the folta family
The Folta Family
My husband’s mother, Janina Folta, came to England on the Empire Windrush in June 1948. I had known her for 30 years
before I found out about her incredible past.
Janina had been born in Poland and lived an idyllic life on the family farm. Then in the winter of 1940, when she was three, Russian soldiers had hammered on the door of every house in the village and given them half an hour to pack before leaving forever. They were put into cattle trucks similar to those used to transport Jews to Auschwitz, and sent over 1,000 miles away to Arkhangelsk in northern Siberia.
The Folta family. Clockwise from left:
Ewa, Jozef, Władek, Maria, Janina and Mila.
© Jane Raca
It took six weeks to get there, and many people died on the journey. When they arrived they were allocated a one-roomed hut for six of them. The adults had to do hard labour in order to earn meagre rations. Those who couldn’t work starved. The temperature was sub-zero for half the year, reaching -50°C in winter.
After two years they escaped, travelling 3,000 miles overland to get out of the Soviet Union. They nearly died of starvation, eating dogs and tortoises to survive. Janina’s father, Jozef, and her brother, Władek, joined the Allied forces fighting the Nazis. Janina, her mother, Ewa, and sisters Maria and Mila were given refuge in a civilian camp in Mexico.
After the war, the British Government paid for them to come to England in the cheapest berths on the Windrush. They docked at Tilbury in Essex, where they were reunited with Władek and Jozef. By then they had travelled over 24,000 miles since they left the family farm. They were housed at one of the many camps set up across the UK to receive the Poles who came to Britain at that time, and from where they eventually made a new life.
The National Archives has produced a podcast for the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush, which refers to Janina's story. Listen at 14.47 - 16.25.
© Jane Raca 2023
Janina Folta (above) after she came to England, aged about 12.
Janina aged 79.
© Jane Raca