FORMALLY RECOGNISED: Jo Plewinski, 85, will be awarded the Siberian Exiles Cross after he was forced out of Poland into Siberian work camps by the Soviet army in the Second World War.
FORMALLY RECOGNISED: Jo Plewinski, 85, will be awarded the Siberian Exiles Cross after he was forced out of Poland into Siberian work camps by the Soviet army in the Second World War. Keagan Elder

Recognised by country for braving harsh war camps

SURVIVING the horrendous hardships of a Siberian work camp in World War Two brought Jo Plewinski to the Coffs Coast.

After 72 long years since the war ended in 1945, he will be formally recognised by his home country Poland and presented the Siberian Exiles Cross.

The stoic 85-year-old somehow managed to survive the work camp, he along with his mother and three brothers were "taken like prisoners” to in February 1940.

Mr Plewinski said there were about 1.3 million Poles exiled to Siberia by the Soviet army during its invasion of Poland and of those, about 700,000 survived.

"You could live on virtually nothing in those Russian camps,” Mr Plewinski said.

The Soviet army joined the Allies in 1941 after German forces invaded Soviet territory. This freed the Polish prisoners from the work camps but left them in the middle of Siberia.

Crafting sledges from timber at the camp, the prisoners trudged to the nearest train station more than 100km away through the harsh Siberian winter.

"It took us a week to get to the train station in Russia,” Mr Plewinski said.

"You travelled day and night together to keep warm and safe.”

Eventually reaching the train station the prisoners caught a train to Iran, then known as Persia.

When in Persia, Mr Plewinski said he scrounged for weeds to stave off starvation and one prisoner tried to kill a dog and eat it raw.

Eventually finding a camp looked after by the Red Cross, Mr Plewinski was granted access to New Zealand as a refugee in 1944.

He was shipped to Wellington and then to Pahiatua, on the north island, along with 700 other Polish children.

Mr Plewinski grew up in New Zealand and became an engineer before moving to Emerald Beach in the late 1980s.

After 73 years s, he will be presented the Siberian Exiles Cross along with Marian Budny, Franciszka Pakuza and Tadeusz Budny (posthumously) next Tuesday at the Coffs Harbour Golf Club by the Polish Consulate.

Not going into much detail about how this experience affected him, Mr Plewinski said it made him shy when younger. He previously told the Woolgoolga Advertiser, "Things happen, but you move on”.



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