Germany on 16 July 1950
Newcastle on 16 August 1950
Greta for 10 years
Tarro, Hunter region (between Maitland and Newcastle)
Nurse at the hospital at Greta migrant accommodation, near Maitland
Nurse at St Joseph’s Nursing Home, Sandgate, Newcastle
My name is Zofia Radosz. My maiden name was Zofia Piskorowska and I was born on 2 February 1930, in Owadno, Poland.
During the [Second World] war, we moved from our farm to a small city called Wlkodzimierz in Poland because there was a lot of fighting happening. Some of the Ukrainian people joined the Germans and first they helped to kill the Jewish people then later on they started to kill the Polish people. I really want to know why they did that.
This is what happened when I witnessed my father, Marcen, and my sister Czeslawa, being killed on 9 August 1943. I was 13. I went with them to our farm to collect food but I ran away [before I was shot]. Mum was already in the city with my little brother Tadeausz and another sister, Dominika. I ran to the woods and I couldn’t talk about it for one week because of the shock. After one week, our dog came back and he started to lick me and I started to talk again.
I can remember that before we moved to the city my mother used to ask me to go down into our field with some food all wrapped up and leave it sitting there. When I asked she said it was for the birds. I later found out that she was leaving food out for the Jewish people as they fled.
The Germans used to take us to dig holes for the soldiers. We didn’t have anywhere to go, no money or anything. There were a lot of people, not only me. One German officer always used to bring me a bag of potatoes or apples or whatever he could find on the farms and that’s how we lived. Nobody lived on the farms anymore because they had left or been murdered. The old houses were still standing, though, and the gardens and the fruit were there.
Later, in 1943, the Russians started to come back and the Germans took us whenever they could catch us. They started to put everybody in trucks and in trains that previously held cattle. There was standing room only and nothing to eat and we went for a couple of days and then stopped. They dynamited all the railways because the Russians were coming behind them.
I was with my mother, my little brother and my sister who was ten. I was the oldest and I was 13. My mother was all right, but she was in shock as she had lost nearly all her family. We never saw or found any of our family again. Two of my brothers disappeared. One brother was forced into the Russian army because he had turned 21 and we never found him again. The second brother was in the Polish army and he didn’t come home after the war. But we were with a lot of people and we helped each other.
This is my mother’s handbag given to her on the train coming from Poland. Someone on the train gave her this handbag because she was holding all her documents in her hand. This person said, “Here, put them in the bag and it will be easier for you to hold”. We had another bag like this that held old family photos from Poland but somebody pinched the photos here in [Newcastle, Australia]. They were really important to me.
We stayed in lots of camps and ended up in the Gotha camp [in Germany]. If you could work, it was okay, but if not [the Germans] took you to the concentration camp to die. So we all tried to work; my mum, my sister and me.
These Ausweis (identification cards), still in their original metal wallets, are from the Gotha camp and are dated 18 September 1944. My number was 287 and my mother’s (Anna) number was 284. Every time you would go through the gate to work, the SS would be standing there and you had to show it with the photo side up. If you didn’t or if it looked different, you were hit with a big stick. Two SS soldiers would take us to the factory to work. There were also German, French and Belgian people working there. I was working on the lines completing sections for German planes.
A German lady who was working in the canteen bringing food for the German workers asked the chef if I could work in her shop. She wanted some help so I went over there to work. She was very good to me. She would always sneak some bread or something for me. She would have been killed if they had found out. I would always bring back a little bit of bread for my brother. That’s how we lived.
This beautiful coal fired iron has a funny story attached to it. When I worked at the [Gotha] factory, another Polish woman wanted to talk with me. We were not allowed to talk at work, [so] later on she went to the toilet and said to me, “You come from Wlkodzimierz?” She asked if I was Zofia and I said, “Yes”. She said she had something for me.
When we got back to the camp she came and brought me this iron. Although I couldn’t remember her, she was a neighbour of ours. When she saw my mother, they started cuddling each other and crying. When we lived in Wlkodzimierz she had borrowed the iron from Mother. When the Germans took us, she thought, “I must never part from that iron because it is not mine, I must give it back”. She carried it with her for about three years. She told us she would never part with it because it was ours and that she would keep it for as long as she could, hoping to give it back when there was better times.
It really isn’t rusted. This is how it should look except that the bottom needs a good cleaning.
Later on, about 1944, the Americans came. We stayed at the camp because we had nowhere else to go. The Americans used to come with boxes of food and we started a kitchen and would go there once a day to eat. Later on, we moved to Wildflecken camp in Halenbeck. I went to school and later on, in the evenings, I went to nursing school. I received my nurse’s aid certificate and worked in the hospitals.
When we decided to migrate, I didn’t think that anybody would take us because Mum was too old and not well. My brother and sister were still young and we had no man [to work].
I was 19 when we went for an interview at the Australian Consulate and at the end the man said, “Good luck, you are going to Australia!” He was so sweet and I couldn’t believe it because there were whole working families applying and they didn’t take them. My sister and I would be working on a two year contract. My mother and brother were not under a working contract as my mother was ill and my brother was too young – I would look after them.
