(e-mailed to Sabine SMTH on 10th April 2020)
Aleksandr Pandik born in 1926 to Evgenin and Anna (Tupalova) Pandik in Konstantinovka, Ukraine. His brother Nikolai was twelve years younger, born in 1938. In 1941 dad was walking in the street when, without warning, a German convoy forced him onto a vehicle for transportation to Germany. He was only 15 years of age. (He never saw his parents and brother again). There he worked on the trains as a fireman along the Rhine River between Koblenz and Mainz. At the end of the war (between 1948 to 1950) he was moved to different camps: Frankfurt, Ludwigsburg then Pforzheim receiving vocational training through the IRO (International Refugee Organization) as an auto mechanic. They also conducted English lessons for everyone.
He met Luba Wysocka, who was also receiving vocational training as a seamstress, living in the camp with her parents, Mykola and Aleksandr Wysocki. They married in 1950 in Pforzheim and through the Resettlement Program the four of them received paperwork for emigration to Australia. Aleksandr chose Australia as he wanted to get as far away from Europe as possible.
The departure was via Genoa, Italy on the S.S. "Castelbianco" sailing to Melbourne, their final destination being the Benalla Migrant Camp. I was born in the camp hospital and christened in the non-denominational chapel. Michael arrived four years later. Our address was Hut 36/7. As youngsters we would have been oblivious to the fact these huts had thin walls, no running water, heating or cooling but it was a home.
Everyone had a role to play in this community: whether rostered for kitchen duty in preparing or cooking meals, the hospital, laundry and toilet blocks maintained as well the required gardening. The largest building was the community centre which not only served as a dining hall but for various entertainments. Amongst the huts kids attended various birthday parties. One recreational activity involved walking to the nearby Broken River where the adults would swim and picnic in the cool shade of the trees.
A story told by mum was that apparently I was partial to onions and made a habit of knocking on hut doors asking if they had ’boolki’ (an abbreviated version of the word tsiboolki: onions). One memory was a Christmas pageant with Saint Nicholas dressed realistically in European style costume, however the character known as Black Peter looked absolutely evil fully dressed in black trousers overlaid with a black and grey tunic. His head was covered in a black cap (horns added) and protruding from his mouth was a long black/grey tongue. In one hand he held a pitchfork. Poor mum did her best to calm down a very upset child …
Eventually a house was purchased close to the town centre where a huge vegetable garden was established along with a decent sized chook pen. Grandma, for many years, would walk to the camp pushing our old pram containing two large enamel buckets filled with her home-grown 'ohirki' or ogorki - cucumbers set in a brine added with garlic and dill - which she went on to sell. On every occasion she would return home, naturally, with two empty buckets. I think quite a few people will remember the" little lady with the cucumbers".
One year a dinner dance was held at the camp and mum wore a distinct chocolate-coloured chiffon ball gown. The fabric had shots of burgundy and green which caught the light and shiny beads centered on the bodice. A pair of soft apple green suede stilettos set off the gown. The shoes no longer exist but the gown together with an embroidered white blouse and a mushroom coloured crepe dress with bolero I have donated to the Benalla Migrant Camp historical collection created by Sabine Smyth (Benalla Migrant Camp Inc.).
We think that the right decision had been made in choosing to settle in Australia. Throughout her life our mother from time to time would maintain that, "Australia is the best country in the world", and state: "You'll never go hungry here".
Sabine, memory of camp life is tiny because of my early age (some photos are proof). If you need to condense please feel free to do so. The dress colour I may not be so clear with so please correct where necessary. Also, the embroidered blouse you have, judging by its size, was a blouse made by mum for me to wear.
Please note that the records retrieved from Benalla Cemetery do not mean that the individuals listed were camp residents, they merely share the surname.
They are presented in that they may be of assistance for genealogical purposes.