Born in England in 1948. Immigrated to Canada at the age of four. Graduated from McMaster University and University of British Columbia with degrees in geology. He worked as a Professional Geologist for companies for 20 years. For the next 20 years, he worked for Government as Regional Geologist. He published annually on gold, silver, copper, molybdenum and zinc deposits.
Retired since 2011, Paul and his wife Teresa enjoy domestic and international travel. They reside in Telkwa, in a home they completed in 2020. Currently, he is researching and writing about his father’s life.
Yumi Yoshida: Thank you very much for your time today. It has been a while since we have met during the conference in Wejherowo in 2019, but I was very excited to talk with you today. Please let me start the interview.
Mr. Paul Wojdak: Yes, sure.
Yumi: First of all, please correct me if I am wrong, but is that right that you have heard the story about your father being in Japan directly from him? Also is there anyone else except for you and your mother who knows his story in Japan?
Paul: Yes, it is correct that I heard all the stories from my father.
No one else except my mother, who is no longer alive, knew about his story.
My father was just 6 or 7 years old when his parents died.
He said his mother and father died in train “accidents.” I assumed this happened in Poland,
but I was wrong – a child knows nothing about countries and borders.
So my father never spoke of Siberia or Russia. When I asked him about his parents when I was young,
he could speak very little about it.
His whole body became tense and he stared into the distance.
There was an emotional pain I could not understand.
Now I know now it is called post traumatic stress. His mind blocked all the painful memories.
After Japan my father was in America, in an orphanage with other Polish Siberian children.
In 2021 I inquired to the Felician Sisters for my father’s record from their Archives.
It shows he was born in Novo-Mikolajewsk (now called Novosibirsk) in western Siberia.
He was found alone 3750 kilometers to the east in an orphanage in Harbin Manchuria.
The record states his birth date was unknown, he was “about 7 years old” born in 1912 or 1913.
The list from Fukudenkai show his first name to be Wladyslaw but I only knew him as Pawel with no second name.
The origin of the name “Wladyslaw” remained a mystery.
Train was only way to travel the vast distance from Novosibirsk to Harbin in 1920.
Russia was in chaos of civil war.
We know from records of the Polish Rescue Committee there were many Polish refugees fleeing eastward
to escape persecution, starvation and death.
The train journey likely took weeks or months because trains broke down,
crews deserted and there was fighting between communists and czarists (red and white Russian) and their supporters.
Soldiers forced refugees from the train into the Siberian winter.
According to my father, his mother died first on the train and later his father died.
What a terrible experience this would be for a child.
And what identity papers does a child carry? Perhaps my father had only the papers of his dead father, Wladyslaw Wojdak.
I asked for assistance from the genealogical research group “Your roots in Poland” located in Krakow.
They have associates in Russia who searched birth records in Novosibirsk,
and State archives of convicts and political exiles in Moscow.
The records are incomplete, many volumes are missing or only partially preserved.
The only record found for Wladyslaw Wojdak is in the 1908 list of convicts.
He was born in the village of Jasiorowka 75 kilometers northeast of Warsaw, and 16 years old when he was arrested and sentenced for theft.
This is not a political crime and unlikely to result in deportation.
Might this Wladyslaw Wojdak be related to my father?
It is a typical Polish name, not unusual. Possibly Wladyslaw Wojdak became a political subversive
while in prison in Poland and subsequently exiled to Russia.
The connection with my father is quite uncertain, I can only speculate.
I have searched long and hard to find traces of my father. It is possible but perhaps I want too much for it to be true.
Yumi: I understand it was a very difficult time for him. Mr. Lukasz who I interviewed before told me the same regarding his family. You visited Japan last year, right? Which kind of image did you have before coming to Japan and did it change after your visit?
Paul: My father came to Japan with the Siberian Children but he told me so little about that.
I learned from the account and photographs in “Echo of the Far East”
that the Siberian Children were welcomed to Japan with great kindness and looked after.
My father had a small scar on his back from treatment at the hospital in Fukudenkai.
