Lottie F. Andruscavage, 90, of Sunshine Drive, Tomahawk, passed away Monday, October 25, 2021 at St. Mary Hospital in Rhinelander.
Lottie was born March 4, 1931 in Poland to Joseph and Francis Tokarska. She was united in marriage on October 13, 1951 in Milwaukee to John B. Andruscavage, he passed away in 2005. Lottie was a faithful member of Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Rhinelander.
Surviving Lottie is her son, Thomas (Leslie Ashford) Andruscavage, Hartford, WI; Two grandsons, Matthew T. (Amanda) Andruscavage, Caledonia and John W. (Julie) Andruscavage, Hazelhurst. She is further survived by three great grandchildren, Audrey, Chloe, and James and her companion, Paul Haftarski of Rhinelander. She was preceded in death by her husband, John and a daughter, Debbie Roering.
Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Monday, November 1, 2021, 11:00 a.m. at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Rhinelander. The family will receive friends at the church Monday morning from 10:00 a.m. until the time of Mass at 11. Lottie will be buried next to her husband John in the Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Union Grove, Wisconsin. Krueger Family Funeral Home is assisting the family. You may view the obituary and share online condolences at kruegerfamilyfuneral.com
The following is a more detailed account of Lottie's life in Poland after World War II broke out and her subsequent journey to America.
My Story: Wladyslawa Wladzia Tokarska – Lottie Andruscavage
Born: March 4, 1931 in Polotnica, Poland
Father: Joseph Tokarski
Mother: Frances Tokarska
Siblings: Joseph, Francis, Henry, Theodore and one sister, Polly
They buried seven members of my family one by one in massive graves and I do not know where. Only I survived to witness and to re-tell this story of deep personal tragedy – a story I have not written about until now.
My family was a loving family. We lived in the eastern part of Poland where there was no corruption or crime, at least none that I knew of. My mother came from a family of 13 children. They lived in Poznian, close to the German border. We lived in Polotnica which was close to a town called Slonim, about 40 kilometers from the Russian border. We also had a home in Slonim.
My dad’s brother, Frank, had a farm next to ours in Polotnica. He was moving closer to his parents during the time when the war was going on. To help our uncle, my mother was watching my cousin, Geneveve. On February 10, 1940 our family of eight and my cousin were deported to Siberia, the same as happened to 100,000 other families. Very early that morning when it was still dark outside, Russian soldiers came to our home. They gave us 15 minutes to get ready and said we had to leave very quickly because “the war will be fought here. Don’t take much with you,” they told us, “because you will return in three days. Before you leave, give us all of your guns and ammunition.”
Dad said he didn’t have any guns but I knew he had buried them a few days before behind the shed. I saw him do it. They said they would kill my dad if we didn’t surrender the guns but we didn’t own up to it. My mother was baking the bread as she did every Saturday. She had to leave the bread in the oven. We took some crackers and a little fruit. They wouldn’t let us take anything else – only the clothes on our backs. It was very cold.
The Russians brought two big sleds for all of us. Mom laid one down quilt on the bottom of each for us to lay down and the other quilt to cover us up. Then we were taken to a cattle train. We traveled on the train to Leningrad, stopping a few times for our personal needs and to eat some snow because we needed water and there was none to drink. In Leningrad at the railroad station we were sleeping on the floor, waiting for the train to arrive. When the train arrived, everybody got up and started to board it. There was a lot of pushing. I ran after my mother and fell on a dead man. He was so very cold. What a terrible feeling! One young girl tried to get on the train which, by then, was already moving. She fell under the train and the wheels cut her leg off. The Russians picked her up and threw her on the truck with all the dead people that they picked up in the railroad station and outside. We all cried but could do nothing while she was screaming and asking for help.
The boxcar was filled to capacity – standing room only. There was a potbelly stove in the middle of the car. There were no bathrooms, only a hole on the floor in the corner. There was also some straw by the door that people used when they needed to urinate. Sometimes the train would stop so people could relieve themselves outside and eat some snow along the railroad tracks. Then they would give us some dry bread to eat. My little brother, Theodore, was only a few months old. Mom had trouble nursing him as she didn’t eat anything and she didn’t have any milk to give him. I know that the train took us north through Vologda, all the way to the station in Porog. We were given one sled pulled by two horses. My brother, Joseph, and my dad had to walk behind the sled, each taking turns walking. The Russians said it was too much for the horses to pull. We were completely covered, head to toe. Joseph looked in the back of the sled and said he couldn’t see dad. The soldiers turned back and found dad lying on the road, half frozen. Mom brought dad back to life by rubbing his body and lying next to him to keep him warm.
