Danuta Stepek Bienkowska

The Stepek family originated in Haczów, Podkarpacie, the south-easternmost region of present-day Poland. However, in 1922 the young newly-married couple Władysław and Janina Stepek moved to a new settlement between Lwów and Łuck now in present day western Ukraine. Unknown to them this meant that seventeen years later, when war broke out they would be on the Soviet invaded part of Poland rather than the Nazi-occupied. Who knows if a better or worse fate would have enveloped them had they remained in Haczów?

What we do know is that Władysław avoided execution by the Red Army, who had him on a hit list of likely resistance leaders. He was therefore in hiding when his wife Janina and three children Jan (17), Zosia (14) and Danuta (12) were removed from their home in February 1940 and taken by cattle train to a labour camp in the Archangel region of Russia.

The now well–known path followed. Freed from the camp when the Germans invaded Russia in the summer of 1941 they made their way to liberty in Persia, enduring a five thousand mile journey in the process. This was too much for Janina who died of starvation in Teheran and lies buried there in a Polish cemetery.

Jan suffered typhus, dysentery and malaria before recovering to serve briefly in the Polish Army then transferred to the Polish Navy and trained as a radar operator. Zosia recovered and eventually became an interpreter of English for Polish generals during the war. Danuta weighed 25kg when she arrived in Persia in in the age of 15.

Each found their way to Britain after the war. Jan became one of Scotland’s best-known entrepreneurs and then longest-serving chairman of a professional football club, Hamilton Academical. He also funded Polish language and cultural studies at the University of Glasgow. He died at the age of 90 in 2012. Zosia settled in London and had a long career as a teacher of English. Danuta too became an entrepreneur in Scotland, making dresses and jewellery before opening and running a hotel. The two sisters are still alive some seventy four years after they were taken to Siberia.

Visit: polishscottishheritage.co.uk