Maria Quas de Penno nee Pryjomko

Maria was born in Chotow, near Nowogrodek, Poland on the estate of Polish Minister, Count Niezabytowski.

On February 10, 1940 the Soviet Union launched its first of four waves of mass deportations from the Soviet-occupied Polish territories. Maria was deported by the Soviets together with her parents, grandmother, two aunts, an uncle, her older brother and younger sister, to a labor camp in Wozyga, Wologda, Siberia.

In 1942, after two years of starvation and hardship, Maria and her family were allowed to leave following the German invasion of Russia. Maria and her family made their way to Kermine, Uzbekistan, where her father and uncle joined the Polish “Anders” Army and the rest of the family went from Krasnovodsk, (Turkmenistan) via Persia, Pakistan, and Kenya to a deportee camp in Masindi, Uganda where Maria attended Polish primary school. Her neighbor in Uganda was the budding painter Julian Stanczak.

After six years in Africa, Maria joined her father in England in 1948. There she attended the Ignacy Paderewski Polish boarding school for girls in Stowell Park and Diddington, and graduated from the coed Mikołaj Kopernik School in Lilford, where she passed both her English and Polish exams. Maria went on to study Pharmacy at Chelsea Polytechnic in London. After one year she married and later obtained a diploma from St. Martin's School of Art with a specialty in painting and a teacher's license from the University of London.

In 1961 she joined her husband in Lagos, Nigeria, where she worked for a British company and KLM Airlines until 1965 and travelled extensively with a stateless passport issued by the British.

In 1967 she obtained British citizenship. In 1968 she came to the United States for a two-week holiday and decided to stay after securing employment with the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC. Maria would also live in Panama, Zaire, and briefly Spain. Maria took early retirement from the IMF in 1998.

In 2006 Maria was awarded the Siberian Exiles Cross by the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczynski, presented by the Ambassador during a reception at Polish Embassy in Washington, DC.

In 2010 Maria was invited to tell her story at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School Honor Our Elders event.

On February 25, 2014 Maria was invited to speak at American University as a Siberian deportation survivor on the occasion of the screening of the film "The Way Back."

Maria also took part in a program relating to her Siberian experience at the University of Maryland.

Throughout her life Maria has been involved in numerous social and cultural activities. In England she was involved with Polish scouting and attended a leaders' training program in France. Shortly after arriving in the United States Maria joined the Polish-American Arts Association, where she served as Secretary, and later joined the Friends of the John Paul II Foundation where she served as Vice President and Secretary. After her retirement in 1998 Maria was active in the Polish American Congress Washington Metropolitan Division where she held the positions of Vice President and Delegate. Maria has been an active parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Poland Parish since 1977.

Maria has actively defended Poland’s good name in the American Press. In 2007 she wrote to the Washington Post about a slanderous book review by Susie Linfield. In 2009 she protested against the term “extermination camps in Poland” and received a response from the Associate Editor of the Washington Post. In 2013 she wrote to the Washington Post regarding an article by Richard Cohen.

I would like to express my deep gratitude and appreciation to the Polish American Congress for recognizing my contributions to defending and promoting the good name of Poland. My special thanks to President Susanne Lotarski, my mentor and friend, who inspires me with her devotion, dedication, organizational talents and kindness.

I am disheartened by the recent divisions within the organization between the members of the "old" Polonia and the post-Solidarity members. Personal ambitions and agendas seem to dominate. The long-established concern for Poland's freedom and good name via influence on the American Government should continue to guide us.

MAY GOD BLESS POLAND, our native land, and
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, our chosen home.

~Maria Quas de Penno