Second World War survivor, Polish immigrant, matriarch. Born Oct. 26, 1915, in Kroczewo, Poland, died Feb. 16, 2013, in Victoria of congestive heart failure, aged 97.
Maria Klosowski was born in the fall of 1915 in Kroczewo, Poland – the eldest in a family of four children.
At 19, she married Michael Koprowski. They had a few years to establish as a young couple before their lives changed with the onset of the Second World War.
Michael was called to join the Polish Army to oppose the German invasion of Poland. He was injured in battle and returned to civilian life. Soon after, he was sent to Treblinka by the Nazi Party.
Treblinka was what we now call a "pure" extermination camp or death camp. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were sent there to die. There were few men who made it out alive, but Michael was one of them.
He escaped Treblinka by paying the guard who stood over him while Michael was forced to dig his own grave. The money he used was German Reichsmarks sewn into his jacket, most likely by Maria.
Maria's resourcefulness was seen in other ways. She secretly delivered food to the Jewish people in the Warsaw ghetto who were without the basic necessities of life – a crime for which she was physically assaulted by SS guards. There are family stories of Maria hiding her children under mattresses during night raids so they would not be found by the SS.
After the war, Maria and Michael moved from the Warsaw region to Northern Poland, where they settled on a family farm near Gdansk. There, Maria's years were filled with busy days raising nine children and still finding time to help with outside chores.
In 1959, Michael immigrated to Canada. Maria followed him in 1961 with her seven younger children, having had the painful experience of burying two children.
The family settled in St. Paul County in Alberta and stayed there until 1975, when Michael passed away. Soon after, Maria moved to Edmonton, where she lived in Polish veterans' apartments and built a small, tight-knit community.
When she was 90, Maria suffered two strokes that changed her independent life. She spent the next seven years in residential care, starting in Edmonton and ending in Victoria. Maria loved her life on Vancouver Island – the gardens in particular. In the afternoons, she could be found in her wheelchair, sitting out, a smile peeking out from under her big floppy sun hat, while her only daughter Sophie diligently guided her through a series of exercises.
Without the unwavering support and commitment of her children to care for family, from womb to tomb, Maria would not have had the quality of life she enjoyed in her later years.
Maria lived more than a lifetime in her 97 years. She died in her sleep after a short struggle with congestive heart failure. She left six children – Casey, Sophie, Frank, Bob, Mike and Anthony – as well as 12 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Pra Babcia, we will hold the helm of the dinner table for you.
Kristine Votova is Maria's granddaughter-in-law.