The Ice Road: An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor


The Ice Road: An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor Camps to Freedom In a forgotten chapter of history,million Polish civilians arbitrarily arrested by Stalin as enemies of the people following the Soviet invasion of Poland in Septemberwere deported to slave labor camps throughout the most inhospitable forests and steppes of the Soviet Union The Ice Road is the gripping story of young Stefan Waydenfeld and his family, deported by cattle car into the frozen wastes of the Russian arctic north ➹ [Read] ➵ Gender in Psychoanalytic Space By Muriel Dimen ➼ – 9facts.co.uk deported by cattle car into the frozen wastes of the Russian arctic north


10 thoughts on “The Ice Road: An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor Camps to Freedom

  1. Wanda Wanda says:

    The Ice Road is a tour de force that takes the reader into a history that is not well known in the U.S It is the first person account of Stefan Waydenfeld, a Pole, whose family the Wajdenfelds is deported to the Soviet Union, simply because they were Poles, educated and hence in need of Soviet re education It takes place from the first days of the Nazi invasion of Poland, through the family s deportation to the steppes of Soviet central Asia, through their final journey to join with thousand The Ice Road is a tour de force that takes the reader into a history that is not well known in the U.S It is the first person account of Stefan Waydenfeld, a Pole, whose family the Wajdenfelds is deported to the Soviet Union, simply because they were Poles, educated and hence in need of Soviet re education It takes place from the first days of the Nazi invasion of Poland, through the family s deportation to the steppes of Soviet central Asia, through their final journey to join with thousand of others in Iran Persia and General Wadyslaw Anders army Stefan later fought with the Polish army at Monte Cassino Stefan s family was part of the Polish intelligentsia his mother was a bacteriologist and his father was a physician and because they found themselves on the east side of the Molotov Ribbentrop line they managed to escape the Scylla of the Nazis but not the Charybdis of Uncle Joe and his NKVD In one sense he and his family were very fortunate to be only deported as Dr Wajdenfeld, a Polish army reserve officer, could well have found himself a victim of the Katyn atrocities Of course, this is not to diminish the suffering that the Wajdenfeld family experienced and the fact that at any time they could have died as did thousands of other Poles, including my own grandparents.I found myself thinking throughout this tale about what manner of resilience characterized this family, that they survived and that Stefan went on to realize his dream of becoming a physician after the war Perhaps it was a collective intelligence that lifted them repeatedly out of the well of despair into which our Soviet allies were forever dunking them an apt metaphor considering a vignette during which Stefan decides to take a dive into a subarctic river, and is nearly paralyzed by its iciness Perhaps it was the bond of family, lack of rancor, and the power of tenacity and perseverance to overcome whatever challenges a person faces Perhaps it was the fact that no matter how horrible, enraging and frustrating their situation, Stefan was able to find within it some morsel of wonder and life lessons from which he could learn The writing style is fluent, spare and articulate Waydenfeld s story unfolds with a pure voice no judgment or bitterness clouds his telling of the journey into hell and back It s amazing how little self pity there is in these pages The few flashes of strong affect that we see is when the family is denied their Polish nationality because they do not have a traditional Polish surname The Wajdenfeld family were assimilated Jews and considered themselves Poles, yet the documents reproduced in the book which were issued by the Soviets repeatedly have the family s nationality recorded as Jewish The fact that Jewish is not a nationality speaks to the pervasiveness of anti Semitism and the less than subtle attempts at destruction of Jews by declaring them repeatedly as the other when outright slaughtering them was not an option.Waydenfeld never is anything but perfectly honest In the early part of his narrative, he talks frankly about the intense suffering of ethnic Poles under the Nazis, a fact that has been under recognized in many narratives of World War II As the child of families that suffered both at the hand of the Nazis and the Soviets, I appreciated his calling attention to their suffering and the best that it brought out in the tenacious Poles I also appreciated the acknowledgement of the betrayal of Poland and Eastern Europe by their allies at Iran and Yalta To paraphrase one of the participants, these events should forever live in infamy Too often they are portrayed not as a betrayal, but as realpolitik and the unavoidable cost of war.Waydenfeld sprinkles his narrative with slices of humor, which relieves any pall of grayness that might overwhelm his story This description of the linguistically gifted Andropova s virtuoso performance when cursing out the NKVD colonel was a delight that made me laugh aloud First, she told the colonel what she thought about him in general and about the intimate parts of his anatomy in particular My knowledge of Russian proved inadequate to comprehend it all Then she invoked his parents, his grandparents and the generations preceding them, their anatomy and their physiology, with special attention to their body prominences and orifices, not to mention their involvement with other zoological species How wonderful is that Waydenfeld finds humanity among the enemy and treachery among friends but rather than enmity toward the latter, his attitude is always one of sorrow that these comrades saw fit to betray their fellow humans Indeed the entire book is infused with a kind of ineffable sadness about war in general and its inhumane sequelae in particular.People may read this and see one glaring weakness, but that weakness is also its greatest strength It is that Waydenfeld avoids harsh judgments Time and again I would read passages that made me want to throttle the obtuse or cruel perpetrator of some behavior I wanted Stefan to tear into them for their inhumanity But he doesn t, and this, of course leaves readers free to form their own judgments without being told what to think Waydenfeld has enough respect for his readers to expect that they will draw their own conclusions This respect makes for a stronger book than if he had beat his readers over the head with snide asides about the workers paradise or such that I have read in the memoirs of others During Stefan s description of medicine I was reminded a bit of Abraham Verghese s see Cutting for Stone love of his chosen profession Both of them have a deep feeling for the power of healing and are unashamed to tell us what a gift it is that they have been privileged to be given The fact that Stefan overcame many obstacles language, logistics, temporal, bureaucratic to follow in his father s footsteps and finish medical school is inspiring An old truism has to do with the idea that what does not kill you makes you stronger This maxim is exemplified in this story of coming of age and survival despite all odds Stefan and his family often went for days without proper nourishment, clothing, and shelter They became nomads and rootless but still formed enduring friendships They relied on one another, and made plans for the future This book is a beautifully written and unforgettable testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.I recommend this without reservation


