Santa Rosa – English

1 About the project

Film „Santa Rosa- odyssey in the rhythm of mariachi“ is a history of the Polish war refugees in Mexico, who after being deported to Siberia by the Soviets, found a safe shelter on the welcoming Mexican soil. This practically undiscovered WWII episode is a story of human solidarity, tolerance and selflessness which resonates its universal values with any audience, regardlesss of their nationality, age, social status or education level.

This documentary uses never-seen before material from personal archives as well as on-camera interviews with eyewitnesses, who as children went through hell of Soviet Siberian odyssey and only now decided to share their expierience of  4 years long  Mexican  adventure. They recall Santa Rosa as a „ paradise lost“ and the welcome they received from the Mexicans and the warm relations between the refugges and locals as a „miracle“

( excerpts from the interview with Cheslaw Sawko – an inventor, self- made millionaire and philantropist – Monitor 03/10/2003)

„ I am 73 years old and I can easly forget what were we talking about just a minute ago. But  what I went through when I was 10, I will never be able to forget. I recall vividly how the Soviets came and arrested us, the journey in the cattle cars  to the village near Archangielsk, our everyday fight to survive. All of this is still very painfull. Even now, its hard for me to describe the poverty and filth we had to live in. Sometimes I feel ashamed to talk about this with Americans, because they cannot believe how one can go through this ordeal and still be a „normal“ person.

-„ What for you meant hacienda Santa Rosa?“

– It was a true paradise. After everything what we went through , yes it was a paradise“

Poles who arrived to Mexico were people, who passed through a horrible life expieriences therefore it was not easy to gain their trust . During 3 year stay in colonia Santa Rosa they we able to recover their faith in other human being and  in their own potencials. Watching the film‘s protagonists telling their personal stories, one can only reflect how a person,  who lost everything in his life – a home, wealth, family members, homeland and freedom is able to  raise from the bottom again.  The way locals treated exotic visitors  – with curiosity, but at the same time tolerance and understanding of their suffering, allowed Poles regain their own dignity and is an example of humanitarism of Mexican people for entire world to admire.

Walentyna Grycuk de Gonzalez

„ The greatest miracle of all was that we – the children – regained our childhood. It was just incredible. We forgot everything was we went through, we forgot the the war is still going on“

Teresa Sokolowski ( from the film interview)


„ Everything what I have learned in my life, everything what I found useful, I learnt in colonia Santa Rosa, in the refugee camp“

Stella Sawko ( from the film interview)

„My best years were those 3 years I spent in Mexico“

Czeslaw ( Chester) Sawko ( from the film interview)

„Mexico – it’s the country I love“


Santa Rosa eywitnesses interviewed for the film:

Czeslaw ( Chester) Sawko

Inventor, self-made millionaire and philantropist who works and lives in Chicago

Anna Zarnecka de Burgoa – Mexican painter, Red Cross activist and philantropist

Walentyna Grycuk de Gonzalez, Aleksandra Grzybowicz Villalobos , Franciszka Pater de Luna – Polish refugees who settled in Loen Guanajuato , got married to Mexicans and raised happy families.

All Poles who stayed at Santa Rosa refugee camp make it clear that it is their duty to help others, the less fortunate ones. This is their way to pay the debt of selfless help they received from the Mexicans during the war.

The story of Santa Rosa is presented in the film through the eyes of Joanna Matias – a young Polish lawyer,who takes on  a trip to Mexico in search of the grave of her grandfather – Jozef Wiercinski, who died there in 1948 after a short illness.

Her grandmother Alina and grandfather Jozef were the first couple married in the hacienda. Soon after her father – Bogdan was born there. Untimely death of 26 year old refugee ruined the family plans to settle in United States after the war – in autumn of 1948 the widow and  her two children – Bogdan and Janina returned to, then communist, Poland.

Although Joanna since early age heard the stories of  Santa Rosa because  her grandmother remarried and the subject of her first husband became a family secret . She always dreamt to go there one day and searched the  Internet for any kind of information about Jozef Wiercinski. This is how the filmmakers found her and decided to make her quest to find grandfather’s grave a main plot of their story.


