at the plans. I had to supervise the whole
project, from designing the building, through construction, and then attend
to its rental. He paid remarkably modestly. I completed a turnkey project, a
three-story building with thirty-six apartments, and as compensation, Domecki would give me a winter jacket or an air rifle. And I did all of the work
outside of working hours, independent of my contractual responsibilities.
Even though I considered it an injustice, I did not complain. I was ambitious, I always performed my work with satisfaction and I was proud that
I was able to do it well.
Domecki had the peace of mind that he could always count on me. On
Christmas Eve 1960, in the midst of a harsh winter with -40 degree frosts
outside, the telephone suddenly rang:
Mister Joseph, its a disaster, I heard the anxiety in Domeckis voice.
What disaster?
Everything is frozen, ice is forming, and the pipes will burst! Something must be done, said Domecki.
Why call me? Call a plumber, I thought to myself, but I bit my tongue.
Domecki knew what he was doing. He knew that I had plumbers in my
86

family. He was counting on me to convince someone to leave the Christmas


table and do the work.
Can you help? I asked my brother.
I dont work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Walter told me,
tersely ending that discussion.
I called Frank Leszczynski.
I will excuse myself from the family and go and do the job, I heard
in the handset.
Domecki had become used to the fact that, whenever he phoned me,
everything would be sorted out straight away. Throughout the first three
years of my employment at Universal Construction, there were many such
situations. I didnt like it much, but I put up with it. The fact was that sorting out such matters was not hard for me. I knew people that respected
me. I could get almost anything done, and this was very convenient for Domecki. He could set me a task and then forget about it. He had that comfort
and exploited it without reservation.
At the beginning of 1960, our second child, Henry, was born and at
the end of 1961 we moved into a new house on the riverbank at 7508 Rowland Road. It was a bungalow, much nicer than our old home and at the
same time in a very good neighbourhood. In 1962, Mark was born.
I had never worked as hard as I did then. Often, I did not return home
for the weekend. It was hard on Christine. She thought that I was not providing enough love and care. She was of the opinion that I was neglecting
the home. She felt abandoned and she needed support. She communicated
her concerns during one of Doctor Wojcickis visits to our home.
Why havent you come to me earlier? he asked; he was a psychiatrist after all. Remember, I am your friend. Who else will you go to? I have
an office, you can always call me. I will help if I can.
Wojcickis help proved a salvation. The medication he prescribed
helped her at a difficult time. Our lives were overshadowed once again
by problems stemming from the start of our marriage, when my mother
did not accept Christine, considering her to be undereducated. Now, in the
light of the crisis caused by my absence from home, these same concerns
arose. My wife feared that our marriage would break down. She wondered
how she would cope with three small children. Divorce was not rare; we
had seen it among our friends. On the other hand, I had no such worries. It
87

is true that I was focussed on my professional development and not on my


family, I admit it. But I loved my children and I loved my wife. Values such
as fidelity and respect for my wife I had learned at home. Christine was the
only woman in my life. I think that for her I was also the only man; I was
therefore not worried about the love between us. Yet the most important
thing for me at this stage of my life was to press forward on my career
path. This consumed most of my time and almost all of my thoughts. I spent
maybe two hours with my family for every fourteen I spent at work. This
was my mental construction, that I must be successful; it applied to everything, whether work or anything else.
I had friction from Christine with regard to our expenses. The fact is
that we very seldom went to a restaurant or club. At this time, for example,
our friends Steve and Micheline Bruskiewich (Bruskiewich was one of the
very few boys who had his own car in high school) spent every weekend
in clubs, eating, drinking and chatting with friends. I did not allow myself
to spend money on this type of entertainment. We seldom even went out
for ice cream. I wanted to earn money and establish myself, to have something permanent. I did not have confidence that everything would work
out somehow, that my career would continue and that I would prosper
until the end of my days. I had learned that fate was fickle. My parents had
been relatively rich, in comparison to our neighbours in Poland, and one
day everything changed; afterwards, I often went hungry. This affected me
deeply. I was never sure that the feeling of being hungry would not return.
Such thoughts probably never entered Bruskiewichs head. We had been
forged by entirely different circumstances. Bearing in mind all of our problems, mine and Christines, I am not certain whether our marriage would
have survived this difficult test, but for the friendly help of Doctor Wojcicki.
And the ties of friendship to the Wojcickis became stronger.
In 1962, Domecki invited me for lunch. I sensed that he had something important to tell me.
I am no longer the owner of Universal Construction, he said. The
company has been sold.

88

Domecki was Right

The sale of Universal Construction was like an earthquake for me. I had reason to fear for my future. It is true that Domecki fervently assured me that
nothing would change in our work, that on the strength of the contract he held
in his hand, he would remain president of Universal Construction for five more
years. He gave his word, as a guarantee, that I would remain general manager.
He assured me that as long as he was the president, nothing would change.
Despite such kind declarations, I was not able to completely allay my
fears. On the contrary, I was scared and bitterly disappointed. For the last
year and a half, as general manager, I had directed the day-to-day operations of the company. I thought that I knew everything about it and that
there were no secrets from me on any matter. No one even whispered one
word about the possibility of the company being sold. Why? Could I now
have any certainty that I was well informed?
Above all else, I was bitter. I had given everything to this company,
worked my fingers to the bone, and for what? The business was growing;
we were gaining recognition in the market. I could not accept that all of this
seemed to be under threat. Was the sale to mean that the work that I had
put in, my enormous commitment, evenings and weekends spent at work,
had gone unnoticed and had brought the company no benefit? Was it all
for nothing? I had the feeling that I had been sold along with the business.
What was my future? Would the new owners see a place for me at Universal Construction? These thoughts gave me no peace.
After several months of uncertainty, I had to admit that my fears had
been unfounded. Domecki had been right. The sale turned out to be a blessing for the company. If the sale had not happened, we would probably have
continued to do not much more than erect local shopping malls. We were
not in any position to grow and to reach the top of the building industry
in Alberta. The company that bought us BACM Construction Materials
from Winnipeg was strong enough that, thanks to their capital, we at last
89

had opportunities to compete for the biggest tenders. We had obtained the
backing that would enable us to move forward.
To even have a chance to participate in the big tenders, a company
needs to be bonded. Surety bonds are a form of insurance that protect the
company ordering the work. The company ordering the work (the client)
can rest easy, knowing that the contractor is insured. If the contractor fails
and does not fulfil the terms of the contract, the client can at any time withdraw from it and turn to the insurer. The insurer is obliged to find another
contractor that will fulfil the contract under the same conditions. Large clients, therefore, only select those contractors that are bonded that possess
a guarantee from insurance companies. For those wanting to have a chance
in securing larger projects, getting a surety bond was an absolute must.
Yet not every contractor has the opportunity to cooperate with an
insurer. What most easily convinces an insurer to grant a contractor a
guarantee? Its capital. An insurer readily grants a guarantee if he sees
that the company has assets that, in times of trouble, can be used to settle
obligations.
When Domecki sold the company, we gained the backing of a large
corporation with ample capital. This was a huge leap. In 1959, when I
started with Domecki, we managed projects worth no more than half a
million dollars. By 1967, eight years after my arrival, we were competing
for tenders in the order of 25 million dollars. In the late 1960s , these were
mind-numbing sums.
There was also another reason for the sale: business risk. Domecki
valued the sense of security more and more. To achieve success you had to
take loans. This involved making connections in Toronto and a large dose
of diplomacy. Domecki felt that he had to break through a wall and that at
our companys level of development, the competition was too tough. He
decided that it would be safer to sell the business before he encountered
insurmountable problems and started to decline.
Nominally, he remained president of the company for five years following the sale of the company, that is, until 1967. He certainly collected
his presidential salary, but no longer played an active role in the company. When he finally parted ways with Universal Construction, the new
president was a man from Winnipeg, and I was named vice president. I also
remained general manager and continued to fulfil my existing duties.
90

In 1962, Christine and I went on holiday together for the first time. It
was six years since our wedding; Teresa was four and a half, and Henry was
two Marks arrival was heralded by Christines growing stomach bump.
We went for two weeks to San Francisco and Palm Springs. We left Henry in
the care of some friends and we took Teresa and my parents with us.
The purpose of the visit to the United States was to meet the Jasinskis. This family was closely tied to us by our mutual history. They were
our neighbours in Poland. In 1940, when the Russians came, they had two
sons and two daughters. We were all transported into the depths of Siberia
together. They left for Persia earlier than we did, except for the eldest son
who was in the army and thus travelled with us. This son, Joseph, died on
the ship between Krasnoworsk and Pahlavi, and was later buried in Tehran. We travelled the same path as the Jasinskis; we were together in Karachi and in India. It was in India that our ways parted: the Jasinskis went
to England, to join their other son, who had joined Anders Army as a cadet
in Palestine. After the war, they went with the army to the British Isles.
They had settled in San Francisco on account of their daughter, who
had met an American soldier in Iran. They got married and she went with
him to the United States. After the war, she invited her family to join her
from England, and they were reunited once more.
We left my parents with the Jasinskis in San Francisco, and went on
alone to Palm Springs, where we spent a quiet week at the Lone Palm motel.
Once back at our home on Rowland Road, we frequently organized
bridge parties. These were typical masculine events; we played for money,
but never for big stakes, maybe five dollars, usually less. We would start
to play at six oclock on Saturday nights and would not finish until Sunday morning. I seldom lost. When I won a few pennies, I would place them
under Christines pillow, and when I lost, then I lost my own money, so I
never felt guilty. I did not consider it to be gambling, just a social evening.
We would host Zygmunt Grosser, Jan Piasecki, General Romuald Wolikowski, Jurek Hedinger, Frank Leszczynski and Henry Golebiowski (who for
practical reasons and at the urging of his English wife, changed his surname to Goley. The marriage did not last, but he kept the new name).
Our bridge evenings also took place at other venues. Sometimes we
would be the hosts, sometimes someone else hosted the evening. General
Wolikowski, for example, did not like to leave the house and would often
91

invite us to play at his house, for convenience. He was over eighty at the
time, and out of respect for our elder, we allowed him the privilege of selecting the venue. He was, however, always perfectly prepared to receive
guests, and every evening at his home was guaranteed to be good fun. The
general wrote a lot about the Second World War, in particular in the context of Anglo-Polish relations; he was even awarded a doctorate from the
University of Alberta for his reports.
Later, in 1964, Christine and I discovered Waikiki Beach. It was our
second big vacation, and we fell in love with Hawaii. The weather, the smells,
the roar of the waves, the food, and above all the people this was an entirely
different world to the one we knew in Canada. We felt that to spend time
there, even if only for two weeks in the year, it was worth slaving away for
the remaining eleven and a half months. From then on, Hawaii became our
holiday destination. You could relax there, and we could take the family. No
doubt there are many places in the world worth visiting, many people worth
meeting, many flavours worth tasting; but we had found our place in Hawaii.
We were so enchanted by the paradise island, that on our return
to Edmonton, we furnished half of the house in the Hawaiian style. Our
basement featured palms, tropical plants, sea shells, fishing nets, fish and
souvenirs from our trip. We frequently entertained guests in the big room
there. I was keen on sport, so the Polish community was happy to delegate the task of entertaining visiting Polish athletes to me and my friends.
I invited many of them to my house, to our Hawaiian corner. One group
of Polish wrestlers I remember quite well; we hosted hockey teams two
or three times as well as groups of Polish boxers. We were visited by the
dance troupe, Mazowsze, and we entertained several Polish scientists who
came to Canada on scholarships or on academic exchanges. It was a rich
and varied life, which gave us a lot of satisfaction. We were a happy family
and we kept an open house. We were moving forward and we prospered.
In 1966, together with the Wojcikis and Strzeleckis, we went to Phoenix, Arizona. We spent two or three weeks there at a resort belonging to
Lou Thesz, the world-famous wrestler. We all drove south together in a
convoy, absorbing the slowly changing landscape and ever stronger sun.
Teresa was 9, Henry, 7 and Mark was 5 years old at the time.
We saw tropical fruit, oranges and lemons, on the American continent for the first time. When we arrived at our destination on Good Friday,
92

we did not manage to properly unpack before celebrating Easter. We drank


the cheapest local wine and probably overdid it regarding the quantity; we
had time to regret this false start.
As I have said, Christine and I started travelling rather late, six years
after we were married, and it was another two years before we went on
holiday again. After that, however, travelling became an important part of
our lives. We went on many trips to Hawaii together with our friends, Stan
and Pearl Warshawski; we went on cruises to the Caribbean, and travelled
to Mexico, Indochina, New Zealand and Australia. We also travelled with
a couple of doctors from Edmonton, Waldek and Ewa Szymanski whom,
due to the difference in our ages, we treated almost as our children. We
had come to the conclusion that life should not consist solely of keeping
your nose to the grindstone. We did not stop working hard to maintain our
lifestyle, but we understood that it is important to take care of leisure and
relaxation.
I worked and played, but I never forgot about increasing my qualifications. To fulfil my great dream, I decided I wanted to study at Harvard. A
three-month business administration course caught my eye. It was training for management, typically financed by ones company. I assumed that
our wealthy owner, BACM Construction, would sponsor the studies of the
vice president of Universal Construction; unfortunately, my application
was refused, and I did not understand why. I was soon to understand how
serious the reasons were.

93

New Owners

The Chief Accountant of BACM Construction came to Edmonton (from Winnipeg) in 1967, together with several members of the Board of Directors. They
inspected the entire company.
How would you like to buy Universal Construction? he asked me.
I almost fell off my chair. The company is for sale? I enquired
tentatively.
We are looking for a buyer. If you hear of anyone who might be interested in buying it, or if you want to buy it yourself, please give me a call.
After this brief exchange, it took me a long time to collect my thoughts.
Once again, my professional life had been turned on its head. It was not out
of the question that a new owner would have his own people for my job
too. Did this mean that I was soon to be looking for work? What should I do
in this situation? Should I listen to the suggestion made, and urgently try to
find the money to buy the company?
Buying the company was out of the question; it was totally beyond
my means. In any case, I was not keen to take on, alone, the huge loan repayments, or to risk the loss of my own home and everything I had. Back in
1967, buying Universal was simply out of my reach.
Ultimately, the company was bought by a big development concern,
WA McDougall of London, Ontario. Bill McDougall, before establishing his
own firm, had been the chief engineer of one of Canadas largest building
companies. Soon after the purchase, he called me and invited me to Ontario to meet him. I agreed.
How are you, Joe? He greeted me with a smile.
Fine, its nice to meet you, sir. I wanted, in spite of my innate
shyness, to sound as confident as possible. I knew that this meeting
would decide my future. I looked around at my surroundings. It was a
tasteful and luxurious London condo, where McDougall lived with his
second wife.
94

We had a pleasant conversation; McDougall asked me about company


policy and possible avenues for expansion. It was clear that he wanted to
get to know me, to probe me. He didnt intend to fire me. After all, he had
spent a large amount of money on this business; he only wanted to be sure
that it was being managed by the right guy. I must have made a good impression, as soon afterwards, I was promoted to president.
It was a great year; I must admit that I was in seventh heaven, working in McDougalls business. I was happy that we had been bought by such
a powerful firm. I knew that they were responsible, for instance, for building a large Ford factory in Ontario. It was obvious that they made a lot
of money on that job. I often flew to meetings with McDougall, to discuss
current projects. There were quite a few of them, and we were always exchanging new ideas. We were completing the construction of the Peace
River Jail, and engaged in building the University of Alberta Biological Sciences complex. We were constantly submitting new tenders. Thanks to the
power of our new owner, Universal Construction easily obtained the required bonding (insurance guarantees) every time, and so large tenders
were within our reach.
In 1967, I spent two weeks working with McDougall in Europe. We
were involved in a project to import prefabricated concrete building elements from England in order to build hotels in northern Canada. The British government offered co-financing for the construction of these prefabs,
and they were to be transported by ship through Gibraltar.
Within a year of the takeover, I began to notice that something was
changing. In 1968, I flew to New York with McDougall Construction representatives. We were meeting with an Arabian prince about projects worth
millions of dollars, concerning the construction of whole towns in Saudi Arabia. We went as a three-man team; the vice president of WA McDougall, the
chief accountant and me. The behaviour of the other two seemed strange
to me, from the very beginning. We spent a week in meetings and lobbying; a lot of money was thrown about. However, I did not sense any commitment from them. Usually, when you are trying to secure a contract, you try to
present yourself in the best possible light. You demonstrate a certain level of
enthusiasm and initiative. I saw neither from my companions.
With hindsight, I should have paid attention from the start to the
manner in which McDougall did business. The way that he bought Univer95

sal Construction, for instance, should have caused me more concern. Why
did he do it without even meeting the employees? Why did he not inspect
our work in progress? He did not even bother to travel to Edmonton! Why
did he depend on others for everything, to do the business for him? When
he spent so much money to buy a company in Western Canada, sight unseen, it should have started alarm bells ringing. I lacked experience, however. Today, I know that I should have done things differently.
Too often, I would be unable to get in touch with McDougall. I would
call London: I would like to speak to the owner.
Hes not here.
Can I contact him?
Im afraid not.
Why not?
Its not physically possible; hes out of the office.
May I speak to the vice president?
Of course.
The vice president would not pick up the receiver; I would leave a
message, and he would not call back. I would try to reach the chief accountant; he would be out. After a couple of such instances, I knew that something was wrong with the company.
Finally, we received a visit from accountants from headquarters.
They checked our inventory. They asked about every little thing: Whats
this? And this? And that? We had high cranes, trucks suddenly everything
was being minutely inventoried. Initially I was not bothered by this; I had
nothing to hide. Over time, however, I began to be concerned. What were
these guys doing here? In any case, I did not like the accountant; he was
staying in the best hotel in town, and he invited women to the restaurant
table that he should not actually have been seen in public with.
There were also rumours about McDougall; his son had problems
with narcotics and his daughter had fallen in with some bad company. His
two marriages had fallen apart. It was said that he would vanish from the
company for weeks at a time, not telling anyone where he was or when he
would be back.
I never had the opportunity to ask Bill McDougall himself what was
going on; nor was I able to find out from the CEO of his company he did
not know what was going on, either. The chief accountant didnt want to tell
96

me anything. Only his assistant would speak to me, and he was extremely
worried and very busy.
Finally, he said to me: We are no longer interested in Western Canada.
And what exactly is the problem? I was surprised. The company is
profitable, we have money in the bank! Why are you pulling out of such a
good deal?
This question went unanswered. I was most surprised by the fact
that, instead of selling the company as a going concern and making a lot
of money that way, they seemed intent on stripping everything and selling
it for parts like a stolen car. It looked like we were being acquired to cover
debts; the company account was suddenly frozen.
I was of the opinion that McDougall should have contacted me himself and told me straight that they were winding up the business; he never
did that. At one point, I came to the conclusion myself that my company
had simply ceased to exist. Eventually, McDougalls assistant informed
me that, before they terminated my contract, I would get a payment of
twelve months wages, and that I would be responsible for the final company settlements and formalities before closure. McDougall, whatever else
you could say about him, settled his business honestly to the end. He gave
me a year to wind everything up. I took the company documents and had
power of attorney to settle accounts with subcontractors from home. I
was pleased, not only because I had security for another year, but also because the subcontractors that I had done deals with would not be left high
and dry. The employees also received six months wages when they were
laid off.
It was a small consolation, a minor reward for all the hard work that
we had put into the company. You weigh ten years of your efforts, often
after hours and on weekends, and you think of the people whom you hired,
trained and who are depending on you, and you see that it is all crumbling
into ruins. Now, you have to tell them: This is the end look for new work,
there is nothing for you here.
Universal Construction did not fail in the market place; on the contrary, we had achieved a lot. Over ten years of operations, from 1959 to
1969, we had built three huge office blocks, and three residential towers,
ranging from ten to twenty storeys in height. The largest highrise tower
consisted of 310 apartments. The majority of our buildings were built and
97

were ready for use within a year. We had built two bridges and a tunnel;
in Calgary, we had developed a fifty-hectare estate with plots for development; we built the infrastructure the streets, sidewalks and sewers, so
that the lots were ready to be sold for housing. We built the Holiday Inn in
Calgary, and other hotels in several other cities. We built a series of retirement lodges; these were wonderful buildings of brick and concrete, and
each one had from five to eight storeys. They still look good to this day. We
constructed the Biological Sciences complex our largest project and one
of the largest contracts of its time.
In 1969, I thought that WA McDougall was selling Universal Construction because they had lost interest in Western Canada. I understood
that the company had problems, but it never crossed my mind that it might
cease to exist. I never dreamed that it would not last half a year after the
closure of our firm! I felt sorry for Bill McDougall; he was a pleasant, good
man with serious family issues. When I think of his difficult situation, I do
not feel bitterness towards him; but rather pity and a lot of sympathy.
Universal Construction never went through the embarrassment of
bankruptcy. It was the parent company that went bust and took us down
with it. We had savings in the bank and we had no debts, but when the
parent company began to go under, there was no rescue; the company collapsed like a house of cards, and the fall was over in only a couple of weeks.
My career had started out strangely: I worked my fingers to the bone
for Domecki, and he sold the company; I worked for some guys from Winnipeg, and they ditched the enterprise too; I worked hard for WA McDougall, and they turned the company upside down. In 1970, my adventure with
Universal Construction, lasting over ten years, had come to a definitive end.
There was nothing to return to: I had to hit the road.

