【Interview】Paul Wojdak – Journey to look for trace of the father –

Paul Wojdak

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 for me or my mother, who is already dead, knows about the story. My father was just 6 or 7 years old when his parents died in Siberia and he never talked about Russia or Siberia. I asked him about it when I was young but he could speak very little about it. His whole body became tense and his eyes were looking somewhere else. He said it was a train accident but I believe it was something more. I know now that it is called post traumatic stress but no one knew about it. I know that his mind blocked all the painful memories of the past. So he did not tell me much.

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. Therefore, 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 less alone, welcomed to Japan. 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 like royalty. I received many photos of the Siberian Children. Of course I hoped to recognize my father but it was not possible. There was a presentation about the institute and then we were taken to a special restaurant for lunch. I was asked if I would like 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. My father’s name is on the list of children. 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. I have spoken already about that special day.

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 a little time around Tsuruga. We stayed at a Ryokan (Japanese traditional hotel). We also went to 2 other areas where there were small lakes. It was a trip for around 10 days.

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 I 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. She had to persuade my father. She wanted to escape from Europe and the War. My father would have been happy to stay in England where he had found a better life than he had known before. But Canada was even better. He had a good life and was very happy in Canada.

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: In order to understand what happened to my father, I have learned a lot of Polish history. So many Polish people were exiled to Siberia for more than 100 years, sentenced to forced labor camps for opposing Russian rule. Often whole families. Even after serving their sentence they might not be allowed to return to Poland. My father was born in Novosibirsk Siberia in 1912. That was before World War 1 so possibly his parents participated in the 1905 rebellion and were exiled. Or perhaps a generation earlier, my father’s grandparents may have been in the 1863 uprising. No new clues. It seems impossible for me to find out.

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 been working on writing about the story of my father and how I found out about my father, one clue leading to another, so I will be pleased to have my story put into 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 the oldest of my daughters is interested in it the most.

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 Domaradzka gave the presentation in Wejherowo, I was amazed by the amount of information she had about her family. 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 Felician nuns. I spoke to the archivist there and managed to get the file number of my father’s record. Unfortunately the person I needed to speak with was in poor health, I could not communicate directly with her 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 at St Joseph Orphanage. 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 (info@siberianchildren.pl) if you have any information.