Topic: Klara Brycha

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Hamilton City Libraries Oral History Programme, Interview with: Klara Brycha, Accession no: OH0091, Date: 20 December 1990. Interviewed by Julie Shaw as part of the Taking Root in a new land Oral history project 1990


Klara Brycha introduces herself and talks about her family in Poland and the coming of war in 1939. Her hometown was called Hancewicz, Polesie. Klara talks about her family and their professions, the family home and religion in Poland. In 1939 Russians came, and she describes what happened, her uncle became a partisan, her brother was imprisoned, released and re arrested. She saw him again in March 1942 as she prepared to go to Persia from Russia (Siberia).

Taken to Russia:

1941, There is a knock at the door, Klara is told she is to be taken to Russia, there is a swap of possessions with Russians. While transported, a Stock Train was used, the men separated from the woman and children. They were in the train for 3-4 weeks; there was no food or water given. When they arrived, the men were sent to prison. Klara talks about her family and how they fared. After the train ride, they arrived at a sea, they barged across, which took 5 days, and thus they finally arrived in Siberia. It was "a desert" there were no people or houses and food was supplied in return for making hay. They had few contacts with the Russians, only for food and Fuel-Wood. Winter came and they were moved to Novokuybyshevsk Kamien, given cottages to live in and worked for bread. Eventually they learned that the Polish army was in Russia, and they planned to join them and go to a warmer place, they travelled by train. They arrived at a place where there was no food, all the animals were eaten, right down to the cats and dogs, her mother did the cooking and hid her flour. After two weeks they were put on an open boat by Russians and travelled on a river. People died many times so they stopped every 3 days to bury the dead. Fortunately the further they went, the more the climate improved. Eventually they reached Czkatow. They were asked if they wanted to work, and Klara and her sister wanted to, but their mother asked them to stay home. The work was picking cotton.

Polish Army:

They discovered the presence of the polish army nearby and were told to go and join them, and to take bread for a week. She discovered her brother had been very sick. At the market she met a Polish soldier who said there was a chance to go overseas, Klara agreed as long as her family could go as well. The train journey was to go to Tashkent. On the train journey, Klara was separated from her mother and there was confusion on arrival, she tried to find her mother who was very sick. Eventually she found her brother, and mother who was unconscious. They were given a cabin on a ship to their next destination, and her mother gained consciousness long enough to greet the family before passing away from typhus. They did not want her buried at sea so they waited until they arrived in Persia. On Easter Sunday, 1942 she was buried in a single grave. Others who had died on the way were buried in a mass grave due to the sheer numbers.

Klara's brother had to rejoin his army unit, and Klara herself was too old for school, so she joined the Polish Army while her two younger sisters went to school. They stayed there until 1945.

The New Zealand government made an offer to the Polish children; Klara's sisters went to Palmerston North and Christchurch. She stayed with the army and went to places like Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt, attached to the British 8th Army. She met her husband in Iraq, he was a driver and Klara worked in the hospital. They married in Italy after the battle for Monte Cassino ,at Motola on the 6th of January, 1945.Eventually Klara became pregnant, so she was sent to Palestine where it was safer, a Year later her husband saw her baby for the first time, It was another 2 years before she saw him again. After 3 years in Palestine, she went to England, still attached to the army, while there she made plans to go to New Zealand.

 New Zealand:

Klara talks about "Why New Zealand"? Her husband did not mind where they went, and Klara had family there. They arrived on 2nd of February 1950 with two children and her brother married 2 days later. Klara finally sees her sister for the first time since 1942, and her Father was there too. Her husband worked for Waikato Breweries for 30 years. They had 3 more children, built their own house.

Klara talks about their first year here, her children and their children, all very close. They had arrived in Wellington in 1950, thought it would be winter and carried only winter clothes. Klara is now living in Hamilton and is very happy here, she ahs not gone back to Poland but her husband and son went back in 1981. Klara and her family still speak Polish at home, and she wants to keep the language in the family. The children wear polish costumes on Christmas, and they keep in contact with other Poles in NZ.

Listen to a 30 minute clip


Complete recording available on Level 3 of the Garden Place Library.

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Klara Brycha

First Names:Klara
Last Name:Brycha
Place of Birth:Poland