We stopped at the first village and the soldiers left us with a Russian family overnight. The family had a community bed. They put some blankets on it for us to sleep on and, when the Russian lady left, mom told us to kneel and thank God for dad’s life. While we were praying the Russian lady returned and saw us praying. Mom was terrified that in the morning we would all be executed. Prayers were forbidden. The woman, after watching us pray, motioned for us to follow her. We followed her downstairs where she opened the curtain behind the steps. There was a little altar with a statue of Jesus. She made the sign of he cross, smiled, and then led us back to bed. We knew then that no harm would come to us from her.
In the morning, we continued our journey to the concentration camp. The camp was in the forest. 500 of us were counted out to stay here at the camp, Kubelo. If the children were in the middle of the counting process, they were separated from their parents and put into an orphanage. We were all kept together. They put six families into one big room. We got one bunk bed where we slept four on the top board and four on the bottom. There was a dirt floor and a big clay stove for heating the room. We had to get wood from the forest.
Our address in Siberia was:
Dad didn’t stay with us for long because he had to work on the river as soon as the ice melted, watching logs so they would drift freely down the river to designated towns. Children had to go to school. For supper, during the summer months, we had some soup made from weeds and some dry bread. We always prayed before meals. My little brother Henry said, “Mom, we should pray to Stalin because he is God. That way we will get candy as they do in school.” Candy was dropped from the classroom ceiling to the children. Mom was very angry and she told him never to believe such a thing. The next morning, she didn’t let us go to school. The Russian soldiers came and wanted to know why we were not in school. She told them that we were her children and she will teach us what we should believe. She was responsible for us and that included what we believed and the way we would turn out to be. They told her she would see how well all eight of us would do, living on one loaf of bread for three days. We were able to get water from the river. We were able to pick some berries, wild mushrooms and weeds for soup. Sometimes we would get potato peelings from the garbage cans next to the kitchen used by the Russian guards.
On some occasions, the men were able to steal horses from the Russian soldiers and kill them for meat. They then dropped the bones and skins in quicksand. Sometimes dogs were taken for food and we caught some fish from the river.
During the first summer, my youngest brother, Theodore, died at night in his sleep. When mom went to check on him his eyes were eaten out by the rats. They were constant companions besides the red bed bugs that were in the boards on which we were trying to get some sleep. To kill the bugs, we boiled water and poured it over the boards.
Not long after this, my brother Frank died. We were not allowed to see him buried. Every morning and evening the trucks would come around and pick up all the dead people, put them onto the truck and dump them into a mass grave. My sister, Polly, died soon thereafter and she received the same kind of funeral. At this time, dad didn’t know that he had already lost three of his children. He was someplace watching the logs go down the river.
The bathroom situation was unspeakable. They dug a big hole and put a roof over it. It had some wide boards running over the hole. You had to be careful that you didn’t fall in when you had to use this bathroom.
All of this was very hard on my mother. She had already lost three of her children and didn’t know into what hole their bodies had been dumped. One afternoon, some men brought dad back. He was very sick and had fallen into a half frozen river. Only with God’s help did he survive. Mom was hoping that this time he would be allowed to work in the forest cutting the trees like some other men did. This way we all could see him sometimes. But there was no such luck. Soon he was feeling better and again had to leave.
Mom didn’t tell dad how sick she was. When dad left for work, she called Joseph and me to show us how badly swollen her legs were. She said that when the swelling reaches her heart, then she would die to join Theodor, Frank and Polly “who are in heaven where they are happy and are hungry no more.” She told us we should never stop believing in God, no matter what the Russians will do and that we would be together again soon. Because mom was so sick, Joseph, myself, and Geneveve had to wash in the frozen river after Joseph cut a hole in the ice. Joseph picked some branches for firewood. Geneveve and I washed the clothes.
When General Sikorski arranged for our freedom to leave Russia, we had no money to pay for our transportation on sleds to the train station at Parog. In January 1942, we left Compound Kubelo for Parog. We were stopping at different villages so my dad could make some shoes for the villagers to get some money so we could keep going further and further toward Parog.
When we arrived at Parog, Geneveve was taken from us and was sent to Poland to her family. I don’t know if she ever made it. We never found out if she arrived. On the train, we were all very sick. Mom, dad and Henry were sicker than Joseph and myself. Henry was the first to die on the train. When the train stopped, his body was taken from the train and put on the truck with the rest of the dead who were picked up before him. I don’t know where he was buried. I don’t even know the name of the Russian town in which he was buried. As our train journey continued, the Russians eventually stopped the train in a wooded area and the engines pulled away, leaving all of us locked inside. The train engines were gone for two days. Meanwhile, inside the train two men chopped a hole through the door and got outside. The doors were wired shut from the outside and the men who broke through the door, started cutting the wires and helping people to get outside the train so we could get some snow to eat as we had no water inside the train.