I was excited to visit Japan in November 2019 with my wife.
On our trip from the airport to the hotel, we became confused when changing subway trains.
I was very tired and I struggled with my suitcase on the stairs.
Then, a kind young woman saw my difficulty and carried it for me.
Immediately we felt welcome in Japan, not alone. The next day we went to Fukudenkai.
Manabu Tsuchiya-san and Mizuki Wagatsuma-san came to our hotel to meet us and take us by car.
At Fukudenkai we were treated very specially. I received many photos of the Siberian Children.
I hoped to recognize my father but I have no photos of my father as a young person so it was not possible.
We were shown a presentation about the institute and then we were taken to a special restaurant for lunch.
I was asked if I preferred Chinese, Italian, or Japanese food.
I answered “Japanese food, absolutely!”. I can honestly say it was one of the most special days in my life.
Yumi: It is great to hear that your memory in Japan was very good one. Could you please tell me how you got to know about Fukudenkai?
Paul: By internet research in 2001, I found Teruo Matsumoto, the Japanese journalist living in Warsaw.
I learned a lot from him. He mailed me copies of “Echo from the Far East”
with the whole story of the Polish Siberian Children and their stay at Fukudenkai.
Wladyslaw Wojdak is one of the children and he went to Milwaukee in USA.
This is exactly what my father had told me, that he was in Milwaukee and Chicago,
and that he saw machines for the first time. I suppose cars, washing machines and more.
Later in Poland he wondered why there were no machines there.
I knew with certainty this was my father even though his first name, Wladyslaw, was unknown to me.
I did not think the institution would still be alive so I had not looked for it.
In 2019, on a trip to Poland, I met Akinori Nishakawa-san of the Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum.
He told me that Fukudenkai still exists and gave me the contact information. I contacted Fukudenkai and asked to visit there.
Yumi: So it was thanks to Mr.Nishikawa! You visited Fukudenkai, and of course Tsuruga City, but did you also have a chance to visit any other places in Japan?
Paul: We spent ten days in Tsuruga and the area nearby.
We stayed at two Ryokan (Japanese traditional hotel).
We visited Lake Mikata, Lake Yogo, Lake Biwa and two castles. All are beautiful, it was a wonderful experience.
Yumi: Are there any memories or songs passed down from your father to you? I heard that your father remembered the Japanese national anthem.
Paul: Yes, this is an amazing story.
It happened when I was about 10 or 11 years old.
I wondered how my father came to be in Japan when he was a child – was it really true?
One afternoon a repairman came to repair the gas furnace in our house. He was Japanese.
It took some time and my Dad stayed close by him, to know what was being done.
I was nearby but not paying close attention to what was being said.
When the work was done, the Japanese repairman was ready to leave and my Dad stood at attention and sang in Japanese.
A complete surprise! Later he told me it was the Japanese National Anthem.
Then he counted to ten in Japanese. When my mother came home from work Dad told her proudly – he said he sang it perfectly.
This was such an important event for me because I KNEW FOR CERTAIN, he had been in Japan.
And now I believe that it was the Japanese man’s character, the innate attributes of a Japanese person,
that unlocked the memory in my father’s mind.
He didn’t know the memory was there.
Yumi: It is amazing how children’s memory works.
Paul: Yes, I think it was thanks to the Japanese man.
I don’t think he knew that he had that memory but it came out because of the Japanese person.
Yumi: So it was the click to recall the memory. It was very lucky that the man came to visit your house! Thank you for the presentation you have sent to us before the interview. It was very interesting and helpful to understand your background. I see that it was your father’s generation when your family moved to Canada from Europe. Why was it Canada?
Paul: It was my mother’s dream, to come to Canada.
My father and mother met in England in 1947.
He came from Italy with the Polish Army and she came from the Netherlands.
When they met my father and learned he did not know his birthday, my mother said it would be July 27 and we celebrated it every year.
My father did not have a good life in Poland after coming from Japan and America.
