Overlooked Dimension



Escape via Siberia

By Dorit Whiteman

Thousands of desperate Polish Jews sought refuge from the Nazis in Russia in 1939, only to be just as persecuted by the Russians as they had been by the Nazis.  When Polish Jews reached Russian occupied territory via various tortured routes, they then were deported to Siberia.  Among these deportees was an eleven-year-old boy named Lonek.

Like many other Polish Jews who survived life on the run during WW II, Lonek's suspenseful saga was filled with many twists and turns that could only be fully understood in hindsight. For example, Lonek's devastating deportation from Russian-occupied Lvov to Siberia really turned out to be a "blessing" in disguise. How so? Only because he was deported to Siberia did Lonek narrowly miss the invasion of Lvov by the Germans, who massacred all of Lvov's Jews.  

After enduring several years in a Siberian labor camp, Lonek joined the "Teheran Children." The Teheran Children were Jewish orphans who were, through ingenious means, rescued from Russia during the middle of World War II largely through the determined efforts of a small group of Hadassah women. Typical of the Teheran Children, Lonek covered tens of thousands of miles of war-torn terrain during his flight to freedom by foot, horse driven carts, rickety cattle trains and leaky ships that traversed heavily mined seas.

The fates of the Polish Jews in Russia often hinged upon unseen political power plays. For example, during frequent international negotiations over the borders of Eastern European countries during World War II, a single line drawn down a map by a bureaucrat could instantly hermetically seal thousands of hapless Jews within hostile countries, and occasionally open escape routes for others.  A seemingly innocuous split-second decision made by an escapee, or a small act of inventiveness or resourcefulness by an escapee often made the difference in unforeseeable ways between life and death.

Through various combinations of luck, will and wile, many of the Polish Jews who fled to Russia did miraculously survive World War II.  


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