Next, two Polish engineers who were part of our group, walked the tracks towards the next town (name of town unknown). Three days later, they returned with a locomotive that they connected to our train and drove the train back to that town where we abandoned the train and boarded a different train bound for Vologda.
When we arrived in Vologda, the train was to stand there for three days and three nights. Joseph said to mom and dad, “I will go to try to buy some medicines for us and try to get some food.” Dad told him to take the passport with him because there might be a need for it. Joseph said, “No, because you might need it,” adding that he would be back.
That day the train was pretty empty because many people were left trying to buy something, mainly food. The train started to move the same evening. I never saw Joseph again. Dad and mom died within two weeks of each other. Right after we left Vologda, dad died and was taken from the train and put on the truck for mass burial. Two weeks later, my mom died.
I was taken from the train and put into a Russian orphanage. The Russian children were very mean to me. I cried every night, hoping to find Joseph somehow and tell him not to look for mom and dad because they were already gone. I felt very lonely, crying often and praying to God to take me to join my family. Only my thoughts of finding Joseph gave me some strength.
In the Russian orphanage, Russian boys were climbing over the eight-foot concrete fence a few times a week to get on the other side and steal apples from the orchards. One time when they were getting ready to go over the wall I asked them if I could go with them over the wall. They said, “No way!” I then told them that I would tell on them and that I had seen them with their shirts filled with apples each time they came back. They said they would kill me. I said I didn’t care because I didn’t want to live anyway but they would have to explain what happened to me. They decided to take me over the wall but when we got to the other side I had to walk opposite from them.
Walking on the dirt road, I spotted a man walking toward me. He looked at the orphanage behind me and said, in Russian, “So, you are running away, huh?” I said, “What is it to you? And furthermore, you speak lousy Russian.” He explained, “That’s because I am not Russian.” I said, “Neither am I.” He said he was a Polish soldier. I told him I was a Polish orphan who had lost my entire family and did not want to live as a Russian.
Then he said there was a way for me to leave Russia if, from this day forward, I would consider him as my uncle. “They are forming a Polish army,” he continued, “and the children that are soldiers’ relatives will be put in a Polish orphanage and will leave Russia on the train with the soldiers.” I was very happy and said, “Yes!”
He took me with him to meet the soldiers. There were 125 soldiers. Each of them put in one ruble and they gave me 125 rubles and put me in the Polish orphanage with the rest of the Polish children. The orphanage and soldiers left on the train headed for Lenin-Dzol where we were to join more orphans and Polish soldiers. I was watching the scenery as the train was heading toward our freedom. Seated next to me was a mute boy who noticed a train coming toward us from the other side. He started to point at it but because he wasn’t able to speak, no one was paying any attention to him. We were on a very high bridge. Only the locomotive and five cars crossed it and the other train hit the fourth car which was full of soldiers. I only remember lying on the ground under the shade tree. I was told the mute boy carried me there because, where we fell, cars were still falling. Four car wheels fell where I had been and I would have been crushed to death. I saw bodies covered up with white sheets.
The Russians from our train executed the conductor from the other train right in front of everybody. We had to wait a few weeks before the bridge and the tracks were fixed. They also had to get another train so we could continue to Lenin-Dzol. After we joined the rest of the orphans, I wanted to see the soldier who was to be my uncle. They said, “We have some bad news to tell you. Your uncle was killed in that accident. He was in the fourth car that was hit.” The whole train toppled over into the dry riverbed under the bridge.
We next traveled by train to Krasnovodsk and from there we took a ship called “Zhdanor” which took us to Pahlevi through the Caspian Sea. Here in Pahlevi, we received plenty to eat. We got blankets to put onto the sand and rest. After breakfast, we had showers and had our hair shaved off. We also got clean clothes. I was taken back to the hospital because I had typhoid fever and dysentery. But, with God’s grace, I recovered. Many did not and were buried in Pahlevi.
Next, we boarded trucks that took us through the Elbrus mountains. The roads were very narrow. One truck in front of us, full of people, rolled down the slope and no one was saved. We made it to Tehran where we spent the Christmas of 1942. After that we went on to India through the Persian Gulf, Straits of Oman to Karachi, India (Pakistan today). We stayed at Camp Malir for a few months. We also stopped in Bombay where the Polish ship Batory was anchored. Polish sailors came to visit us and we got a lot of candy!
