She was just barely 15 years old when the soldiers entered her home and took her and her family (mother, younger sister and toddler brother) to the nearest train station and loaded them into cattle cars for the long trip to Siberia. There she was put to work in a copper mine for 14-16 hours per day, 7 days per week. She barely received enough food to feed herself, let alone share with her family, but that’s what she did. She was a survivor, a provider, and she was my mother.
As unbelievable as it may sound, this is how quickly the life of a 15 year old teenager changed in 1940’s Poland when the Russian Army invaded from the East. A couple of years of hard labor later, after the signing of the amnesty for Polish citizens in the Soviet Union, she and her family travelled south to Krasnovodsk where they took a ship across the Caspian Sea to Iran.
At the age of 17, she arrived in Tehran where her head was shaved, she was deloused and her only clothes were burned. She had to start over, just one of the many times she had to do this in her life. She was trained as a nursing assistant in a refugee and army hospital while her family was sent to a Polish refugee camp in East Africa.
At the age of 19, she joined her family in Tanganyika, East Africa (now Tanzania) where she lived for seven years learning bookkeeping, working in the camp’s commissary and starting her own family in less than optimal conditions of the camp in the shadows of Mount Meru.
After several more moves including 6 months in the UK with her husband and son, they were finally granted passage to Canada in the early 1950s and another new start. She helped to support her family when working mothers were still an anomaly. She eventually went back to school while working at night and, at the age of 41, started her new career as a key punch operator.
She lived to see two grandchildren born which she loved more than imaginable. She rebuilt her life after she lost her husband. She continued to travel, meet new friends, share her wonderful sense of humor, and nurture her family. She passed away 4 years ago at the age of 85 having suffered & survived various illnesses – many of which were brought on by the malnutrition in her youth.
She was my staunchest supporter and I cherished her throughout her life. She was a strong, determined woman and she was my mother, my model, my mentor. Every time I wanted to give up because I was having issues at school or work, every time I felt sorry for myself because something had not gone my way, every time I thought life was unfair, I would think of my mom’s struggles and accomplishments. She was and still is my inspiration and this is HERstory.
My name is Betty Eitner and my mom’s name is Regina Rutkowska Eitner (1925-2010). Montreal, Québec, Canada