2 Lest We Forget • Remembrance Day 2016 Peterborough Examiner, Thursday November 10, 2016
A prisoner of war at 11 years old
Irena Wallace remembers her childhood during the Second World War
By Elizabeth Bower-Gordon
When thinking back to
what she calls the “ungodly”
part of her life
during the Second World
War, with memories of prisoner camps,
near starvation and being shipped
across three continents, Irena Wallace
can pinpoint the moment that her
relatively happy childhood suddenly
changed to darkness.
It was 6 a.m. on Feb. 10, 1940 and
there was loud knocking at her door.
Irena, who had just celebrated her
11th birthday in her native Poland, recalls
her father opening the door to a
pair of Russian soldiers wielding large
guns and telling the family they were
under arrest and were being taken as
prisoners to Siberia.
What followed were several years of
misery, loneliness, hunger and fear for
the young girl who would survive being
taken to Siberia, Uzbekistan, Iran,
South Africa and England before finally
making a home in Canada after the
war was over.
Irena, who is now 87 and lives with
her husband Mitchell in Peterborough’s
west end, says she is thankful for those
who lost their lives bringing that war
to an end, but on Remembrance Day,
it can still be very difficult to think back
The mother-of-four, who came to
this country not knowing any English
and filled with hope that this was a
Irena and Mitchell Wallace in their west-end Peterborough home.
country of peace, says that on each
Nov. 11, she chooses not to reflect on
the war but instead focuses on how
Canada finally gave her the freedom to
get a good education, a steady job and
a stable home-life.
“I am just very happy to be here in
Canada,” she says from her home on
Afton Drive. “Canada gave me that
Photo by Elizabeth Bower-Gordon
freedom to do what I wanted to do
with my life.”
Irena (nee Krzyskow) says she had
a happy life in Poland where she lived
with her parents, who were both
teachers, and her three siblings.
Although her mother died from typhus
when Irena was eight, she says
the family was able to find some happiness
again when her father remarried
and her new step-mother took
good care of the house, property and
In 1939, rumours abounded that the
Russians and Germans were going to
Flyers were dropped from planes
across the country, telling people that
an invasion may be coming and later
that year, she recalls starting to see
Nazi Germany fliers, showing caricatures
of Jews and blaming them for the
suffering of Polish people.
“They were ugly mockeries of Jews,
and knowing them as part of our community
and hard working people, this
was unjustified slander that we had to
ignore,” she wrote in an unpublished
autobiography of her life. “These were
our countrymen – fellow Poles!”
When the Russians invaded and soldiers
knocked at her door, Irena says it
was a great shock.
“It felt like the end of the world,” she
The family was given a few hours
to pack what they could, including
bedding, cutlery and clothing, while
her father secretly started a fire in his
bedroom fireplace to burn documents
revealing he had been a soldier in the
First World War and had fought against
the Russian army.
Confused and frightened, she says
they were taken by a horse-drawn
sleigh to the train station and forced
into cattle cars.
There was a small ladder for the children
to climb up.
One small heater in the centre was
the only source of heat and she recalls
there being 60 people in the cart, all
sleeping on bunks. They were given
true north strong and free.
This Remembrance Day, we hold the courageous men and
women who serve this country in our hearts and offer our deepest
gratitude. Thank you to those who have defended our freedoms.
And thank you to the families who have trusted us to serve them.
†Registered Trademark of CARP, used under license. Dignity Memorial is a division of Service Corporation International (Canada) ULC.
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