He was disappointed to be in an orphanage again. From there he was placed on a farm, not to be part of a family but to work.
He learned to be a blacksmith but in 1939 there was war again.
He lived in Poznan province which Germany considered to be their territory and annexed it.
People were told they were German, not Polish. In early 1944 my father was conscripted into the German army and sent to Italy.
In Italy he defected to the Polish Army, as did many other Poles who were forced into the German army.
After the war he came to England with the Polish Army, more than 100,000 men.
They were unwilling to return to Poland because it was controlled by Russia.
They stayed in England and dispersed into camps all over the UK.
My father would have been happy to live in England but my mother wanted to go to Canada, far from wars in Europe.
And so we immigrated to Canada in 1952. My father finally had a home of his own and a happy life in Canada.
In Canada our home was situated in an area of poor clay soil.
My father worked hard every year to improve the soil, and he grew flowers – dahlias, roses, all kinds of flowers.
He was well known for having the most beautiful garden on our street.
From reading stories of other Siberian children it seems that many loved flowers and gardening.
I believe this interest came from their days in Japan, a lasting legacy of their first experience with natural beauty and hospitality.
Yumi: I am very happy to hear that the decision turned out to be a good one. Let me ask you another question. This question might be a tricky and difficult one, but if you compare the 3 countries, Japan, Poland and Canada, do you find any significant difference?
Paul: Japan, Canada and Poland are quite different but all are beautiful countries. I know Canada best.
I have lived in Ontario and British Columbia, in a city and a rural area.
I am a geologist and travelled for my work in the forests, the mountains and the Arctic.
Canada is a place of wilderness, vast distances and few people.
I have been to Poland only twice and Japan once. Poland is mainly farmland with lots of towns and cities.
Where there is a forest, the trees are all the same age and equally spaced. It is a plantation.
Japan too has lots of towns and farmland, but there are also large natural forests on the hills and mountains.
Roads and railways in Japan go under the mountains in tunnels (so many tunnels!) leaving the forest untouched.
There are few tunnels in Canada, roads climb over so there is more disturbance.
Meals are special in Japan.
The food is different of course, but more than that is the care in how food is prepared and presented at the table.
We stayed several nights in a ryokan and learned something about traditional customs that are much different from the West.
Everywhere we were treated with such kindness.
When we had trouble finding a place, a stranger in the street escorted us to the door.
The hostess at our ryokan on Lake Yogo spoke no English and it was difficult for her to explain the way to the restaurant.
She got into her car and motioned for us to follow in our car, and she drove to the restaurant to show us.
For myself and for my father I learned the most important word, “ARIGATO.”
Yumi: Thank you, I am very glad that you told us Japanese kindness and politeness is present. Also, about the presentation that you have sent to us, you mentioned the mystery about your father. Has there been any progress in finding new clues or facts about it?
Paul: Since visiting Fukudenkai and Tsuruga I obtained my father’s record from the Felician Sisters
which operated the orphanages where all the Siberian children stayed in America.
I do not speak Polish or Russian so I used a genealogical research group to search Russian archives.
There were Polish people who were exiled for opposing Russian rule and never permitted to return,
and those who went to Siberia to build bridges, cities and the railroad.
They all became victims and refugees when the Russian government collapsed in 1918.
Much information was lost, I am content that I have learned all that is possible to discover.
Yumi: This is a little bit out of the topic but I imagine it must have been quite a hard journey to travel such a long distance since many of them traveled through Siberia, Japan also to the US and then to Poland.
Paul: Yes, and especially thinking about the range of their ages which was from 3 or 4 years old to 13 years old and 14 years old,
it must have been a hard journey. My father was 7 years old.
Yumi: Thank you very much for sharing the story. Last year as we talked, you participated in the conference in Tsuruga and in Wejherowo. What do you think about participating in Japanese and Polish cultural exchange events as one of the descendants of the Siberian Children?
