“Memory is Our Homeland” – a tribute to those whose story was never told (Episode 71)


This story is featured in Episode 71

Our loyal POLcast listeners will surely remember a very popular story we featured over two episodes – Episode 46 and Episode 47, entitled “A child’s journey from the Arctic to the Equator” (Part 1 and Part 2), where I interviewed our POLcast friend Irene Tomaszewski, autor and the editor-in-chief of a great online magazine Cosmopolitan Review. We talked about her childhood and the unbelievable journey she and her family made from Siberia to Africa.

Irene Tomaszewski

This happened during WWII, after the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east just 17 days after the Germans attacked Poland from the west, thus beginning the second world war. Thousands of Polish families were forcefully deported to labour camps in Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union, where many of them died of starvation, disease and exhaustion. Then, when Germany attacked its former ally – the Soviet Union in 1941, Poles were freed finally liberated and made their way south, to Persia and India, and then to Africa, where between 1942 and 1952 over 18,000 Polish women and children lived in refugee camps. About this story

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It is a story of monumental human displacement, virtually unknown to the world, even historians researching WWII.

This was exactly what a Montreal-born Polish Canadian Jonathan Kolodziej Durand heard from his grandma Kazimiera Kolodziej (née Gerech).

She was just 12 when she got to a Polish refugee camp at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in present day Tanzania.

Jonathan did more than just listen to his babcia’s story – he studied the history of Polish women and children who found themselves in Tengeru Camp and other such camps in Africa. The result of many years of his research is his haunting documentary “Memory is Our Homeland”.

The film follows the story of Jonathan’s grandmother, and other Polish refugees, “as they meditate on the meaning of memory, identity, and homeland. Grappling with memories of a traumatic exile in the Soviet Union, followed by an adolescence full of discovery in a Polish refugee camp near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, we see how these women’s lives have been shaped by early years fraught with insecurity and change. Tracing their footsteps, we travel from Montreal to Kazia’s Polish childhood home (now part of Belarus) through Iran, to modern-day Tengeru, Tanzania, where only  one Polish descendant of the former WWII camp remains” (film website).

The film has been shown at numerous film festivals (including Moscow!) and was recently screened at the WWII museum in Gdansk! For list of screenings, see HERE.

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“Memory is Our Homeland” will screen in Toronto on Feb. 29, March 1 and 8:

• February 29, 2020 – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, Toronto, Ontario

• March 01 & March 08, 2020 – Revue Cinema, Toronto, Ontario

Other screenings



The untold story – Siberian experience (Episode 24)

Murder, cover up and forced silence – a film on Katyn without the massacre (Episode 65)

Singing for Soviet gulag survivors (Episode 25)




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