98

At a Crossroads

I was only 37 years old, but I had already managed to become accustomed
to a style of life that required a large and regular income. Universal Construction, which had been a dynamically expanding construction company until it
folded, had provided me with the conviction that such a lifestyle would always
be available to me. I had run the company as general manager from 1961; from
1967 I had been vice president, and then president. With the closure of Universal Construction, my ability to meet my expenditures had abruptly and unexpectedly ended.
How strong was my desire to maintain the lifestyle to which I had
become accustomed? Let me use as an example the case of Brian Mulroney, a well-known lawyer and prime minister of Canada in the years 1984
1993. After completing his tenure as prime minister, Mulroney allegedly
accepted 300,000 dollars in cash from German businessman, lobbyist and
arms dealer, Karlheinz Schreiber. This transaction led to the public scandal known as the Airbus affair. In accepting the tainted money, Mulroney
risked his reputation, his political influence, and faced the prospect of going to prison. When the matter came to light, he admitted that taking the
money had been a colossal mistake and always regretted the decision
afterwards. What tempted him to make it in the first place? It was an attachment to his accustomed style of life, which demanded a huge budget.
When the scandal broke, the former prime minister, through his spokesman, said that as the head of a young family, having defined expectations
with respect to status and lifestyle, he did not hesitate to take a risk to meet
those expectations.
The desire to meet the expectations of my family (and myself) at this
difficult turn on lifes highway was a mighty force. I held this desire when I
got up in the morning and when I went to bed in the evening. The chances
of securing an equivalent position in my professional career seemed slight,
a fact of which I was painfully aware. At the end of the 1960s, Universal
99

Construction was one of the top five construction companies in Alberta.


The job market did hold the promise of similar positions in these firms. I
doubted that I would land something comparable.
Joe, my president wants you to apply for a job with us, I was told
one day by Nick, an old friend from my university days. Nick was a vice
president at Poole Construction Company Limited, the largest construction company in Canada. From our conversation, it transpired that we
were talking about another vice presidents position. Finally, Nick said,
The president wants you to call him.
I knew the president of PCL. Until recently we had been rivals, working in competing companies; we had fought for the same contracts in public procurement tenders, as counterparts in tough market competition.
Now, in 1969, I was to go to him cap in hand and ask for him to graciously
take me under his wing. I was to bend the knee, tug the forelock and simply
beg. Someone else might have done so: not me. I wanted to emerge from
this time of trouble with my head held high, standing up straight. I was
implacable in this.
If you want me to work there, you ask the president to call me, I
replied politely but firmly.
Had the president wanted to call me, I would probably have gone to
work at Poole Construction Company Limited; but he didnt want to. I have
enormous respect for him today, in part because of the way he handled this
issue. He probably thought that for our future cooperation, it would be better if I was the supplicant party. But I wanted him to make the transition
easier, to extend his hand to me.
There was a another problem: the prospect of wearing out my shoe
leather in the corridors of construction companies, asking for work, was
not at all appealing to me. I did not like to ask. I was nine years old when,
for the first and last time in my life, I held out my hand to beg. I remember
this as a traumatic event. It was in Uzbekistan when, with my whole family,
we were traversing vast tracts of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,
heading for the mustering point of Anders Army in Kazakhstan. I was hungry, as we ate only sporadically. I watched, my mouth watering, as an old
woman baked pancakes on a metal sheet in the market. A boy, bolder than
I, went up and showed with his entire person, with childish despair in his
eyes and on his face, just how hungry he was; the woman tore off a piece
100

of bread and gave it to him. Another boy, emboldened by the success of the
first, followed; he was given bread. Next, on trembling legs, I went up to the
woman and extended my hand, begging. I was however, out of luck, since
after providing for the first two boys, she clearly noticed her dwindling
supplies. Maybe she had to think of her own children or grandchildren?
To this day, I see myself standing in that square with my hand extended,
begging: rejected, hungry and, what was more hurtful still, with deeply
wounded pride. I had to turn around and walk away. I told myself, then
Never again! In the future, I would do everything necessary to ensure that
I would never again have to beg.
There are events in a persons life that forever shape how he views
the world and how he handles what it throws at him. Asking the Muslim
woman for bread in that market square in Uzbekistan was, without a doubt,
one of those moments for me.
Over thirty years later, in Canada, I knew that I wanted to manage
these difficult times differently. It wasnt easy, though. I had the qualifications, I had experience and I had knowledge. I knew how to build houses.
The housing, warehouse and office construction market in those days presented no problem. On the contrary conditions were very good. All that I
lacked was capital. My bank balance stood at about three thousand dollars;
to buy the land for development I needed ten thousand. I could finance
the rest from loans. But where to get a loan? You cant get a loan if you had
no regular income. It was a vicious circle: I had no income because I had
no work; I had no work, because I was unable to get a loan and start my
own business. There was no way out. My thoughts were in turmoil, stress
was eating me up. What could I do? I could neither find a job in another
company, nor could I open my own. Not long before, I had been a lucky
guy, being a young president of a large corporation; now, my future was
overshadowed by doubt.

101

Striking Out on My Own

It was hard. I had no income, no employment prospects, but I had a burning


ambition. My youth demanded achievement; out of habit, I needed constant
confirmation of the status I had reached. Where would I find a way out of this
situation? And it was just as I was helplessly searching that Clarence Vaage
crossed my path. We knew each other from our days at Universal Construction. He was one of our subcontractors; he had a plastering company and had
earlier plastered three hundred apartments in a twenty-storey building for us.
If you find something, then Im in, he told me one day.
I liked him and had no problem trusting him. Shortly thereafter, I
found a second guy my supervisor from Universal Construction, Chris
Ronenkampf. The three of us formed a new company.
The division of responsibilities was as follows: I scouted for sites
and organized all of the subcontractors, Vaage organized the loans and the
money, and Ronenkampf supervised construction at the building sites. In
this way we built twenty-eight apartments in one block and sold the building. It went well, so we built another, and this one we kept for ourselves.
Business started to turn.
There was no point in selling the buildings. It was more profitable to
build them and rent them out. Regular income from tenants thats how to
make real money.
Soon, I was approached by Irena Domecki.
You are doing business with other people, although you hardly know
them, but we have been friends for a long time. Why dont you ask me? I
could be your partner.
You want to? No problem, I said. As soon as I find a site, we will
build something together.
In this way we built three blocks: of 30, 28 and 22 apartments. Then
another guy showed up Wekherlein. Together, we built a block with 27
apartments, and an office building and two warehouses. One of the ware102

houses was really big, 110,000 square feet in an area of 4.5 acres. We had
to invite a third partner to achieve this project, and to obtain him, we had
to fly all the way to Berlin.
Each time I went into business with a new partner, I created a company dedicated specifically to a given project. In this way, new companies
were being created all the time: Parksite Development, Bermark Holdings,
Bermark Construction, Academy Developments, Badenia Developments
and others. In total, over all of the years of my operations, I enlisted the
help of fourteen partners.
What were my principles of cooperation? I would tell my partners:
We are equal investors; you tell me how much you want to put into this
deal, and I will contribute the same amount.
We would jointly finance the company. The fee for my services always
amounted to 4 percent of the entire investment; if the total cost was 1 million dollars, I would take forty thousand. My partners were not expected to
provide services. Apart from my fee, we divided all profits equally. These
were the terms of business under which I worked with all of my partners.
Other developers may have acted differently: well do the work, you
give the money. In this manner, however, they took no risk. Conversely, I
risked exactly as much as my partners did and my partners were happy to
see that we bore exactly the same risk. They trusted that I would not slip
up. A comforting attribute was my experience. Without a doubt, these two
factors drove my business.
And in truth, despite my policy of sharing the risk with my partners,
I was always careful. I would split large projects into several parts. I never
allowed one project to become too costly. I decided that it was better to
earn less, investing smaller amounts each time, than to risk everything trying to get one big score. I always insisted on doing business in this way. It
was how I operated and it was another key to my success.
And yet, every time I had to ask for a loan, I went with a trembling
heart. We signed agreements, taking the risk that, in the event of failure,
the bank would take the shirts from our backs.
You are securing the loan with everything you have, the lender
warned us. He did not hesitate to say to Christine, when we were signing
the loan agreement: If your business fails, then you, madam, will have to
take off the fur coat that you are wearing and give it up.
103

We were usually able to secure 85 percent of the investment financing


through loans; the rest was to be the our personal contribution. Yet we always
evaluated the costs of construction in such a way that the loan would be enough
to cover all of the expenses. We didnt, therefore, have to invest our own money.
At the beginning of each investment, when the building was rented
out, we broke even. Whatever we obtained from rent, we used to pay off
the loan and other expenses. After two or three years, however, each investment began to show a profit.
Obviously, each repayment instalment consisted of two parts: one
was a repayment of interest; the other a repayment of the principal. With
each repaid instalment, the book value of the property increased since
as the loan was repaid, the debt burden decreased. In 1970, my estate consisted of a house worth 200,000 dollars and three thousand dollars in cash.
After seven years, in 1977, I had a house, several apartment blocks, warehouses and offices. This increase was quite rapid: between 1970 and 1980,
we built almost three hundred apartments and three warehouses. I did not
complain about a lack of things to do.
During this period, I parted ways with Chris Ronenkampf. Chris
wanted to do business in a way that was, shall we say, more civilized.
Working weekends and long hours in the evenings did not suit him; I was
driven to work hard.
If thats how the land lies, I said, then we cannot come to a compromise. We will have to split up.
So we sold both of our jointly owned apartment blocks and separated
without rancour.
Unfortunately, I then had an unpleasant incident with Domecki. It
was in Red Deer, 150 km south of Edmonton. I intended to buy land for
an investment there with his wife, Irena. Irena called and asked whether
I minded if her husband came with us to look at the plot. No problem, I
said, and so we went. We liked the place and we agreed that we would tender an offer. Near the end of the site visit, Domecki said, And what do I get
out of all this? I deserve 10 percent!
I was speechless. Ten percent? For what? For driving to Red Deer?
I looked at him, to see that he wasnt joking. It did not appear so. How
could you expect to participate in a business without putting in your own
money? I did not respond, I just returned to the car.

104

And that was the end of my interest in a partnership with Domecki


in Red Deer. I decided that he was trying to be clever at my expense; he
had not noticed that he had crossed a line, one that in business you must
not cross. I was never able to clarify the situation with him. I preferred to
never mention it again. Perhaps I was afraid that any discussion on the
subject would come out worse than the incident itself. In any event, we
were still friends, but I will honestly admit, that from that moment on, I
preferred to do business with the wife of my former employer than with
the man himself.
In 1972, my cousin Zenon Bereznicki (the engineer) called me with
a question:
What would you say to the position of chairman of a soccer club?
I dont know. Whats this about?
We remember how you used to score goals for the White Eagles
twenty years ago. We know you love sports. The thing is this: a group of
young people from Edmonton want to play soccer. Some are still in high
school; others are at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. We play
quite well, and we want to start a Polish team. We need organizational support. Would you like to be chairman of this club?
I really liked soccer. Okay, you can count on me, I replied.
For the next five or six years, I served as chairman of this organization. We played in an intercity league, in Edmonton, Calgary or Lethbridge.
Soon, an opportunity arose for a trip that I had never dreamed about when
accepting the offer to lead the local club.
In 1974, the communist regime in Poland organized a great sporting
event in Krakow for the Polish Diaspora from around the world: the first
World Polonia Games. It sounded fantastic. Few people travelled to Poland
in those days and this was a great opportunity. Everyone was interested;
they wanted to see how people lived there, thirty years after the war. We
wrote to the event organizer, asking for an application form. We completed
it, sent it and waited for a response. Eventually it came we were in! We
arranged visas at the Polish Embassy in Ottawa.
When everything was ready, I went to visit my old friend Stan Warshawski.
We are going to Poland, I proudly announced, for a sporting
tournament!
105

Stan was speechless with joy.


Why am I not going with you? I could be the team doctor!
If you cover your own costs, you can go, I told him.
Only bureaucracy stood in our way; we had everything arranged, but
what about Stans visa? It was practically impossible to arrange it in the
few days remaining. We placed our hopes in Steve Paproski, a Member of
Parliament for Canada. Steve was from Lvov, and he had come to Edmonton as a child. After college, he played professional football in the Canadian
Football League, and then he began a fruitful political career. He filled several important roles, including the post of Minister for Sport, in the federal
government. Having a political contact, with a well-positioned politician
with Polish roots, proved invaluable. Thanks to Paproskis influence and
his endorsement, Stan was able to obtain his visa in time to fly to Poland
with us.
A couple of days before our departure, I received an unexpected
phone call. The voice in the receiver identified himself as an officer of the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Political Department, and he invited me to
a meeting. He informed me that it was informal and also highly confidential. We were to meet at a small roadside diner outside town. I was shocked.
I want a witness at this meeting, I declared. If possible, I will attend
with my wife.
No problem.
We met two young men, both tall and dressed in civilian clothing.
They asked us who our sponsor was, who had invited us and why we were
going to Poland in the first place. I laid everything out for them from A to
Z: we had heard about the event from the Polish press, and we were very
pleased to be going, because it was a fantastic opportunity for us to visit
Poland after thirty years. The games were being sponsored by the host.
And who is paying for the flights and other costs related to the trip?
Everyone pays for themselves, I explained.
One officer frowned at this.These young boys are also paying their
own way?
Yes. Some are getting money from their parents, some have jobs.
But if someone has neither savings, nor affluent parents, then we secure
a job for him. I have a building company; there is no lack of simple work.
Its possible to earn enough for a ticket in a couple of weeks. The young-

106

sters collected the rest of the money outside the Polish church in Edmonton, in collection tins.
Eventually, the long-awaited day dawned. We landed at Okecie Airport in Warsaw with the whole team: nineteen players aged between fifteen and twenty, and four middle-aged persons from the team administration, including myself. We were met at the airport by two soldiers, machine
guns slung over their shoulders; this surprised us, as we were expecting to
be met with flowers instead. We were taken by coach to the Dom Chopa in
the city centre for lunch, after which we left for Krakow, where the games
would take place.
I must admit, that for a connection between the capital and the
second most important city in the country, the road was really narrow.
When we encountered a hay cart, we could not overtake it for fifteen minutes. Furthermore, after some time the boys began to signal the need to
answer the call of nature; we had been driving for many long kilometres
and there were no rest stops anywhere. On the advice of our tour guide, I
decided in the end that we would stop at a private house and simply pay
the occupants for the use of their toilet. I had no idea how much to pay the
occupants. I collected twenty dollars, a dollar per head. In the upside-down
socialist economy, this represented almost half a months average wages.
Our visit was like a lottery win for the lucky homeowner.
We were very warmly and hospitably welcomed in Krakow. The minister responsible for the organization was, if I remember correctly, called
Adamski. We slept in a student dorm and the food was not bad. In addition,
the chairman of the Polish Olympic Committee invited our club administrators to a convivial private party. Sixteen teams were represented at the
games, and we were the only group from Canada. The strongest team was
put forward by the American Polish community from Chicago, and they
won the tournament. Our team did not return home empty-handed, however; we brought home the bronze medal.
Before the return flight to Canada, we stayed for about a week at the
Hotel Warsaw in the capital. As club chairman, I was given a large suite,
paid for by the Polish Olympic Committee. No one from the team could
complain about the conditions. In this respect, the event organizers had
risen to the occasion. Warsaw itself, however, did not make a good impression. It was a grey, neglected city. There were militia everywhere prob107

ably in connection with the visit of the Secretary General of the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev. We even went to watch the parade, but we arrived at the very end, since we had partied the night before
and had trouble getting up in the morning. After the parade, we went to
Nowy Swiat, to the Cepelia souvenir shop, to buy mementos from our visit
to Poland for our families. Stan was determined to buy a pair of leather
gloves for his son. He claimed that he had a method for this, as their hands
were the same size.
Would you show me those brown gloves, please? he said in a firm
voice to the shop assistant, pointing to a pair lying under the glass top of
the wooden counter.
They are on display, cant you see them? she replied, without moving from her place.
Yes, but I would like to try them on, Stan responded, nonplussed.
We dont give gloves from behind the counter.
What do you mean, Dont give? How am I to buy them? Warshawski exclaimed.
When you buy them, I will give them to you. The size is L. We do not
try on gloves.
I thought that Stan would burst. He stormed out of the shop, slamming the door behind him.
At the end of our stay, I was invited to appear on behalf of the Canadians at an official meeting in the Palace of Culture and Science. The Polish
authorities were also interested in who had arranged our trip and sponsored us. The fact that we had received no assistance from the Canadian
government was met with frank disbelief.
Once we had returned to Canada, I was once more contacted by officers of the political department of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
We met in the now-familiar roadside diner outside Edmonton, where they
asked for a detailed report on the visit: Who did you talk to? Who hosted
you? Who was at the games?
We had nothing to hide, but these meetings with the police reminded
us that, in going to Poland, we had crossed a boundary between two worlds.
The East and West were still divided by the Iron Curtain. We inhabitants
of Canada belonged to the capitalist world; they our oppressed compatriots from Poland lived under the communist yoke. We were separ108

ated by a political divide, imposed between two mutually distrustful blocs.


Before this wall of mistrust was to melt, the Soviet regime first had to collapse: this was to take several more years to achieve. Meanwhile, the Polonia Soccer Club that we founded in Edmonton in the 1970s still exists to
this day, fielding about three or four teams, both mens and womens.
In 1974, I was able to claim yet another achievement: I quit smoking.
I had been a smoker continually for almost twenty years, since 1955. Often
I would smoke two or even three packs a day. I stopped in the spring of
1974. I was bothered by the smell in the house, and the smoke; in addition
I had developed a cough and I realized that it wasnt healthy.
I had previously quit smoking several times, but it always proved
too difficult. This time was different; this time I decided to quit just for
one day. I still had cigarettes in every drawer; five or six open packs. One
in the desk, another in the bedroom, others in the kitchen and on the table
in the entrance hall. They were within easy reach at all times, but I decided
that on this day, I would refrain from using them. The next day, I decided
the same thing, and again the next day. And so, day by day, I renewed my
resolution. I did not think that I would never smoke again, because never
seemed to represent an awfully long period of time. A month went by in
this way, and then another, and then a year I never again took a cigarette
into my mouth, although I would sometimes smoke a cigar.
But the real success lay elsewhere: one of the toughest periods of
my adult life had come to an end. The two years since the loss of my job at
Universal Construction had cost me a lot. Happily, I had landed on my feet,
opened my own business, avoiding the Poole Construction Company Limited, where I probably would have found work. Yet, I suspect that it would
have been a particularly stressful and demanding occupation. I saw how
my friends, employed by large corporations, struggled to withstand the
enormous pressure that often accompanies work in the corporate world.
Some did not manage. I was worried that, were I to work that hard, then it
could affect my health, as it had affected the health of several of my friends.
I think that the decisions I took at the time worked out well for me.
Besides, there is a world of difference between working for someone
else and working for yourself. When you work for someone else, you earn
a wage. It may be a good wage, sometimes even a very good wage, but it is
still a wage. When you work for yourself, and business is good, then, as the
109

Americans say, you make money. Yes, you pay taxes, you have overhead,
but whats left is yours. When I was employed by others, even if I generated a million dollars, at the end of the day I would get only my salary and
maybe a bonus at the end of the year. Now, that million I had generated
was mine. That was the difference, and it was huge. I began saving money.
Thanks to my own business I entered a new phase in my life a time of
prosperity.

110

THE BEREZNICKI FAMILY. Mikolaj (Mike) and Karolina Bereznicki in the centre, Walter
(left) and Joseph (right). Ahwaz, 1943.

111

112

KAROLINA BEREZNICKI WITH HER CHILDREN. From the left: Joseph, Karolina and Walter
Bereznicki. At the camp near Karachi (currently in Pakistan), India, 1943.

113

MY PARENTS. Mikolaj (Mike) and Karolina Bereznicki. Ahwaz, Iran, 1943.

114

JOSEPH BEREZNICKI with his own bicycle in the camp at Valivade, India, 1947.

DEDICATION
TO AUNTIE.
Written by Joseph
on the reverse of
the photograph,
sent to his aunt,
Katarzyna Leszczyska (ne Berenicka) living in
Laskw, Gniezno
powiat (district).

115

WALTER BEREZNICKI, Valivade, India, 1947.

116

WITH OUR INDIAN NEIGHBOUR. Seated: the owner of a shop that sold buttons, so he had
the nickname Button Man, and Mikolaj (Mike) Bereznicki. Standing, Joseph Bereznicki.
Valivade, India, 1946.

WHITE EAGLES SOCCER CLUB. Back row, from left: Joseph Bereznicki, Wladyslaw
Kobusiak, Stanislaw Labuda, Marian Malinowski, Wladyslaw Bereznicki, unknown,
Stefan Brzuszkiewicz, Joseph Leszczynski. Front row from left: Jan Kubok, Franciszek Bereznicki, Franciszek Leszczynski. Edmonton, Clark Stadium, 1950 .

