When Petronela Brywczyńska was three years old, her father took part in the defence of Poland at the time of the German invasion. After the capitulation he became a prisoner of war and had to serve the Germans as a forced labourer, most of the time on a German farm near Allenstein (Olsztyn). After a few years he even managed to reunite his family there. In January 1945, under the threat of the advancing Red Army, the family had to flee together with the German landowner to Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and Pillau (Baltijsk). Together with thousands of German refugees Petronela’s family crossed the frozen Vistula Lagoon. While the Germans headed further west, Petronela’s family hid in the forests. There they spend several weeks in the severe cold hoping for a liberation that did not materialize. Instead they were discovered by German soldiers and deported to Stutthof.
Petronela still remembers the horrors of the last year of the war: the SS burning down the ‘Jewish camp’ at Stutthof, air raids, her mother’s illness from typhoid fever, and the lack of help from anywhere. Her family survived, thanks to the strength and the resourcefulness of her father. After six weeks, the Red Army arrived at the camp. Undernourished and unable to walk, Petronela left the camp on a trolley. Already the same day the family headed south. They went to a house in the countryside, where Petronela lives until today.