T&A readers’ memories of Polish Anna make international headlines

REPORTS by the Telegraph & Argus on Bradford’s ‘Polish Anna’ have made the front page of one of the biggest newspapers in Poland.

The First News, which is based in Warsaw, ran the headline: ‘UK newspaper readers uncover extraordinary past of local woman known fondly as ‘Polish Anna’’.

It reports: “Publishing a feature inviting readers to share their memories, the Telegraph & Argus newspaper in the city of Bradford, West Yorkshire, was quickly inundated with fond reminiscences.

“After the local newspaper published a series of photos inviting readers to share their memories of ‘Polish Anna’, no one expected it would set in motion a train of online sleuthing which revealed her shocking wartime ordeal as a slave labourer in Nazi Germany and the destruction of her village in Poland as part of Hitler’s Lebensraum plan to exterminate Poles from the Zamość region.”

Journalist Stuart Dowell from First News, the English language service of the Polish Press Agency, contacted the T&A after reading our articles on the woman known as Polish Anna and Old Anna, a well-known local character in the 1970s and 80s.

Our reports led to readers’ memories flooding in, with hundreds of people getting in touch. Now, thanks to T&A readers, Anna has won long overdue recognition in the country of her birth.

The First News reports: “Moving to Bradford after the war as a Displaced Person, ‘Polish Anna’ became a well-known figure around the city for her ‘eccentric behaviour’, unusual dress and loud singing voice. The local market was a favourite hang-out. She would help the traders in exchange for a little payment or cups of tea and pieces of fruit. She was often moody and emotional, but people remember her straightforward friendly manner and sense of fun.

“Several generations of locals remember her stalking the aisles of the market, waving her stick and singing in her distinctive deep voice. Some people speculated that she had been forced to undergo barbaric Nazi experiments.

“The story of Aniela’s life would probably have been lost forever if a neighbour had not found an envelope containing photographs of her in a skip shortly after she died in December 1985 at the age of 76. The photos showed her living in Bradford, but also crucially they contained a snap of her identity card from the German company that exploited her as a slave worker.

Over 20 years later, the neighbour rediscovered the photos and passed them to the T&A . The newspaper recently published the photographs again, hoping to jog memories and maybe find out more about Anna.

A reader from Germany, Dr Christian Frietag, remembered Anna from when he studied at the city’s university in late 1970s. He decided to investigate wartime archives, revealing the shocking story of how Anna was enslaved by the Germans after they ethnically cleansed her village and murdered her neighbours and possibly members of her own family in July 1943.

“Records show that at least one of the victims shared Aniela’s surname, Torba. According to these files she was born Aniela Torba on May 5, 1909 in Domostawa, south east Poland.”

The First News continues: “Some readers have established that people who share Aniela’s surname still live in Domostawa and have reached out to discover even more details about her life.

“T&A journalist Emma Clayton told TFN: “The response has been immense. It would be wonderful to find out more about her early life. People are very keen to know her story, and how she ended up in Bradford.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus | News