Canada: Polish man's ticket to freedom

John Pomian (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

John Pomian (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

Simon Kent, Special to the QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:00 PM ET

LONDON, England -- When Adolf Hitler kicked the lid off hell and sent troops into Poland in the early hours of Sept. 1, 1939, six years of bloody carnage we know as the Second World World began.

John Pomian was a young Polish boy whose life, like so many others, was about to change forever. The tumult of war started him on an overland journey across Europe that would lead through four countries before his escape to England -- and he has Canada to thank for his ticket to freedom.

His incredible story of survival has never been told before, nor has the link to this country that enabled Pomian and hundreds of other desperate Polish, Belgian, French, Dutch and Ukrainian nationals to avoid the deadly hand of Nazi tyranny.

"I was a 14-year-old when war came and my family was living in the town of Nowe Miasto just outside Warsaw," Pomian, 91, recalled in London this week. "It quickly became apparent that the future was bleak in Poland so my mother and I escaped and went through Italy to France... We thought we would be safe there.

"My father stayed behind while we settled at Villard-de-Lans near Grenoble. I passed my baccalaureate in 1942 and then decided that I had to fight against the Nazis."

So Pomian joined a group of 60 restless friends who set off on foot towards the independent principality of Andorra and on to Spain. Their self reliance was predicated on the traditional Polish maxim: "If you have no one to count on, count on yourself."

The expedition took 48-hours of hard climbing through the slanting light and wing-beat of the high Pyrenees, the mountain chain ring fencing Spain from France with its highest pass standing at 2,280 metres above sea level. The escapees wore what they had on their backs, ate what they could carry and relied on a paid guide for their passage.

Even then their ultimate security was never assured.

Spain was neutral but it still played host to Gestapo officers looking to snare escapees and send them back to Nazi-occupied Europe.

Pomian's group had dwindled to just 30 on arrival and its members were immediately imprisoned. The men lived on bread, water and weak tea, crammed into old monastic cells alongside Spanish criminals.


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