MENTION the name “Old Anna” to Bradford folk, and you’ll get a lively response.

So it was with our recent feature on the woman also known as “Polish Anna” and “Russian Anna” who settled in Bradford as a Displaced Person after the Second World War and became a well known character. In her woolly hat and over-sized jacket, with badges pinned onto it, Anna was well known to traders and customers in Bradford’s markets, singing in her distinctive deep voice.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Anna, left, as many people remember her, in her trademark jacket

Anna was thought to be from Eastern Europe, and there were rumours that she had been in a concentration camp during the war.

Last month we featured a series of photographs found near Anna’s house in 1985 which provide glimpses of her younger life in her rural homeland and her early days in Bradford. The photographs prompted a flood of memories from T&A readers of Aneila Torba - the woman they knew as Anna.

Read our original feature on Anna here 

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Anna, fifth from left, at a Christening

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Anna, second from left, thought to be with co-workers in Bradford

Dr Christian Freitag, who got in touch from Germany, says our article led him to research Anna, shedding light on her early life: “Your article brought back memories of the years I spent in Bradford. From 1978 to 1980 I lived in Cunliffe Terrace near Lister Park and taught at the University’s Modern Languages Centre in Wardley House.

"Like so many people in Bradford I remember ‘Old Anna’ very well: before you saw her in John Street Market (one of her favourite haunts) you heard her, often shouting at the top of her voice in a strange language.

“To stress her point, she often waved her walking stick or banged it on the counter. I never found out her real name, where she came from, why she behaved the way she did.

"The T&A article prompted me to do research. I checked archives of the International Center on Nazi Prosecution in Arolsen, Germany and found documents that shed light on Anna’s life.

"According to these files she was born Aniela Torba on May 5 1909 in the village of Domostawa, south east Poland. Her father Franciszek and mother Weronika owned a farm. Aniela grew up there.

“In 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, Domostawa became part of the newly-formed ‘Generalgouvernement’ under strict German rule. In 1943 special Wehrmacht and SS units moved into the area to fight the growing Polish resistance movement which had a stronghold in woodlands there.

"Under the codename ‘Operation Wehrwolf’ the Germans shot and killed many hundreds of men, women and children, burning down villages and farmhouses, deporting thousands of Polish and Jewish people either to extermination camps or to Germany to do forced labour.

"It is very likely that Aniela experienced (or at least had a knowledge of) these massacres in which several of her relatives were murdered. She must have been one of the ‘lucky’ ones not shot on the spot, but sent to Germany as slave labourers: a file card from the Arolsen Archives tells us that in early 1944 Aniela (or Amelie, as she was called in Germany) worked as a farmhand on a big estate north west of Hamburg.

"In the summer she was transferred to Luebeck, a port on the Baltic Sea, to work in a factory producing weapons for the German war effort. It was this company that issued Amalie’s identity card pictured in the T&A.

"Aniela was, together with over 200 Poles and Latvians, put in a camp for forced labourers. Documents reveal the living and working conditions must have been appalling.

“On May 2, 1945 British troops occupied Luebeck. Aniela was freed and registered as a displaced person (DP). In a questionnaire she stated she was of Catholic faith, her profession was ‘prac. rolna’ (farmworker), she spoke Polish as her mother tongue, and some Latvian and Russian, and she possessed 1,300 German marks, a near worthless amount of money in those days.

"As her ‘desired destination’ she specified Lodz, a large textile town in Central Poland. Returning to Domostawa was no option because the area was terrorised by gangs of uprooted people and militias.

"According to the Luebeck files, Aniela stayed in the DP camp until May 1948. She must have changed her mind regarding her ‘desired destination’: on May 7, 1948, she finally got permission to travel to England.

"Perhaps she arrived in Bradford because she had friends in the large Polish community there? Perhaps she hoped to find a job in the textile industry? Her reasons, like so many other aspects of her life, remain a mystery.

“Had we, back then, only known more about Anna‘s sad past! We would have understood better why she behaved the way she did - often moody and emotional and peculiar. Rest in peace in Bradford, Anna.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Anna in Bradford

David Stephenson got in touch to say he’s trying to contact members of Anna’s family: “People with her surname still live in the same little village she came from, as per her German worker’s ID card.”

Thank you to everyone who has shared memories of Anna. Here are some of them:

Andy Parratt: “She was a wonderful character, teased by some kids and we dare not go too close to her as she was adept at wielding that rubber bottomed walking stick.”

Barbara Howerska, who wrote a poem called Polish Anna and performed it in city venues such as the Oastler Market, says: “My parents knew Anna because they all lived at Greenbanks, a Displaced Person’s hostel in Horsforth, after the war. My father was Polish and came to England in 1947. He met my mother, who came from Ireland, at Greenbanks. My mum told me about Anna when I was a teenager, as we’d see her in the markets. At the hostel, Anna told her terrible things about what the Germans did to her.”

Garth Durkin: “I worked in the fruit and veg market on Saturdays while at school. Anna was a regular feature up and down the aisles, moving with her stick rotten fruit, lettuce leaves or the odd cauliflower that rolled from the stalls. I worked for the Gibson stalls, I think Senior Mr Gibson was a little afraid of Anna as he’d always let her pick fruit and eat it.

“She seemed so immense in statute and she’d tap me on the ankle with her stick as I filled up the stalls. This was her signal for me to move away. There were many tales about her spoken by the market traders. Some said she had been ‘an experiment that had gone wrong’ in a concentration camp and that she was half man, half woman.

“She was an immense character, part of Bradford folklore. I’m sure she was greatly missed wandering around the markets after she passed away.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: John Street Market in 1957. Anna was a regular presence there

Pauline Brook: “When I got married I lived in a back-to-back house and Anna used to spend the night in our outside toilet. I used to give her cups of tea in the morning.”

Maureen Whiteley: “My mum worked with Anna at Joseph Dawson’s. She said she’d escaped from a German camp by laying under dead bodies. I used to love seeing Big Anna in town. Mum told me the men at Dawson’s were scared of her.”

Paul Donnelly: “I remember being told, although she could sometimes cause havoc for the market stallholders, it was they who had the kindness to see her off properly and paid for her funeral and headstone.”