Naples, Italy on 24 February 1950
Sydney on 24 March 1950
Five months at Bathurst; two years and four months at Cowra; six years at Scheyville.
Liverpool, south-western Sydney
Farm labourer at Pitt Town near Scheyville, NW Sydney
Restaurant in Liverpool; car parts factory, Brookers, in Chatswood; making parts for fridges and washing machines at Malleys in Auburn.
When war start in 1939, I working in the daytime in a shop, in the night time I go to business college in Lodz, Poland. But when Germans come they close all schools and arrested the shop owner. He was killed. I get a job in another shop. Then Germans from the unemployment office say all young Polish girls must go to Germany to work. I go.
A whole group of us [went] to Poznan, a big city in Poland, far away from Lodz where I was born. We go on the train and stop [there] and must report to Gestapo. I must tell the truth, I run away with my girlfriend – her mother said to go to Hamburg early otherwise we will be in concentration camp! Early in the morning we get the first [train to] Berlin for a check-up. My girlfriend was wounded during the war and a piece of shrapnel was lodged near her lungs and she couldn’t bend. They put her back to Poland and I go further to Hamburg.
[I was] living on top of the factory [in Hamburg and was] working there. In 1943 they bomb our factory and we ask the owner what we can do. They say do whatever you want. Many of the girls run away back to Poland. Some stay in Germany. I run to Poland.
When I go to Poland I change my name because I am scared to go back to Germany. I get a job again in the same shop [as] before in Lodz. I work there until 1944. I don’t know how they [employment office] find me and call me to the police station. They said, “why you change your name?”. I said, “because I am frightened, they bombing too much”. I was 21 then. They said to go to court. I get three months straflage – prison camp is worse than concentration camp. They say you go back to Germany and [the] letter [will] let you know when you go [to prison camp].
I go back to Germany and about October  I get the letter from the police. I was shaking all over and I don’t know what to do. One girl said not to worry, the war is close [to ending]. I put [it] in the fire, but I was shaking all over and waiting for another letter. Luckily the second letter not coming because end of December and beginning of January, [the] Russians come to Poland.
I was working until 1945 but [there was] bombing every single day in Hamburg. My nerves were so bad – when I take water, everything bring back from stomach nerves. Americans say to Mayor of Hamburg to surrender or [they] bomb so nothing is left. They put [up] white flag.
About three-quarters [of Hamburg] was finished. Polish people with Polish flag – we [were] marching through the street to church [to] thank God to survive, so many people were killed. You have freedom, not slave anymore. After we go to Displaced Persons’ (DP) camp. Not only Polish, but some Ukrainian, some Latvian. We were there for five years from 1945 to 1950. We were wearing letter “P” – they recognise you are Polish. Not allowed travelling at all.
I met my husband in the camp and Richard and Barbara [our eldest children] were born there. Boys are in same corridor and he was single man – we meet like that. We married in the church in the morning. And only two witnesses – that all, that’s our wedding – and go for a walk around the barracks. Living in same room as four single men and three married people – that was honeymoon! No drinking, nothing.
They cooking but mostly soup. And every day they give you piece of bread, not much; very, very poor food. They give children porridge, but you must cook it. So many had babies there was nowhere to cook. My husband he say why they [children] cry. I say because they’re hungry [so] he bought a gas cook[er]. The frying pan [was used] in Germany, in the camp. But mincer I bring [to Australia] from Germany because there we have no meat.
I have one German lady, she was like the best mother to me. Sometimes she invite me a couple of times a week dinner. When Christmas comes she make me cake, she give me couple of potatoes, piece of bread, I was very rich because I have something to eat for Christmas. She was scared because she’ll be punished [and] go to concentration camp.
[We had] three choices: go to Poland; stay in Germany; or go somewhere else, like Australia or America. We chose to go to Australia because Poland after war [was] very poor and Communist country – we don’t want to go there, many people say it was very bad. Stay in Germany? We don’t want to stay. Try new life in Australia.
The SS Nelly left from Napoli in Italy on 24 February 1950. We go three days and three nights in the train from Germany to Italy. We stayed there two weeks, waiting for the transport. I have a blanket we sell in Italy for fruit. We have one wooden box – whatever we have [we] put in the box.
We not worry about where we are going – we are happy. For children they have a kindergarten and children’s kitchen. We are in one big room. They separate us: men on bottom of boat and we on top – children and women – for one month. We meet each other on the top deck.
On 24 March [we arrived] in Sydney. We stop only Port Said and Fremantle. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was beautiful. The bus is ready waiting for us and we go to Bathurst. We are a little bit disappointed because Bathurst [migrant accommodation] put eight families in one big room – men, children, women! You can’t undress in front of other men. We make one blanket to make like [private] room. The men not stay very long, only two weeks, and they separate us. Men went to work in Sydney and we stay in Bathurst for five months. They transfer us, women and children, to Cowra – you have no choice.
My husband was working at the water board for about 30 years [and] stayed in Hornsby camp. I was upset. When living in Cowra, he only come once a month. [He earned] about 14 pounds a fortnight; five pounds for his camp, five pounds for my camp. He give me about a couple of pounds for the kids and the soap, he left a couple of pounds for travelling and cigarettes. Not even a ha’penny left, nothing.
