Remembering the past

Richie Ziebicki at his home, the Carinity Shalom aged care community in Rockhampton.

Not everyone caught up in horrors of World War II was a soldier as Ryszard ‘Richie’ Ziebicki from Rockhampton can attest.

‘Richie’ was 12 years old when Germany invaded his homeland Poland in September 1939.

He would spend most of his teenage years in forced labour camps during World War II.

“At the age of 15-and-a-half I was randomly selected for forced labour in Germany along with two other boys from my village, Gielniow,” Richie said.

“After several days of travel, we arrived at Wilhemshaven in the north of Germany. We were taken to a camp – a Russian prisoner of war camp – and

started work at a coal business.

“The coal arrived by boat or train and my job was to unload 50kg bags and deliver by trailer mainly to army barracks, navy bases and businesses in the

city, where I had to stow the bags in the cellars.

“As we weren’t prisoners of war we asked to be transferred to a civilian camp. Because we lost work time we were given 25 lashes on our backside.”

Richie was given one meal at night, consisting of stew or soup and bread.

“If we could scavenge any food from any other source, it was a treat. Sometimes when delivering coal to the cellars we would deliberately knock a

jar of preserved food off the shelf and quickly pocket some,” Richie said.

“One of my jobs was to take the coal business owner’s wife and little girls to the bunker in the event of an air raid.

“When the Allied planes kept coming and the bombs were falling we were scared but we wanted them to keep coming.

“Towards the end of the war… I saw the Polish Army coming. I knew that the war would soon be over.”

After arriving in Australia, Richie worked on the Snowy River hydroelectricity scheme, as many immigrants of the time did, before settling in


The 96-year-old now lives at the Carinity Shalom aged care community in Rockhampton.

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