Marian Waclaw Dabrowski
The 22nd August 1935 was a beautiful summers day. The sun was shining, birds were singing, bees were buzzing and the air was warm. The serenity and beauty of the day was interrupted by the cry of a baby boy. Marian Dabrowski was born, the second youngest of five children to Waleria and Waclaw.
He was a lovely child with blue eyes and wavy white hair who loved to play with all the animals on the farm. Their idyllic farming life was shattered on the 1st of September 1940 when Germany invaded Poland and war was declared. Russia followed on the 17th September and invaded from the East. The time of cruelty, madness, and chaos had begun.
On a freezing winters night on 10th February 1940, the family was forced out of their home and loaded onto cattle carriages at the local railway station. Packed in like sardines, there were no windows or toilets and everyone was afraid. Four-year-old Marian was very upset and couldn’t understand what was happening.
Kept in the carriages for two days before the train finally pulled out, the journey to Siberia took 3 weeks. Loaded onto sleighs and trekked through snow and ice for nearly 2 more weeks, the Dabrowski family finally reached the prison camp at Wiciumen that became home for the next 2 years.
Conditions were incredibly hard - starvation and death were constant companions.
Marian was too young to work so not only was he torn away from his life in Poland, he was also torn away from his family each day from 7 in the morning until 6 at night. His father Waclaw was forcibly separated from his family and moved to another prison camp. Marian’s youngest sister Anne died in the camp so life was extremely cruel and sad and Marian felt these losses immensely.
Waclaw was allowed to return to his family when Russia joined the Allies. He spent a short time with them before he died. A day after the family buried him, and almost 2 years after they arrived, they left the prison camp to begin the long journey to freedom. Building rafts from the trees in the forest the entire camp embarked on an epic journey down a huge river.
Sent to Turkmenistan to work in cotton fields, small things brought joy. For Marian it was playing with the cotton and trying to make balls so he could throw them in the air. When the work was finished, the family were sent to Uzbekistan. Food was still scarce but the locals gave the refugees watermelons and Marian’s face was red from the juice because he ate so many.
Permission to leave eventually arrived and they were shipped to Iran and then Africa. More loss was to follow as Marian’s oldest sister Lodzia died in Iran.
Africa was paradise after Russia.
In the refugee camps, the war seemed far away and for the first time since leaving Poland, there was some peace, happiness and plenty of food. Marian love of animals grew and he managed to tame a little monkey on his way to school every day by feeding it. He soon forgot about school and spent his days with the monkey who became his constant companion. He named it Lusia, and built her a little bed to sleep in.
Unfortunately animals grow up and the little monkey was in fact a gorilla. Marian had to let it go so the gorilla could return to the wild. This broke Marian’s heart – after losing two sisters and his dad, losing the monkey was too much and he was inconsolable at the time.
Marian became fascinated with the local church especially its architecture, the paintings and statues. He became an altar boy but blotted angelic character one day by eating all the unblessed communion hosts while waiting for the priest to arrive for mass. He got hungry he explained.
Marian also joined the Boy Scouts and was very proud to wear the uniform, referring to himself as a soldier, just like his father.
After almost eight years in Africa, returning to communist Poland was not an option. Babcia wanted to get as far away from war as possible to start a new life for her and her 3 remaining children. She picked Australia because it was a big island with no shared borders. The Dabrowskis arrived on Valentine’s Day 1948.
Babcia and Marian settled in Cunderdin while Jumbo and Wanda settled in Collie. Babcia was working all day and Marian felt alone again so he packed his things and hitchhiked to Collie to follow his siblings.
Marian asked the Works Engineer at the Water Supply for a job. The engineer could see this skinny 14-year-old boy would be very useful and employed him to cement the inner joins of the irrigation pipes. The engineer built him a small trolley and Marian would lie on his back and drive up the pipes, cementing the joints as he went. He never went back to school and the legacy of his first job in Australia, cementing the silver irrigation pipes, can still be seen throughout the South West of WA.
Marian was a loving and gentle man. He was well liked, hardworking, tolerant and generous, and possessed a great sense of humour. He was always good with his hands and he did many different building and tiling jobs for people all over Collie, never charging anything and just offering to help because that is who he is.
He brought boxes of comics, magazines, and books over for his nieces and nephews when he was in town and he made the adults laugh with his stories, risqué jokes and infectious laughter.
He loved his brother and sister and especially his mum, buying the house next door to her when he settled down as a married man. He and Ella had three beautiful children. While he kept his emotions to himself, and never wore his heart on his sleeve, he was extremely proud of his children and the lives they have built for themselves.
Marian played in the Wisla soccer team on the wing alongside his brother and his friends, where he excelled again. The war was long forgotten and what scars and loss remained, Marian hid them from the world and grieved privately.
In his later years he coached junior soccer teams in which his sons played, leading the sides to victory in Southwest and State competitions. His charges responded by becoming one of the most successful junior sides in the state.
He also loved his garden and grew vegies all year round. Marian loved to share the surplus and would give away anything he couldn’t use himself, to friends and family. An entertaining host, he also brewed a good beer and many a good time was had tasting his batches and having a great laugh.
Despite all the displacement, hardships and deprivations our family experienced because of the war, Marian made old bones. He was born a happy person and developed the resilience of survival to make him at peace in his life in Australia, never forgetting his Polish heritage or losing his love for his family.
The living legacy of his remaining family and the example he set as a man, a father, a grandfather, a brother, and an uncle, will always be cherished in our memories and he will live on in our hearts.
Farewell Marian, reunited with your parents and sisters once again.
Say hello from us won’t you, say a prayer for us and may the roses always bloom in your garden.