117

THE BEREZNICKI AND LESZCZYNSKI FAMILIES. Standing from left: Franciszek and Jadwiga
Leszczynski, Joseph and Christine Bereznicki, Karol and Tosia Leszczynski, Wladyslaw Bereznicki. Seated from left: Mikolaj (Mike) and Paulina Leszczynski, Fr. Franciszek Tomczak,
Franciszek Bereznicki, Karolina and Mikolaj (Mike) Bereznicki. Edmonton, old Polish Hall
in Edmonton, 1957 .

WITH TERESA, AGED 2. From left: Christine, Teresa and Joseph Bereznicki.
Edmonton, 1959.

118

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION PHOTOGRAPH. Joseph Bereznicki, 1952.

119

120

WITH GROWN-UP SONS. From left: Mark, Joseph and Henry Bereznicki. Pigeon Lake,
Alberta, Canada, mid-1980s.

121

GRADUATION PHOTOGRAPH. Joseph Bereznicki on obtaining a Master of Science degree in


civil engineering. University of Alberta, 1959 .

122

WEDDING DAY. Teresa Bereznicka-Korol leaving the family home. Edmonton, 1981.

PAPAL AUDIENCE. Joseph and Christine Bereznicki meet John Paul II. Vatican, 1981.

123

HENIOS
WEDDING. From
left: Joseph,
Henryk and
Christine
Bereznicki,
Edmonton,
1985 .

WITH GRANDCHILDREN. From left in Joseph Bereznickis arms: Darlene Bereznicki and
Kaithlyn Korol. Embraced by Christine Bereznicki: Christopher Korol, Catherine Bereznicki
and Jackie Korol. At he home of Jane and Henryk Bereznicki in Edmonton, 1989 .

124

BOARD OF THE CANADIAN-POLISH CONGRESS, Alberta District 1993-1995. Front row


from left: Henry Kazala. Waldemar Szymanski, Joseph Bereznicki, Danuta Bochinski,
Zbigniew Dziech. Middle row: Joanna (Gawlik) Lachacz, Victor Fortynski, Maryla Hasek,
Elizabeth Bajger, Stefania Kucy, Henry Urban, Karol Krotki. Back row: Chris Micek,
Kaz Walewski, William Chodkiewicz. Edmonton, 1995.

SELECTED PROPERTIES BUILT BY JOSEPH BEREZNICKI


IN EDMONTON BETWEEN
1969-1980:
1. El Dorado
(28 appartments),
2. Academy Place (30),
3. Espania Manor (36),
4. Oakville Manor (28),
5. Richmond Manor (27),
6. Sundial (30),
7. Hudson Court (50),
8. Jupiter Estates (36).

125

SEVERAL BUILDINGS
BUILT UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF JOSEPH
BEREZNICKI:
1. The Biological Scien ces building at the
University of Alberta
(built by Universal
Construction in the
mid-1960s.).
2. Badenia office and
logistical centre, completed in 1977 by one
of the companies that
Joseph Bereznicki co-owned, Edmonton.
3. Mayfield office
and logistical centre,
completed in 1974,
Edmonton.

126
3

BIG HOUSE. 4807-154th


Street, Edmonton.
Joseph Bereznickis
home between
1979-1989.

CELEBRATARY BALL FOR THE CENTENNIAL OF POLISH SETTLEMENT IN ALBERTA.


from left: Hon. Walter Paszkowski, Hon. Ken Kowalski, Hon. Diane Mirosh and Joseph Bereznicki. Seated at the table is His Excellency the Right Honourable Edward Schreyer, (Governor General of Canada in 1979-1984). Shaw Convention Centre in Edmonton, 1995 .

127

WITH THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA. The Right Honourable


Don Mazankowski (Deputy Prime Minister in 1986-1993) and Joseph Bereznicki during
the celebrations of the Centennial of Polish settlement in Alberta. Skaro pilgrimage centre,
Alberta, 1995 .

PRESENTATION OF THE BOOK Polonia in Alberta 1885-1995, published for the Centennial of Polish settlement in Alberta. Standing from left: Hon. Walter Paszkowski, Joseph
Bereznicki, John Szumlas and Hon. Ralph Klein, Premier of Alberta (1992-2006). The
Premiers Office at the Legislature Building, Edmonton, 1996 .

128

FIELD MASS. Joseph Bereznicki at the lectern during Holy Mass as part of the celebrations for the centennial of Polish settlement in Alberta. Wawel grounds, belonging to the
Society of Polish Veterans in Edmonton, 1995.

SPEECH. The meeting before Edmonton City Hall as part of the celebrations for the centennial of Polish settlement in Alberta, 1995 .

129

PILGRIMAGE TO SKARO. The procession as part of the celebrations for the centennial of
Polish settlement in Alberta. Skaro,1995 .

BANQUET DURING THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS OF THE POLISH SETTLEMENT IN


ALBERTA. From left: Her Worship Jan Reimer, Mayor of Edmonton, Joseph Bereznicki
and Councillor Terry Cavanagh present a photograph of Edmonton City Hall. Polish Hall
Edmonton, 1995.

130

CHRISTMAS PARTY AT THE POLISH HALL. From left: His Worship Bill Smith, Mayor of
Edmonton, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) journalist Christine Jarmicka and
Joseph Bereznicki. Edmonton, 1995.

131

A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY, a man of faith, mission and honor: Dr. Henry Wjcicki, President of the Canadian Polish Congress, Alberta District in 1965-1967 and 1977-1981, during a speech. The Order of Canada (Canadas highest civilian honour) visible in his lapel.

132

AWARDED THE OFFICERS CROSS OF THE ORDER OF MERIT OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND, for services to the Polish community in Alberta. Joseph Bereznicki speaks during
a banquet organized by the Polish Heritage Society. Polish Hall, Edmonton, 2001.

FAMILY GATHERING AT PIGEON LAKE. Standing from left: Richard Korol, Mark Bereznicki,
Joseph Bereznicki, Teresa Bereznicki Korol, Henry Bereznicki, Jane Bereznicki.
Seated from left: Kaitlyn Korol, Jackie Korol, Catherine Bereznicki, Caroline Bereznicki,
Christine Bereznicki, Darlene Bereznicki, Christopher Korol. Jetty at Pigeon Lake,
Alberta, 2005.

133

CAROLINE BEREZNICKIS BIRTHDAY. Alberta, 2004. Back row from left: Jane Bereznicki,
Catherine Bereznicki, Christopher Korol, Henry Bereznicki, Joseph Bereznicki. Standing at
the front, Jackie Korol, Caroline Bereznicki (with birthday cake), Darlene Bereznicki, Teresa Bereznicki Korol, Mark Bereznicki. Bosa Noga, Pigeon Lake Cottage, Alberta, 2004.

MARK AND URSZULA. Muttart Conservatory, Edmonton, 2006.

134

FIVE COUSINS. From left: Walter Bereznicki, Joseph Bereznicki, Karol Leszczynski, Frank
Leszczynski and Fr. Joseph Leszczynski. Silver Sand Summer Village, Alberta, 1997.

THE BEREZNICKI FAMILY. Standing from left to right: Dr. Catherine Bereznicki,
Dr. Husein Moloo, Darlene Bereznicki, Caroline Bereznicki, Dr. Christopher Korol,
Jane Bereznicki, Kaitlyn Korol, Henry Bereznicki. Seated from left: Teresa Bereznicki Korol, Christine Bereznicka, Joseph Bereznicki. The home of Henry and Jane,
Edmonton, 2013.

135

Semi-Retirement Party

In 1979, we moved to a two-storey brick house at 4807 154th street. Just


like our previous home, it was situated next to the river. At this time, I considered myself to be very wealthy. I hired an architect from Montreal and
selected a very nice design. I did not participate in the construction myself,
but hired an outside company; I did not want to bother with trifles, as I had
enough serious work to do. The house was 550 square meters in size and
stood on two plots. We also owned the two adjacent plots, which were earmarked for a tennis court and swimming pool. My friends called the property Bereznicki Belvedere.
Sometime in the late 1970s, our daughter Teresa met her future husband, Richard Korol. They met at a ball organized by the Polonia Soccer
Club, of which he was a member. He was a keen footballer; he had played in
the Polonia Games in Krakow in 1974. Teresa and Richard went out together for five years. One evening, in early 1981, they came to Bereznicki Belvedere. Richard asked me if we could speak together for a moment in private.
I thought: Is he crazy? Christines in bed, Im almost in my pyjamas
and he urgently wants to talk.
Whats this about? I asked Christine as I was leaving the bedroom.
Then it dawned on me: Isnt it obvious? He wants to ask you for Teresas hand!
Aha! I have you! I thought. I went downstairs to the living room. Richard presented me with his case and, as foreseen by Christine, he raised
important questions about our plans in relation to our daughter.
I will tell you later, I declared.
To myself I thought: It will do you good to struggle a little, my boy.
It certainly will do you no harm. And, I am not in the habit of taking rash
decisions.
And so, a little spontaneously, and a little deliberately I still dont
know why, myself I decided that Richard would have a harder time with
136

me than he expected. The wedding took place on June 20th, 1981: 250
people in evening gowns and dinner jackets gathered at the Terrace Inn
Hotel. The master of ceremonies for the wedding was Doctor Henry Wojcicki. The reception began in spectacular fashion. We stood around the
tables, each place marked with an elegantly handwritten place card giving
the name of the guest, when suddenly Crash! Before our amazed eyes,
the head table collapsed to the ground. In a second, everything, china and
crystal, landed on the floor, narrowly missingthe four-tiered wedding cake.
The effect was shocking; for a moment there was a stunned silence. This
did not last more than a second or two, because the room erupted in laughter, and not just from one or two people, but from everyone present. And
it went on and on. Some, holding their sides or crying with laughter, could
not compose themselves for a long time. Before we managed to consider
the consequences of this catastrophe, the hotel staff cleared up the mess
and set everything up again as new in a lightning pace. The wedding went
very well.
That same year, Christine and I went on a trip to Italy, together with
the Board of Directors of the CanadianPolish Congress from Toronto.
Together with the Wojcickis and Domeckis, we joined the members of the
board and in a large group, around thirty people including families, flew to
Rome. At the Vatican, Doctor Henry Wojcicki and Jan Kaszuba, the chairman of the board, were invited to an audience with the Pope, the newly
elected John Paul II, and delivered a donation for a home for Polish pilgrims. Shortly thereafter, the funds donated by Poles from the USA and
Canada were used to buy a large building in Rome from the Sisters from
Nantes. In this way, expatriate Poles wanted to assist pilgrims from Poland
visiting Rome.
1981 was a special year for our family: Teresa graduated from law school
and got married, Henry graduated with honours as an engineer, and Mark was
in his second year at university. We had many reasons to be grateful.
It was in Rome, at St. Peters Basilica during a special mass for this
intention, that Christine and I renewed our vows and thanked God for
twenty-five years of successful marriage. Our anniversary mass was celebrated at the main altar of the Basilica and later, everyone sang Sto lat
to us in the catacombs. This thanksgiving, for the quarter century of our
marriage, all the wonderful events we had as a couple and for the suc137

cesses of our children, will always be one of the most beautiful and uplifting events of my life.
I was aware that I no longer had to chase after money, but I also knew
that I wanted to expand. In business, you are either going forwards or
backwards the iron rule of the marketplace. I had no intention of going
backwards. I had been able to rest on my laurels since 1977; I had a guaranteed steady income, I had an established position and property. I felt that
I had achieved a certain status in life and I wanted to demonstrate this to
others. Christine organized a semi-retirement party for me. The party was
a signal that I was a step away from taking early retirement. If I took that
step, it meant that I wouldnt have to work anymore; not because of my age,
but because I had made enough money.
At that time, we still lived on the river at 7508 Rowland Road. Our
best friends came to the party: the Wojcickis, Domeckis, Strzeleckis, business acquaintances something like thirty people. The party went on
until morning.
At the age of 45, I thought I had achieved all that I really wanted.
The children were gaining an education, and my bank balance was growing without the need for my constant effort and work every day. It was a
thought born of vanity after a vacuous party, and it had all been my own
idea. I felt good about what I had achieved in life and I wanted to boast
about it. Maybe I should not have done that. Suffice to say that soon after,
life dealt me a harsh lesson; clearly it wanted to demonstrate to me that
humility is a virtue and that no matter how much you have, you can lose it
all in a heartbeat at any time.

138

On the Verge of Bankruptcy

At the end of the seventies, the demand for housing was huge. A boom had
erupted for the extraction of crude oil from oil sands in the north of the province. Every year, forty thousand people from other Canadian provinces and
beyond, gravitated to Alberta. To give additional assistance to developers, in
satisfying the rising demand for housing, the government decided to introduce a housing market development program the Core Housing Incentive
Program, or CHIP for short. It was meant to encourage businesses to increase
investment. The government guaranteed loan security, which made access to
loans easier. They also subsidised these loans, decreasing the interest from 12
to 6 percent. Furthermore, tenants who did not have high earnings also received assistance from the government to help pay their rent. This was a cash
cow for developers, because it was forecast that, within two to three years,
rents would rise by between 50 and 100 percent.
Not only did it seem that conditions for investors were incredibly
favourable, the government used various methods to encourage us to
participate in the enterprise. I didnt need to be told twice; I located two
large plots for the construction of a 43-unit and 50-unit apartment building. Together with my partner, we took out as large a loan as we could
manage, which amounted to 3.5 million dollars. Conditions were so good
that I borrowed more than I needed 200,000 dollars was left over for
other projects. I congratulated myself on a good deal and was already
calculating the profits from this investment. Nothing indicated that there
might be problems.
In 1980, the federal government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, announced another initiative: the National Energy
Program. The NEP was a response to rising oil prices around the world and
the resulting world recession. On the one hand, the federal government
imposed oil and gas prices on Canada, lower than in the rest of the world,
and on the other they changed the tax system so that Alberta, and in parti139

cular energy sector enterprises, received significantly lower revenues than


previously. The federal share of the oil mine revenues increased from 10
to 36 percent, whereas the provinces share fell from 45 to 36 percent, and
the private entrepreneurs from 45 to 28. In this way, the revenues of the
province fell by 20 percent, and industry profits by as much as 40 percent.
The oil sands boom, in which we had placed all our business hopes,
dried up overnight, as business entrepreneurs began boycotting investments in Alberta in protest. The hordes of people that had recently been
flocking to the province for work were leaving in droves. Our property investments ceased to be viable.
Property prices in Edmonton and Calgary fell by 40 percent. The market was flooded with empty buildings. Developers pressed up against the
wall began a brutal competitive battle. Promotions were to be found everywhere. Advertisements abounded with slogans like Live for two months
for free! But what did it mean for the developer to give two months of free
rentals? Two months out of twelve represented a decrease in revenues of
15 percent. To this were added losses arising from the already low prices
and the large number of abandoned buildings. The question arose: How
were we, the developers, to cover this loss of revenue? How were we to
repay the loan instalments? According to official statistics, after the introduction of the NEP, the bankruptcy rate among businesses in the province
of Alberta increased by 150 percent.
It didnt look good. In 1982, our warehouses were half empty. The
rate of unoccupied residential buildings amounted to between 15 and 30
percent. My income did not cover the interest on the loan. My savings were
shrivelling up before my eyes, but the lender was not interested in whether
the apartments were empty. You took a loan? You have to pay it back.
For three years I paid the instalments out of my financial reserves
and from other projects. Yet within two or three years, our savings had
melted away like summer snow. The coffers were empty and the end began
to approach. I was not able to continue in this way any further.
There comes a critical moment, when you realise that everything that
you own does not cover your debt obligations. You see how much your house is worth, how much your other properties would bring and how much
debt you have, and you see that you are far below the line. Just the day before, you thought you were 10 million dollars in the black, but the next day,
140

two million in the red. What does it really mean? It means that your house,
your car and anything else that belongs to you can be repossessed by the
bailiff, and he has the right to take everything. This was the position I was
in the midpoint of the 1980s.
Christine could see my mounting desperation. I would come home
from work after yet another day that had not provided a solution. Meetings
that I thought might be promising did not provide the hoped-for results. I
would return home mentally drained. The economic upturn we all expected didnt materialize. We would wait for weeks for an important meeting
with a large entrepreneur or government official, who might be able to
help, provide some support, improve the situation in some way, or give us
some hope that eventually we would overcome our difficulties and at the
last minute the meeting would be cancelled. At moments like these, my
wife would invariably say, Have faith; sooner or later a solution will be
found. Trust in God!
It was blind faith. It needed no justification. When a man truly believes, it seems as if the thing you believe in starts to become reality. I dont
know how to explain it any other way.
I told Christine candidly about our problems. If you try to bear a burden like that alone, it becomes impossible. Sooner or later it will wear you
down. If you share it with someone, it is lighter by half. My wife did not
perceive our situation as pessimistically as I did. Hes a smart guy. He will
manage with this somehow, she thought. I felt that I understood the seriousness of the situation better than Christine did, and that I knew how hard
it was to dig oneself out of these types of problems.
Trust in God, Christine repeated invariably. Only He can help.
Let us pray.
And so we prayed. We tried meditating and we prayed together with
the children.
Pray and try to work as well as you can, thats all that you can do,
was Christines advice; she placed an equal amount of unwavering faith in
Divine Providence as in the abilities of her husband.
This faith was important. I had the experience of faith from my childhood. I remembered my parents; they too could have given up, when they
were dragged from their home and sent to the work camp; they could have
given up when we were hungry on the road to Kazakhstan, where Anders
141

Army was being formed; they could have given up when trekking thousands
of kilometres across Asia, seeking their way to India; they could have given
up finally at the crossroads of their lives, when the camp in India was liquidated and they had to return to a completely changed post-war Europe.
Their faith was unshakeable; they believed that they would overcome all
obstacles. Their faith was their salvation. We also clung to that faith.
At this time, my brother said to me: Joe, remember; if you ever need
anything, then everything that is mine is also yours.
I cant talk about it today without being moved. My brother Walter
worked hard as a plumber. I have no doubt that collecting his savings had
cost him a great deal of effort, but when he saw that I was in difficulties, he
did not hesitate to offer me his hard-earned savings that he had put aside
for a rainy day. I will never forget that.
I am convinced that without the support of my family, I would not
have survived this period. Such problems do not come along very often.
They are, however, a part of life. I have found that by searching diligently
for solutions and sharing problems with others, I could count on their support; this proved to be of precious value.
In 1982, my son Henry started working for PCL on the building of the
largest hospital in the city University Hospital. He had previously worked
for me for a year on the construction of the fateful blocks that we built
through the CHIP program. In 1983, the hospitals construction was coming to an end, and Henry did not particularly fancy working for PCL as
an engineer.
I convinced him to apply for a masters degree course at Harvard. It
had been my dream and ambition in my youth. I dont know how I managed to transfer it to my son. Maybe he was simply ambitious in his own
right. We wanted to raise his standard of living not only as an engineer,
but also to get a degree in business administration. I was happy to offer to
pay for his studies; he signed up for a two-year course.
When he was accepted, I drove with him to Boston by car. It was a
pleasure, born of common professional interests, to observe the neighbourhoods of fantastic buildings belonging to multimillionaires. There was a
summer house that had belonged to President Kennedy. We dined on lobster; apparently there are no other lobsters like those to be had in Boston.
We had a great time, father and son together. After a week, he drove me to
142

the airport. I remember the moment we parted. I realized that he would


never be coming home again; he had started a new life. I hugged him tightly, and could do nothing to stop the tears streaming down my face.
Henrys leaving was a huge blow for me and Christine, but happily, that same year, our parental hearts were presented with an enormous
consolation: Teresa and Richard had begun to build a house in our neighbourhood. We gave them a plot, deciding to use the area designated for the
never-built tennis court for the good of our family. Its time you thought
about a house, we told them. We once again hired the architect we knew
from Montreal. He arrived and prepared everything; I helped in the design
and hiring of subcontractors.
We lived next door to each other in great friendship. When their
children began to grow up, they would bring them to visit us. We had
Teresa and Richard close by, and when necessary, we could babysit our
grandchildren.

