This month our guest speaker was Katie Wilkomm who shared her remarkable and very personal story of how she survived Stalin’s slave labour camps to start a new life on a farm in the dales.
Katie, spoke from the heart describing how what should have been an idyllic childhood, turned into a story of survival by virtue of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. She described, the rumours and actual experience of waves of Russians making their way through her village on their way to fight after Romania changed sides during WWII.
How her mother, auntie, other family members and villagers age 18 – 45 years old were forcibly rounded up and taken to work in the mines leaving children being looked after by grandparents and great grandparents. In 1951 Katie and her grandparents discovered what the labour camps were like for themselves (Katie was only 9 years old) despite nearly starving, becoming a victim of medical experiments and seeing torture and cruelty that no child should see she survived. After Stalin’s death, the regime changed and Katie was allowed to return home in 1956 after which the Red Cross working with her parents managed to secure her a flight to England to begin a new life – in a new country, where she didn’t speak the language and had no education to fall back on.
Katie described the horrors she endured without displaying hatred, despite all of her suffering she spoke with gratitude for the few who showed compassion in the camps while carrying out Stalin’s orders and for those who helped her build a life in the UK. I felt humbled and moved by this inspirational lady. Katie is now 75, if you get the chance to hear her speak do.
To order Katie’s book “Wrong Time, Wrong Place” send a cheque for £15 (plus £2.95 p&p) payable to Katie Wilkomm to Fountain Farm, Booze, Richmond, North Yorkshire, DL11 6EY.