2. The crew 


Sławomir Grunberg

Piotr Piwowarczyk

Direction and cinematography:

Sławomir Grunberg

More info: ,

Director’s assistant: Katka Reszke

Editor: Małgorzata Łukomska

Producer Mexico: Piotr Piwowarczyk

Producer USA: Sławomir Grunberg

Executive  Producer : RAGUSA FILM, Lucyna Kowalska

Project parcially financed with support of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of republic of Poland.

3. The cast:

USA (Chicago):

  • Czesław (Chester) Sawko &  Stella Sawko (Stanisława Grodzka)

Both as children they lived in colonia Santa Rosa and later on married. Their lifestory epithomised „american dream” since Chester – an inventor of oval springs used in production of major brands of american cars , after emigrated to US became a president of R.C. Coil Systems Manufacturing Company and self- made millionaire.

Małżeństwo. Obydwoje przebywali jako dzieci w Santa Rosa.

Po zamknięciu obozu trafili do USA. Ich życie w Stanach Zjednoczonych to spełnienie „amerykańskiego mitu”. Pan Czesław Sawko dzięki wynalazkowi – maszynie do produkcji sprężyn owalnych -podpisał umowy z największymi koncernami samochodowymi i stał się milionerem ( Prezes R.C. Coil Spring Manufacturing Company). Stella (Stanislawa) lost her father and brother in Siberia and as an orphan ended un in colonia Santa Rosa ( she found her mother after the war). Chester and Stella are known for their philantropic activities – they founded the monument of Primate Wyszynski in Czestochowa a  school in Leon and clinic for poor in Marfi, Guanajuato.

  • Teresa Sokołowska ( Teresa Niedzielska)

Born in 1931 in Dubno , in February of 1949 she was deported to Siberia, where separated from with her family she was placed in the Soviet orphanage. After evacuation from Russia she transferred to the camps in Middle East and Persia ( now Iran) , where her younger brother died. After miracoulously finding her mother through Red Cross she staied in Santa Rosa with her and older sister – Henryka , who after the war decided to settle in Mexico and married a mexian engineer Rudolf Vargas. Teresa emigrated to USA where she got married to Tadeusz Sokolowski – AK soldier and prisoner of Dachau and Auschwitz. She raised her family in Polihs patriotic spirit and was an organizer of Polihs school for her children in Chicagoarea where she lives till this day.

  • Stanisława Synowiec  ( Stella Tobis)

Born in 1928 in Bratanowice. On the way from Siberia to Kazakhstan her mother got lost and they were never able to find each other again. She came to Santa Rosa as an orphan with her younger sister irena. Lives in Chicago area.

  • Tadeusz Pieczka

Born in 1932 in Dabrowa . Lost both of his parents in Siberia. Came to colonia Santa Rosa with his brother – Eugeniusz. After the war emigrated to USA and settled in Chicago area.


  • Anna Żarnecka Santos de Burgoa

lives and works in Mexico City. The painter, writer and activist of Mexican Red Cross. Author of two biographical novels – „Polonia – vineto y tinieblas „ ( Poland – wind and fog) and „; Huellas en la alma” ( Marks on the soul). Her paintings are part of private and museum collections in mexico, United States, Poland and the Holly See. Awarded with many Mexican and international prizes for her artistic and humanitarian work. During her stay in Syberian camp she almost died form hunger and was saved by the package sent by International Red Cross. In 1948 she married an well-to –do mexican enterprenuer –Jesus Burgoa, who was supporting financially home for Polish orphans in Tlalpan

  • Wojciech (Wojtek) Stebelski

Son of Henryk Stebelski – a diplomat in charge of  Polish refugees in Mexico . Born in 1944 in Mexico City he is a known Mexican book publisher and Polish honorary consul in this country. He preserves personal articrafts of his father related to Santa Rosa among them his diary of the trip form India to Leon ( text of the diary in Polish can be found on the page under link „dziennik Stebelskiego”)