  2. Tim Tim says:

    Good fortune luck manifests itself in a variety of ways Frequently, just how lucky we are comes only with hindsight and even then we may not realize just what contributed to a serendipitous result Yet the extent of a person s fortune may well be a matter of perspective, much like the adage about regretting having no shoes until seeing the person with no feet.Normally, a person wouldn t think a memoir about being forced into frozen labor camps during World War II is the type of work that Good fortune luck manifests itself in a variety of ways Frequently, just how lucky we are comes only with hindsight and even then we may not realize just what contributed to a serendipitous result Yet the extent of a person s fortune may well be a matter of perspective, much like the adage about regretting having no shoes until seeing the person with no feet.Normally, a person wouldn t think a memoir about being forced into frozen labor camps during World War II is the type of work that examines luck Yet Stefan Waydenfeld s The Ice Road An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor Camps to Freedom shows the full range of good and bad fortune and how capricious it can be.Waydenfeld was a teenager in Otwock, Poland, a city not far from Warsaw, as the European continent moved toward the outbreak of World War II The son of a medical doctor and a medical bacteriologist, Waydenfeld enjoyed the benefits and opportunities afforded by a comparatively comfortable life, one he even terms idyllic That would end rather abruptly when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and become even worse when the Soviet Union invaded the country from the east 16 days later Waydenfeld s father, who had served as a medical officer in the Polish Army, was mobilized before the German invasion Five days after the German invasion, Waydenfeld, then 14, set off on foot with friends toward a mustering point to the east to join the Army He and his friends wouldn t join the Army on their trip and he would not see his home for another eight years.Through a fortunate turn of events, Waydenfeld s father located him when he took shelter with another family And, by chance, his mother joined them just as they were going to attempt to return to Otwock to find her Yet the Waydenfelds faced a dilemma try to return to the portion of Poland occupied by Germany or stay in what was now the Soviet occupied section They ending up staying in the Soviet controlled area Ultimately, although not technically prisoners, hundreds of Poles were deported in crammed cattle cars to Siberian labor camps in 1940 The Waydenfelds ended up in Kvasha, a camp in far western Siberia with a subarctic climate Here you shall live, they were told.Kvasha was not a prison camp There was housing and food available Yet survival depended on working in the great forests of the area cutting and removing timber The phrase frequently heard from the Soviet officials at the camp was, He who does not work, does not eat Although in his teens, Waydenfeld performed a wide variety of difficult tasks in the camp The worst, which gives the book its title, was when he and his father were part of a crew charged with maintaining the ice road The road consisted of iced ruts on which sleds would transport felled trees in the midst of the winter Maintenance required traveling up and down the road gathering water from the adjoining river and resurfacing the ice in the ruts Often working at night, the task not only involved working outdoors in sub zero temperatures but often being coated with ice as a result of the water they were required to spread on the road The physical burdens and distress of the work almost beggars the imagination.After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Soviets released the Poles, although they were limited to places within the Soviet Union and were responsible for their own transportation Although this meant the Weydenfelds would leave Kvasha, it also embarked them on a journey of thousands of miles through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan by rail, on foot and by truck They scavenged local markets for food and took up housing where available, aided by the senior Weydenfeld s ablity to occasionally find employment thanks to his medical degree The family and numerous others eventually found passage to Tehran and outside Soviet and German influence.Waydenfeld recounts events with an excellent eye for detail, both in terms of events and the family s surroundings Some readers might even wonder about the extent of the detail given that he did not keep a diary and only started making notes of his experiences some 15 years after Regardless, The Ice Road tells a compelling story about the treatment of the Poles during World War II, an aspect of the conflict that is often overlooked Additionally, the book includes a look at the Polish deportations and the formation of a Polish Army corps, which Waydenfeld joined once outside Soviet control.Despite the hardships it recounts, The Ice Road is a story of good fortune in that the Waydenfeld family survived Yet a couple items in his recounting show just how fortuitous they may have been For example, in May 1940 the Waydenfelds stood in line for a German repatriation train that would have returned them to Otwock and the part of Poland occupied by the Germans The family ahead of them in line filled the quota of returnees and they were told to go back to where they were staying and wait for the next repatriation train There was never another and they were deported to Siberia.Or they could look back just a bitIn May 1939, the Waydenfelds took a cruise to the Mediterranean They picked it over one slated to go to New York City in August 1939 That ship was in New York City when the war broke out and the passengers spent the war in the United States Originally posted at A Progressive on the Prairie


