Neck deep in research on Stalin’s Siberian gulags, I was consumed with the burning question of how and why Genek and Herta were sent off to Siberia in the first place. By recommendation of the Kresy-Siberia Foundation, I contacted Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Amazingly, I heard back right away—not only did Hoover have a record of Genek’s name, they had a nine-page, hand-written report he’d filed after the war.
An envelope arrived a few weeks later. Goosebumps shot up on my arms and I shivered as I opened it. I’d never met Genek, but here were his words, penned by his own hand! The record was written was in Polish, of course. After a week of waiting impatiently for a translation, I was finally able to read it. On the 28th of June, 1940, Genek begins, eight KGB agents burst into my flat…
Page 2, Genek’s account of his Siberian exile, courtesy of the Hoover Institution
Sure enough, Genek’s report explains exactly how, when and why he and Herta were arrested and deported to Siberia. In it, he describes everything from the squalid condition of their camp (in a region called Altynay), to their twelve-hour days of felling logs in the bitter cold, to the ruthless nature of the KGB watchman, Romanov, assigned to their barracks.
With the details of Genek’s deportation laid out before me, I put an email out to the Kresy-Siberia yahoo group and soon heard back from a woman whose parents were sent to the same camp in Siberia. Altynay, she said, was where she was conceived. Michel (Genek’s son) and I called her at her home in Ottawa, and I listened in as they talked, wondering what it must feel like to connect with someone whose family shares such an unlikely, yet similar past.
Eager to fill in the blanks of Genek’s military career, I emailed the UK’s Ministry of Defense (Anders fought under the command of the British Army, renowned for keeping meticulous wartime records). A note came back a few days later…yes, we have record of a Gerszon Kurc. I’d hit the jackpot—again!
Page 1 of Genek’s military records, from the archives of the UK Ministry of Defense
A few weeks later, a summary of Genek’s military career arrived in the mail, along with a book of army records, which included everything from promotions to hospital visits. It turns out Genek was awarded six medals of honor, which he never collected—Michel is now in possession of two of them.
The “Italy Star” awarded to Genek by the British Army; Genek fought in several Allied campaigns, including the Battle of Bologna and the Battle for Monte Cassino
In the following months I would hear back from the Memorial Center in Moscow, the State Archives of the Russian Federation, the Polish Institute/ Sikorski Museum in London and from several other children and relatives of Siberian exile survivors.
With every record and every conversation, Genek’s journey began to unfold before me. It is, in many ways, unbelievable—from Poland to Siberia, through the Middle East, to the Italian front…with a wife and a child in tow! Unearthing it has been a thrill—this, I imagine, is how a detective must feel, uncovering clues that lead to the Big Discovery. It’s also been an honor. To weave together a story that would have otherwise gone untold—a story as remarkable as Genek’s—this, for me, is what this project is all about.