We had four weeks to prepare. We spent some time packing and we had to go to an American doctor, an Australian doctor and a German doctor and then we went on to the ship. It was only a little ship and was called the Goya. The Goya had been a war ship a long time ago and was [converted]. It was little but it was okay. We left Wildflecken on 16 July 1950. My mother and I were seasick but my brother was happy. He was healthy and so was my sister.
We didn’t have much to bring with us when we came to Australia. We had some clothes and we had carried other things with us from Poland. A family prayer book from which the family prayed. My first Holy Communion bible; this is the one with the pictures on the cover.
My little brother carried this holy picture under his arm through Poland and Germany and finally to Australia. Somebody said that if we had that picture we would never separate. It is very cracked and would be more than 200 years old now. There was a rosary too but I put that with my mum when she died.
It took 30 days to get to Australia and we came first to Sydney. We stopped there for a little while and then arrived in Newcastle on 16 August 1950. Polish people came to greet us and then we went to Greta camp on the train.
When we came to Greta camp we looked out onto these barracks set up just like in Germany and we all started crying; I will never forget.
I got a job straightaway. This young man in the office at the Greta camp said there was a hospital here with nice Polish people. The bus was going to the hospital so I hopped on to see Matron. Matron looked at me and said I could start work tomorrow but I said no to the job at the hospital because they could not find work for my sister Dominika.
I told them that I couldn’t help it but wherever I go, she goes. I said, “We wouldn’t ever be separated; that is not happening. Germany couldn’t do it and Australia is not doing it to us”. Anyway, after about half an hour they called me to the office and said, “Your sister will be helping the nurse in the hospital but she has to go to school every day during lunchtime to study English and so do you!”
They said my mum would get to live here too in the barracks and we would have two rooms. My brother who was now 15 would be going to school. So I started working but for four or five weeks I didn’t get any money because that is what they were taking for the camp and we also had to pay back our fare for when we came here. But that was all right. There were so many nationalities and I had to learn Greek, Italian and other languages to help the people to ask, “What pain?” “Why are you crying?”
I worked until my two years was finished and they asked me if I wanted to stay on and my mum was happy, so I said okay. We were living next to the hospital in the barracks and a lady cleaned our rooms for me and washed my uniforms and everything. In camp, we went dancing on the Saturday night and went to the pictures all the time. I had a good job and lots of friends.
Later on, my sister got married and went to live in Sydney. Mum was still living with me. My brother went to Sydney and started to work in Chullora and in the evening, he would go to school. Later on, he was doing school through correspondence. He died in November 1987.
So, I ended up staying ten years as a nurse at Greta migrant camp. I was the last one to go and I helped close the camp in 1960. I was left with Matron to look after the last people who were going out from the camp. I had a sick mum; she had asthma.
So, Matron was working one day and I was doing the next day, as we had to look after the remaining people who were sick and get them to hospital and to doctors. They paid me some superannuation when I finished working. The director came to say goodbye to me and I was actually in the newspaper as the last person to go.
By then, I had married. I was married on 8 September 1957. I met my husband Tadeusz when I went to New Zealand on holiday and he was taking pictures for the paper. He looked like a Maori because he was dark and a very strong, big man. One evening, on holiday, we went to a Polish dance and here he was again nicely dressed in evening clothes. He danced all the night with me. We talked about many things and later on, he said he had to work two years for his contract in Newcastle. He said he was Polish and that is how we started to know each other. I was still at Greta working and two years before it closed down our first child was stillborn.
After Greta closed down, we moved to the house we owned at Tarro (in between Maitland and Newcastle). It was a very small house and at first we didn’t have any electricity. Then after about seven months, my beloved mother died while I was pregnant with my second baby. When my mother died I almost lost the baby because it was such a shock. She died suddenly with asthma. We had two children in that house; Eva and Anne. When both children went to school, I went to work as a nurse at Saint Joseph’s Home in Sandgate, [towards] Newcastle. We lived in Tarro for about 19 years and then bought this house [nearby].
My husband had to have an operation on his back. He also had a heart problem, which involved another operation. He was later told he had a cancer on his lungs and I nursed him until he died. That was in 1996.
I regret leaving everything back in Poland.
I miss our farm, which we had to leave to move to the city because it was not safe there. It was very hard for us to live in the city because the farm is a happy life. You have everything. On different occasions, our friends used to come from town for holidays at the farm and they used to say we lived in a palace. My father was a policeman so, of course, I had to do some work on the farm, my share. But I really miss my farm.
I went back to Poland once. Not to where we lived. I never went back to the place where I was born. It is now part of Russian territory.
Australia has been good. I am happy. Some people complain but I never complain. We have always been a very close family and are today too. I am close to my children and grandchildren and I am not alone. My life is filled with great joy, particularly when I am with my family.
My home is here and I wouldn’t go back. I have been very blessed in this country because no matter where I went or where I lived, good friends, both old and new, always surrounded me and they have always been there for me.
I’m glad to write my story down because I think later on my family might want to read about my life.