143

Looking Deep Within Yourself

What do you do when you find yourself at the edge of the abyss, and all attempts to manage the catastrophe have been exhausted? You start to wonder
about the sense of it all. Why are you alive? Why are you in the world? How will
you behave towards your family, with your growing children? You go deep inside, into your core. And then you look at yourself in the mirror, as if you were
somebody else, standing next to yourself. You wonder where you will be able
to find the answers to the questions that plague you.
I saw Brian Tracys advertisement in the newspaper. I was reading
the news, where most of the headlines were doom-laden stories about the
recession in Alberta. Amongst them I found an announcement that said
something completely different. It said that everything in our lives was
still possible, and that there was an answer to everything! What happens
tomorrow depends on you. This was exactly the kind of assurance that I
needed at that moment.
I went to Brian Tracys seminar at the McDonald Hotel in Edmonton.
Here was a very handsome man, six feet tall, with a tidy haircut and a big
smile. His presentation was energetic, forceful and persuasive, simply flawless. He gave the impression of a first-class expert. He lived in Edmonton,
and only later, when his career went international, did he move to the USA.
The seminar lasted three days, a couple of hours a day. I dont remember how much I had to pay, but it was certainly not a fortune, and
one had to buy some books and cassettes. I always went in the evenings,
because during the day I was at work. The early 1980s were a time when
many Albertans were suffering the consequences of recession; there was
no work, and we heard about redundancies every day. These meetings certainly attracted people because of the troubled times. There were about
two or three hundred people in the conference room.
Tracy talked about how to cope with personal problems, how to
deal with difficult situations. I learned that above all the most important
144

thing was to clear oneself of bad feelings. You should not nurse any grievances or carry any feelings of guilt in your heart. If you had regrets, it
was your responsibility to forgive yourself. That was the most important
thing, to forgive yourself, and then to ask others to forgive you, if you had
caused them any hurt. It was like going to confession, to free yourself of
any anxieties burdening your conscience. Tracy assured us that as soon
as you got rid of them, you would find the solution to your problems. He
said that regardless of the type of difficulties you are in, if you go into
yourself and focus on that, you will be inspired. This will enable you to
deal with your situation.
People call this prayer, meditation or an act of contrition, but the important thing was to forgive yourself, to divest yourself of all the feelings
that were tormenting you. You would leave this experience reborn, once
you cleansed yourself of all negativity.
Returning home from the seminar, I started to think about the fact
that I had not been a particularly good father, in particular to Mark, my
younger son. I had had no problems in raising my daughter, nor my eldest
son; but the youngest, when he was a small child, didnt want to eat, and I
could not accept that. I would return home tired from work and wanted to
rest; Christine would try to feed him, but he would only chew the food in
his mouth meals would drag on interminably. Not just an hour or two, sometimes he would keep the food in his mouth until the next day! He either
could not or would not swallow it. It made my blood boil, I was beside myself, it drove me crazy often he got a smacked bottom.
What are you doing? My mother tried to reason with me. Theres
not even anything to smack hes skin and bones!
He was very small and undernourished, and also very shy. This was
probably my fault, up to a point. I am impatient; I want everything to move
forward quickly, and this certainly had an influence on my son. I felt that
my behaviour affected his character and I had made an effort to improve.
Except that now, in the early eighties, he was over twenty years old.
Returning from the seminar, I pondered all of this and resolved to apologize to him. I had never been able to tell my children that I love them. I felt
it, but was unable to put it into words. That evening, I asked Mark for his
forgiveness. I explained that I had been stupid, that I had not been a father
to him previously and that I had made mistakes, and that I was truly sorry.
145

Christine was present during the conversation, as were the older


children; everybody cried. Everyone felt that something big, something important had happened. This was an event that was extremely moving since
as a father I had had never done anything like it before.
But something else happened too, something no less surprising.
Just as Tracy had predicted, I emerged from this experience a changed
man. I had thrown off a weight from my heart; I felt relieved; I was renewed. In those days I went to confession frequently, and I felt better
afterwards each time. But this experience connected directly with what
Tracy had said and was absolutely unique, because it was so compelling.
It was a powerful catharsis.
That was my experience; going through it can change an unbeliever
into a convert.
Today, I know that this experience has to be renewed. It is easy to
become complacent. You may believe it unnecessary to cleanse yourself
again. Obstacles begin to appear, you take decisions that may appear small
and insignificant, but from little acorns mighty oak trees grow, and small
problems become big ones. And then you have a crisis, and you have to
expel everything from yourself once again.
But after this absolution I felt that I could begin again. Good thoughts
began to appear and, just as Tracy had described, inspiration truly arrived:
I was ready to face the problem that had appeared insurmountable for the
past few years.

146

A Happy Thought

I was in an unenviable situation. There were still no signs of economic recovery; nothing indicated that in the near future I would be able to repay my
loan. I went to the government institution which had provided the loan guarantee. A pleasant civil servant sat behind the desk, and I explained my situation to him openly.
For two years, I have been making the repayment instalments from
my own savings, losing a lot of money. But I am no longer able to do so. I
do not have the funds to repay my mounting debts. What am I to do? Am I
to give up what I have built? I gave personal security for the loan; I run the
risk of losing everything. What can I do? I want to know how other developers are managing with similar problems.
The clerk smiled indulgently, as if he had to explain the obvious.
Your situation is by no means exceptional. We are well aware of
what is happening on the market. Businessmen approach us every day
with similar questions. This applies to the majority of developers, who
have taken out loans in recent years. They are not capable of paying the
monthly rates. They pay only what they can, after covering all of their
other costs. The unpaid part of the instalment is simply added to the
principal of the loan each month. When the situation improves, you will
start to repay the full amounts.
This was a revelation. First of all, I realized that the problem was well
known and that I was certainly not the first who had turned to the government for help there must have been a crowd. Secondly, I was handed
at least a temporary solution on a plate. This was encouraging; there was
hope that the bailiff would not be at my door in the near future, to auction
off my house. A possible solution had arisen: I would be able to repay the
damned loan, as soon as the crisis ended.
What else can I do? I pushed the issue, already excited by the progress of the meeting.
147

The official smiled again, clearly recognizing that I was depending on


his expert assessment.
Why dont you developers get together and create some sort of association? It would be beneficial if you all consulted amongst yourselves
and presented the government with a proposal of how you would like to
resolve the situation. It would be good if a proposal came from your end.
The greater your numbers, the greater the probability that a common plan
will be accepted by the administration.
I returned home elated and analysed the situation once more. The
civil servants advice, to form a new organization that would undertake
action to resolve a common problem, was persuasive. An association of
like minds, desperate entrepreneurs that understood each others pitiful
position, could together strive to find a solution. As a group we would
have more bargaining power, there was no doubt. We had a common goal,
which we would work towards collectively,rather than each man for himself, as presently. But was I the man to undertake the organization of the
new enterprise? Surely, there were bigger and stronger developers than
I. Why should they not shoulder the burden of undertaking this initiative? On the other hand, why not I? Since no one else had taken up the
challenge it was obvious that no one was keen to. Was I to wait, twiddling
my thumbs, watching passively as my life collapsed around me? No I
had no intention of doing that!
It was a time to act, and as soon as possible. But how? This matter
required reaching out to people to find those who were willing to join the
organization. Who were they and where could I find them? It occurred to
me that candidates for the association were obviously those who had participated in the same fateful government program that I had, the Core Housing Incentive Program. If they had participated, then surely they were
having the same problems that I was.
The organization of the association required time and commitment;
I needed someone to help me. I received invaluable support from my daughter, Teresa. She was a newly minted lawyer, working in a law firm. At my
request, in her spare time, she became engaged in this struggle. Through
telephone calls and correspondence, she first obtained from the familiar
government office a full list of all the entrepreneurs who had participated
in the Core Housing Incentive Program, and then she contacted the develo-

148

pers directly. Over the previous two or three years, twenty thousand properties had been built in Alberta. All of the businesses involved in those
projects had problems. I hired a conference room in a hotel, sent out invitations and waited for a response. First of all, I wanted to see who would
come. I expected a little over one hundred people.
The room was bursting at the seams: 350 representatives of development companies had shown up. Teresa and I were astonished by the
sight. We were not even able to close the doors. The attendees included
the biggest players in the building industry in Alberta, as well as some
from other provinces.
A short presentation allowed me to present the purpose for which
we had all gathered. It was received with silence and understanding. At
the end, we asked the question: What is to be done? The idea of forming
an association was immediately taken up. I became chairman of the newly
founded organization. Although there were developers in the room that
were significantly larger, even of national scale, they readily agreed that I
should take the leading role. Probably it was convenient for them; what if
we upset the government by fighting for our interests? What if someone
from the government looked askance at this initiative and how it might
affect other projects. In this time of crisis, the government of Alberta had
enough problems, without us adding to them. The big players preferred
not to provoke the government and not to weaken their connections with
those in power. I had nothing to lose, so I didnt care; I forged ahead.
We introduced a membership fee to cover operating costs for the office and for the organization of further meetings. We adopted the name The
CHIP and MAP Association after the two government programs that had
compounded problems for us.
Lawyers, judges and politicians represented the companies that became members of our association; we also hired a staff. We were all trying
to find a solution. It was a burning issue, since the longer the impasse went
on, the worse for us all. The governments proposal to exchange the unpaid loan instalments for a higher debt was a good one, but only for a short
term. If, for example, I had borrowed two million and now, thanks to the
governments proposal, instead of repaying the 200,000 dollars per year
provided for in the loan agreement, I was repaying only fifty thousand
the remaining 150,000 would be added to the principal. In future, I would
149

have to repay not only the two million that I had borrowed at the beginning, but also the 150,000 that had been added to the principal. The longer
the crisis went on, the more we would eventually have to repay, and the
worse our situation would become. If someone owed three million dollars
in 1983, by 1993 their debt would have risen to five million. Some developers feared that as the debt rose, they would near the point of no return.
What this meant was that at some point, the debt would become so huge,
with the outstanding interest so large, that it would be impossible to repay
the loans, even under a thriving economy.
We tried to think of something, but there appeared no way out. I recognised that, above all, we had to depend on lobbying the government.
It was important that the government, together with the developers, devise a plan that would avoid a wave of bankruptcies. As a result of the
crisis, there were those who were leaving the country; others even took
their own lives in the face of bankruptcy. It was indisputable that the situation was very serious.
From 1985, during the seven years of Don Gettys premiership, the
governments administrators did not attempt to lift a finger in our cause.
This passivity was motivated by fear of the results in the polls. The authorities feared that any move to assist property developers would gain them
little and could, instead, hurt them. It would be grist for the oppositions
press mill. The government is reducing the debt for developers! Why is it
doing that? What does it gain? We are all suffering in the crisis, we have to
pay taxes, and they are reducing debt for the wealthy! This was a risk that
Don Getty clearly did not want to take, although the Minister of Housing
(or his deputy minister) regularly held meetings with us. It was a delicate
political question, one that required caution. In the light of the lack of tangible results for our work, we wondered sometimes whether there was any
sense in carrying on.
We found ourselves, however, in the same boat as giants such as the
Trizec Corporation Ltd. and Maclab Enterprises. The bankruptcy of such
large corporations would have been a catastrophe for the whole province.
Our members included developers that had in their portfolio West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping centre in the whole of Canada. They were
actually amongst the largest debtors. There were three hundred of us in all.
My little enterprise was counted amongst the smallest.
150

We attracted the attention of the media. Journalists called me and


wanted to conduct interviews, but we were not interested in publicity. We
did not want to antagonise the government. I had advisers and the association board to consult; when a journalist called and asked for an interview,
I would reply that I had to discuss the matter with the board and that they
should call back later. In the end, there never was an interview.
We engaged many influential people including judges, lawyers, and
representatives of large corporations. When such business leaders got involved, I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought that whatever would be, would
be, but felt we would not suffer any great harm.
On June 1st, 1985, my mother died. When Henry heard about her
illness, he returned from Boston; he managed to arrive the day before she
died. He wasnt present to collect his diploma at Harvard; instead of a graduation ceremony, that we planned to attend as a family, we had my mothers funeral. She died of lung problems at the age of 81. Had she lived, she
would certainly have enjoyed the wonderful event that was Henrys wedding, which took place that same year. Before leaving for Harvard, Henry
had fallen in love with Jane Drake, a young Canadian of Scottish ancestry.
Her father, a powerfully built man, almost two meters tall, had once worked as a superintendent in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Initially he
served in small communities, where his whole family followed after him.
Jane had been brought up in remote areas of the country. Only towards the
end of his career did the Drakes move to the Edmonton area.
The wedding took place in the parish of the bride, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a Catholic parish in Sherwood Park, Alberta. In accordance with
Henrys wishes, the reception was held at the Polish Hall, and the next day,
we held a joyous after-party at our Bereznicki Belvedere.
After his wedding, my son worked in Dallas, Texas for a time. Following his return to Canada, he lived in Toronto, then in Vancouver. The
speciality of his company, which he ran together with several partners, was
large shopping malls. Later they had the opportunity to buy a chain of liquor stores from the provincial government. He and his business partners
bought about twenty stores in Alberta and British Columbia.
Meanwhile, I struggled with debt and the difficult situation on the
housing market. In the second half of the eighties, the CHIP and MAP Association hired Ron Ghitter, a former candidate for the leadership of Al151

bertas governing party. In 1985, Ghitter had lost the election to Don Getty.
We were hoping that, in hiring him, we would increase our influence on
government decisions. We asked him if he would like to represent us in
meetings with the new premier; he accepted. He probably wanted to help
the chairman of Trizec Corporation of Canada, whom he had worked for
between 1986 and 1988. This was the biggest company in the Canadian
property market at the time. Ghitter had connections; he knew people. He
was exactly the kind of person we needed on our side.
We operated as an association for ten years, from 1983 to 1993.
Throughout this time, we didnt pay the full rates for our loan instalments.
We repaid only as much as we could afford after paying all of our other
costs. My debt rose from an initial three and a half million to five and a half
million dollars.

152

Caesarean Section

Ralph Klein was elected premier in 1992. Klein had no university education, but he had a practical mind; he understood the problem. He knew
that a market worth billions of dollars was at stake. He did not hesitate to
make decisions.
Klein took up office and immediately said: I want an agreement, and
I want it now.
He gave his minister a six-month deadline to settle matters in such a
way that everyone would be satisfied. They began collecting information
from developers; entrepreneurs were obliged to provide audited financial
statements to the proper authorities that would enable an assessment of
who was able to pay and how much. Knowing the revenues, costs, level of
debt and interest, civil servants could calculate what kind of loan each developer was able to repay.
Consequently, even if you had five million dollars of debt, and the calculation showed that you could repay at the most two, then you repaid two
and not a cent more. Debts were cut in some cases by 50 percent, sometimes more. In this way the whole situation was resolved expediently and
fairly. We were satisfied.
The settlement was beneficial not only to businessmen, but also to the
residents of Alberta, who had difficulty earning money for rent and living
expenses. The benefits were obvious: twenty thousand homes were built,
and thanks to the intervention of the government, people didnt have to pay
high rents. We were able to keep our businesses. And so we escaped our difficulties and were once more able to look to the future with optimism.
Obviously, every developer saw an opening for himself in the deal.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Before Kleins audits, everybody
tried to introduce as many improvements as possible into his buildings, so
as to increase maintenance costs. We all knew that higher costs would lead
to an evaluation that would be all the more advantageous, as there would
153

be less debt to repay. I decided, for instance, that it wouldnt hurt to replace
the carpets in one hundred apartments. Yet the government was prepared. The clerk gave me a definite no. We will send our own assessor, who
will inspect apartments and decide if the carpets really need replacing,
he said. We were experienced and crafty, but they were not born yesterday. I say this to express my recognition for their work; in my opinion, the
government fulfilled their obligations well, with due care for public funds.
Half of my debt was cancelled, about three million dollars; the federal government declared that the cancelled debt represented my income
and imposed a tax on it. As a consequence, it was not worth my while to
dispose of these apartments for many years. Had we sold them, we would
have been required to pay more in taxes than we obtained, and we would
have faced a loss. We thus held on to those properties for about twenty
years, waiting for the day when could we sell the properties and still have
something in our pockets.
The 1980s and 1990s were also difficult times for the government.
They had to ensure that, ultimately, no one would reap profits from the
deal. Despite the restrictions in place, we were able to congratulate ourselves. The CHIP and MAP Association, created by the developers of Alberta,
had saved our skins. Acting alone, we certainly would not have managed to
succeed and many of us would have lost our shirts. Clearly, no government
wants to forgive debtors their debts; we had to earn that for ourselves.

154

Work for the Polish Community

The problems connected to my heavy financial commitments eventually


reached a satisfactory conclusion. The government had cancelled part of the
debt, and I no longer had to fear that I would lose everything that I had built up
over my life; I was once more able to look to the future with optimism.
Around this time, my friend Doctor Wojcicki called me. At the time,
he was a member of the committee responsible for selecting a new candidate to take up the position of President of the CanadianPolish Congress,
Alberta District. He had filled this post himself between 1977 and 1981.
Jozek, Wojcicki said to me, in Canada you have built a house and
enjoy an affluent life. You have a position; you do not have to work that
hard anymore. I think that you could give a little back to the country to
which you owe so much. I want you to consider performing a vital service
for the Polish community in Edmonton. Im talking about the position of
president of the Congress.
The Polish community in Alberta numbers some 150,000 people, of
which more or less three thousand (or 2 percent) belong to Polish organizations. This small proportion is involved in various activities and pays
membership fees. In total, about twenty Polish organizations are active
in the province. They are all amalgamated into one umbrella organization
that holds them together. This is the CanadianPolish Congress, Alberta District. The Management Board consists of representatives of these
twenty organizations. The president of the Congress, therefore, as representative of organized Polish societies, is de facto the representative of
the entire Polish community in the province. At the time that I received
the proposal to take on the position of president, the role was filled by
Aleksander Romanko.
The thought of taking on this role filled me with mixed emotions. On
one hand, it was obviously an enormous distinction. On the other hand, I
had a serious personal problem. Just as in high school, when I had decli155

ned the honour of giving a speech to the students because of my crippling


shyness, so now, I only wanted to retreat and thus avoid official meetings
and countless public appearances. I felt it was better not to undertake an
obligation that I was not sure that I would be able to meet.
Another doubt, concerning more practical matters, was connected
with the question: What am I prepared to give to the Polish community?
Do I have a plan that I want to bring to fruition that would benefit this community? I decided to approach both of these issues conscientiously.
Before two weeks had passed, I received another phone call from
Wojcicki.
Have you considered your decision in this matter? he asked.
Yes. I accept, I replied.
In accordance with the regulations, the two-year term of the president of the Congress is preceded by two years of preparation. This is the
time for the candidate, known as the incoming president, to familiarize
himself with his future duties, to consider his plan of action and to do everything possible to be ready to fulfil his obligations in the future.
I determined to approach these preparations no less seriously then
the presidency itself. Above all, I considered it important to make sure that
I would manage to ably perform these functions that were so frightening
for me. I began to wonder where one acquired such skills. Once before, I
had learned of Brian Tracys seminars from the newspaper, and so now the
classified advertisements came to my aid. Tony Robbins course promised
to awaken my confidence in my public speaking abilities. I travelled specially, for three long seminars with Robbins, first to Mexico, then to Colorado and finally to California. In total I spent seventeen days in training that
cost me several thousand dollars. In addition to workshops and theoretical
activities, there were some unusual exercises to perform. I have a vivid memory of walking across hot coals in my bare feet, and of climbing a very tall
pole from which it was easy to fall. I passed both of these tests.
Joseph should learn to relax and to set his tempo. This was the first
sentence of the report prepared on the basis of psychological tests that I
was given at this time. I went to Dallas, Texas for these costly tests. The
report, which ran to several pages, contained a detailed characterization
of my style of working and relationships with others. In conclusion, it indicated several areas where in the assessment of the psychologist there
156

was room for improvement. The report repeatedly stated that I imposed
too high expectations on myself and on others.
Alongside the psychological workshops, I was working on formulating the objectives of my approaching presidency in the Congress. I considered that the most important challenge we faced was to involve the young.
I was concerned about the future of the Polish community.
For some reason, the generation born in Canada did not participate
in the life of the Polish community. Young people lost interest when they
went to university. Yet my own children belonged to the Polish Scouts; they
went to Polish school on Saturdays; Polishness was ingrained in them from
an early age. This was a foundation that could be built upon. Why were we
not able to capitalize on it? I asked myself.
Dad, no one really wants us in the Polish society, my son Henry told
me when I asked him about it. Admit it, whenever we, the youth, want to
rent the ballroom at the Polish Hall, we are refused. The truth is that there
is no place for us. As far as the Polish community is concerned, we have
nothing in common with our parents.
These words were hurtful and filled me with bitterness. The thought that
the interest in Polish community issues was fading and that the young generation were turning away from the Polish community simply broke my heart.
What can we do? I asked uncertainly.
I am convinced that, if the attitude of the older generation to young
people were to change, then the youth would certainly react favourably.
I determined to make every effort to see that it would happen. I had
no doubt that the initiative would have to come from the older generation,
of which I was a representative. I conducted brief interviews with my children about their peers. I was searching for someone who could lead the
young generation. It needed to be someone sociable, popular in the Polish
community, who felt good as a promoter. After exchanging ideas with my
children, I had found my candidate.
Andrew Kubicki belonged to the generation of Poles born and raised
in Canada. In February 1992, as incoming president of the CanadianPolish Congress, I decided to get to know him better; I invited him to lunch at
a Polish restaurant in Edmonton.
What would we do for the Polish community? Kubicki asked, having heard a whole lecture from me on the subject of how the older gene157

