1 December 2020

Dr Hubert Zawadzki (aka ‘Doctor Z’) was a history teacher at Abingdon School from 1976–2006. For many years Doctor Z ran General Studies and debating at the school. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Member of Wolfson College, Oxford.

Below Dr Z talks about his book, recently published in paperback, which charts Europe’s turbulent times in the middle of the last century through the life of his mother. The book can be bought from Mostly Books of Abingdon, who also do postal deliveries, and from Bloomsbury.

Irena Protassewicz, A Polish Woman’s Experience in World War II: Conflict, Deportation and Exile, translated and edited by Hubert Zawadzki, with Meg Knott (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020).

Half a century ago I persuaded my mother to write down her remarkable life story. It was so extraordinary and so relevant to our times that I always knew I wanted to make it accessible to as wide a readership as possible. Retirement from teaching at last gave me the time to do this; also as a historian I welcomed the academic challenge. For me and my family it was a real journey of discovery. We learnt much about a vanished world, and came to appreciate what my mother had gone through during the war, and how it transformed her life. Strengthened by her religious faith, she had shown resilience and fortitude in the face of extreme adversity; she found happiness in selfless service in a good cause; she learnt to value people for their inner qualities rather than their status or wealth.

Her account begins with the Russian Revolution, followed by a rare insight into the life of the landed gentry of north-eastern Poland between the wars, a rural idyll which was shattered in 1939. Deported to Siberia in 1941 and sentenced to a future of forced labour, her fortunes changed dramatically after Hitler’s attack on Russia. She charts the adventure and horror of life as a military nurse with the Polish Army, on a journey that takes her from Soviet Central Asia, through the Middle East, and finally to the highlands of Scotland. The story concludes with her search to discover the wartime and post-war fate of her family and friends on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and the challenges of life as a refugee in Britain.


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