1939-1947 The journey of the Kraushar family from Poland to England


The World War exodus of Poles and their arrival in England involved a number of different geographical routes, among which that of the Kraushar family was perhaps unique.When Germany invaded Poland in 1939 my uncle, Staś Kobryner, was an official of the Bank of Poland, and was charged with getting part of the Bank's gold reserves to safety in England. With his wife Zosia and son Jurek (whose 18th birthday was on 1st September), he set off for Romania, and asked Zosia's brother Kazimierz Kraushar to escort him. Kazimierz and his pregnant wife Marja decided to go as far as the border before returning to Warsaw, where they left my brother Piotr, aged 5, in the care of his grandmother.


Kazimierz Kraushar 1920 just before the Miracle on the Vistula

By the time they reached the border, Russia had invaded. Kazimierz was known to the Russians for his prominent role in the 1920 Miracle on the Vistula, and still bore the heavy wound he had received there from Russian dum-dum, so return was impossible. They went on to Bucharest and then Milan, where a cousin of my mother's, Wanda, had married an Italian, Arturo, before the war. My mother could travel no further and I was born in Milan in February 1940. I was named Krzysztof after the patron Saint of travellers. My parents then managed to get my brother Piotr onto a train from Warsaw to Milan. Wanda and Arturo became my godparents. They were wonderful people and Wanda did much throughout and after the war to support, feed and clothe others in Poland.
When Italy joined the war we went into hiding in a remote hut in woods in Tuscany, a few kilometres from a vineyard owned by my godparents near the pretty town of Monte Carlo. Following the Italian surrender our hiding place was compromised when an Italian vineyard worker killed a German soldier nearby. We were bound to be discovered when the Germans retaliated. My mother buried the Polish flag she had made with which to welcome the Allies and we set off at night to walk the 50 kilometres to Florence. The flag is probably still there in the ground. Half way to Florence we ran into a German troop transport; they gave us a lift, assuming we were an Italian family. My parents spoke reasonable Italian and after all, a man walking with a stick, his wife and two small children were hardly likely to be anything else.
In Florence we were sheltered by nuns until the Eighth Army arrived together with the Polish 2nd Corps.
My father rejoined the Polish Army as an intelligence officer and my mother became its welfare officer, an onerous role in view of the many personal difficulties among the Polish soldiers. Her office was in the historic and beautiful Palazzo Vecchio. My brother and I were understandably spoilt by the soldiers as we were probably the only Polish children there. I remember being looked after by tank crews and military police. We moved with the Army to Bologna and finally back to Milan as the war ended. Apparently I was very useful to Polish soldiers as a translator between them and Italian girls, as I spoke both languages fluently but was too young to understand what was going on. Every day after my mother had taken me to a convent school a soldier would arrive to take me out again, until the nuns informed my mother who put a stop to this fun.

Father Kazimierz pre demob 1946/47

Mother Marja, 1948

Meanwhile we were joined by two cousins. Ryś Lewański had come via imprisonment in the East and with the Anders army from Persia onwards. He was prominent in the liberation of Bologna, where he married an Italian girl and settled as a University professor. While still in the Army he wrote a three-way Polish-English-Italian dictionary for the benefit of the Polish and English troops, and later wrote a book about the liberation of Bologna. Zosia (nee Szemañska) finished school in the underground, was in the AK (Polish Underground Army), captured during the Warsaw uprising and imprisoned in Germany, coming to Italy on her release.

Army 1945

Marja with General Anders in Italy

The Kobryners made it to England in 1940 via Switzerland and France. Jurek joined the Polish 1st Armoured Division in Scotland and saw service in Northern Europe after D day. At the end of the war Staœ worked for two years or so with UNRRA in Africa, where there were numerous Poles in displaced persons camps.

Piotr in Warsaw

Porto San Giorgio holiday, 1946


My mother, brother and I arrived in England in September 1946 as part of the Polish Resettlement Corps, and our first home in England was a Nissen hut in the Salisbury Plain. The train journey from Milan was very uncomfortable, in carriages with wooden seats and no windows. Worst of all, my brother had become a very good chess player (going on to captain Cambridge University at chess and to play at a high level). On the journey he taught me to play and proceeded to beat me every time, no matter how big a start he gave me.
We moved to Greenford and I started at the local primary school knowing two words of English, Yes and No. I was mystified by other children saying Seiuan to me, and it took me some time to find out that they were trying to get me to 'Say One'. I was the object of great curiosity, but in an entirely friendly way with no malice, and my return home on the first day was riding on the crossbar of another boy’s bicycle. The class teacher, though she had a class of over 40 pupils, took great trouble with me, with the result that within a term my English was fluent and, dare I say, rather more grammatical than that of my classmates.

First Home in England 16/ 9 /1946 Piotr and Krzys first garden 1947
The winter of 1946/47 was exceptionally harsh, not least for a child who had only lived in Italy until then.
My father joined us in the Spring of 1947, following the passing of the Polish Resettlement Act. A leading advocate before the war, he set about qualifying under English law, working meanwhile in a law firm in London. His wound from 1920 finally caused his death later in 1947. The partners kindly offered his job to my mother, who had also been an advocate. To make ends meet and provide for my brother and me, she also moonlighted with three other jobs, sewing, secretarial work and translations for some years, she died in 1960. Providing the best possible education for my brother and me was her main objective throughout this time. Against the odds and by determined persuasion she got us into St. Paul’s, one of the best schools in the country and for which pupils usually had to be entered at birth. It was a tribute also to the school that they recognised the exceptional circumstances and waived all their usual procedures for entry. A Polish Educational fund had been set up alongside the Resettlement Corps and a combination of this, gaining personal scholarships and support from my godparents met the costs. We both went on to Cambridge and successful careers and lives.

In 1979 I had the opportunity of spending three days in Warsaw, my first visit to Poland. I knew how limited life was there, but was shocked at seeing it first hand and had no wish to return. Nevertheless I did so in 2004 with my English wife, and was amazed at the improvement. I have since returned to Warsaw and Krakow twice with my daughter and then grandchildren, and each time the country was more appealing. Never have the benefits of freedom been more apparent.
Krzysztof in Warsaw 2006




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