Some sad news came in to the newsroom Monday. I received a phone call from Pola Kojder who, for as long as I’ve known her, has been caring for her mom, Helena Kojder.
Our motto in the newsroom, and my personal mantra, is, “everybody has a story,” and it was only recently I found out the story of Pola’s mom.
Helena touched the lives of many as a nurse at Battlefords Union Hospital, from 1949 to 1984. But, in recent years, she has been the victim of Alzheimer’s disease, and her daughter Pola has been caring for her, except for respite arrangements, full time for the last eight years. Since a heart attack, Helena has been unable to speak.
Despite being unable to get back from her mom what she has shared in time and conversation, Pola has loyally cared for her mom. Pola never forgot what a remarkable woman her mother was.
In a recent story in I wrote to commemorate her 90th birthday, I found out Helena is one of 36,549 Poles displaced by the Second World War in what has come to be known – not widely, but known – as the Polish Holocaust, surviving to be among those accepted into Canada between 1947 and 1951.
While the Nazis decimated the Jewish population, our allies, the Russians, turned their ideas of ethnic cleansing toward the Poles. Like all the others, Helena’s family was recorded, along with whatever goods they had, and Feb. 10, 1940, Helena, her mother, her husband, her sister and brother were herded off like cattle to Siberia. Helena’s family members were among the two million people from the eastern part of Poland who had been uprooted and delivered to Siberian work camps.
Whoever didn’t die during the month long journey there, found themselves doomed to a life of cold, hunger and backbreaking labour. Many more died, including Helena’s 14-month-old daughter Apolonja.
When amnesty for the Poles in Siberia had been declared, the result of the Soviets falling out with Germany, one difficult life was traded for another – the precarious life of a refugee. It was during this time of being shuffled from Teheran to India to England, she trained as a nurse.
At last they were able to leave for Canada. Conditions in their home land were no longer an option.
At first, things in Canada seemed as bleak as Siberia. But they improved. Like many from their heritage, in Canada, they were “just immigrants”, but they persevered.
Pola was born soon after they arrived in the North Battleford area. Helena began work at the hospital, and Pola’s dad, Franek, got a job with the City of North Battleford. A plaque at City Hall remembers his death on the job, saving another worker, in 1968.
In 1983, Pola and Helena lost Helena’s mother, Marynia, the brave and resourceful woman who had, with her own mother, helped her family through times unimaginable to most of us.
There will be few relatives to come to Pola’s side during her grief. Many of her mother and father’s family did not survive the Polish Holocaust.
It’s an amazing story. Pola has done a lot of research into her family’s history and the history of the times they lived through. She needs only to complete a thesis to obtain her Ph.D, from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and, a former teacher, she holds a B.A, B.Ed and M.Ed. from the University of Saskatchewan.
In 1995, Pola wrote Marynia, Don’t Cry, which tells the story her mom has now passed out of.
Everyone should read it. Look for it for sale on line, in second hand book stores, or view it online at http://www.ourroots.ca.