ration of immigrants needed the engagement of the young in the life of the
Polish community.
Im thinking particularly of two issues, I continued, having a response prepared for this question. We expect to buy some land from the city
to build a new Polish Community Centre. This may involve a lot of legwork
and planning; we need to arrange various permits from the government.
We are getting older and there are few enough of us with the commitment.
I think that you, the young people, would do it better than we can. And it
would undoubtedly bring benefits to the whole Polish community.
And the second thing?
In three years, we will be celebrating the centenary of Polish settlement in Alberta. We want to show our best side to the province. Its a
wonderful opportunity; we can be shown in the media. Every pair of hands
will be a benefit to the Polish community in such a large event.
Andrew Kubicki proved to be a man who was not only pleasant
company, but also cooperative. We arranged to have another meeting,
this time at my house. Kubicki brought several people with him. Two of
my grown-up children were also present: Teresa and Henry. And then
yet another meeting, this time at the office of Wojciech Wojcicki, nephew
of Doctor Henry Wojcicki. Nineteen people attended. The result of these meetings was the creation of a non-profit organization in November
1992, with Kubicki as chairman. Initially it was called the Polish Heritage
Preservation Society and then the Polish Heritage Society of Edmonton.
This organization later played a key role in the purchase of land for the
new Polish Community Centre and supported the centenary celebrations
of the Polish settlement in Alberta.
These celebrations were some of the most important events of my
tenure as president. In 1995, I was the head of the organization specially
created for the occasion, the Polish Community Centenary Society.
The first wave of economic immigrants from Poland arrived in Canada in the years 18951911. They consisted of refugees from Galicia, from
the Austrian partition. The arrival of the Banach family is well documented.
According to Father Antoni Sylia, this was the first Polish family to settle in
the vicinity of the current capital of Alberta. Stefan and Maria Banach originated from Greater Poland (Wielkopolska). They came along with their
children and Maria Banachs parents, the Smegiels.
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The celebrations were inaugurated by a Polish community Christmas


party on January 14th, 1995. From January to September, we arranged
several events, including a three-day festival in Hawrelak Park in Edmonton. We published a three-hundred-page picture album, Polonia in Alberta
18951995. The book was to promote the contribution of Albertas Polish
community to the life and prosperity of the province. We placed a monument on a newly-purchased square to the south of the Polish Hall, as a memorial to the pioneers of Polish settlement in Alberta.
The celebrations were closed by a ceremonial gala in September 1995.
The keynote speech was given by the former Governor General of Canada, the
Rt. Hon. Edward Richard Schreyer, who appeared as honorary patron. The Rt.
Hon. Don Mazankowski, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, also sat at
our table, being the honorary master of ceremonies of the celebrations.
Schreyer openly asked me about details of my Siberian odyssey. Unexpectedly, he mentioned my story during his address to the participants of
the gala. What a great country Canada is, he said, in which such things
are possible. Here is a Polish immigrant, deported to Siberia, and a few
years later he sits side by side with a former deputy prime minister of this
great country. Then he added that he himself was the grandson of immigrants from Germany, who also wandered around the world before they
found their place in Canada. And the Deputy Prime Minister Mazankowski
also comes from a Polish immigrant family. Is this not a reason to celebrate? Schreyers rhetorical question extolled the country of the maple leaf as
a land of true democracy and equal opportunities.
During the first two years of my presidency, seven hundred days, I
had over nine hundred meetings. I prepared for each one meticulously.
I worked from eight to twenty hours a day. Usually these were meetings
with people responsible for the organization of various special events presented by the Polish community, and also with representatives of Polish
organizations, with city and province officials, and with architects. Organizational matters, encouraging people to work and coordinating their activities, cost an enormous amount of time and effort.
Partly out of a lack of confidence in my oratorical skills, and a little from my innate ambition, I always prepared conscientiously for every meeting, no matter how small. I prepared my statements in advance in
writing. In this way, each meeting was documented. On the basis of these
159

laboriously made notes, I was able to determine what the purpose of the
meeting was, what I wanted to present and what result I expected.
I frequently turned to the assistance of others if I did not feel confident in a given matter. I always tried to make sure that the contribution
of my co-workers was appreciated. I had no doubt that sharing such tasks and credit with people increased the chances for the success of an
undertaking. This was not, after all, an individual but a team effort. I saw
commitment in people; I had the impression that everyone took a lot of
satisfaction in participating in decisions and, when necessary, giving everything they had.
In 1997, on hearing the news of the flooding in Nysa, the Polish community sent aid to Poland. It resembled the days of martial law, when Canadian immigrants organized humanitarian events, offering assistance to
Poles oppressed by the Communist regime. Now, in the face of a natural
disaster, a similar solidarity was found within the Polish community.
In spite of appearances, there are few very affluent people among Polish immigrants, and yet we sent several planeloads of clothing, food and medicines to Poland. Many people were involved in the organization of such a
huge enterprise. It required excellent logistics, organization and publicity.
We had to collect all the donations and attend to all the formalities necessary
to send them to Poland. The Canadian press covered the drive, and it was televised. I think that, in giving assistance to our compatriots in Poland, which
was our main objective, we also made quite an impression on Canadians.
In the end, I devoted ten years of my life to the CanadianPolish Congress, from 1991 to 2001. For the first two years, I worked as the incoming
president, preparing under the supervision of an experienced predecessor President Kazimierz Walewski, an engineer. Next, for three two-year
terms, from 1993 to 1999, I acted as president of the Congress. And in the
end, for two years, I worked as outgoing president, grooming my successor,
Dr Jaroslaw Nowinka. Throughout this time, I performed my duties for the
public good, without remuneration, in keeping with the conviction that it is
enough reward to offer your efforts to others, giving of yourself as much as
you possibly can. I have always believed that effort eventually brings much
satisfaction and I was not disappointed. Dont limit what you give; limit
rather what you receive was always my maxim.
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Polish Community Centre

One of the most important projects of my presidency in the Congress was


the purchase of land for the new Polish Community Centre in Edmonton. In
1992, during a meeting at the Polish Hall, a representative of the Ukrainian
community shared with us some information he had heard, that the city was
planning to sell sizeable areas of the land in the vicinity of the Polish Hall. The
Polish community in Edmonton was not indifferent to what kind of neighbourhood we would find ourselves in, so we became actively interested in this offer.
Property prices at the time had fallen to such a level that a plot of
over 3.5 acres, once worth several million dollars, was now available for
less than half a million just 125,000 dollars per acre. There was no doubt
that we had an excellent opportunity. With many years of experience in
these matters, I was convinced that we could not let this opportunity pass
us by. I called an extraordinary meeting of the Congress from the whole
province, where I presented the matter.
The plot was to the south of the Polish Hall, north of the Prince of
Wales Armoury between 104th and 105th streets. It was agreed that,
on behalf of the Polish community of Edmonton, the plot would be bought by the recently created Polish Heritage Society, representing the
younger generation.
At a meeting of the Alberta District of the CanadianPolish Congress
in November 1995, the delegates passed a motion empowering the Polish
Heritage Society to finalize the purchase. It was further agreed that part of
the land an area of 2.5 acres, which was designated for a sanctuary would be transferred to the church for the symbolic fee of one dollar. Furthermore, the Polish community would designate half an acre for a senior citizens home, and another half acre for a day care centre run by the Sisters
Servants of the Divine Virgin Mary. In the event that the Polish Heritage
Society did not fulfil its obligations, the property would be transferred to
the Alberta District of the CanadianPolish Congress.
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The Congress decided to allocate 140,000 dollars for the purchase


from what was known as the immigrant account. These funds had been
accumulated during the tenures of previous presidents, including Marian
Strzelecki and Aleksander Romanko. It was their ambition to assist Poles
in immigrating to Canada. Anyone who wanted to benefit from this assistance had to pay two to four thousand dollars into the Congress account,
or find someone from their family in Canada who would pay the money for
them. In return, the Congress offered an invitation and formally guaranteed that the immigrant would not be a burden on the Canadian state. The
immigrant received a visa, and the Congress had funds so that, if the need
arose, it could help one family or another if they had difficulties starting
out. The plan worked; many people came to Canada in this way.
As the fund grew beyond covering the needs of the immigrant families, we wondered what to do with the excess money. When the opportunity arose to buy land for the Polish community, I was of the opinion that this
would be the best use of the money. There was not, however, a unanimous agreement; there were those who said that the money should be given
back to those who had paid it in the first place. Pragmatism won the day;
such an investment was beneficial for the entire Polish community, and
the immigrants had signed contracts saying that they would not make any
claims regarding the return of the money they paid in. Legally, the funds
were ours to dispose of.
Finally, on 6 December 1996, we bought the land. It cost 410,000
dollars; a sizable amount of this was covered by the immigrant fund. In
2006, this same plot was valued at 7,125,000 dollars, and a year later, at 12
million. It is true that, as a result of the property crisis, prices went down
again in 2008, but the profit still turned out to be excellent. In 2011 CBRE
Commercial Real Estate Services estimated the value of the land at 45
million dollars, a ten-fold increase on the purchase price. This obviously is
a source of immense satisfaction for me.

162

The Plans to Build a Church

In 1992, together with Marian Strzelecki, I met with the priest of the Parish of the Holy Rosary, Father Wladyslaw Karciarz. We wanted to discuss
the possibility of using land near the Polish Hall to build a new church. We
and the priest were equally keen on this idea we had in mind a modern
construction, which would serve for generations to come. Edmonton, then
as now, had two Polish churches: one in the north, dedicated to the Holy
Rosary, and another in the south, dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Poland.
Each Sunday, both Polish places of worship were bursting at the seams;
built half a century earlier, neither had its own parking lot, and finding a
place to park the car before Sunday Mass was always difficult. In addition,
the condition of the Holy Rosary Church was worsening. It was clear that
ever greater rebuilding would be necessary. In 1995, the costs of renovating and rebuilding the church were estimated at 1.5 million dollars. It was
barely less than the sum required to build a new place of worship. It was
no surprise, therefore, that in a referendum organised in April 1994, 69
percent of the parishioners voted for the construction of a new church.
In accordance with this plan, the Parish of the Holy Rosary would have to
relocate to a new site.
At the news of increasingly concrete plans for the purchase of
land, the Council of the Holy Rosary parish, through its leader, Stanislaw Kiryczuk, declared: We cannot afford to buy a plot of land, but if a
benefactor were to come forward and offer the parish a plot of land for
free, then we would gladly embark on the building of a new church. A
benefactor was found, in the shape of the Polish Heritage Society. Subsequently, on June 18th, 1996, the Parish Council sent the following letter to the Society:
We, the Parish Council of the Church of the Holy Rosary, together with
our parish priest, Father Stanislaw Kowal, wish to express our gratitude
for the efforts made to buy the Armoury Land from the city.
163

The intention to donate this land to the Edmonton Archdiocese as


a gift for the future expansion of our parish is admirable, and is accepted
with gratitude.
Please, however, remember, that despite our full support for the concept of a new Polish church, we are at this time unable to undertake any
obligations. Such a decision can be made only by all of our parishioners
and can be implemented only after its acceptance by the Archdiocese.
Imagine my surprise when, three months later, I saw a series of announcements in the church bulletin of the Parish of the Holy Rosary about the coming meeting of parishioners and Parish Council in the matter
of the planned refurbishment of the Church of the Holy Rosary, including
the replacement of the roof, ceiling and installation of a new elevator. Such
an extensive renovation directly contradicted the idea of building a new
church. Work in the old church should have been limited only to the most
essential and minor renovations, since the efforts of the Polish community
were now to be directed toward the construction of a new building. Everyone involved in the project, and in particular the representatives of the
Congress who were initially convinced of the wholehearted support for
the idea of building a new church from the priests, the Holy Rosary Parish
Council and all of the parishioners was stunned by this turn of events.
After many conversations with the priests, and thinking that I had
cleared my doubts, I went to the parishioners meeting at the Church of
the Holy Rosary on September 15th filled with hope. I did not envisage
any difficulties, as a few days earlier I had received assurances from Father
Fidyka, one of Edmontons two Polish parish priests, that the parishioners
would have the deciding voice in this matter.
My entire parish will completely support anything that the parishioners of the Church of the Holy Rosary decide at the meeting, Father Fidyka
told me in a private conversation.
The meeting began with a speech by the leader of the Council, Barbara Filipowski. She presented the need to conduct extensive renovations:
the removal of the mottled ceiling, which contained a certain amount of
asbestos, the complete replacement of the roof, the installation of a lift, and
also the expansion of the existing church.
When she opened the discussion to the audience, I asked: What is
the reason for the total abandonment of previous commitments? Why is

164

this concept of an extensive renovation going forward? We were supposed


to be building a new church.
There was no answer, but after a moment further voices were heard. The majority were of the opinion that only essential repairs should
be made and that serious and costly investments, like a new roof or lift, or
the replacement of the ceiling, were absolutely not to be considered. The
President of the Polish Combatants Associations sixth circuit, Ludwik Lechocinski, proposed a motion to vote on the issue. Kiryczuk, the chairman
of the meeting, did not allow the motion. Immediately after the meeting,
enraged, I approached Kiryczuk.
By what right did you not allow the motion to vote on the renovation issue?
There was no need.
What do you mean, there was no need?
The unanimity was obvious.
I was stunned. The discussion had demonstrated that the majority were
opposed to an extensive renovation. The claim that the parishioners unanimously supported the renovation was completely at odds with my observation.
I returned home extremely agitated. That evening I received a phone
call from Andrzej Kobos, who was in the confidence of the parish priests of
both Polish churches in Edmonton. He informed me that they were absolutely opposed to the construction of a new church. He added that Father
Fidyka had described my idea (of honouring the Polish priests in Alberta
by inviting them to various Polish community functions, which I had earlier presented to His Excellency Archbishop MacNeil), as a desire to unite
the Polish priests in the English parishes for my own purposes. I could not
believe that the priest could think something like that about me.
Can I ask Father Fidyka directly if this is true?
Of course, Kobos replied.
That same evening, I received another phone call. A certain parishioner called to tell me that in his opinion the meeting had been fixed; they
had pulled the wool over the eyes of the Polish community.
I did not know what to make of it all. Each of these conversations had
cost me a lot, emotionally. I decided, however, that I would not lie down so
easily. I intended to push on with the idea of building a modern church next
door to the new Polish Community Centre.
165

The Dispute

I had no doubts that the idea of building a modern church next to the Polish
Hall was justified. I was prepared to defend it, to convince the undecided and
even those who were directly opposed. I decided to protect the Polish community from the wastefulness inherent in the renovation of the old building.
Why keep renovating an old building, when we could easily build a new,
better church, with greater benefits for future generations? I was convinced
that I was fulfilling my moral obligation by acting in the cause of building a
new church.
I needed to reassess everything to check that I was justified in sticking by my convictions. What did the experts think about it? I decided to
question engineers and industry consultants once more. Each conversation
served to cement my conviction: better to build anew than to refurbish the
old. My opposition to the planned extensive renovations to the Church of
the Holy Rosary, including the replacement of the roof and ceiling, also increased. From conversations with Mr. Briskie, an architect and consultant
hired by the parish, I learned that only a part of the roof required repair.
This came as quite a shock to me. It turned out that the expenditure of one
hundred thousand dollars for the costly replacement of the whole roof was
unnecessary. Decisions within the parish had, however, already been made,
and work had begun. I was convinced that the parish was throwing money
down the drain. The matter of the refurbishment of the ceiling echoed that
of the roof. Air samples had not been tested to determine the presence of
asbestos dust before the decision to remove the asbestos had been taken.
Whence, therefore, the conviction that a replacement was even necessary?
If it aint broke, dont fix it, the City of Edmonton inspector told me
when I asked his opinion on the matter.
Finally, Briskie, the aforementioned parish expert, also confirmed
that the church was not suitable either for extensive renovation or for
expansion, which in practice undermined its usefulness in the long run..
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Armed with new arguments, I wrote a letter to Father Kowal and the Parish
Council. I sent it at the beginning of October 1996, first obtaining a proof
of delivery from the Archdiocese office. In the letter I presented the thesis
that the donations given to the church by the parishioners would be wasted on an entirely unnecessary extensive renovation. I stressed that the
decision for such renovations, alteration and extensions of the church was
contrary to the wishes of the parishioners as expressed at the September
meeting. In conclusion, I called for the establishment of a technical commission and the suspension of all renovation work. With a feeling of a job
well done, I awaited a response.
None ever came. Instead, three days later, in the Catholic journal
Razem (Together) I read a series of unflattering opinions about myself.
The journal was published in Edmonton as a Catholic community monthly.
Eighty percent of the readership belonged to the two Polish churches in
the town, the rest elsewhere. The magazine included a letter signed, Zosia. It suggested that some chairmen of Polish organizations were pushing
for the construction of a new church since they expected to reap significant
personal benefits from it. This article was clearly aimed at me and contained offensive and particularly virulent libel. For the next several issues, I
had occasion to read articles in the magazine that were not in the slightest
degree pleasant for me. They devalued my contribution to the activities of
the Polish community in Edmonton and undermined confidence in the CanadianPolish Congress itself as an organization serving the public good.
The next issue featured a two-page open letter to Father Kowal, written
by Teresa Ochot. The author expressed dismay at the activities of the Congress and its president. Mrs. Ochot used phrases such as: very suspicious
plans to sell the church, ruination of the accomplishments of the previous
generation, dishonest practice with respect to pensioners aimed at leaving them destitute and homeless, defrauding fellow Catholics, preying on religious feelings, duplicity, lofty and iniquitous ambitions, and
embezzlement and social deceitfulness.
This cut me to the quick, since everything I had done, I had done for
the benefit of the Polish community. Now I was determined, first, to put a
stop to the defamatory articles on this subject. I went to my parish priest,
hoping that I would be able to convince him that these texts attacking my
good name should not be distributed within the parish. He categorically
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rejected my suggestion that such a publication should not be distributed


within a place of worship. Yet a couple of days later, he denied other Polish community publications the right to be distributed in the church, and
banned the placing of Polish community organization announcements in
the parish bulletin.
Undeterred, I tried to continue my defence: I requested a meeting
with the editor of Razem, Slawomir Olszewski. Unfortunately, he refused
to meet me. I then decided to write a letter to His Excellency Archbishop
MacNeil, in which I asked him to instruct both parish priests (Fathers Fidyka and Kowal) that such publications were damaging. I also asked that
the publication Razem no longer be distributed in churches or supported
financially. The letter was signed by me and four other representatives of
the Polish community. Finally, in the face of the ineffectiveness of the above actions and the diminishing options for defending myself from libel, I
began to consider taking legal action, which I did on March 26th, 1997.
The defendants were the monthly Razem and the author of the piece, Teresa Ochot. The complaint included a demand for a retraction to clear my
name,, an apology and a financial penalty to be donated to charity. The claim was taken up by an extended meeting of the Alberta District of the CanadianPolish Congress and, importantly, it was the Congress, and not me
personally, that was the plaintiff in the case.
I simultaneously continued my attempts to reach an understanding
with the Parish Council of the Church of the Holy Rosary. I wanted to continue discussions on the subject of the purchase of land and offering the
land to the parish, followed by the building of a new church. Justice Allan
Wachowich, the descendant of one of the oldest Polish families in Canada,
was appointed to preside over the negotiations. Three times, Wachowich
sent letters to the Parish Council and Father Kowal, inviting them to talks.
The priest failed to attend the most important meeting; we never found out
why. In passing, we learned that the Parish Council was not authorized to
decide on any issue without the approval of the priest. They were not capable of even deciding the date and time of the next meeting independently.
Father Kowal avoided meetings and the lips of the members of the Parish
Council were sealed. Letters went unanswered.
We tried to settle the matter at the Archdiocese level, through personal meetings with His Excellency Archbishop MacNeil. Yet even attempts at
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intervention from the Archdiocese office went ignored by the parish priests. The parish priests belonged to the congregation of Oblates, and were
not directly subordinate to the Archdiocese. It was a tricky situation for
the Archbishop; he did not want to alienate a congregation that provided
him with chaplains, whom he invited to work in the Dioceses parishes.
Meanwhile, the senseless and costly renovations to the Church of the Holy
Rosary continued. As you might imagine, they did not find support among
the parishioners, but only among the Council, hand-picked by the parish
priest himself. And the Council, as was apparent from our meetings, was
entirely subordinate to the parish priest.
It seemed that a breakthrough might be possible at the end of August;
Father Fidyka was leaving the Parish of Our Lady Queen of Poland. I decided to arrange a meeting, to reconcile with him and to assure him of my
good will and readiness to make sacrifices both for the cause of the church
and the Polish community. We spoke in a rather cordial atmosphere.
I feared that if the new church was built, I would lose many of my
parishioners, Father Fidyka admitted to me. If I understood this concern
correctly, the issue was that the new church, in the north, near the Polish
Hall, might attract some of the parishioners from the south, who were attending the Church of Our Lady Queen of Poland, where Father Fidyka was
parish priest. As I surmised, the priest had relied on the South Edmonton
intelligentsia.
I admire your determination, Father Fidyka continued. In your place I would have given up long ago. I thought that you would resign your
position after those articles in the paper.
I was in the right. That is a source of strength; but lies obviously hurt.
Oh please, dont exaggerate those lies. The articles in the magazine were only the opinions of parishioners. And anyway, Father Kowal
and I monitored their content; we would never have allowed anything
unethical.
I was dumbstruck; in my wildest dreams, I never suspected that the
defamatory comments aimed at me could have been edited and approved
by the parish. I was suddenly struck by the realization that the priests were
even prepared to resort to such intrigue in order to derail the plans to build a new church. With the aid of libel, they had not hesitated to attack me
personally in order to destroy the project.
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I think that the Polish Community Centre will bring many benefits to
the community. I think that Polish society should support this initiative. It
has the resources for it, he continued, clearly oblivious to the devastating
effect his candour with respect to the Razem articles had upon me. When I
managed to compose myself somewhat, I decided to appeal to the priests
reason, pointing out that the continuing renovation of the church was unnecessary and should be immediately suspended. The ceiling should not
be touched until the air had been tested for the presence of asbestos dust.
Perhaps you are right, Father Fidyka said, but the matter is decided.
This chapter is closed. We do not need to argue. Only, please withdraw your
lawsuit, and as soon as possible. We do not need to inflame this dispute.
So what were those slanderous articles about me, if not inflammatory? I tried to protest.
Thats all in the past. Leave it alone. Aha, one more thing: I happen to
know that an article about you will appear in the next issue of Razem. Just
ignore it, would you?
Despite the fact that this conversation added nothing constructive to
the matter of the building of a new church, I was still hopeful that a compromise could be reached. I was about to have another opportunity to discuss the matter, this time with Father Kowal.
When I came to this parish, Father Fidyka gave me a lot of advice,
Father Kowal admitted to me. I was then a young priest, without experience. It was an important source of support for me. I must admit, that he was
a big influence on many of my decisions. At times, he was realizing his own
agenda; I was not always able to see that, Father Kowal said.
And now that Father Fidyka is leaving, will you change that agenda, and also your position with respect to the renovation? The renovation
must be suspended and a technical commission must be called to decide if
it is worth continuing.
There is no need. I will not change my mind.
Irrespective of the consequences, costs, and the needs of the Polish
community?
I have no intention of doing so. Please understand: the Polish community requires dictatorial decisions, Father Kowal declared.
It was not hard to see that this conversation would not lead to an
agreement. It didnt look good; neither of the priests was open to persu-

