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Peace well deserved: Maria’s story

Sep 27, 2022

“I’m 87, I’m not complaining, I get great support and I am so grateful.” Maria Karsznia is happy with her lot in life, despite, or perhaps because of, her early childhood being fraught with danger and challenges.

Maria was born in Poland in 1935 and at 4 years old was caught up in the horrors of World War 2 when the Soviet army invaded Poland. Maria, her baby brother and parents were taken to Russia as prisoners and forced to work in a remote labour camp. Her mother and father spent two long years working in the forests and fields around the camp just to get a small amount of bread or fruit. Devastatingly, Maria’s father and little brother didn’t survive the horrendous conditions.

Maria and her mother were then transported to a number of different countries before arriving at a Polish camp run by the Red Cross in Mombasa, Kenya. Maria has very fond memories from Africa, saying “We didn’t have anything at all but they fed us and gave us enough to get by, it was really good”. They joined a caring community of 500 Poles, mostly women and children, living in small mud houses. The Red Cross set up a school which Maria attended every day.

It was there in Mombasa that a friend of Maria’s mother suggested they travel to Australia. In 1950 Maria and her mum travelled the long journey by boat. First, they were housed in a refugee camp outside Perth, where Maria’s mum met her future husband who owned an apple orchard in Middleton, Tasmania. They finally settled in what was a completely different world for them. People were living far apart from one another and had lots of living space, a far cry from the cramped conditions of the camps they’d experienced before. They were surrounded by wildlife with wallabies and possums all around as they worked together on the orchard.

At age 17 Maria moved to Hobart to work at the Cadbury chocolate factory. Every Saturday, she and her close friend Teresa went dancing in the Polish Club in New Town. It was at one of these dances, she met her future husband Richard and they had 3 children together. Maria is a very creative lady and made dresses for the Polish community when she first arrived in Hobart, as well as making teddy bears for her children.

She has kept her passion for sewing and knitting and regularly knits socks, gloves, scarves, and blankets for her six grandchildren to keep them warm in the winter months. At Christmas time she knits angels and at Easter she knits Easter eggs. She loves listening to Polish music, eating Polish food and engaging with the community.

Sadly, Maria’s husband Richard passed away a few years ago and her son John is now her primary carer. “He is so good to me, helping to look after me and making sure I am okay” she says about her caring son.

Maria has a Home Care Package with Community Based Support which includes personal care, domestic assistance, spring cleaning and gardening. “Every morning someone comes to help and they make me very happy”. Maria is particularly fond of her support worker Magdalena (pictured with her above) who is also from Poland. “She is like a step daughter to me, she’s always smiling and I am always so happy to see her.”

You can read Magdalena’s story here.

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