Siberian Exile Cross: Polish government honours 95-year-old for WWII 'heroism'

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A grandmother who endured deportation from occupied Poland to remote Siberia during the Second World War has been honoured by the Polish government in Australia.

Ada Murkies' childhood ended abruptly in 1940 when Russian soldiers descended on her home in Brest in occupied eastern Poland.

"They came at two o'clock at night and gave us two hours to pack. They said to us pack warm things," she told SBS News.

The then 17-year-old asked a question that could have got her killed.

"I asked one man with a rifle 'Can I play my favourite piece on the piano to say goodbye?', he said 'yes'. And I play[ed] soft, sad music."

The Siberian Exile Cross is awarded by the President of Poland. It was established on October 17, 2003.
The Siberian Exile Cross is awarded by the President of Poland. It was established on October 17, 2003.
SBS News

Ms Murkies, her mother, grandmother, younger brother and sister were jammed into a crowded cattle wagon.

After a two week long journey they were off loaded in Siberia.

They were among an estimated one million plus Poles deported to the Soviet Union after 1939.

They were put to work in gold mines and forestries.

"Winters over there are terrible. You have no idea," she said.

"To live through that winter it is a miracle. We had to learn how to breath because you cannot just go out with 40-degrees cold. Terrible."

All the while the family awaited news of Ms Murkies' father.

An officer in the Polish Army, Lieutenant Stefan Gawron had been captured by the Germans, handed over to the Russians, and killed with more than 20,000 Poles in the infamous Katyn Forest Massacre in 1940.

When the Russian government allowed the formation of a Polish Army to help fight Adolf Hitler Ms Murkies enlisted.

"I joined the army because I saw that as the only way to go to freedom," she said.

"I did not understand what I would be doing there because I always thought the army needed nurses. Well I had no nursing experience."

She worked as a radio operator and was part of an infantry regiment that walked from Warsaw to Berlin in pursuit of the Germans.

It was during her service that she met her husband, Lieutenant Antoni Murkies.

Ada Murkies and her husband Lt Antoni Murkies
Ada Murkies and her husband Lt Antoni Murkies
SBS

After the war the couple migrated to Australia with their daughter, Anusia.

In recognition of the suffering Ms Murkies experienced Poland's Ambassador to Australia, Michal Kolodziejski, this month presented the 95-year-old with the Siberian Exile Cross.

"Today's ceremony is an opportunity to express our gratitude to those Poles who were fighting during the Second World War. It is also an occasion to recollect the heroism of Ms Murkies," he said at the ceremony in Melbourne.

Ms Murkies' four daughters are immensely proud of her courage and resilience.

"She has been through such a lot," said daughter Arlene Murkies.

"I do not know how you live a normal life after having gone through what she went through. And so I think it is fantastic for her to be acknowledged and recognised."

"I think my mum is really gutsy, really determined and opinionated," said daughter Alice Murkies.

"And I think that is evident really from that night when the soldiers came and she asked to play the piano when the rest of the family were packing their rucksacks."

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