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Anna’s father came to York as a child refugee with his parents just after the Second World War. Here she recounts their story, an arduous journey from Poland, Russia, Iran to Yorkshire.

My paternal grandparents were Polish. One night in 1939, they were marched from their house by Russian soldiers and sent to a slave labour camp in Kazakhstan. The mass deportation of Polish people carried on for several years, with camps in Siberia, Kazakhstan and other far-flung parts of Russia. An estimated one million people were sent to the camps.

My grandmother, who never fully recovered from the trauma of those times, remembered that in winter they would wait for Russian soldiers to pass by on their horses. Their hooves would smash the ice and the inmates would run and scoop out the dirty water beneath the ice to drink.
In 1942, there was a brief amnesty for Polish citizens in Russia and, with the help of the British army, my parents were freed and sent to a camp in Iran, where my father was born. After the War, my grandparents and father came to England as refugees and were placed in a resettlement camp near Sutton Upon Forest.

They lived in a metal Nissen hut for years, with shared water and toilet facilities. Eventually, they saved enough to move out and make their own way. My Polish Gran worked in a factory, but didn’t settle well here or speak much English I think this was from a sense of mistrust of people following her terrible treatment. My Polish Grandad died in the 1950s. I remember a story of how he was so disillusioned with life in the Yorkshire camp that he left the hut one day taking a knife with him. He said that he would return with some money one way or another. In fact, he was able to earn some money that day and so all was well thank heavens. He ended up buying a house in York, so he did alright for himself once he worked out how to make his way in a new country.

CREDIT: A Polish resettlement camp in the UK (photo:

My Dad, despite being born in a camp and living many years in a Nissen hut, went on to build a successful business and do well for himself and his family.

I was born and brought up in Yorkshire, but I carry my refugee family stories with me. It wasn’t easy for my Dad, and it taught me how important it is to help people to begin again and find a new life. I hope this is what people will think about when they see new people arrive, as with the Afghan families, My grandparents and father were just like them once upon a time…