A story of hardship—Jeanne Rapp

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shandresha Mitchell
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing public affairs
Eugenia Szaban was only six years old when she and her family were taken from their home and forced into slavery. She recalled the following events as if they happened yesterday.

"On the night of Feb. 9, 1940, a blistering cold night, we [my family and I] were aroused by a banging on our door by Russian army men with orders from their commandant detailing how they should proceed to give us half an hour to gather all we could," said Eugenia. "They led us to the nearby town of Baronowice, where we were loaded on to a train of cattle cars and taken to the Gulags in coldest regions of Siberia. There we were starved and used as work slaves."

Eugenia spoke in detail about how in 1942, the German army attacked the Russians; how Joseph Stalin in a fit of fear, allowed men, like her brother, Jan Szaban, to form an army of Polish men to help fight the Germans.

"They gave us [the Polish] what he [Stalin] called amnesty, which is ironic since we had committed no crime," said Eugenia.

She recalled that as the army moved out, how family members followed gaining some food and transportation. Along the way, many Polish citizens starved and obtained diseases. First Eugenia lost her father then her mother.

"Somehow, I found myself and my brother, Alexander, on a Russian coal ship sailing for Pahlavi, Iran," stated Eugenia. "Alexander became very ill on the ship, and when we landed the sick were separated from the healthy. That was the last time I saw him, and now I see by the listing of those who survived from Russia that I was alone."

On the list were Eugenia's parents' names, and home town of Stolowicze, Poland, the place where they were arrested, and Baranowice where they were taken to the train station.

"From Iran, I traveled over land and mountains by cargo truck ending in India," said Eugenia.

Once in India, Eugenia boarded an American ship, the U.S.S. Hermitage. Though the ship docked in southern California, Rapp was taken by bus to an orphanage in Mexico.

"From 1943 to 1946, I lived in the orphanage in Mexico until I got a visa to enter the United States. From there, I was taken to an orphanage in Pittsburgh, Pa.," commented Eugenia.

Once in Pennsylvania, Francis Rapp set his sights on Eugenia.

"On my 21st Birthday I decided to look for a wife; I went the boat docks where I saw a ship load of immigrants," commented Francis. "On the top deck was this cute blonde with long, yellow pigtails wearing a babushka and a t-shirt that said 'Kiss me I'm Polish'; how could I pass on that one?"

In 1948, Eugenia and Francis were introduced through mutual friends; and in 1954, they wed and Eugenia Szaban would then be known as Jeanne Rapp.

"At the time, I was an Air Force weatherman in a severe weather unit," commented Francis. "We bought a 300 dollar 1948 Desoto that Jeanne had saved for, and then we were off to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. packed with everything in the world we owned."

Jeanne went all over with Francis chasing tornados, and in time, Jeanne and Francis had two children, Barbara and Michael.

"Now in our eighties, we are still chasing, but we don't know what for," said Francis.
The Rapps now reside in the Tampa Bay area.