Nazis forced Premier’s grandmother to parade naked
ANNASTACIA Palaszczuk's Polish grandmother was forced at gunpoint to parade naked for Nazis who were selecting young women to work as sex slaves during World War II.
And her grandfather spent five years in slave camps in Russia and Germany, surviving Allied bombing raids by leaping into freshly dug graves at a nearby cemetery.
These harrowing stories of the wartime terror experienced by the Premier's family are being told for the first time by her father, Henry Palaszczuk, 71, a former Cabinet minister in the Beattie government.
In an exclusive interview with Qweekend, Palaszczuk reveals how his mother was saved by a soldier she referred to as "the good German".
He says that after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, 21-year-old Ludwika (Lucy) Boba had been abducted from her home town of Rajcza, 117km southwest of Krakow, and sent to a farm more than 1000km away in Singen in Germany, near the Swiss border.
(The Nazis abducted about 12 million people from across Europe to work as slave labour to feed the German war machine during the war years.)
Lukwika escaped but was recaptured.
"The boss at the first farm was very mean and treated the workers like dirt. So she ran away," Palaszczuk says.
"When she and others were recaptured they were made to undress with all the soldiers looking on. It was designed to punish and humiliate them.
"[My mother] said they were all lined up and Germans went through to choose who they wanted to take away. She was crying … but she was lucky.
"One soldier took pity on her and asked her to get dressed.
"He quietly told her: 'Put your clothes back on; come with me and then you go away'. So he saved her from that type of service. We don't know exactly why. He was just a decent fellow."
Historical records show the German armed forces, the Wehrmacht, set up many brothels in German-occupied Europe - mostly in hotels confiscated solely for the purpose of providing sex for men on leave from the battlefields. Women were frequently kidnapped from the streets to fill them.
"Palaszczuk says the enslavement of women for sexual purposes was state-sponsored "wickedness". "That's war. It just happened."
Fortunately for Ludwika, the "good German" sent her to another farm near Singen where she milked cows, tended crops and cared for the farmer's children, even singing them to sleep at night with German lullabies.
"She worked in the fields planting and harvesting, and did the cooking and the cleaning. She was like a domestic," Palaszczuk says.
Poland was at the epicentre of the Holocaust and while Ludwika, who was Catholic, was sent to a farm, her Jewish friends went to the extermination camp Auschwitz, about an hour from Rajcza.
PRESERVING WARTIME STORIES
Palaszczuk wants to highlight his parents' survival story to honour all migrants who have made their home in Queensland, especially those, like him, who were welcomed to the multicultural melting pot of Inala in Brisbane's southwest.
"All the world's nations were there," he says.
While many Queenslanders had indelible links to wartime Europe, Palaszczuk fears the atrocities against the Poles, and others, are fading from the collective memory. He was recently approached by a businessman suggesting a Holocaust museum be established in Queensland.
The Third Reich's attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe resulted in the murder of three million Polish Jews. The Nazi conquest and occupation also cost the lives of three million non-Jewish Poles.
Palaszczuk believes a museum would help preserve and honour wartime stories such as those of his father, Hipolit (Leo) Palaszczuk, who had a dreadful time during the war and was unable to leave his demons behind when he migrated to Australia.
When he was 17, Hipolit and his three brothers were captured by the invading Russian forces and taken from the family's vegetable farm and fruit orchard at Wlodzimierz, 250km north of Krakow.
"When the war started in September 1939 the Germans invaded from the west and the Russians came in from the east," Palaszczuk says. "My father was taken to Russia to a work camp, and when the Germans [advanced into Russia in 1941] he was taken from the Russian camp to a German one. So he had two years in a Russian slave camp and three years in a German slave camp."
Hipolit worked in factories in Gottmadingen and Singen in Germany, while his future wife was on a farm about 20km away. He was a welder and made engine components for the Nazi war machine.
Palaszczuk says his father described the labour camps in Germany and Russia as "death camps" where workers died from cold, starvation, shooting, beatings, untreated diseases and sheer exhaustion.
It upsets him to see photos of his father's co-workers, emaciated and ghostlike with shaved heads.
There was another "enemy".
The factories where he worked were routinely bombed by US and English planes.
"To escape the shelling they rushed to the cemetery and jumped into the freshly dug graves to hide," Palaszczuk says. But his father's worst memories came from the labour camps.
"They were in their bunks and the German guards would come in and flog or whip dead people to try to get them to work. They had died in the night and they didn't know they were dead.
"Those are the things he could never forget."
Hipolit (he was called Leo because his workmates in the mail room at the Brisbane GPO couldn't pronounce his name) was one of the millions of Poles crushed between the extremes of National Socialism and Communism.
He endured the Soviet invasion from the east under the auspices of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, then the Germans overran Poland from the other direction.
Palaszczuk says Hipolit went to his grave wondering: "Why, why, why?" Jewish and non-Jewish communities had co-existed in his country for centuries before Hitler swooped in 1939.
HORROR SHAPED A FAMILY
Palaszczuk says his daughters Annastacia, 48, Catherine, 44, Nadia, 40, and Julia, 38, understand the horror their grandparents endured. Annastacia was especially close to Hipolit, whom she called dziadek, Polish for grandfather. Leo died in 2003, aged 81.
"I think the girls got to see another side of life they were unaware of. They saw suffering. It helped shape their character," he says.
Henry Palaszczuk, a primary-school teacher for 14 years before a 22-year career in State Parliament, says his family's background helps explain why his eldest daughter is resilient and unflappable in a crisis.
