Virginia Barton

15 December 2017: Odyssey


15 December 2017


His soldiers called him Moses, because he led them from captivity to freedom.

General Władysław Albert Anders (1892-1970), already a hero of two wars, was captured by the Soviets on the Eastern front in 1939. He was released from the Lubyanka prison in Moscow when the Germans broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and attacked Russia in 1941. He was to re-create a Polish fighting force of starved and near naked prisoners, re-train them in Iraq, and join the Allies in Italy. There they captured Monte Cassino in the final, fourth attempt at the monastery fortress.

Not only soldiers escaped the grip of Stalin thanks to General Anders. As many civilians as could make their way to the muster points were included in the exodus. The “window” for escape was narrow – only a few weeks; the army couldn’t wait. The boats crossing the Caspian Sea to safety were few.

The civilians endured treacherous journeys and great suffering in order to reach the trains going south to Iran. Many never made it. Of those who did, many died on the way of cold, hunger, disease.


The tale of this latter-day Moses and those he saved was relayed in a BBC World Service programme on December 10th in “The Documentary” series. Here is the introduction to it, followed by the link to the programme itself:

“By the summer of 1940, a quarter of a million Polish prisoners of war had already been sent to Soviet prison camps. More than a million civilians deemed undesirable by Stalin were packed aboard cattle trucks to the far east of the Soviet Union. Many died on the journey, many more would die in the harshest conditions, toiling, starving and freezing on collective farms or labour camps in Siberia, the Urals or Kazakhstan. But then unlikely salvation came with the opportunity to join Anders’ Army.”


To listen to the programme, click here:



Snow fell in Great Britain this week, several inches of it; resulting in chaotic travel conditions, power cuts, school closures, cancelled flights — and a blessed silence.

By chance the BBC World Service (radio station of choice for insomniacs) broadcast the above programme that featured temperatures of -52C and snow in abundance.

Do listen to it; it does rather put things into proportion.






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