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asion to suspend the continuing renovation and to build a new church. All
that was left for me was to find out if what Father Fidyka had told me was
true; that the priests had approved the articles about me in the magazine
Razem, before publication.
Yes, I saw them before they went to print, Father Kowal admitted.
Why did you allow them to be published?
I saw nothing wrong in it.
Nothing wrong? They were lies and falsehoods! Both the Congress
and I have been defamed. Do you not consider, Father, that these libels should be publicly retracted?
I repeat: I did not then and do not now see anything wrong in what
was published. I have no intention of retracting or clarifying anything. I see
no sense in any further discussion or meetings on this matter.
This was another bitter pill that I had to swallow in relation to an
enterprise to which I had selflessly devoted a lot of time, energy and emotion over many years of my life. A small consolation was that finally, the
defamatory articles in Razem about me stopped; they disappeared along
with the magazine, which closed. After about three months, I received a
phone call from Slawomir Olszewski, former editor of the magazine, with
a request for a meeting.
I am currently only working part-time, he said. I have a very modest income, and a small child to provide for; I cant afford a lawyer. All I can
do is to appeal to your conscience and ask you to withdraw your lawsuit.
He further explained that, throughout the whole time that the defamatory articles were being published, he was under the influence of both
parish priests. He declared that the priests had supported his magazine,
promising him backing in all things. He had hoped that they would likewise not desert him in the event of legal action. And yet, in this difficult
situation, he found himself abandoned and alone, without the resources
to continue defending the court case. He did not see, under these circumstances, any other solution, other than to appeal to me, with a request that
I forget about the case.
It was a very moving appeal, which put me in a difficult situation.
I had no personal animosity towards Slawomir Olszewski; I was certainly not interested in taking revenge on him. I was very concerned,
however, with clearing my good name, and saving the reputation of the
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Congress. How could I do this otherwise, than to allow the courts to


adjudicate on this matter?
Finally, a letter was received by the Polish Heritage Society, requesting financial support for the renovation of the old church. This was the
final straw. It was another sign that the Parish of the Holy Rosary had no
intention of building a new church. The continuing renovation and the official silence of the priests on the subject of the dispute, in which I considered myself as the injured party, and which I desired to clarify in a public
forum, pushed me in the end to desperate measures.
On Boxing Day, I went to Father Kowal and informed him that I was
about to begin a hunger strike in protest in the church. I had decided not to
leave the building until such time that the whole matter would be publicly
settled. I was determined to expose all aspects of the ongoing conflict, and
to force Father Kowal to admit that he had encouraged the libellous articles about me in the magazine Razem. I was determined to starve myself
as long as my health allowed. Father Kowal was taken completely aback,
and agreed that I could occupy a small room by the choir where I could
perform my protest. Various people came to visit me throughout the day,
demonstrating their solidarity in this way. Bruno Stasiak, a friend of mine
who was very active in the Polish community, visited me in the evening
and expressed a desire to join my protest. Several more people gathered in
the small room by the choir: my wife Christine, my son Henry, my brother
Walter with his wife Janina, Dr. Bruno Bochinski and his son Dr. Mark Bochinski. Suddenly, Father Kowal entered the room.
I would ask that all those who are not parishioners leave the church,
he demanded.
After a moment, it turned out that everyone was a parishioner. A discussion ensued.
Father, did you read the articles printed in Mr Olszewskis magazine
Razem before they were published? Dr. Mark Bochinski demanded.
I declare that if you do not vacate the church, I shall be forced to call
the police, the priest replied, and he left the room.
Within an hour, the police arrived at the scene.
According to the law, you cannot be in the parish building if the parish
priest does not consent, the chief officer stated. If you do not voluntarily
leave the building, we will have no other option but to apply the use of force.
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I could not see myself offering resistance to the guardians of the law.
The state was not a party to this dispute, and I was not about to be the cause of a public disturbance. I left the church, which meant the end of my protest. I did, however, achieve a partial success, since news about the whole
incident was reported by the Polish community press and radio.
Soon afterwards, Father Kowal was transferred to Ottawa. As far as I
know, he was demoted as a result of the whole affair; and I suspect that it
also had more than a little to do with the early departure of Father Fidyka
from the Parish of Our Lady Queen of Poland in Edmonton. Shortly thereafter, Fidyka left the Oblate congregation altogether, and became a diocesan priest in Alberta.
However, my struggles over the new church with Fathers Fidyka and
Kowal had been so exhausting that I only had enough energy to continue
until the beginning of 1998. I had had enough of this fight, as had the remaining progenitors of the program. Although, as had been shown by the
earlier referendum, 69 percent of parishioners supported the idea of building a new church, in practice the objective proved out of reach. In face of
the opposition of the priests and the lukewarm, although not unsympathetic position of His Excellency the Archbishop, we ultimately decided to lay
down our arms. The Parish of the Holy Rosary remained where it was, and
the old church was renovated with a considerable expenditure of parish
funds. At the same time, the hopes of building a new church next to the
Polish Hall were finally buried.

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The Plans to Build the Kopernik Senior


Citizens Centre

When the negotiations with the Parish of the Holy Rosary regarding the
building of a new church ended in a fiasco, a new plan emerged for the use of
the land next to the Polish Hall. Under the leadership of new president of the
Polish Heritage Society, John Szumlas, who had been elected in March 1997 to
replace Andrew Kubicki, a decision was taken to drop the idea of constructing
a new church and concentrate on building of a Seniors Centre a home with
permanent nursing staff. In addition to the nursing home, the project included
the construction of homes for senior citizens, both for sale and rent. It was
not long before the Polish Heritage Society reached a preliminary agreement
with the Christian organization Caritas Health Group. We believed that a
strong partner for our project in the shape of Caritas boded well for the future. A powerful organization with a solid structure and experience could be
an invaluable supporter for the Polish community. As chairman of the CanadianPolish Congresss Alberta District, and knowing well the organizational
structure of the Polish community in Edmonton, and most relevantly as a
person who had worked his whole life in the building industry, I was certain
that the Edmonton Polish community did not have the necessary resources
to implement such a serious investment independently. To realize a project
of this size, apart from the capital requirement, a strong and efficient organization was needed, with a wealth of experience in this type of matter.
Financial reserves were needed, in the event that the costs would exceed the
initial budget. Commitment and enthusiasm were essential. Several of these
elements were lacking in our structures to the degree that would have guaranteed the success of the undertaking. We had the land, which put us in a
good position. Our future partner, on the other hand, ought to the necessary
money and experience in realizing this type of project. The contract had to
be written in such a way that the partner took all of the financial risk. The
partner would have to execute the project, finance the investment, oversee
the construction and finally manage the building. In return, we would grant
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leasehold on the land for a period of not more than fifty years. In addition, for
the duration, we would require a profit (in the shape of monthly payments)
and free-of-charge access to the completed part of the building.
Once the lease expired, the entire facility would revert to us. The
partner would gain, therefore, the possibility to conduct his business only
for a specified period, at the end of which, the Polish community would
assume ownership of the buildings, maintaining the freeholds and, importantly, not being exposed to any financial risk.
Formally, the position of the Polish Heritage Society, representing the
interests of the Polish community in this matter, was presented as follows:
The Polish Heritage Society contributes a 3.66-acre property for the
use of the partnership, separated and approved for the construction of a
complex consisting of:
- 125 nursing home units under 24-hour health care;
- 50 designated assisted living units of part time health care; and
- subsidized rental units leased on payment of a rental fee, as well as open-market housing units (with the option of private purchase), with the maximum use of available usable area.
The partner/developer would be entirely responsible for erecting,
designing, building and financing the complex.
The partner/developer of the entire complex would also be the operator, responsible for ongoing activity.
Unfortunately, the agreement with Caritas was never signed. After
three years of fruitless negotiations, the Polish Heritage Society decided
to open up to other organizations which might be interested in the project. As a result, in 2002, cooperation began with the Good Samaritan Society, a Lutheran association that operated nursing homes. Unfortunately, a
similar scenario was in the cards. After several years there was no major
breakthrough in the negotiations. As an honorary member of the Building
Committee I argued that we should start talking to some other partners
that may have interest in our project. I also discussed it with my son Henry. He in turn mentioned the subject to his business partner, a prominent
member of the local Jewish community, who was also a member of a building committee for a seniors residence for the Jewish community, which
cooperated with Rosedale Developments. Henrys partner highly recommended that firm.
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A meeting with the president of Rosedale Development took place in


the fall 2006. The Polish Heritage Society was represented by John Szumlas
and myself. My son Henry was also present since he was the one to call the
meeting. As a result Rosedale presented its offer in writing:
Rosedale proposes the building, financing and administration of the
Kopernik centre, receiving leasehold on the land for 50 years, with the possibility of renewing the Agreement after that time. This would allow the
Polish community to maintain the freehold on the land. Rosedale is prepared to pay 250 thousand dollars per year for the lease, paid in monthly instalments, pursuant to the agreement. As part of the consideration for the
lease, Rosedale will build the Centre for the Polish community, including a
Chapel, taking upon itself all costs, including tax. Excluded would be only
the cost of telephones and cable TV installation.
I have not seen a more credible proposal that was better for the Polish community, either before or since. It fulfilled all of what, in my opinion,
were the most important conditions. Rosedale was prepared to build, at its
own cost, the facility that we were interested in. They offered a solution to
the problem of financing of preparing the designs, and they also undertook
to pay us over twenty thousand dollars per month for fifty years. To this
day I do not understand how it was possible not to accept this offer. But
John Szumlas completely ignored it. Instead on his own initiative he contacted a firm of architects, Rockliff and Pierzchajo, since he believed that
signing on Polish architects would help to gain support for the project in
the Polish community. In fact, at the expense of that community, a design of
a multi-storey building of brick and concrete was ordered. This represented an abandonment of the prior arrangements, of realizing the investment,
and also the advantage that our future partner would bear the costs of the
project and of the attendant risks, By this decision, we were launched onto
the dangerous waters of independent enterprise and we began to bear the
inherent investment risk. Whenever you spend money, even just on the
preparation of a design, you have to be prepared that you could suffer a
loss. Unfortunately, the collaboration with Rockliff and Pierzchajo also
ended in dissolution in 2007.
After the turning down of the offer of Rosedale Developments by John
Szumlas, as well as the failure of many other initiatives I presented, which
involved arranging meetings between the directors of the association and

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organizations that had expressed an interest in the project, in October


2007 I resigned from my role as advisor to the Polish Heritage Society.
In February 2010, the Polish Heritage Society elected its third president, Allan Wasnea. Unfortunately, he also has not succeeded in moving
things ahead. Eighteen years have now passed since we bought the land,
and construction has not begun. What is the situation as of mid-2014? The
Polish Heritage Society today has its own unbuilt architectural proposal
for the Kopernik Centre. According to the plan, it was to consist of 125 Designated Assisted Living apartments, and also 22 subsidized rental apartments. The Society also has a preliminary architectural project for two tower blocks amounting to 220 single and double-storey apartments. It
also has a permit for the building of the Kopernik Lodge. In addition, the
Polish Heritage Society received government aid to the tune of 1.25 million
dollars for the subsidised rental apartments. This money will have to be
returned if the governments conditions are not met.
So much for achievements; what does that give us in practice? Not
much, if we do not obtain one more important government guarantee,
which in effect, will decide whether building is to commence. The government can guarantee that there will be clients for the nursing home for thirty years. We will receive payment for each bed, irrespective of whether
there are any occupants. This is a dream assurance for every investor. Yet
the Polish Heritage Society has twice applied for this guarantee and twice
been turned away with nothing.
Why? Because of the excessive costs of realizing the project. The costs
cannot exceed a certain amount per bed, if government aid is to be secured.
Alberta`s politicians, understandably, count every penny. The equation is clear: a cheaper proposal wins over a more expensive one. Ours was expensive,
and so had no chance in the contest. Why was it so expensive? Most of all,
we were sunk by the expensive materials envisaged for the project brick
and concrete instead of wood, popular in similar buildings. This resulted in a
2030 percent increase in the construction costs, and sunk our efforts.
A cactus will grow on my hand before the government accepts this
project, I had warned the then-president of the Polish Heritage Society,
John Szumlas, nine years previously. I was convinced that we should get
our heads out of the clouds. Such expensive projects simply did not receive
government aid.
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I will not allow my mother to live in a building that could burn down,
Szumlas responded with a heart-rending argument.
Of course, anything can burn down. Remember, though, that concrete buildings also stand in flames from time to time, I replied, trying to reason with the chairman. If the government, however, thinks that wooden
buildings fulfil fireproofing standards and sends its citizens to live in them,
then who are we to insist on concrete structures? Lets build like everyone
else, in accordance with safety regulations. In other words, lets do what is
required of us.
What good did my reasoning do? None at all. John Szumlas continued to promote the concept of building the most technologically advanced
structure with the most modern facilities available in Canada. He would
not entertain other concepts. It was to be a building of brick and concrete,
with eight storeys, underground parking, and the design had to be done by
a Polish architect.
You cant insist on such conditions, I pleaded on many occasions.
They have to design it, finance it and manage it for forty years. They also
have to close the budget of this investment. We cannot impose such specific demands, because they will never agree.
And they did not agree; fifteen years of searching for a strong partner and developer produced no result. Moreover, the project increasingly
drifted in a dangerous direction, ever closer to the destructive conclusion
that since no one wanted to build with us, we would have to do it ourselves.
But, as I have already stated, this is a recipe for disaster. All of my experience, gained over many years in this business told me: Do not go it alone. I
well remember how, in the 1980s, I stood on the threshold of bankruptcy.
My thirty years of efforts and hard work almost collapsed. The apartments
that I had built stood empty, and my debts to my creditors rose. I would
have lost my home and all of my possessions, were it not for my financial
reserves which enabled me to survive the toughest two years, before a solution was found. Did the Polish community have reserves with which it
could survive a similar crisis, were it to arrive? Not a chance. We were on a
straight road to catastrophe.
As I have mentioned, the architectural project that had been prepared had twice failed to win government approval and the attendant government guarantee. The government proposed that we pay a certain amount

178

towards the project, if we wished to build it to our proposed specifications


(read: if we wished to build it so expensively). If, apart from the land, we
were to contribute eight million dollars to the investment, then the government would grant us the necessary guarantees. This was the exact amount,
according to my calculations, by which our brick-built project exceeded the
costs of the wooden buildings that were popular on the market. Some were
happy, seeing a solution to our problems in a collection. It was a pipe dream! We had no hopes of raising such a sum. Even were the government to
lower the amount to two million dollars, or even one, it would not help at
all. My experience had taught me that raising even 500 thousand from the
Polish community in Alberta would be an enormous task and a very unlikely success. What was worse, yet another dubious proposal appeared. We
cant we afford our dream centre? No matter, lets decrease the number of
beds, so that its cheaper.
Why was this a disastrous idea? Because this saving would lead to
a decrease of planned revenues in the future. Every place that we provide
brings government guarantees and financing. To this can be added another problem: if we cut the project by half by reducing the number of beds,
several costs will not be correspondingly cut in half.. Irrespective of whether there are fifty beds, or one hundred, some fixed costs remain such
as administration that are only marginally dependant on the size of the
building. Therefore, income will fall proportionally to the number of beds,
but the reduction in costs will be far more modest. That is why we should
not strive to build a project of meagre proportions, but one that will allow
us to utilize the land to its maximum potential, with the greatest benefit for
the Polish community.

179

Looking to the Future

A person gets older every day. More and more, he becomes aware that life is
fleeting. Everyone has the same experience of time passing, but no one wants
to leave too soon. We say that there is no need to hurry; in heaven we will be
able to spend eternity.
I am 80 years old. My age forces me to modify my way of life; it demands that I focus on my health to pay attention to my physical condition, a proper diet and other such things. I have to adapt my plans to my
capabilities, concentrating on somewhat different things than previously. I
need to act differently, to extend my time.
But health is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. These days,
my mind turns to matters that I didnt manage to achieve during my life.
One of these is the issue discussed in depth, the Kopernik project the idea
of building a large Polish Community Centre of which we, and our children,
grandchildren and future generations to come can yet be proud.
I believe that the Kopernik project will one day come to fruition. I
do not blame anyone, including myself, for the failures we have had. Such
a project needs constant focus; gathering people, organizing, mobilizing.
When the community knows what they have to do, and adopts one idea
together, this idea will take on a form and become real.
My son Henry is a living example of how important it is to focus on
goals. He always wanted something; he wanted a car, nice clothes or a house, and he strove to keep his eyes on his objectives. There was nothing
that could make him deviate from his course. And this was the road to
achievement. I think that that is what he owes his success to to a far greater degree than to his talents or abilities.
I think that I made a mistake. I should never have relented, resigned,
or asked those younger than me to take care of this matter. I should have
always watched over the Kopernik project myself. I do believe however,
even today, with my advanced years, that I can still drive the lost sheep
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into the pen, to show the way that we have lost. I want to see this matter
through to a satisfactory conclusion. I do not want to leave a matter like
this unresolved.
In my opinion, there is the matter of risk that we, as a community,
should not undertake. There is not one among us that appears be interested enough in the project, determined enough, prepared to sacrifice enough time and energy to safeguard our interests. And in the event that something goes wrong, we do not have any provisions that would protect this
project from going under. If there are any problems, we could lose everything, including the land. I am convinced that, as a non-commercial organization, we should not expose ourselves to the smallest risk in this respect.
When you manage public money, you simply cannot allow for any
risk. Only a private firm may do so. If there exists, therefore, a way of allowing for the opportunity to realize this investment safely, it is our duty
to choose it. If we lack the resources necessary to take on an enterprise of
this scale ourselves, then we should not do it. We should select a strong
partner, who will shoulder the burden of responsibility of this investment.
Lets sign an agreement that is safe for us, that would allow us one day to
assume ownership of an existing building. Let this be a long-term investment that allows us not to worry about the costs, or the financing.
I am convinced that a partner with a strong financial position could
build such a project in two years and we could shortly thereafter enjoy the
benefits. Many people, who in light of their age are very interested in such
a centre, could have the chance to use it and spend their final years in Polish surroundings for an affordable price. I am optimistic that this scenario
will, sooner or later, come to fruition. What will this centre be like? I do
not know, but everything today indicates that it will not be in the shape of
a concrete and brick building, due to the prohibitive cost. The Polish community does not have 8 million dollars at its disposal, and there is nothing
to indicate that this is about to change.
When we eventually build the Kopernik centre, we will become
owners of a significant asset. That is worth remembering. The way of the
world, is that no one pays attention to someone who has nothing. If you
have something that you can show resources, buildings, land, or property
other people pay attention to you. You can rage against this being so; you
can say that this is unfair, but you cannot deny it. Thats how it works. We,
181

