On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. Sixteen days later, the Soviet army invaded the Eastern border, as per the secret pact agreed to by Hitler and Stalin. On February 10, 1940, Stalin began the first of four deportations of an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Poles to slave labour camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan. Under gunpoint, entire families were hurried to waiting trains, crammed into cattle trucks and deported as disposable labour into the depths of Stalin's Russia.
In the months following the Nazi/Soviet partition of Poland, the Soviets began a policy of ethnic cleansing to weed out what they called socially dangerous and anti-soviet elements. Many citizens described the terror:
The deportees were forced to work in extremely harsh conditions with rampant disease and little for food.
When the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin agreed to releasing the deportees to help with the Allied fight against Hitler. By then, many had already died from starvation, disease, and the rigid demands of labour in harsh climates. Once released, many more died on their long journey south from the arctic labour camps, enduring severe malnutrition and disease on their way to their freedom in Persia (now Iran).
"The first evacuation- although this was originally justified as an evacuation of military personnel, large numbers of civilians also came: the first evacuation to Iran in March, 1942 included 12,408 Polish civilians, the second in August, 1942 brought another 26,094....The civilians, like the soldiers, reached Pahlevi on the Caspian Sea suffering from the effects of the prolonged starvation, hard labour and lack of health care that had characterized their exile in the Soviet Union." ~ H. Kochanski.
"On March 24, 1942 we boarded a Russian ship called Zdanov to Pahlavi, Iran. The seas were very rough. Many people became sick and died on the way. I did not dare move from my blanket for fear of coming in contact with the smelly mess that covered the deck of the ship." ~A Paschwa (nee Kozicka).