Story highlights

The Soviets invaded Poland in World War II and deported hundreds of thousands of people

Tomasz Lazar photographed some of these Poles and listened to their stories

CNN  — 

Their eyes reflect childhoods marked by tragedy. Their faces show wrinkles made deeper by pain and the passage of time.

Tomasz Lazar spent hours photographing and interviewing adults who were ripped from their homes as children in the 1940s and forced to live thousands of miles away in Siberia.

“For me those faces are like maps,” Lazar said. “The more you look at them, the more you are discovering.”

Soviet authorities invaded Poland during World War II and deported hundreds of thousands of Poles. Some were sent to prison camps in the frozen wilderness of central Russia. Many were children. In effect, Moscow stole much of an entire generation of young Poles, a handful of whom Lazar has located seven decades later.

During Lazar’s interviews, many of the survivors broke down in tears.

Photographer Tomasz Lazar

“It was very traumatic for them,” he said. “Some lost mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters – killed by the Soviets.”

Lazar remembers hearing 84-year-old Boguslaw Dokurno recall his grandfather’s dying wish.

Dokurno’s grandfather asked his grandson to return home to Poland after his death to retrieve Polish soil and bring it back to his Siberian gravesite.

Another exile, Sofia Bocian, told Lazar how her brother escaped their prison camp, leaving her with the horrifying experience of being interrogated by Soviet secret police.

Lazar began his professional photography career in 2006 after fully realizing the medium’s storytelling power.