Jan Pirog Born: October 21st, 1919 - Rohatyn Poland
Seven years of regular school, followed by two years of evening school studying life skills (money management, etc.)
Early Military Experience
Drafted by Polish army on October 19th, 1937.
He was still serving his mandatory military service in Kutno when WW II broke out and the Nazis attacked Poland. Jan was in the cavalry. His horse was a mare called Zoska (Pronounced ZOSHKAH).
Poland had been under foreign rule for 123 years prior to her independence after WW I. Because of this, it had been impossible to build a sizable, state-of-the-art military during the following 21 years (1918 - 1939), and so they were severely outgunned and overpowered by the Nazi war machine. Poland DID have armor (tanks etc.), but it was very minimal compared to that of the Germans. However, she did defend herself for five weeks before surrendering. Jan went from Kutno, to Lodz, to Warsaw, and his final battle took place in Grabina.
He tried to make his way to Hungary to join the expatriate Polish army there. As far as he knew, his whole family was left behind when the Russians arrested him (remember that Russia and Germany were still allies at this time). Jan states that 8,000 Polish Military personnel were taken to the Siberian Gulag along with him, and only 2,000 were still alive when they arrived at their destination. He believes the purpose of this "relocation" exercise was to wipe out as many of these men as possible.
The Fate of his Birth Family
After the war, he met a man he grew up with, who knew a communist "Apparatchik" in their home town. He asked the Soviet comrade to find out what happened to the people in Rohatyn. What he found out was that the Russians "relocated" everyone who was of "high station" from Rohatyn to Siberia. This included the wealthy and the educated, (race was not taken into account - Rohatyn was predominantly Jewish, and Ukrainian. Poles were a minority). The Pirogs, being wealthy, were all taken, and Jan assumes they all died at the hands of the Soviets. It seems their home was taken over by the Soviets and became an NKVD (precursor to KGB) headquarters.
The Siberian Concentration Camp
Location: Kolyma, USSR
Duration of stay: Two years
Released: When Germany attacked Russia. Jan weighed 35 kilos (approximately 77 pounds). He subsisted on a daily diet of 300 grams of bread and a bowl of watery cabbage soup.
Quote from "Kolyma, the Land of Gold and Death":
"Conditions in the Kolyma camp were atrocious at best. Prisoners not only had to face the wrath of the guards but also the brutality of their fellow inmates. Some prison gangs were given tacit approval by the guards to terrorize, rape, beat and dehumanize other prisoners.
The people of the Soviet Union feared Kolyma more than any other region of the Gulag Empire. "Kolyma znaczit smert" was the common phrase whispered at the time, and translates, without loss, to "Kolyma means death."
(Stanley J. Kowalski is a survivor of the Kolyma camp and has written a moving account about the history of Kolyma and his experiences there in his work "
Click below to visit his web site
Kolyma - Land of Gold and Death
Jan's physical recovery from his malnourishment was swift. Once he got good food and regular exercize, he regained his vigour very quickly. He notes, however, that he suffered from some amnesia as a result of his experiences in Kolyma, and that he never regained all his pre wartime memories.
Jan joined the Polish army in Buzuluk, Russia two months after his release. This was November 1941. He was one of the fortunate early ones (84,000) who were released to join the allied forces in the west. On March 29th, 1942 he was relocated to Tehran, Iran. Later, Polish forces in Russia were forced by Stalin to remain to help him defend against Hitler.
After Iran, he spent four weeks in Egypt where he guarded tanks and ammunition for Field Marshal Montgomery's army.
On September 2nd, 1942, they were moved out on a long, circuitous journey to England, which took 64 days, with a 6 week stop in South Africa. In order to avoid the German U-boats, they went via Rio de Janeiro, where they stopped for five days, and New York. They arrived eventually in Liverpool, England. They initially were sent to Scotland, where they were organized into their various planned military duties. Jan was assigned to tanks and was sent to Catterick in Yorkshire for training.
Preparation for the Normandy invasion (D Day) took 6 months, and exercizes took them from Chippenham in South West England to Lanark, Scotland. That was followed by 1 month of rest. Jan says they were used as "special forces" for the very worst battle situations.
World War II - Normandy and Beyond
Jan landed in Arromanches. They fought the 10th German S.S. armoured Division. I quote from Jan:
"The final onslaught on Germany, I was very sad. We were sold out to Stalin by Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt in Yalta. We had no home to go to. We stayed in Germany in the British army for two years after the war ended."
The Battle on the border - September 30th, 1944
Jan in Belgium
The Battle on the border began in Belgium in a place called Turnhout and was fought through to Barlenassaw in Holland.
"My platoon was attached to the 10th Rifle regiment, (10 P.S.K).
We started to move forwards and my tank went over a land mine, which damaged a caterpillar and disabled us from moving on. I got in touch with my headquarters and they told me to wait. They sent a transport and I sent three men to get a new tank. About twenty minutes later, a German unit of 9 tanks and infantry tried to cut off our regiment. I had to stop them and somehow I managed to do it. My driver was loading the gun and I destroyed four enemy tanks, damaged two more, and killed a lot of Germans soldiers. We did not take any prisoners. There were only two of us, but they turned back from their objective. We saved our regiment!
My friend and I were both awarded the Virtuti Militari cross for this. I already had a cross which is one grade lower (the Krzyz Walecznych), for Normandy, and I had another awarded in a place called Siddeburen in Holland."
J. Pirog - Rotmistrz Pierwszej Dywizji Pancernej V.M. (Platoon Sergeant)
After the War
He met Maria Dominik in Germany in a camp called Dalum. They were guarding the displaced persons camps. They were married on February 9th, 1946.
Jan and Maria were transferred to England on May 2nd, 1947 to the Ullenwood camp near Cheltenham. They stayed there three months. June 30th, 1947 they were transferred to Witley camp, the head office. There they stayed until October 8th, 1948 when he was demobbed.
He worked for a farmer in Bath for a while in his orchard, and then went on to work for an engineering firm. In 1952 he began work in coal mining until the pit was closed down in 1963. His final job after that, which lasted until his retirement was in a container factory (Dickinson, Robinson Group).
In the coal mines with Mr. Padlewski
(Looks nastier than the war to us non-veterans! I KNOW it wasn't easy!)