Cover image for When God looked the other way : an odyssey of war, exile, and redemption
When God looked the other way : an odyssey of war, exile, and redemption
Adamczyk, Wesley, 1933-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xvi, 264 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D805.S65 A33 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Often overlooked in accounts of World War II is the Soviet Union's quiet yet brutal campaign against Polish citizens, a campaign that included, we now know, war crimes for which the Soviet and Russian governments only recently admitted culpability. Standing in the shadow of the Holocaust, this episode of European history is often overlooked. Wesley Adamczyk's gripping memoir, When God Looked the Other Way , now gives voice to the hundreds of thousands of victims of Soviet barbarism.

Adamczyk was a young Polish boy when he was deported with his mother and siblings from their comfortable home in Luck to Soviet Siberia in May of 1940. His father, a Polish Army officer, was taken prisoner by the Red Army and eventually became one of the victims of the Katyn massacre, in which tens of thousands of Polish officers were slain at the hands of the Soviet secret police. The family's separation and deportation in 1940 marked the beginning of a ten-year odyssey in which the family endured fierce living conditions, meager food rations, chronic displacement, and rampant disease, first in the Soviet Union and then in Iran, where Adamczyk's mother succumbed to exhaustion after mounting a harrowing escape from the Soviets. Wandering from country to country and living in refugee camps and the homes of strangers, Adamczyk struggled to survive and maintain his dignity amid the horrors of war.

When God Looked the Other Way is a memoir of a boyhood lived in unspeakable circumstances, a book that not only illuminates one of the darkest periods of European history but also traces the loss of innocence and the fight against despair that took root in one young boy. It is also a book that offers a stark picture of the unforgiving nature of Communism and its champions. Unflinching and poignant, W hen God Looked the Other Way will stand as a testament to the trials of a family during wartime and an intimate chronicle of episodes yet to receive their historical due.

"Adamczyk recounts the story of his own wartime childhood with exemplary precision and immense emotional sensitivity, presenting the ordeal of one family with the clarity and insight of a skilled novelist. . . . I have read many descriptions of the Siberian odyssey and of other forgotten wartime episodes. But none of them is more informative, more moving, or more beautifully written than When God Looked the Other Way ."--From the Foreword by Norman Davies, author of Europe: A History and Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw
"A finely wrought memoir of loss and survival."-- Publishers Weekly

"Adamczyk's unpretentious prose is well-suited to capture that truly awful reality." --Andrew Wachtel, Chicago Tribune Books 

"Mr. Adamczyk writes heartfelt, straightforward prose. . . . This book sheds light on more than one forgotten episode of history."--Gordon Haber, New York Sun 

"One of the most remarkable World War II sagas I have ever read. It is history with a human face."--Andrew Beichman, Washington Times 

Author Notes

Wesley Adamczyk is a retired chemist and tax consultant who lives in Illinois. He is also a champion bridge player.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

In May of 1940, 25,000 Polish Army officers were led into the Katyn Forest in eastern Poland by their Red Army captors and executed. Adamczyk's father was one of them. In this finely wrought memoir of loss and survival, Adamczyk tells his family's story against the backdrop of a little known chapter of WWII-the forced exile of thousands of Poles by the Soviet government in the opening weeks of the war. Adamczyk's upper-middle-class family was taken at gunpoint and sent on a harrowing 3,000-mile journey to the barren wastes of Kazakhstan. Life in Stalin's U.S.S.R. was a horror-there was little food, clothing or shelter for the downtrodden natives, let alone for the refugees flooding the area. The family survived through the sheer will and constant ingenuity of the author's mother, who guided the family in an escape from the U.S.S.R. to British-occupied Iran and, exhausted from her efforts, died. Adamczyk's language is earthy, intense and moving. In addition to the strong portraits of his family, Adamczyk fills the book with unforgettable characters from their odyssey-brutal Red Army soldiers; desperately impoverished yet generous Kazakhs; and the clean, well-dressed Americans. With this work, Adamczyk has brought illumination and honor to the families of the thousands who suffered the same terrible fate. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Foreword by Norman Davies
Author's Note
Part 1 Poland
1 Sarny
2 The Hunt
Part 2 We Are Enslaved
3 A Knock on the Door
4 Train to Nowhere
Part 3 The Inhuman Land
5 The Russian Steppes
6 Semiozersk
7 Winter and Wolves
8 The Petroviches
9 War and Shortages
10 The Interrogation
11 Holding On
12 Starvation and Vodka
13 Tutoring
14 The Culture of Communism
Part 4 Escape to Freedom
15 The Escape Plan
16 Jurek's Ordeal
17 Aboard the Kaganovich
Part 5 The Bitter Taste of Freedom
18 The Beach at Pahlevi
19 The Air Force Hangar
20 The Darkest Hour
21 An Unexpected Visitor
22 Shattered Hopes
23 Ahvaz
24 Desert Games
25 The Orphanage
26 The Silver Case
Part 6 People without a Country
27 At the Crossroads
28 "Where the Sun Never Sets"
Part 7 Journey's End
29 The Magnificent Aquitania
30 Thanksgiving Day
31 Making Peace with God
Part 8 The Passage of Time
32 For Whom the Bells Toll
33 The Circle Closes
Afterword: Circumstances Surrounding the Katyn Tragedy
Appendix: Letters to America