John DeMars speaks with Krystyna Stalmach following her presentation at the Sombra Museum in April. Stalmach spoke about her project commemorating the sacrifices of Lambton-area Polish war veterans entitled Our History, Our Heroes: Polish War Veterans — From Fighting Wars to Farming Fields in Lambton. (HANDOUT/ SARNIA OBSERVER/ POSTMEDIA NETWORK)
While Nazism had been wiped out in Europe, the encroachment of Stalin’s Red Army behind the Iron Curtain meant thousands of Poles who had fought against Hitler’s legions weren’t able to return to their homes, their families or to their land. Soviet oppression had replaced German tyranny as the occupying force in their homeland.
Recognizing that reality and appreciative of the valiant contributions of Polish soldiers during the war, the Canadian government offered refuge to many Polish vets, prisoners-of-war and refugees who were left stateless after the conflict. With a shortage of manual labour in rural Canada, the government offered full citizenship for these immigrants, provided they spent two years working on a farm.
The government’s offer attracted thousands of applicants. From 1946 to 1952, approximately 39,000 Polish veterans, displaced people and refugees poured into Canada. Over half of the new arrivals settled in Ontario and some sought to make their future in Lambton County.
Krystyna Stalmach’s father, Jan Pradyszczuk, was one of those new arrivals in Lambton. Pradyszczuk was a veteran who had fought alongside Allied forces at the Battle of Monte Cassino, a bloody, costly struggle in southern Italy that was the prelude to the Allies’ capture of Rome.
When fighting ceased in Italy and the young veteran realized there was no returning to his occupied homeland, so he decided to take up the Canadian government on its offer.