He believes her political career still has a long way to run and that she will ultimately be more popular than Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the National Party leader and longest-serving Queensland premier who left office in 1987.
"I can say I see similarities between her and Joh in the way that people warm to her," he says.
"She has the potential to become even more popular than Joh was. I honestly believe that. Annastacia has that potential."
Henry Palaszczuk won the seat of Archerfield, which became Inala in an electoral boundary change, and he held the seat until he quit Parliament in 2006. His daughter followed him into Parliament in the same seat.
At various times Henry Palaszczuk was minister for mines, water, natural resources, rural communities, primary industries and fisheries, with duties that took him to every corner of the state.
He steadfastly denies offering his daughter political advice. And she keeps him in the dark about policy decisions, he says.
"All she will say is: 'there's an interesting announcement coming out on Monday so make sure you're watching the TV'. She is bound by Cabinet secrecy. I understand that."
Heinrich Palaszczuk, as he was known to his family, was born in Singen where his parents met and married after the war. (His younger brother Jack, now 69, was also born there and a third brother, Richard, now 63, was born in Australia.)
"The Germans were made to offer free board and lodging to workers for the same number of years they worked in forced labour with no pay," he says.
"So my father got three years' free board and lodging. But everything was bombed out, so it was hard to get a room."
When all the troops went home, there was a shortage of manpower in the Singen zone, then under French control. So Hipolit, who spoke Polish, German, Russian and French, was recruited by the French army to assist with the reconstruction.
He joined the French military and wore the French uniform for three years.
In the postwar years, Hipolit and Ludwika lived "normal" lives, Palaszczuk says, with picnics and visits to the cinema.
However, there was nothing to go home to in Poland so, seeking to escape the past, they applied to emigrate to South America.
"They were all set to go to Brazil until someone told them that it was a very dangerous country full of venomous snakes and so on. So they changed their minds and [came] to Australia."
The couple sailed from Italy aboard the Amarapoora, an old hospital ship. Ship logs show the boat carried dispossessed people from Poland, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania to Australia.
The Palaszczuks disembarked in the industrial city of Newcastle, NSW, in April 1950. They were among 170,000 refugees who arrived in Australia between 1947 and 1953.
"It was in Newcastle that my father said he knew he was in a lucky country because he had fresh bread and fresh butter and decent food."
To qualify for passage to Australia, Hipolit had to have a trade and arrived with a certificate as a machinist, but his occupation on his passport was locksmith.
The Palaszczuks were sent to Brisbane where he worked as a mail sorter and later as a sheet metal worker.
They lived for nearly five years at Wacol migrant centre in Brisbane's outer west, a set of dome-shaped "igloos" with corrugated iron roofs built for US troops stationed in Brisbane in World War II.
The hostel had a communal kitchen and an ablutions block with tin bathtubs.
"The migrants were given three years to settle," Palaszczuk says.
"If they didn't like the country after that, they could go back. And in that time they had to find a job.
They separated the men and the women and children. The men had to go and find work while the women and children stayed in the migrant camp."
The Palaszczuks left the migrant camp in 1955 after successfully applying for a Housing Commission home. It was a significant turning point in their lives when they moved into a modest timber home with a tiled roof at Crocus St, Inala.
"We thought it was wonderful. We had made it. We had our own bedrooms and a big kitchen, and I couldn't believe how big the back yard was."
In the early '70s they bought the house in a buyout scheme started by the Bjelke-Petersen government. The Palaszczuks were among the first people in Inala to own their own home.
Palaszczuk attended Darra convent school and served as an altar boy with the legendary Father Cassian Wolak, who said Mass for the Polish community in the presbytery lounge room.
Wolak was a fellow Pole who had survived captivity in Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.
His obituary in The Courier-Mail in 1973 revealed he had been subjected to bizarre Nazi medical experiments in which he was deliberately infected with gangrene bacteria.
BEST AND WORST OF TIMES
Palaszczuk takes me on a guided tour of the Inala electorate, past the schools, churches and the parks of his youth. He points out the former homes of Labor lions Kev Hooper, Wayne Goss, Jim Elder and David Beddall.
We stop outside Serviceton South State School where he and another Labor luminary, John Mickel, taught primary school classes and entertained the children by playing Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan protest songs on their guitars.
The tour also takes us to the where Palaszczuk helped his father build the Catholic Church in 1957 from recycled timber from derelict homes donated to the parish.
He says his father could build and fix anything, and taught him basic carpentry and plumbing skills he still puts to good use when his daughters call for help.
Our last stop is at the Crocus St home where he grew up and where his younger brother Jack still lives. The house is almost exactly as it was, he says, except for a new stove in the kitchen.
The family would sit around the wooden kitchen table and sing as his father squeezed Polish folk songs from his piano accordion.
It's also where Hipolit taught young Heinrich (Henry) to play Christmas carols such as Silent Night. Palaszczuk is emotional as he straps on his father's accordion and begins to play.
Christmas, he says, was the best of times and the worst of times.
Hipolit had developed a love of Australian beer and later was caught in the deadly grip of vodka, whisky and finally brandy. "It was at Christmas that he was really, really bitter," Palaszczuk says.
"He asked: Why me? Why was I subjected to all this? Christmas time was when the terrible memories came flooding back. Christmas was not too good. The old man would just fly off the handle recalling the atrocities committed against him by the Germans."
Ludwika was more optimistic - although she wondered all her life what became of her family. She died in 1973 aged 55.
"I haven't been able to prove it, but we were told her father was shot in the street walking home with a basket of food. The Germans thought he was carrying a weapon.
"My parents came to Australia, but like many migrants they could never really escape the past." ■