the Polish community, have the opportunity to secure financial resources


in the form of a magnificent Polish Community Centre.
Finally, it must also be said, that it will be a centre that will serve our
descendants. This is a source of immense satisfaction: our children today
are good Canadian citizens and are proud of their Polish roots.
We sent them to Polish schools in Canada, where they learned the
history of our country. We have our heritage, and it is a heritage of which
we can be proud! It is a great treasure, a great gift, which includes among
other things, distinguished Poles known throughout the world, like Chopin,
and Copernicus, the eminent astronomer and patron of our future centre.
It is not true to say that only others have such luminaries; we yield nothing
to them. We Poles are also worth something, and we must never forget it!
This was one of the reasons why I agreed to become the president of
the CanadianPolish Congress Alberta District. I wanted to demonstrate
to other Polish community activists that it is worthwhile to take an interest
in our young people, born in Canada. I wanted to demonstrate that they
can and should be attracted and encouraged to work for the good of the
Polish community.
A step in this direction was earlier made in the 1960s with the formation of the Polish Academic Club. Its progenitor was Dr Henry Wojcicki,
who hosted the first meeting of the club. Co-founders were the engineers
Marian Strzelecki, Mieczyslaw Domecki and me. We intended to create the
first Polish community organization where the operating language was
above all, English. We wanted to create a place within the Polish community for those who had been born in Canada, not Poland, and who felt comfortable in an Anglophone society. This applied also to mixed marriages,
where English was spoken. People often felt a kinship with the Polish community, even though they hardly spoke the language. They often belonged
to scientific and academic communities.
At this point, it is worth remembering the latest great wave of immigration those from the Solidarity period. They came to Alberta in the
1980s, and they consisted mostly of young, highly educated people. They
were often scientists, engineers, doctors, frequently with two or three specializations. On arriving in Canada, in the wave of Solidarity immigration,
some of them sought contact with a scientific and academic community of
a Polish provenance, and so they found our academic club in Edmonton.
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One representative of this wave was my friend Leszek Ignasiak. He


came to Canada on a scientific scholarship in the 80s. As a gifted chemist,
he had no problem finding a job and was able to settle down for good. Yet,
the Communist authorities, in an attempt to forestall his emigration, refused permission for his wife, Teresa, to travel to the West. Leszek eventually
decided to return to Poland and, together with his wife, they would undertake a desperate attempt to cross the Iron Curtain illegally. In Poland, they
bought a small sailing boat, which they intended to sail from Yugoslavia
to Italy. This idea was both bold and risky; it could land them in prison,
or worse. In that absurd system of terror that was in power in communist
countries, it was not possible to exclude the possibility that, in the event of
an escape, the border guards would fire. Leszek and Teresa obviously believed that this would not happen to them and that they would be one day
be able to begin a new life in the free world. They planned to sail far out to
sea, avoiding any patrols, and then make for the Italian coast.
They planned their escape in the minutest detail. They prepared the
boat and applied for tourist visas enabling them to drive by car to Yugoslavia with the boat. To avoid suspicion, they packed as if for a holiday and left
for Yugoslavia. How great was their disappointment and fear when they discovered that they had left a crucial element of the boat behind in Poland!
Returning to Poland and travelling to Yugoslavia again was impossible. It
would have required them to repeatedly cross all the borders between the
several communist countries that lay in their path. In any event, even if it
had been possible, how would they have explained their erratic behaviour to
their friends and family, not to mention the border guards: their premature
return from holiday, and then the desire to travel across the border once
again? They had not said a word of their plans to anyone. Even their closest
families had no inkling of their plans to escape to the West. Such caution
seemed essential, because one false move could cause enormous problems,
including the possibility of arrest, and also confiscation of passports, which
would make any trip out of the country impossible, even in the future.
So what now? After so many preparations, were they to give up? Return to Poland and abandon the idea of escape? It was a desperate situation, and a second such opportunity might never present itself.
We are not going back to Poland. We will make a new plan of escape, they decided. After careful observation of the border dissecting the be183

ach, they came up with a new plan. Teresa would swim across the border.
With her heart in her mouth, under cover of night, she entered the water
and began swimming in the direction of the Italian border. Leszek, who
in connection with his trip to Canada, had a travel visa and could cross
the border legally, waited nervously on the beach on the Italian side. Every
minute seemed like an eternity. Teresa was an excellent swimmer, but the
darkness and the risk of detention by the Yugoslavian border patrol caused
her heart to beat so rapidly, that she feared it would burst out of her chest.
The consequences of failure could be tragic. At best, prison; at worst, death
in the Adriatic. In the middle of the night, to their great joy and relief, they
finally embraced on the beach, now as free people. From Europe, they went
to Canada, where they both worked as scientists and doctors of chemistry
until retirement. Leszek specialized in chemical soil treatment.
In the 1980s, when this wave of Solidarity immigrants arrived, we,
the Polish-Canadian community, were able to demonstrate that here in
Canada we were able to accomplish things. We had the potential to arouse the interest and admiration of Canadian society. We also organized
celebrations of the centenary of Polish settlement with this aim in mind.
We wanted to showcase who we were and what we were doing in Canada. The Centenary celebrations were a success. We were proud of the
fact that a Canadian with Polish origins, Don Mazankowski, had become
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada. We also had several politicians in the
provincial government of Alberta, Ken Kowalski and Walter Paszkowski
among others. Immigrant communities from other nations had celebrated their people in government; this time we showed that Polish Canadians were occupying important roles in Canadian society and working
for the common good of all citizens.
Finally, I would like to remark on the disturbing phenomenon of the
decay of culture. I am extraordinarily strongly attached to JudeoChristian
values. I was raised with them and they supported my family on our hard
road from Poland to Canada. And here we found the same values in the
country that accepted us, and which we in turn adopted as our own. My
children and grandchildren were born here.
I fear for our future; I fear for the future of the values that were always
dear to us. I fear, thinking about the fundamental changes that have taken place since September 11th, 2001, when the twin towers of the World
184

Trade Centre lay in ruins. I am disturbed by the arrogance and audacity


with which numerically insignificant minorities, both openly and slyly, try
to implement changes in the values of this country. I am disturbed by the
fact that these minorities in effect force the overwhelming majority of our
society to respect values and obey laws that are entirely contrary to those
that have been adopted and preserved by generations.
I am also disturbed by external, seemingly insignificant indicators
of these changes. For instance the fact that today, during festivals, we do
not, as in the past, wish each other Merry Christmas or Happy Easter.
These traditionally accepted forms have been replaced by words devoid of
context, the meaning of which boils down to Happy holidays. But this is
only one of the ever-increasing numbers of disturbing examples. I can only
ask and plead, and also hope, that everyone for whom love, sympathy, forgiveness and tolerance are important be aware and vigilant and ready to
defend them; that they stand on the side of the values and laws that those
who went before us fought and often died for.

185

Parents

Wandering about the world indisputably taxed the health of both of my


parents. Yet they were resilient people, who proved throughout their lives
that they were able to face up to various misfortunes. Mikolaj Bereznicki
died in October 1979 due to bladder cancer, a few months before his eightieth birthday; Karolina Bereznicka died on June 1st, 1985 at the age of
eighty-one. I feel enormous respect for my parents, that they safely led us
through the difficult events related to the war, helped us to survive, and survived the journey from Europe to Canada themselves. It was a great trek:
from Poland, through the Gulag, India, Africa, Europe, all the way to the
American continent. Here in Canada they ensured for us a second start in a
new country. They allowed us to develop; thanks to my parents, I was able
to go to school, and then to university. I am enormously grateful to them. I
cannot apportion any of the credit to myself; I am not entitled. I am aware
that it is all thanks to them.
When you consider that your father and mother, who were successful
in Poland, one day lost everything, were uprooted from their homeland,
expelled from their home, transported into the heart of Russia . . . When
you consider that they went through the same thing in India, where they
carved out a small piece of security with their hard work, grasped some
small stability, had a modestly prosperous enterprise on which they could
build a future, and then met with another crash, where they had to leave
everything and go into the unknown . . . When you consider that they landed at the age of almost fifty in a foreign country, not speaking the language, with almost no money, and then went to wash dishes or do spadework
in someones garden . . . how could you not be grateful to your parents for
everything that they did for you?
They gave us a start, helped us spread our wings, and they started
with almost nothing. The savings brought from India diminished by half
within two months. We had Indian rupees, and we could not buy dollars;
186

we could only exchange our rupees for pounds sterling. The pound in
India had been worth four dollars; but when we came to Canada after
two months it was worth half that. In this way we lost half of our lifes
savings; half of my parents wealth. My father had a family to support, a
wife and two boys. My parents were in a foreign country without much
means to make a living. I cannot imagine how I would have reacted in my
fathers place; I sometimes wonder about it. The respect I have for my
parents will remain in my heart forever. But I have not spoken about this
for a long time. It is hard to talk about it. I want to pass this story on to
my grandchildren; even my children do not know all of the details. I want
them to know why we are in Canada.
There is a date that will forever be engraved in the history of our family February 10th, 1940 the day when the Soviets came to our houses
to expel us from our motherland. The memory of this date has been preserved in the family. Often we would remember that sad moment. There was
a song that we knew, that we would sing:
O Motherland, beloved land,
In thirty-nine drowned in blood.
Not enough that Poland was torn in two,
Poles were also exiled to Siberia.

We will always remember the tenth of February


When the Soviets came we were still sleeping
And they put our children into sleighs
And carried everyone to the main railway station.
O terrible moment, o terrible time
The pains of child birth are soon forgotten
But I tell you I will not forget the moment
When they put us in a dark wagon, like a coffin.
Farewell Poland, farewell dearest home
Farewell land that gave us sustenance
Farewell sun and stars of gold
We are leaving our motherland.
187

Four days through Polish land we rode


But only through chinks we could say farewell
On the fifth day the machine roared,
As if everyone had been stabbed with a knife
Days pass, weeks pass
Once a day they give us bread and water.
We pass through Russia and the Ural mountains
And so we go farther and farther.
On the fourth day the machine stops
And so our transport had stopped
We go by car, and then by sleigh
Through the snowy taiga, rivers, forests.
Oh how sad was our caravan,
We were given boiling water and bread each morning.
Frozen children fall from the sleighs
And the dead remain at the rest stops.
O beautiful Poland, our Holy land,
Where are your sons, where are your eagles?
Today they have gone into the Siberian taiga
Will they ever see you again?
The Golden sun greeted us sadly
When it peered into the barracks this morning
Two white coffins dressed in pine
Over them kneel weeping mothers.
We are alone, the guards have left
Because what would they have to do around us
The world is closed, everywhere forests, trees
Even birds will not sing for us here.
Winter, terrible snows, in the forest hard work
Hunger and longing crush us
188

Cruel typhus is spreading among the people


Every day, more are lying under the pines.
And here comes spring, the sun shines
But this does not make us happy
Only in the forest we hear a voice crying
O Jesus, fainting in the olive grove!
Polands Queen, have pity on us
On Polish land and Polish people.
Return us to our ancestral home
Queen of Poland, Virgin Most Pure!
This song, written by an anonymous author and known as the Ballad
of the Exiles, we sang in Persia. When my Mother wanted to show off her
children to guests, she asked us to sing this song. I remember the melody to
this day, and those words of the second stanza, We will always remember
the tenth of February / When the Soviets came we were still sleeping / And
they put our children into sleighs / And carried everyone to the main railway
station. What would have happened if we had not been expelled? How would my life have unfolded in Poland? I think that I would have got an education and become an engineer regardless. I wanted to build; it was inside me.
Even when still in Poland, and I was seven years old then, I heard that it was
a well-respected profession. I knew that engineers did very well. It was not
until we were in Canada that my parents tried to steer me towards medicine.
They had understood that here, doctors had an excellent life. I stayed faithful
to my childhood dreams, however, and chose engineering.
Am I bitter towards fate for this history? I am not. I am happy. The
last years have been really good to me I cannot say a bad word. Over
the last twenty, thirty years, I did what I thought was right. I worked a lot
for others, and that is always satisfying. I will add that thanks to my intervention, several of my friends married Canadians of Polish origins; their
marriages are very successful. I am happy to talk about it; I am proud of it.
I am surprised how much good I have encountered and how much I have
experienced. I am happy that we survived everything. We were extremely
lucky. And of course, there was a lot of adversity.
189

ALife Full of Satisfaction

If I had the chance to change something in my life, I would like to have been
more disciplined. I wish that I had always remained faithful to the things that
I have learned throughout my life. I would want to take the lessons I have
learned to heart, and to act in accordance with them. Because I have learned
that if you want to achieve something, if something really is important to
you, then you must never take your eyes off the prize, even forasecond.
If you know what you want to achieve, keep it always in mind. Focus on it. In
this way, you will reach your goals. If you want to reach a goal, you start reading about it, you talk about it, you make plans, you arrange your life around
it, you mobilize people, time passes and eventually, it happens. If you relent,
surrender, or if you are neglectful, then everything dissipates and you are left
with nothing.
I know that I often abandoned this principle. If I failed to achieve something in my life, then it was not because of other people, but because I
lost concentration and allowed some matters to fall by the wayside. I am,
however, satisfied with what has been. What could I have done better in life?
Could I have eaten or drunk more? Not really.
Earned more money? Probably, but was that the most important
thing? Not really.
I have a wonderful wife and children. Could they have been more
obedient, and listened to my advice more? I suppose so, but in any case,
reality has far exceeded my expectations.
Could I have gained more recognition? Maybe.
Would I have been any happier then? I dont know.
Would I wish for myself greater capabilities? For instance, would I
want to have been able to express my thoughts better, and, lets say, motivate people better? Yes. Possibly, this is my failure, that I was not able
to do that. I have experienced the painful lack of this skill and continue to
experience it.
190

On the other hand, I had to learn to compensate for this weakness.


If I had been more talented, then perhaps I would have been lazier. There are those that have all of the necessary talents they can speak, they
can motivate people but they are too lazy to do so. Who then is in the
better situation?
I look at houses for sale. Could I have bought yet another house? Could I have afforded it? Yes.
Would it have made me any happier? I dont know. Its true, I like buildings, I like a comfortable life and I like it when everything is in its place,
but I think to myself: I already have a house, a summer house, and a condo
in Hawaii. Should I buy another house in Phoenix? Do I have the time? Would it be good for me, going there for one month in the year, and to freeze
that much money into such an investment? Instead, maybe I could have
made someone elses life easier or richer, or more productive.
These are the questions that come to me now. Do they keep me awake at night? No, they dont chase the sleep from my eyes. But I do ponder
them at times.
What matters in private life? A difficult question, but I think that above all, what counts is what you put in. Christine always says: pray, and do
everything you can to make what you desire become a reality. If something
goes wrong, you must pray. God will consider it and if He wants to, He will
accede to our requests. Christine believes that our son Mark found a woman and that they are happy together, thanks to her prayers. Thats what
Christine believes; and thats what counts: in her mind it works.
If our marriage has been successful over so many years, if we live
happily, and Christine constantly prays for it that means that her prayers are heard. I had proof of this, when I had serious problems with the
business, and I prayed for a solution. Is there an entity outside myself that
listens to these prayers, or is it something within me that pushes me in a
given direction and allows me to solve the problem? Thats a philosophical
question, to which each must find his own answer.
I started recently to think that life is like a varied journey. Sometimes
you go through fertile land, and sometimes you go out into the desert. Once
you are on a road smooth and straight, and then one full of thorns and great chasms without bridges. Life is full of various places and we are given
the wisdom to overcome the difficulties encountered.
191

When crossing the desert, we should remember that we will soon encounter orchards. I am convinced that if we have faith and the support of the people
around us, we are capable of surviving anything and achieving every objective.
Tony Robbins, whose work I have read many times, wrote in one of his books:
Whatever your mind can conceive, it can also achieve. This is exactly my experience, though, truthfully, I have not always been faithful to it. Many times, I
did not listen to the voice given to me by God; I did not use this gift; I was not
obedient and at those times, I failed.
I never dreamed that such a life was awaiting me in Canada. While I was
languishing in the Russian gulags, the idea never crossed my mind. I experienced many limitations, not only the material ones, such as poverty or captivity,
but also my internal ones, originating in my character. I knew that I had skills,
but I did not know whether I would have the nerve and perseverance to overcome adversity for instance, the problem of my shyness and difficulties with
expressing myself. How was I to fulfil my potential, how to gain the confidence
of others? These were very serious obstacles.
In Poland, my parents lived affluently; at least thats how it looked from
the perspective of a 7-year-old boy. My mother would go on trips to Krakow,
Wieliczka and Czestochowa with other women. Our lives grew ever wealthier
and more comfortable. My parents had managed to establish themselves in life
and had opened the door to a successful future.
Unexpectedly, everything changed completely. Weak, inferior and insignificant in the eyes of our tormentors, we could disappear without a trace at
any moment, like millions of people in those days. They could grind us into
the ground and no one would even ask after us. Yet, thanks to the kindness of
strangers that we met on our journey, we were able to escape from that desperate situation. In a life in which for a long time there was nothing but drudgery,
fear and suffering, friendly feelings and happy events began to appear. Our
existence began to make sense again. We rediscovered contentment. We began
to mean something to others, and others meant something to us.
And finally we reached Canada. Here we were able to look to the future
with confidence again. Maybe at the beginning it was tough we didnt know
the language, everything was new for us, we sometimes met prejudice and hostility. But at other times, everything seemed simple, and new, unexpected opportunities presented themselves. Life gave me the invaluable experience of
obtaining a higher education, something that in my own country, in Poland,
192

might have been hard to achieve. Before the Second World War, university
studies for a country boy seemed unlikely. Here, in a foreign country, without
speaking the language, without financial security, I suddenly had the opportunity to go to university and obtain a university education.
And not only that; I met a fabulous woman, and with her I have wonderful children. I had the opportunity for further studies, and then I began a professional career and opened my own business. From someone worth less than the
dust on the road, from a boy huddled in a cattle truck heading for the Soviet
gulag to a mature and adult man, whose life could serve as an example of
fulfilling dreams of success. And it was here, in Canada, that I had the chance
to sit at one table with ministers of this great country, with people in power. I
spoke with the Deputy Prime Minister and Canadas Governor General, the
representative of the Queen, the Head of State. And this important person, at
a gala celebrating the centenary of Polish settlement in Canada, found many
deeply moving words and expressions of recognition for what I had achieved
throughout my life.
Who else could have experienced such wonderful things? How many
people have been lucky enough to experience such an extraordinary lifetimes
adventure? It seems unreal, when I look at my life from the perspective of all
of these years; it is like a dream. Even now, today, I find it hard to believe this
outstanding adventure.
Christine and I are very happy, especially now that our youngest son,
Mark, has also found fulfilment in family life. Mark and Urszula have decided
to join forces and are happy. Urszula has two children from her previous marriage, Darek and Natalia, and we are cheered by the happiness of this family.
We helped them start their own business, which they successfully run together.
We are very proud of our grandchildren, the children of our daughter, Teresa, and her husband, Richard, and of our son Henry and his wife,
Jane. Our eldest granddaughter, Jackie, has just returned from Phoenix,
where she has completed her dental residency after graduating in dentistry at New York University. Her younger brother, Christopher has graduated from the University of Alberta in the faculty of medicine and is now
a physician. The youngest, Kaitlyn, has recently graduated from the same
University in engineering. Catherine, daughter of Henry and Jane, recently
graduated in medicine at the University of Calgary. Their second daughter,
193

Darlene, has received a business degree from the University of Vancouver.


The youngest, Caroline, finished her business degree at the University of
Victoria, B.C. Christine says: We must have done something good in our
lives. Otherwise we wouldnt have such reasons to rejoice. Something has
succeeded! I cannot control my emotions, talking about it. How much pride can the human heart accommodate? How happy can a man be because
of his children and grandchildren?
Is it possible to be luckier than me? Is it possible to be happier than a
person who looks at the tremendous, incredible success of his family? The
future stands open before my grandchildren. They can choose what they
want and where they want it. No restrictions! All this happened in just two
generations.
I could talk for a long time about those nearest to me: about my
children and their spouses, about my grandchildren. We love and respect
them. But I would like to take this opportunity also to say that if ever I caused harm to any of them in any way, then I am now very sorry and I ask for
forgiveness.
I certainly do not sense any resentment from them. And with that, I
would like to bring this chapter, and this book, to a close. Christine and I
tried to raise our children and grandchildren as best we could; I am very
proud of them.

