Zofia Helwing was born in Volhynia, then in Poland now in western Ukraine, in 1925. Her father was an engineer and her mother came from the landed gentry not far from Wilno (Vilnius). In September 1939, while her father and brother were away in Warsaw, Zofia and her mother were expelled from the family property when the Red Army arrived. They were arrested and deported in June 1940 to the Arkhangelsk region, where they worked on a logging site. Her mother ran evening classes to prevent the deportees’ children being sovietised.
When they were amnestied at the end of August 1941, they went to western Russia, to Kamyshin, not far from Stalingrad, and worked in one of the city’s defence units. In 1942, when relations broke down between the Soviet government and the Polish government-in-exile, they were arrested again, sent to Kazakhstan and put to work building irrigation canals. Cut off from news, they only later heard of the creation of the [Communist] Union of Polish Patriots (ZPP) and Zofia contacted them. The ZPP helped them move nearer to Poland and they settled in Smila, in central Ukraine. Zofia worked as a driver in a factory, and then in the offices.
In March 1946, they arrived in Wrocław, Silesia, now in Poland, and had to cope with a shortage of housing and jobs. When her mother heard of her father’s death in the defence of Warsaw, she fell into a depression which never left her, and Zofia had to support them both. She finished her education in evening classes, played an active part in opposition groups, and was one of the founders in 1989 of the Siberian Deportee Association. Her memoirs were among the first to be published openly.
The interview with Zofia Helwing was conducted in 2011 by Anieszka Niewiedzal.