  • Daniel Carlos de Burgoa – 

Grandson of Anna Zarnecka de Burgoa . A musician, coposer and one of the founders of Anna zarnecka Foundation.He traves with his musical grounp with concerts  to Mexico, USA, Europe and Africa. More info at his blog:

  • Gloria Carreno i Celia Zack de Zukerman

Authors of the book dedicated to Santa Rosa „ El Convenio Ilusorio” Refugiados Polacos de Guerra en Mexico (1943-1947) – „Ilusoric covenant –  Polish war refugees in Mexico 1943- 1947.)

  •  Walentyna Grycuk de Gonzalez 

Born in 1937 in Grycowka. Separated form ther parents,  she came to Santa Rosa at the age of 6 with her grandparents and aunts. On the day of their departure to USA the grandfather died in the car crash. She settled in Mexico where she married a local suitor. At the age of 34 she became a widow with 8 children. In 1970s she found her father who lived in Poland and traveled there to meet  him. Lives in Leon till this day.

  • Aleksandra Grzybowicz de Villalbos

Born in 1931 in  Woronucha. While in Santa Rosa she was dating against the will of her parents a local Mexican man , whom she eventually married. She had 10 sons and still lives in Leon, Guanajuato.

  • Franciszka Pater de Luna

Born in 1923 in Lanckoronka Klicka. She met her future husband – a Mexican man who spotted her  at the train station the day she arrived to Leon. Gave birth to 9 children and still lives in Leon.

Walentyna, Aleksandra and Franciszka preserve their Polish haritage and meet once a month to converse in their native language , cultivate traditions and reminiscent on their years spent in colonia Santa Rosa.

  • Anna Niewiadomska

Ambassador of RP in  Mexico. Graduated from Latinoamerican Studies Faculty at Warsaw University. In the 90s started her government carieer as a director of Books and Learning Department in Ministry of Culture and later on, as director of Foreign Cultural Policy Department. Between 2001 and 2005 held a post of cultural attache in Polish Embassy in Washington. Since 2009 an Ambassador of Republic of Poland in United States of Mexico ( source : Ministry of Foreign Affairs website)

The idea of the documentary film about Santa Rosa was born in the beginning of 2011, when Polish journalist and film producer, who lives in Mexico – Piotr Piwowarczyk, met with Ambassador Niewiadomska, during the screening of one of his documentaries  – a story of Polish war heroine Irena Sendler. She suggested he dedicates his next project to little known war episode of Polish war refugees who found safe heavens in colonia Santa Rosa. After yearlong research in archives in Mexico, Poland and USA, the film was produced in 2012 and finished in time for 70th anniversary of arrival of Poles to Mexico, which takes place on July 1th 2013.


  • Joanna Matias

Born and raised in Szczecin, Poland. A lawyer by profession and adventure traveller by passion. She founded the webpage dedicated to Poles of Santa Rosa and runs a website about the practical aspects of world travelling!/PodrozePraktycznie

  • Bogdan Matias  (Wierciński) –

Joanna’s father. Born in 1944 in colonia Santa Rosa as a first child born there. After his mother returned to Poland they settled in Szczecin. He is professional soccer coach employed by Polish Soccer Association. Father of Agnieszka and Joanna and proud grandfather of three

4. Historical background:


On September 28 1939 Nazi germany and Soviet Russia sign a treaty on ‘friendship and frontiers” sealing the forth partition fo Poland . Russians are awarded the Eastern parts of prewar Polish territories , while the Germans occupy the west.


