Personal Stories of Polish American Survivors

Personal StoriesFollowing my recent journey to Poland, we thought you may be interested in a segment of the heroic life stories of Mr. Marian Wojciechowski, the Polish veteran and American citizen with whom I travelled, as well as his beloved wife (now deceased), Wladyslawa Poniecka Wojciechowski.

Both were naturalized citizens of the United States following World War II. We knew them well in Toledo, as they made their home in our community for over 50 years. They contributed generously to our way of life. He is now 95 years of age and resides in Nevada with his extended family.

The September 1, 2009 commemoration at Gdansk of the start of World War II reminds us of the precious gift of freedom all of us have enjoyed our entire lives. For other people, life was not so blessed. Mr. Wojciechowski, who held a Master’s degree in economics from Warsaw University, and spoke several languages, began his adult life as an officer in the renowned Polish mounted Cavalry, as he fulfilled his duty of military service to his nation. He served in the decorated 21st Wolynska Brigade.

Personal StoriesHe fought against the Nazi tank and the mechanized unit invasion of his homeland at Mokra near the Czech border, beginning September 1, 1939. Fighting was fierce as the Nazi artillery fired into his unit, starting at 3 a.m., outdistancing the Polish equipment. Polish supply lines proved inadequate as the Nazi Luftwaffe fired on Polish civilians and the military. His Cavalry unit lost over half of its soldiers. It scored a strategic victory at Mokra as it ambushed Nazi tanks with an armored train camouflaged in the forest. Overall, the Cavalry on the western front lost up to 75% of its soldiers. Three weeks later, repositioned, he faced off against the Communist Red Army that invaded on September 17, 1939 on the eastern front.  He was wounded with a bullet to the head. Poland was expecting France and England to come to its aid, but, sadly, that never happened.

Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. It suffered a higher percentage of loss of its population –20%-- than any nation that fought against these two barbaric enemies.  Polish cities like Warsaw were bombed to the ground as the Poles refused to surrender. Other capitals like Prague remained intact as their governments surrendered. Inside Poland during the war, at least 6 million citizens died—3 million Polish Christians, and 3 million Jewish Poles that represented 90% of Poland’s Jewish population. Poland had the largest Jewish population of any nation in Europe.

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For his valor in combat as platoon captain, Mr. Wojciechowski and his colleagues were awarded Poland’s highest military medal, the Virtuti Militari. On our recent journey, the nation elevated his rank to lieutenant.

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Subsequent to combat, then Captain Wojciechowski moved into the Underground Resistance, surviving on the run there for two years. The Underground worked closely with Polish and British intelligence in London to dismantle the Nazi war machine.

It was in Poland that the Nazi communication code was broken and served to end the war. There is a memorial in Poznan that commemorates this achievement and several movies and books describe “the enigma of the broken code.” Mr. Wojciechowski was apprehended by the Gestapo as a result of an error made by a Polish colleague who was a member of the Underground in Germany. She wrote letters that were opened by the Gestapo and the intended recipients were tracked down. He was among them. She was beheaded by the Nazis and he was tortured severely at random.

After apprehension, Mr. Wojciechowski was imprisoned at three concentration camps – Auschwitz, Gros Rosen, and Leitmeritz. He was brutally beaten, tortured, contracted typhus, and subjected to subhuman conditions.

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To read more about Mr. Wojciechowski’s life, please see the enclosed documents: "Forgotten Survivors"(PDF) and “Seven Roads to Freedom”(PDF)

Mr. Wojciechowski survived 3 concentration camps and married his wife Wladyslawa

Marian’s wife, whom he married after the war, was sent to two prisons, one in Warsaw and then transferred to Ravensbruk the infamous concentration camp in Germany at which Hitler conducted sadistic experiments on women. She suffered greatly. Further, she was the leader of the Girl Scouts in the camp, a most dangerous role that was akin to spiritual leader, and lent moral and survival support to the prisoners.

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To read more about Wladyslava’s experience, please see the enclosed document: “Five Days of Holocaust: Terror, Violation, Sadism and Treacherous Nazi Hatred from May 1962” (PDF)

Both these incredible human beings experienced all of this before they were 35 years of age. They survived. They bore their war wounds their entire lives. They became citizens of extraordinary measure, doing all they could to help others. They never forgot their homeland. They were sources of strength and joy to all who knew them. They did not begin to speak of these horrors, until 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. I have been privileged to witness their historical journey.

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As you think about your life, be grateful. Be more grateful for human beings like this, who carry the flame of liberty deep in their souls, despite war and repression and politics. Know its true value.