From Eastern Poland to Alhambra
Sixteen years after the Soviets invaded his home village in Eastern Poland and deported his family to the Soviet Union, Stanislaw Cybulski arrived in Alhambra in 1955.
“My wife and I live our lives now, very simple, in our home, but it was not always this way,” Cybulski says of his home in Alhambra, so far away from his home village of Medyka in Eastern Poland. Cybulski, now in his mid 80s, is a retired architect. Speaking in a café on Main Street about Poland and his devout Catholic faith with such zeal and enthusiasm, Cybulski's eyes at times tear up and his voice breaks.
In November 1939, the Soviet KGB arrested Cybulski’s father, along with any other able-bodied men in his village. Shortly after, he and his family, along with 300,000 Polish citizens, were sent to the frozen wasteland of Siberia, Russia. Food was scarce. There were times when vegetables would not grow from the ground and only a few roots were all that was left to eat. Meat was a luxury.
The women, including Cybulski's mother, were forced into grueling manual labor. Only 13 at the time, Cybulski was to be the man of his family, but he also attended school in a nearby village where he was lectured to in Russian. At the end of the day when he returned to the barrack that was his home, he would see the exhaustion in his mother’s face.
“Years later, when my mother was in America, doctors would look at her X-rays and be shocked. ‘Mr. Cybulski, what did your mother do when she was younger?’ It was from the work, from all the hard labor,” he says.
Despite all the hardships Cybulski faced in Siberia, such as his sister accidentally drowning, his family was eventually reunited with his father. Eventually the Polish people were allowed to leave Siberia, as Stalin sought help from the remaining Polish army after Germany invaded Russia.
The Cybulski family sought refuge in Tehran, Iran, and then the British government resettled them in Uganda. It was there that Cybulski began to learn French, English, and Latin in school. Since they were reunited with his father, the 15-year-old boy no longer had to act as the head of the family, and a certain level of normality began to return to his life.
“When we left home I was a man in Siberia, for my mother. But in Uganda, I could start to be a child once more, that was really something,” Cybulski says.
Eventually the Polish government in London would learn that the Soviets were responsible for 1.4 million deportations of Polish civilians and at least 20,000 were executed in the Katyn Forest in Russia.
In Africa, Cybulski grew anxious, as he was 17 at the time and wanted to see firsthand what was displacing him for most of his teenage years — he wanted to fight. In February 1945, at the age of 18, Cybulski enlisted into the Polish II Corps’ officer candidate school in Italy, but just as he finished his training, World War II ended. The young Cybulski was upset he didn’t get to experience any of the action. He looked to an older officer and asked, "Is that it?" to which the officer replied, "I think that’s enough."
“There were so many that were lost and I was so naïve,” Cybulski says of his desire to see war firsthand. “God had a plan for me — a different plan entirely.”
After the war, the Cybulski family reunited in Great Britain. Cybulski met his future wife, Henryka, a fellow Polish refugee, only later to realize that he had met her mother in Tehran and her sister in Uganda. After they were married, they applied for immigration papers to leave Great Britain, where Cybulski was going to school, to try to join Henryka’s family in Southern California, in a city called Alhambra.
He says of 1955 Alhambra: “It was so very quiet and still. Just a very calm place, a nice place to raise a family.”
Today, Stanislaw Cybulski and his wife Henryka devote their time to their grandchildren and the John Paul II Foundation, which raises money for scholarships to send students from Eastern and Central Europe to study at the Catholic University in Lublin, Poland. At his home study in Alhambra, a number of books line the walls, including a few poetry books that Cybulski has written about Poland. Pictures of his wife, his sons, his grandchildren, and images of himself when he was a young man also hang on the walls along with dozens of images that attest to a strong Catholic faith.
When Cybulski arrived in Alhambra all those years ago, he found himself awestruck by the simple lives people were living. After 16 years of war, destruction and crossing the globe, he settled into a life of faith and family.
“We were with family, together, in California," he says, "and that was something else, something new for me, something that I enjoyed.”
A portion of Stanislaw Cybulski’s life story appeared in the article “Blood in the Soil” by Glenn Barnett in WWII Quarterly in the Fall of 2011.