I remember one policeman standing near the kitchen door. [He was] one of our men, but the guard man gave him the job. [We] can’t take anything from the kitchen, you must eat in the kitchen. But in Cowra it was very cold. We wanted to give the little kids porridge to eat when they wake up. If you take bread you must hold it here [behind dress]. One lady was pregnant with two little kids. She said [she'd] teach him lesson [and] poured the [hot] porridge over his face and everybody clapped. No more policemen!
Nobody cared about kids or childcare, nothing. When I [gave birth to] Elizabeth they took me to Cowra Hospital and I stayed there one or two days and after they transfer me to camp hospital. I started bleeding and saw the Australian doctor because our [camp] doctor wasn’t allowed to give any medicine or penicillin, just maybe bandage. The Australian doctor was visiting and opened my blanket and saw me full of blood – afterbirth. He squeezed, it was very painful and I stopped bleeding.
I was at Cowra for two years and four months. After that they transfer us to Windsor at Scheyville migrant camp. You have no choice, they just tell you [to move]. My husband was still in Sydney, he was coming [to visit] once a week.
I bore another son, Kaz, at Scheyville. They took me to a hospital, I think Richmond. I was in agony and pain, I was screaming and she (the nurse) don’t care. Only calling doctor when my son couldn’t be born and I was nearly unconscious. They give me oxygen. They say the baby was born blue – dead – but then he start crying. The lady should have called the doctor earlier. She was not a nurse from the heart.
My husband was not there, he working, otherwise no money. I tried to help [by working for] farmers at Pitt Town; I give him (my husband) the money [to] save for house building. They want ladies to work on the farm, picking potatoes, cauliflowers and oranges and planting. I never work on the farm [before]. I bring corn [home] and they cooking in the boiler – the boiler for clothes. Tomatoes and oranges we brought back plenty [too]. The farmers come and pick us [from Scheyville]. Sometimes farmer only wants two, three people and about six, seven go inside the car and no-one [leaves].
In the camp most of the time only women. You give ten shilling to one lady to look after kids. One lady, Mrs Plahatnischenko – she was German, husband was Russian – she looking after the kids and feeding them. The children they don’t care. If they have food and are running around they are happy. They go to kindergarten and school at Scheyville and the picture shows were sixpence.
For ladies it was hard. When we come to Scheyville it was the same as Cowra with the policeman standing in the kitchen. And again I had to hide food behind my dress. One man, they catch him in the bush and give him good hiding, he was a very strict policeman. No more policeman too!
One day Beiruta (my daughter’s friend) kicks her very badly on the leg, on the shin bone; Barbara’s screaming. Her [Beiruta's] mother was alright but the father was an alcoholic and said “good, good”, clapping her. Two weeks [later] she kicks her again in the same place. After one month she starts limping; I wanted to take her to the doctor but she is quicker than me. One day I catch her and go to the doctor and he send for x-ray; it showed a little spot on her bone. They took her to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney and find it’s cancer. Barbara was in hospital for six months; the doctors say we must cut off her leg. Father Doyle, the priest, explained; our English not very good. They cut off her leg before Christmas and on 29 March she died because the cancer got right to her lungs.
She died in our bedroom at Scheyville. She was asking for the priest and I sent Richard, then ten years old, to call priest but he was not there, he was in Sydney. I say to Barbara, “priest not here, pray yourself” and she said, “I am” and that’s all. She was nearly 11. Everyone was so sad, nearly whole camp go to funeral, [a] couple of buses. She was buried at Windsor.
For four years [my husband was] building the house with neighbours – here where we are living now from 1 August 1956. My husband working on the north shore [of Sydney] but he said there is more hills and when I get older it will be hard walking. My neighbour find out there are blocks of land here [Liverpool] – [they are] dearer than Hornsby! And my husband help too [if] somebody is building, he go and help. Not money. Just free.
He was living in the little shed [on the block of land] and he have no bed, only a sack of dry grass and he lie on the floor. No bath, nothing, saving money. He has a shower at work. I crying when I left Scheyville. I felt lost. I not been on my own, cooking and everything.
I working two weeks in one restaurant here in Liverpool but she not pay me [properly]. I try find [another] job. I walking to Villawood, from factory to factory, asking for a job. Very hard to get job. I read in paper about job in Chatswood. My husband was cranky [because] it’s so far away. That was hard because I catch train at 5.15am and at 6pm I come back here. But I was very happy because you get extra money and the factory was very nice, like one family. I was there for two and a half years. Then I go to Malleys in Auburn, the job was more hard but closer to home.
When we first came here it was a little country town – a few shops in the main street. And behind us was all bush. Big difference. I am quite happy here in Australia and have good neighbours and family. Richard pay my fare twice for Poland but you always feel you have more heart here; I was 18 when leaving my country, now I’m 83.
It [the Scheyville migrant reunion in April 1995] was very nice. Some younger people and nuns recognise me. Richard met a boy he went to school with and Elizabeth and her husband went too. After that we visit Barbara’s grave at Windsor. I was upset at how the barracks are damaged though – it’s important to see how people used to live.
[Our] beginning was hard but if you have enough food, reasonable health and good children that’s alright. I have five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Coming only two people and look at how many of them now!
Andrea Fernandes, NSW Migration Heritage Centre
10 March 2006
With assistance from Richard Cebulski and Scheyville National Park