In Bombay, we boarded the USS Hermitage and sailed through the Arabian Sea into the Indian Ocean. We stopped in Australia at the port in Melbourne. After stocking up on fuel, vegetables and fruit, we sailed through the Pacific Ocean. Our next stop was the Society Islands at Bora Bora before going on to San Pedro, California. Army trucks took us to Santa Anna where we were under close watch. After five days, we left by bus to the train station at San Pedro where we boarded a train to El Paso, Texas on the Mexican border.
Here we crossed the border on foot after going through customs. On the afternoon of October 31, 1943 we boarded a Mexican train and crossed the Siera Madre mountains. On November 2, 1943 we arrived in Leon, Guanajuato State. Busses took us to Colonia Santa Rosa. There were 265 children. Life was good in Colonial Santa Rosa where we continued our education under the good care of our teachers. In May 1946, we left Mexico for the trip to the USA, arriving at the Felician nuns’ convent in Chicago on May 12, 1946. Two weeks after that, I came to St. Joseph’s orphanage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
I spent three years at the orphanage (which has since been demolished) until 1949 when I was able to live with Dr. and Mrs. Walter L. Krygier. They had arranged with the orphanage to take me in. I was then able to finish high school at Pius XI High in Milwaukee, graduating in 1951.
That same year, my life took a wonderful turn when I met John Bernard Andruscavage at a dance at the Eagles Club, a popular spot along Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. John was a carpenter who came to Wisconsin from Pennsylvania. After a brief courtship, we were married in October, 1951. We had our first child two years later. Our son, Thomas John Andruscavage, was born in Milwaukee on March 13, 1953. That same year, we were able to build and buy our first home in Menomonee Falls, a small rural village northwest of Milwaukee. John built the house and we lived there until 1984. Our daughter, Debra Lynn Andruscavage, was born in Milwaukee on June 24, 1965.
We enjoyed many wonderful years together as a family, especially during our summer vacations. We traveled across the country to places like Yellowstone, Glacier and Yosemite national parks. Each summer we’d also travel to the Eagle River area of northern Wisconsin to enjoy camping, hiking, fishing and many other outdoor activities. We always wanted to do things with our children when they were small. John was a great father, spending a lot of time with the kids whether it be playing ball with them, taking them to movies, or just going for a walk. We also traveled each year for many years to Pennsylvania to visit with John’s parents until his mother died in 1965.
While we lived in Menomonee Falls, Tom attended St. Mary’s Catholic grade school and then Thomas Jefferson school for the eighth grade. After graduating from Menomonee Falls East High School in 1971, Tom earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1975. He went on to a 25-year career as a radio and television news reporter, primarily at WISN-TV in Milwaukee. Today, he owns his own communications consulting business, Andrews Media Ventures, in which he provides numerous services including public relations counsel, video/DVD production, and writing for corporate print publications and web sites. He is also a sports feature writer for Packer Report and the Green Bay Packer Yearbook, both official publications of the National Football League team.
Tom is currently married to the former Leslie Ann Ashford of Manitowoc, Wisconsin and they reside in Hartford, Wisconsin. He has two sons by a previous marriage, Matthew Thomas (born June 1, 1977 in Neenah, Wisconsin) and John William (born November 24, 1980 in Spokane, Washington). Matthew and his wife, Amanda, live in Racine, Wisconsin and have a daughter, Audrey. John and his wife, Julie, live in New Berlin, Wisconsin. Leslie was also previously married and her daughter, Heidi, was born May 30, 1973. Heidi and her husband, Paolo Acosta, live in Fort Stewart, Georgia and have four children: Nyna, Xavier, Mia and Elijah.
Our daughter, Debbie, also attended St. Mary’s grade school and Menomonee Falls High School, where she graduated in 1983. After graduation, she began work as a medical underwriter for a local insurance company. While working, she continued her education and received an Associates Degree in Emergency Medicine and became a nationally registered EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). In 1993, she met Bard C. Roering who was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and moved to Wisconsin with his family as a child. Debbie and Bard were married April 1, 1995 and lived in Milwaukee. Debbie passed away on August 29, 2015.
In December of 1984, John and I moved from Menomonee Falls to the Springdale Estates in Pewaukee, Wisconsin (30 miles west of Milwaukee). Then, in 1990, we moved to our home in Tomahawk in north central Wisconsin. We lived at 8945 Sunshine Drive on small but beautiful Oscar Jenny Lake. John and I both loved the north woods. He fished, hunted Both of us cherished visits from our Tom and Leslie, Debbie and Bard and our grandsons and their wives. John passed away on January 28, 2005.
To me, family is everything. Though I can never forget the family I lost in the war, I thank God every day for the family I have in the United States today.