Taking power by the Soviet government at the annexed territories passes in accordance with the rutine schematic – the provisional commities that take power from the local government are established and the popular milicia is formed from secret police agents and informants. The population is registered and all material possesions of greater value are confiscated. Next NKVD arrests „ uncertain elements“ – ex Polish government officials, army officers and professional soldiers, politiical activists, members of police force and landowners. They are sentenced to death as „enemies of the state“ or deported to the labor camps in Siberia. Mass deportations  start as early as winter of 1940. According to author Witold Pronobis („Poland and the World in the XX century”- Editions Spotkania, 1991) there were four major phases of deportations:

I deportation (February 1940 r) – 220 thousand people

II deportation ( April 1940 r) – 320 thousand people

III deportation (June/July 1940) – 240 thousand people

IV deportation  (June 1941 r.) – 300 thousand people


June 22 – Nazi Germany attacks it’s ally Soviet Union

July 12 – Soviet Union and Great Britain sign the ally treaty

July 30  – Poland signs with Soviet Russia an treaty ( Sikorski-Mayski pact) that reestablishes diplomatic ties between both countries. According to the pact a Polish army is to be established on Soviet territory and all Polish citizens, imprizoned or deported by Soviet authorities after September of 1939 are subject to the                 „amnesty”  and allowed to travel freely to Kazakhstan , where the military camps are formed for future Polish army

August 12 – USA and Great Britain sign Atlantic Declaration, vowing the war and cooperation until total victory over Nazi Germany.

September –  many other nations join the Atlantic Declaration – among them Soviet Union and Poland, starting worldwide anti-nazi international coallition

Autumn  – Polish army is being formed under lidership of General Anders. The families of soldiers join them at the camps under care of Polish Red Cross and governement-in-exile  agencies.


May 1942 –  German U –bots attack two Mexican ships in Gulf of Mexico. Mexico joins the allied forces  against the Axies States.

Spring and Summer – Polish army leaves Soviet territory as a result of international scandal, related to discovery by the Germans in Katyn forrest of remains of over 6000 Polish officers murdered by Soviets in 1940. Stalin breaks diplomatic relations with Polish government-in –exile and the army evacuates from  USSR to Iran to join the British forces in Africa. The soldiers are followed by thousands of civilians, including women and orphans.

In Teheran provisional camps are formed for the civilians who left Soviet Union. The climate and exhaustion from hunger and diseases takes it toll – thousands of  Polish citizens die on Iranian soil.

Later on the camps are opened in India where the refugees are transported by the British ships.

December – General Sikorski – Polish Prime minister pays a visit to the USA, where he tries to persuade president Roosevelt to support  his position on post-war Polish eastern frontier. Americans organize for him a short trip to Mexico

December 29th- General Sikorski and President Avila Camacho announce during a  press conference an agreement to accept on Mexican soil up to 5 thousand of ‘Polish refugees from Asia” . General Sikorski in the gesture of appreciation, decorates president Camacho with the highest Polish medal – Order of White Eagle.


Spring – representatives of Mexico, Great Britain and Polish Embassy sign an agreement about establishment in abondonded hacienda Santa Rosa near Leon, Guanajuato, of the refugee camp for Polish citizens. Choosing the place they consider mild climate close to this of Polish Tatra mountains and relative distance from the city, which is supposed to prevent fraternization of the Poles with local population.

According to Mexican historians Gloria Careño y Celia Zack de Zuckerman the pact was forced by Americans and British on Mexican government.

July 1st – the first transport of 704 Polish refugees arrives to Leon ( second transport of 728 people arrives on November 2nd). Due to unfinished renovations in the hacienda Poles are housed temporarly  in the local farm school – escuela granja and after a few weeks, arrive to colonia Santa Rosa which becomes their home for  next 4 years.

The colony is very well organized with financial help of American government  and Polish charity organizations in USA. An orphanage is opened in the old mill building and the compound houses a hospital, laundry facilities, bakery, theatre, pre-school, primary and secondary schools and administration.


February 23 –  Santa Rosa is visited by ex-Mexican President gen. Lazaro Cardenas

April 30– first school year graduation ceremony  ( students were tought 2-year programme within one school year to make up for time lost without schooling in Siberia)

November  – first democratic elections to the Civilian Court in Santa Rosa


February 10 –Miguel Aleman – head of Mexican Government and future president  pays a visit to the colony. He informes its habitants that the camp is not longer movement-restricted territory and they can start to process their documents to emigrate to other countries or to become Mexican residents.