  3. Amy Amy says:

    An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor Camps to FreedomSticking with the apparent theme of Stalinist Russia and its aftermath, I found this memoir fascinating It s alwaysinteresting to read a historical event in the voice of someone who experienced it, and the author Stefan Waydenfeld describes his experiences with detail and yet without bitterness.Waydenfeld was the son of a doctor and a biologist, and their small town life south of Warsaw was pleasant and fulfilling He expected to li An Epic Journey from the Stalinist Labor Camps to FreedomSticking with the apparent theme of Stalinist Russia and its aftermath, I found this memoir fascinating It s alwaysinteresting to read a historical event in the voice of someone who experienced it, and the author Stefan Waydenfeld describes his experiences with detail and yet without bitterness.Waydenfeld was the son of a doctor and a biologist, and their small town life south of Warsaw was pleasant and fulfilling He expected to live as most teenagers, with a future at university, perhaps following in his father s path as a physician While they d heard grumblings of the war, they were taken by surprise when Germany and the Soviets invaded Poland in 1939 Previously, Poland had a non aggression pact with the USSR, which was ignored as the USSR felt the need to support Germany s war machine as it had yet to turn on them A bombing campaign started over Warsaw on September 17, 1939, one that introduced Warsaw as well as some of the smaller towns outside to the reality of war.At first, Waydenfeld, at 14, served as a volunteer who worked in shifts with others to stay up at night and warn of the Luftwaffe planes that would randomly attack They d use whatever means they could to wake up their neighbors Then there was the fires to deal with, started by the bombs At one point, he describes the people fleeing the cities on open rural roads, being specially targeted by German pilots who strafed the area with bullets for no apparent reason other than to kill randomly.For a small time, there was a bit of calm, and then suddenly, his family received deportation orders to return to Warsaw A kindly officer took them aside, assured them that this short train ride would be their chance to return They were loaded like cattle into a train with their neighbors and what goods they could carry, but he discovered on the train, at dawn, that they were heading east, not west Never trust a kindly enemy They were being sent to Siberia.In Siberia, the Russian officers seemed to stress to them that their new life in Kvasha was going to be a privilege, and that they would never leave Work in this camp was part of Stalin s famous Five Year plan A major component of this plan was the installation and maintenance of the Ice Road , a timber transport road made out of sheets of ice Waydenfeld and his father worked to build this road by digging holes, retrieving water, and then spreading it in sheets in 40 C temperatures.From here, we see how his family coped, and how they were able to exist in this environment and maintain hope and unity Additionally, while at times he admits anger and disappointment, his tone is one of bravery and acceptance he was not going to give in Not knowing about the atrocities that had already taken place in Germany may have helped these people keep their positive outlook.It s a great story, and well told I was particularly impressed by the effort he employed to acknowledge certain families and people that assisted in their journey to help them in various ways He never implies that it was his bravery alone, but credits those people who were sympathetic and willing to risk their own lives to help them in various circumstances This is an excellent text for information about the time period, and it would be amazing if high school students had the opportunity to read this first person account