Paul: I am proud, honored to participate in such events, both for myself and for my father’s memory. I believe it would have meant a lot to him. My wife and I planned to attend the Fukudenkai 100 year anniversary in Warsaw in September 2020 but it was not possible due to COVID-19. Perhaps it can happen next year.
Yumi: Yes, unfortunately this year’s ceremony in Warsaw was prolonged but we are planning to organize it in September 2021,
so we are all waiting for you in Warsaw next year. Do you sometimes contact other offspring?
Paul: I met Anna Domaradzka and Lukasz Jankowski in Wejherowo in 2019.
I have kept in contact with both of them a little bit, by Facebook.
Yumi: In an interview with another descendant whose great grandfather is one of the Siberian Children, the idea came up into the discussion to restart the publication of “Far East Echo” (In Polish “Echo Dalekiego Wschodu”, a magazine that was published by people who had stayed in Japan as Siberian Children and then returned to Poland), what do you think about this idea?
Paul: It is a good idea. The publication should be virtual to keep cost of production low.
The content could be historic – what happened long ago, and current – activities of Fukudenkai and Japan-Poland Youth Association.
I have completed research about my father and written his life story and how I learned it,
as much as it is possible to know. I am pleased to offer my writing for the magazine.
Yumi: It would be an exciting plan! In your presentation, it was written that your father became a grandfather. Am I correct to say that it is your children? And do they all know about the history and are they interested in it?
Paul: My father never spoke about his past with his grandchildren.
But I have often told my children about him. I wish he could have lived longer so they could have known him better.
I certainly told all of them about the history and my son and a daughter are the most interested in it.
Yumi: It is very nice to hear that they are interested in it. Since the time has been passing, there are less and less people who know directly about the history, therefore I am always wondering how to get the attention of the younger generation.
Paul: Yes, how to keep the memory is a difficult topic.
My daughter, who was most interested in the event, lives in the UK.
I asked her if she wants to join the ceremony planned in Warsaw, which was planned last year.
She was busy but I will ask her and her family again for the next year.
Yumi: It is always a difficult task to attract people’s attention except for those who have special interest in history.
Fukudenkai is seeking the way to let more people know about the history and make it the trigger to connect our countries even more closely.
Do you think it is important for more people to know about it?
Paul: There are good lessons from history such as about the kindness to refugees,
so I think it is important for more people to know about the history.
Cultural exchange, student associations is one way. Another idea is to use the music of Chopin.
Perhaps when a Japanese orchestra conductor or performer gives a concert (in the US or anywhere) the audience could be addressed,
“The music of Chopin is very popular in Japan. Do you know why?
Polish refugees came to Japan more than 100 years ago and brought the music of Chopin.
Today there is still a strong bond between our countries. If you want to know more about this, there is a brochure in the lobby.”
Yumi: As the last question, could you give us any ideas or advice to attract the eyes of people who live outside of Poland and Japan?
We recently received messages from a few people in the US.
Paul: There are many Polish immigrants in the US and in Canada.
However it is not easy to find people who are very interested in the history.
When Anna Domaracka gave the presentation in Wejherowo, I was amazed by the information she had.
Compared to that, I had nothing.
If you are connected to Poland, it might have been possible to find information, but not someone like me who has no one left in Poland. Therefore usually, it should be very difficult to connect themselves with Japan.
Yumi: I heard that you found some record of your father in the orphanage that your father stayed in the US. Do you think we will be able to find more information from such records?
Paul: The orphanage that my father stayed in was operated by the nuns.
I spoke to the archivist there and managed to get the file number of my father’s record.
Unfortunately since many nuns are getting old,
I could not get good communication with them so I might need to go there to receive more information.
But they do have a good record. Not only my father’s but I have the file number of other 12 Siberian Children who stayed there.
I don’t know how much information they have there, I don’t know.
Yumi: I hope you will be able to visit there when the situation becomes easier. Hope we can find more information together.
Thank you very much for your time today.
(Interview：17th December, 2020)
Fukudenkai is looking for the descendants of the Siberian Children.
Please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any information.