194

People in My Life

I want to talk only briefly about those who showed a lot of kindness to me.
I owe them a great deal. I want to express my deepest gratitude to my wife,
for over fifty years of marriage. I also want to express the deep gratitude and
admiration I have for my parents without their sacrifice, determination and
faith, my life would have worked out completely differently. I want to thank
my brother, Walter, who stood by me during the most difficult times. A word of
gratitude also to the Canadian nuns and priests from Edmonton, whose hard
work and commitment enabled me to graduate from high school and opened
the road to a university education. I also want to thank my friends and acquaintances. Amongst others, they are:
John and Mary Allen, Antoni and Maria Andrzejewski, Ed and Sharon Arnold, Elizabeth Atmore, Stanislaw and Elzbieta Bajger, Edward, Wanda
and Ted Bartkiewich, Harry and Annette Basler, Kazimierz Bentkowski,
Zeno and Maryanne Bereznicki, Dr. Bruno Bochiski and Danuta Bochinski, Jarek and Stasia Bojarun, Tadeusz and Marysia Borowiecki, Steve and
Micheline Bruskiewich, Maria and John Carvalho, Terry and June Cavanagh, Brian and Barbara Charlebois, William and Rose Chodkiewicz, Jan and
Maria Chrzanowski, Victor Ciezki, Chester and Lucy Ciupa, Dave Coates,
John and ReneMay Collins, Mike Collins, Dr. Les Correa and Shan Correa,
Ron and Gay Coyle, Piotr and Anna Czartoryski, Ewa Dixon Miles, Mike and
Irene Domecki, RoseMary Domecki, Genek Dylewicz, Dr. Piotr Dylewicz
and Dr. Jasia Dylewicz, Juliana Filipiak, Teresa and Ryszard Fryga-Szlamp,
John and Helen Funtasz, BeataGierasinski, Lynn and Andy Gievre, Roman,
Christine, Witold and Wanda Gutter, Dr. Zbigniew Gutter and Lilian Gutter, Richard Haff, Martin Hamula, Mark and Maryla Hasek, Jurek and Zofia
Hedinger, Dr. Leszek Ignasiak and Dr. Teresa Ignasiak, Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski and Maryla Ignaszewski, Dr. Ania Janowska, Mietek and Krystyna Janusz, Frank and DorothyJasinski, Jozef and JosephineKaczmarek, Stani195

slaw and Aniela Kalwajtys, Edward and Rosaline Karpluk, Kostek and Helena Korol, Prof. Karol Krotki and Joanna Krotki, Dr. Arthur Kruszelnicki,
Richard and Janina Kruszelnicki, Andrew and Suzanne Kubicki, Joseph
Kulik, Stanislaw and Hania Labuda, Dr. Leszek Lawczynski and Alexandra
Lawczynski, Ludwik and Eileen Lechocinski, Al and Lois Leon, Thomas Lukaszuk, Doreen and Robert MacFarland, Tadeusz and Jasia Maciag, Danuta
and Stanislaw Majnusz, Dariusz Majnusz, Piotr Majnusz, Dr. Jacek and Elzbieta Majorowicz, Marek Malicki, Marian Malinowski, Rt Hon. Don Mazankowski, Chris and Bogunia Micek, Dr. Janina Miliszkiewicz, Teo Miller,
Prof. Walter Mis and Joan Mis, Joseph Miziolek, Dr. Monika Moniuszko,
Dr. Duncan Murray and Mary Murray, Stanislaw and Janina Muszynski,
Janusz Najfeldt, Dr. Jarek Nowinka and Dorothy Nowinka, Thomas, Alex,
Janine, Bernice and Sofie Opalinski, Walter and Clara Ostrowski, Teresa Paleczka, Dr. Ken Paproski and Loise Paproski, Steve and Betty Paproski, Walter and Merelese Paszkowski, Dr. Wanda Pawlak, Mikolaj Paziuk, Rajmund
and Jadwiga Pierzchajlo, Edward Polanski, Frank Polanski, William Porter,
Zygmunt and Wieslawa Potocki, Edward and Josephine Prodor, Andrzej
and Barbara Radzikowski, Gilda Rath, Robert Rekendorf, Aleksander
and MariaRomanko, Wilhelm and Stefania Rudolf, Wieslaw and Wanda
Ryszawy, John and Diana Sarich, Dr. Zbigniew Sawicki and Zosia Sawicki,
Henryk and Krystyna Slawek, Fred and Addy Smith, Joseph Smith, Michael
and Florence Smith, Victor Smith, Andy and Cecilia Solikoski, Jim and Vicky
Stanley, Benio, Zosia and Ania Starczewski, Bruno Stasiak, Ben and Danuta
Steblecki, Jurek and Zosia Steimetz, Benny Stein, Genie Stokowski, John and
Grace Strobel, Marian and Genia Strzelecki, Adam and Teresa Swierczynski,
John and Peggy Szumlas, Halinka Szwender, Wladek and Wanda Szwender,
Michal Szyling and Dr. Danuta Szyling, Dr. Ewa Szymanski and Dr. Waldemar Szymanski, Dr. Kazimierz Szymocha and Marysia Szymocha, Jan Tereszczenko, Chuck and Opal Thomas, Dr. Eddy Tworek and Olga Tworek,
Henry and Christina Urban, Hon. Alan Wachowich and Betty Wachowich,
former Chief Judge Edward Wachowich and Lucy Wachowich, Kazimierz
and Irena Walewski, Tadeusz and Stanislawa Walkowski, Dr. Stan and Pearl
Warshawski, HenrykWatek, Stanislaw Watek, Dr. Chris Wieczorek, Harry
Wilfong, Dr. Henryk Wojcicki and Zosia Wojcicki, Dr. Walter Yakimec and
Kay Yakimec, Franciszek and Grazyna Zalewski, Helena Zamojska, Thomas
Zielinski and Dottie Stahr.
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I thank them and many others who are not mentioned , including my
nearest and dearest family. The memory of the wonderful people whom I
have had the honour to meet on my journey is and always will be very dear
to me.

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Bereznicki Family Reunion


miowice Palace, 21-23 June 2014

POSTCRIPT TO THE FIRST EDITION

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DURING THE GALA REUNION. Krystyna and Joseph Bereznicki. miowice, 2014.

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REUNION VENUE. miowice Palace, 2014.

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REUNION VENUE. miowice Palace, 2014.

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GALA DINNER. From the left at the table in the foreground: Teresa Korol,
Dr. Christopher Korol, Richard Korol. On the right: Mark Bereznicki and Urszula Jedrasik.
miowice, 2014.

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IN THE GARDEN DURING THE BARBEQUE. From left: Dr. Bronisaw Bochinski,
Danuta Szadkowska, Dr. Anna Kruszelnicka, Helena Zamojska. miowice, 2014.

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KRAKOWIAKS, OBEREKS, MAZURKAS a performance by the artistic group Lajkonik.


miowice, 2014.

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THE AUDIENCE DURING THE DANCE PERFORMANCE. Standing from left: Mark Bereznicki, Jan Szatkowski (leaning on chair), Piotr Dylewicz, Katarzyna Dylewicz, Emila Dylewicz-Owczarska, Maciej Radzikowski, Justyna Szatkowska, Magdalena Zylicz-Berenicka.
Seated from left: Krystyna Berenicka, Maria Matykowska, Bronisawa Szuster.
miowice, 2014.

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PARTICIPANTS AT THE REUNION. Susan Leszczyska, Stanisaw Majnusz, Micha Szyling,


Wiesawa Szuster, Dr. Dominika Berenicka-Szyling, Ewa Lafi, Dr. Christopher Korol.
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miowice, 2014.

WITH THE LAJKONIK DANCE TROUPE. From left: Viktoria Berenicka-Szyling, Caroline
Bereznicki, Kaitlyn Korol, Christine Bereznicki, Dr. Jacklyn Korol, Joseph Bereznicki.
Second row: Darek Pierzchala. milowice, 2014.

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READING THE FAMILY TREE. From the left: Barbara Radzikowska, Dr. Artur Kruszelnicki, Dr. Ania Kruszelnicka, Jan Szuster, Zbyszek and Stefania Mroczek. miowice,
2014.

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THE YOUNG ONES BY THE FAMILY TREE. Dr. Jacklyn Korol, Henry Bereznicki, Viktoria
Berenicka-Szyling, Dominika Berenicka-Szyling, Dr. Catherine Bereznicki, Caroline Bereznicki and Kaitlyn Korol. miowice, 2014.

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AUTHORS DEDICATIONS. From the left: Joseph Bereznicki (seated), Jakub Lafi,
Dariusz Szuster, Jan Szuster, Aleksander Majnusz, Dr. Bronisaw Bochinski (seated).
miowice, 2014.

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TRIP TO WIELICZKA. Visiting one of the worlds oldest salt mines. Wieliczka, 2014.

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COMMEMORATIVE FAMILY PHOTOGRAPH. From the left: Mark Bereznicki, Urszula Jedrasik, Richard Korol, Teresa Bereznicki-Korol, Henry Bereznicki, Darlene Bereznicki,
Dr. Catherine Bereznicki, Dr. Jacklyn Korol, Caroline Bereznicki, Kaitlyn Korol,
Jane Bereznicki, Darek Pierzchala. In the foreground: Christine and Joseph Berenicki.
miowice, 2014.

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Family Reunion in Poland

In the summer of 2014, Krysia and I had the good fortune to welcome
our guests to a Berenicki family reunion, held at milowice Palace in
Poland. As I greeted them, the words caught in my throat and my voice
quavered with emotion. This reunion was an extraordinary thing for us,
an experience that happens once in a lifetime. Krysia and I wanted to
hold this reunion as a gift to our closest family and in particular to our
grandchildren, all freshly minted graduates of Canadian universities.
It was important to us to have our descendants meet their relatives in
Poland and to discover their roots. Deciding to spare no effort nor expense, we invited relatives from both Poland and Canada, seeking to
gather representatives of our entire family who had been scattered by
the winds of war. At the opening of this memorable event, just before
our festive dinner, I addressed them saying:
Dearest Family,
I am deeply moved that this family reunion is taking place in Poland, my homeland, which I left 75 years ago. It gives me great pleasure to
welcome you, on behalf of my wife, Krysia, and myself, to this ceremonial
family reunion. I am immeasurably delighted that those dearest to me are
here my wife, Krystyna, my children: Teresa and her husband, Ryszard;
Henry and his wife, Jane; and Mark with Urszula and her son, Darek.
My granddaughters and one grandson are also present. It was very important to me that they get to know Poland. [...]
This year, the youngest of my grandchildren completed her degree, joining the others who also graduated in recent years. Now that they all have their
degrees, I particularly wanted to honour them. Forgive an old man a moment of
vanity and pride and allow me to introduce them to you today: Jackie is a dentist, Christopher a physician, Kaitlyn an engineer, and Catherine is also a physician, while Darlene and Caroline have business degrees. I congratulate each of
you on your degrees and am very happy that you are here with us today.
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It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of our family from Poland


[here follows greeting by name and introducing our guests].
I wish to warmly welcome all of you. Thank you for accepting our
invitation and joining us here in miowice.
As I have said, I am overjoyed that we are meeting in Poland. Back on
the night of February 10th, 1940, I, then a young child, was torn from my
sleep by Russian soldiers, who ordered us to leave our family home. My
parents, my brother and I were allowed to take only the most necessary
items; we were never to see our home again. We were forced to leave at
gunpoint. None of us wanted to leave Poland: we were happy here. As I
remember it, I enjoyed a beautiful, happy childhood. My family owned a
farm about 500 km east of here, in the Kausz region, territory that is today
a part of Ukraine. Together with the Leszczyski family, we were forced to
endure a terrible journey to Siberia. (Representing the Leszczynski family
here at our reunion is Edzio Leszczyski, who has come together with his
wife, Susan. Edzio is the grandson of Mikoaj and Paulina Leszczyski. Paulina, you will remember, was my mothers sister.)
We were held captive at the Siberian gulag together with the
Leszczyskis. Eventually we were freed from Russian captivity thanks to
the diplomatic efforts of the Polish government in exile. Our family crossed
Russia to Kazakhstan, where the Polish Army was being assembled under
General Anders. My brother and I were enlisted into the cadets at an early
age. Our subsequent travels took us through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan,
Persia, Pakistan and India. Our family spent several years in a refugee
camp and finally, thanks to enormously good luck and the tenacity of our
parents, we ended up in Canada.
This is a very important story; it would be an irreparable loss should
the memory of those events pass into oblivion. I want it to survive among
my grandchildren, the next generation of Canadians, who unfortunately do
not speak Polish. Keeping family history alive is something I particularly
care about. John Paul II said that a nation that does not know its past dies,
and it does not build a future. I think the same can be said of a family; it is
extremely important to know your roots. That is why I am so delighted that
my family responded to the invitation and came to Poland in such numbers. Here you can find your roots. Poland was always close to our hearts,
and contact with our homeland was kept constantly alive.
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In the 1950s, we sponsored two of my mothers brothers to Canada, Jzef and Franciszek Berenicki, along with their families. The family of Jzef and Maria Berenicki are represented at this meeting by Dr.
Bronislaw Bochiski, the husband of the dearly departed Danusia, one
of Jzef and Marias two daughters. Jzef and Marias grandchildren are
also present, Dr. Artur and Dr. Ania Kruszelnicki; these are the children
of Ryszard Kruszelnicki and Janka, who is the younger daughter of Jzef
and Maria Berenicki.
In turn, the family of my mothers youngest brother, Franciszek
Berenicki who was also sponsored to Canada is represented here by
his daughter, Dr. Danuta Berenicka, and her husband, Micha Szyling, and
their daughters: Dominika and Viktoria.
With us today are several people who have visited us in Canada.
Among others, we had the pleasure of hosting Basia and Andrzej Radzikowski and Benio and Ania Starczewski in our home, as well as my cousins Janina Miliskiewicz, Helena Zamojska and Danusia Majnusz. We have
also hosted my cousin Wadysaw Berenicki from Rogowo, as well as
Ewa Lafi and Danuta Szatkowska. This connection with Poland was always very important for us.
Sometimes marriages were made between someone living in Canada and someone who came to visit from Poland. For example, my brother
Wadek married Janka, who had come to Canada for a three-month holiday
to see her aunt, Paulina Leszczyska. Wadek and Janka fell in love and
have been happily married for over fifty years.
Today, we can say that history comes full circle, because two parts
of the family that grew far apart have come together here in Poland. Were
it not for the outbreak of war and the ensuing chaos, we might all be living in one country. What will be the result of this meeting? I do not know.
I am pleased that it came to fruition; it would not have been possible
without your attendance. Once again, I offer my heartfelt thanks. I trust
that you enjoy the time you spend here in miowice; I sincerely hope so.
Welcome!
I wish also to thank those people who helped in the organization of
this reunion: Rafa Ostrowski helped us to find this palace. Dr. Ewa Szymaska deserves special thanks for scouting the location. She travelled
400 km from Pozna to inspect the palace and hotel in advance, to assure

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us that we would be happy here. She organized the programme of events


and the menu, and resolved many issues regarding the accommodation of
our group.
We thank Micha Szyling for performing the role of general secretary
of the reunion. We have all been receiving his messages and updates regarding the reunion for the last few months, both in English and Polish, and
he busily noted down everything that you had to say.
Thanks are also due to my daughter, Teresa, for the supervision of the
travel agents and the coordination of tickets and all documents that were
necessary for this trip.
And finally thanks to my son Henryk for performing the role of master of ceremonies at this reunion, and to Micha Szyling for performing the
same role communicating with the Polish-speaking participants. And now
I give them the floor. I thank you all for hearing me out. All the best!

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miowice Palace

I was convinced from the outset that a family reunion in Poland was
an excellent idea. If any doubt crept into my mind, it concerned only the
issue of whether a suitable venue for such an important occasion could
be found from so far away. Would my closest family, who did not know
my fatherland, like Poland? We found a venue that suited us in terms of
size and character, close to Krakow, in the town of miowice, six kilometres from Nowe Brzesko. milowice Palace is a nineteenth-century
manor in the classical style. It is beautifully restored and has an interesting history, which I did not know when I selected this venue. Let me
relate that history here, since I think that it confirms the suitability of
the choice.
The last prewar owners of the palace were the Zdanowski family. Aniela Zdanowskas father was Gabriel Godlewski, an eminent figure, active
in the community and a publicist in the Kielce region, to whom Stanisaw
Wyspiaski dedicated his most famous play, Wesele (The Wedding), which
is currently part of the Polish literary canon and a fixture on school syllabus reading lists. The Zdanowskis, like the Berenicki family, were stripped
of their property by the communists during the war; they had to leave the
manor at milowice exactly as my relatives and I had to leave our family homes. This fate was shared by whole masses of Polish landowners. In
1944, the Stalinist puppet government of Poland, which went by the name
of the Polish Committee of National Liberation, issued a decree of agricultural reform, whereby they confiscated land and property from its rightful
owners. After the war, the milowice Palace housed the District Cooperative, the District Council and the National Council local organs of state
authority more to serve the needs of the Polish Workers Party than to
represent local government. The building also housed a shop and a post
office, and from time to time local dances took place there. During one such
dance party in 1966, a fire broke out that burned the palace to the ground.
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In 2001, the ruins and surrounding grounds were privatized and the new
owners rebuilt the structure, almost from scratch.
The palace lies on a beautiful hill, rising above spreading fields and
the Vistula valley. A little lower down the hill is a guardhouse, rebuilt with
extra guest rooms. Inside the palace itself, there is a seventy-meter palatial apartment, furnished in the classical style, complete with a fireplace
built into the ceramic tile stove; there are two other similarly appointed
apartments, a ballroom, restaurant and several additional rooms. Towering over all of this, one sees two-hundred-year-old lime trees, elms and
hornbeams, hundred-year-old chestnuts, pines and larches. Over seventy
trees cast a pleasant shade over the alleys of the antique park; in short,
an aristocratic idyll in the best Polish style.
Since over 80 people accepted our invitation, we were unable to accommodate all of the guests in the palace. milowice Palace holds a maximum of 60, so we lodged the remainder in the St. Norbert Hotel, a no less
remarkable place.
The seventeenth-century monastery of St. Norbert, located in Hebdw, just a few kilometres from milowice, has a separate hotel section.
Some of its rooms are historic monastic cells. The monastery church
dates back to the thirteenth century. When Mass was celebrated on the
Sunday morning during our stay, music from the historic church organ
could be heard in the hotel rooms. Some of the reunion participants said
that when they awoke in the morning, and cast their eyes at the ceiling,
the massive, centuries-old roof beams cast an extraordinary, even mystical, impression. The atmosphere of the location, coupled with the proximity of the still-functioning monastery, had an impact on everyone; and
the monastic group, though a little removed from the palace, arrived in
good spirits for our joint gatherings and meals at milowice.
Around 30 people came from Canada for the reunion, mainly family
but also a few friends. Our relatives from the United States were represented by Waldek Berenicki. The remaining guests lived in Poland
and arrived from various directions, being scattered around the country.
Some were well known to us, but there were also those whom we met for
the first time. Moreover, many of the Polish branches of the family did not
know each other. Although they knew of one another, this was their first
opportunity to meet. Perhaps Providence blessed our plans, since we en213

joyed a warm June weekend, with long periods of sunshine. The festivities
began on Friday with a barbeque in the garden. The relaxed atmosphere
fostered jokes and conversations. We enjoyed traditional Polish dishes:
pierogi, grilled kaszanka, urek with white sausage, pickled cabbage and
gherkins. The family tree, drawn up by Viktoria Berenicka-Szyling, was
of great interest to all of us from the first day.
The atmosphere at the subsequent official dinner was similarly
good, in no small part due to Micha Szyling, who provided a hilarious Polish translation of the speech given by my son Henio, the master of ceremonies. This main event was held on Saturday. After photos were taken
of all the guests, the opening greetings were made, followed by speeches
by other family members, extending greetings, thanks and presents. We
indulged in a delicious meal. The exquisite menu was excellently organized
by Ewa Szymaska (to whom we are all grateful). Krakowiaks, obereks and
mazurkas were not neglected, as there were performances by a folk dance
troupe and communal sing-a-longs, in which the guests participated with
great verve and gusto.
On Sunday, those interested visited Wieliczka to see the renowned
salt mine one of the most impressive examples of rock salt mining in
the world. In the evening, by a communal horseshoe table, each guest was
given the opportunity to say something about themselves and their immediate families. The microphone ventured from hand to hand, and we heard
about relatives, children, achievements and hopes.
It was a shame to leave after three days of warmth and heightened
emotions. Such warmth can only be received from family and close friends.
Time went by too quickly; it was difficult to speak to everyone. We presented, as a memento to all in attendance, a cubic crystal sculpture bearing an
engraving of milowice Palace, to commemorate the wonderful time we
shared.
Just before the reunion I had managed to complete and have published the first edition of my biography, so copies of this book were presented as a second memento. I sincerely hope that the story told on the
pages of that book will also serve to bring us closer together. I hope that it
strengthens our family in the future, provides a sense of unity, and stands
as a testament to the indomitability of the Berenicki spirit.
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Participants

Magdalena and Marcin Bednar


Jane and Henry Bereznicki
Catherine, Darlene and Karoline
Bereznicki
Krystyna and Jzef Berenicki
Christine and Joseph Bereznicki
Urszula Jedrasik and Mark
Bereznicki
Darek Pierzchala
Henia and Wadysaw Berenicki
Kinga and Wiesaw Berenicki
Maria and Roman Berenicki
Weronika Berenicka
and Agata Bereznicka
Waldemar Bereznicki
Bronisaw Bochiski
Emilia Dylewicz-Owczarska
Katarzyna and Piotr Dylewicz
Rick Korol
and Teresa Bereznicki-Korol
Jackie, Kaitlyn and Chris Korol
Artur and Anna Kruszelnicki
Ewa and Jakub Lafi
Ed and Susan Leszczynski
Aleksander and Krzysztof Majnusz

Danuta and Stanisaw Majnusz


Maria Matykowska and Mariusz
Matykowski
Janina and Alfons Miliszkiewicz
Stefania and Zbigniew Mroczek
Dorota and Zofia Olechnowicz
Monika and Rafa Ostrowski
Anna Poska and Krzysztof
Poski
Barbara and Andrzej Radzikowski
Pawe and Katarzyna Radzikowski
Anna Starczewska and Bernard
Starczewski
Jan and Danuta Szatkowski
Jolanta Szatkowska
Justyna and Tomasz Szatkowski
Bronisawa and Jan Szuster
Dariusz and Wiesawa Szuster
Danuta Berenicka and Micha
Szyling
Viktoria and Dominika
Berenicka-Szyling
Helena Zamojska
Magdalena and Zbigniew
Zylicz

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