  4. Lkelly6 Lkelly6 says:

    If you, like me, are a lifelong citizen of USA, reading this book will transport you to another world As a high school history teacher, I can recite all the battles and strategies of WWII I can tell you many stories of the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities throughout Europe, but I had ZERO knowledge of what happened to people like this author, who were caught in Poland in the overlapping wedge of Nazi and Russian domination at the outset of this war I had little knowledge of life in Siberia or ho If you, like me, are a lifelong citizen of USA, reading this book will transport you to another world As a high school history teacher, I can recite all the battles and strategies of WWII I can tell you many stories of the Holocaust and Nazi atrocities throughout Europe, but I had ZERO knowledge of what happened to people like this author, who were caught in Poland in the overlapping wedge of Nazi and Russian domination at the outset of this war I had little knowledge of life in Siberia or how it was settled Waydenfeld s vivid detail of how these people worked to stay warm enough to live, get enough food, and figure out how to obey the often unreasonable rules without giving up their personhood captivates He was a teenager filled with vim, vigor, and vitality through these years, finding books to read, a friend with whom to share ideas, plans, and adventures, and a quiet optimism which enabled him to enjoy some tough, uncomfortable adventures He used his wits to solve problems in the logging of the forest, the building of tools and shelters, and maintaining the ice road during extremely cold conditions I would not have thought people could stay alive when they had to work all night in the frigid Siberian winter, much less when they were involved with water and ice In my day of wearing Goretex and other modern, lightweight clothing and gear, I am ashamed to ever complain of being cold or uncomfortable or unwilling to go outside to complete a chore I highly recommend reading this book You will learn science e.g., Stefan s mother knew how to extract Vitamin C from tree bark and so kept their group from getting scurvy You will learn geography e.g., how these hardy pioneers transported huge logs over the relatively flat Siberian landscape to a river to the sea without using modern technology You will learn about the loyalty and give and take that creates family within a group of unlike people GREAT BOOK GREAT LIFE that Stefan and his family lived because they kept their noses to the grindstone and their eyes on the sky high prize


  5. Anne Anne says:

    This is a fascinating autobiography by a man whose family was shipped by the Soviets from their home in Poland to a Stalinist labor camp in the forests of Siberia during the beginning days of WW II After manymoves occasioned by the Soviets, he eventually made it to England, where he became a doctor and raised his family The book is an account of the terrible treatment of the Polish people by the Soviets, of their betrayal by the Western powers, and ultimately of being one of the fortunat This is a fascinating autobiography by a man whose family was shipped by the Soviets from their home in Poland to a Stalinist labor camp in the forests of Siberia during the beginning days of WW II After manymoves occasioned by the Soviets, he eventually made it to England, where he became a doctor and raised his family The book is an account of the terrible treatment of the Polish people by the Soviets, of their betrayal by the Western powers, and ultimately of being one of the fortunate ones to survive


  6. Gary Gary says:

    At the risk of being redundant, another excellent addition to the genre, recommended heartily for those who tend to be interested in it A bit different from others I ve read in that it chronicles the experiences of a family rather than an individual As well, an important work in exposing the despicable treatment at that time of the Poles by the Russians.


  7. Bonnie Bonnie says:

    Excellent book, I highly recommend it I read this for my World War II history class It s about a part of Soviet Polish history that I new nothing about before the deportation of Polish citizens to Siberian labor camps in early WWII Waydenfeld writes really well and keeps the reader interested.


  8. Linda Linda says:

    This is a sleeper book that gives a vivid personal account of the Waydenfeld family s courageous survival through a Stalinst labor camp in Siberia to their eventual freedom from a divided Poland Keep an old Atlas handy to follow their path.


  9. Lori Lori says:

    A very informative account of the perilous journey that many civilians of Poland had to embark on during and after WWll The story educates the reader of the hardships that were endured, from the unique viewpoint of a young teenager.


  10. Susan Schreiber Susan Schreiber says:

    The story of a 15 year old boy who lives in Poland when WWII starts It tells his journey in communist Russia Very interesting as you rarely hear about this aspect of WWII It is always about the Nazis.


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