April 23  – Polish and Mexican scouts exchange their official banners.

May  –Chester Mikołajczyk, as a representative of American government which is providing operating  funds for Santa Rosa becomes its administrator. New Polish communist government sends it’s new diplomatic personell to Mexico City and takes posession of the Embassy building. They demand that the camp to be  closed and all Polish citizens forcibly deported to Poland. Mexican government refuses such demands , giving refugees a free  choice about their own future.

September 17 –Manuel Avila Camacho – president of Mexico  visits hacienda Santa Rosa. He proposes to all Polish citizens to settle in his country.


July 1 – liquidation of the camp starts

December 20-30– last refugees leave Santa Rosa

Excerpts from the report of  A. Laudyn Chrzanowski from Polonia Council in Mexico –  A. Jacewicz „Santa Rosa”):

There was  the order from Polish embassy that if the refugees do not vacate the camp by December 31, they should be removed from there by force. At the end of the month the chaotic departures started, very often decisions were not well thought-through and made at spur of the moment. Our offices worked day and night to help the people with the paperwork and make them ready for the departure. Mexican officials issued to the refugees special immigration passports, which were giving them the right to work and live in any part of Mexico.

(…) During ast 10 days of December 730 refugees had to leave the premises of the camp, together with all possesions they acumulated in the last three and a half years. Most of them were women and children, but this was an order.”


May– a special orphanage for Polish orphans from Santa Rosa is opened  in Tlalpan, Mexico, DF. The children attend Mexican schools, but in the afternoons they have religion, Polish and history classes.


The orphanage in Tlalpan is liquidated and children are sent to the USA, where they are placed in Polish foster families and catholic orphanages.



Daniel Carlos de Burgoa, Anna Żarnecka Santos de Burgoa, Joanna Matias, Bogdan Matias (Wiercińcki), Sławomir Grunberg, Katka Reszke, Piotr Piwowarczyk. Taken after the arrival at the Mexico Airport by Manuel Zurita


Honorary Consul Wojciech Stebelski, Joanna Matias, Bogdan Matias/Wierciński – photo taken in the residence of Polish Ambassador in Mexico City by Manuel Zurita


Sławomir Grunberg, Katka Reszke, Joanna Matias, Ambassador  Anna Niewiadomska, Bogdan Matias, Piotr Piwowarczyk. Photo taken in Polish Embassy in Mexico by Manuel Zurita


Hanna Żarnecka, Bogdan Matias, Teresa Sokołowska. Photo taken in  Anna’s residence in Mexico City


Franciszka Pater, Teresa Sokołowska, Walentyna Grycuk ,Aleksandra Grzybowicz, Joanna Matias  and director– Sławomir Grunberg in the house of Franciszka’s daughter in  Leon , Guanajuato.


Don Juanito- as a child he used to play with Polish kids who lived in Santa Rosa Photo taken by Katka Reszke in colonia Santa Rosa


Bogdan Matias – a soccer coach who was born in Santa Rosa gives practical advise to the boys who live in the catholic orphanage housed since 1957 in the old hacienda . Photo by Katka Reszke


Czesław Sawko, Piotr Piwowarczyk, Sławomir Grünberg in Chicago/USA

  1. Historical resources :


  1. A.  Jacewicz  „ Santa Rosa „wydawnictwo londyńskie – Veritas , 1967 r.
  2. A. Jacewicz „Na obczyźnie” wydawnictwo londyńskie – Veritas , 1967 r.

Press articles:

  1. POLITYKA nr 9 (2848) 29.02/06.03.2012 – article by Piotr Piwowarczyk „Uchodźcy z Santa Rosa“
  2. Cosmopolitan Review – 2012 January – article by Piotr Piwowarczyk – „Santa Rosa : A Polish refugee in Mexico” –


Internet sites :


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