Monday, 14 June 2021

Rotary Club of Henley Bridge

FORMER Henley mayor and club member Stefan Gawrysiak a gave a heartfelt account of his Polish

FORMER Henley mayor and club member Stefan Gawrysiak a gave a heartfelt account of his Polish father’s experiences as a prisoner of war in the Second World War at last week’s meeting with partners and guests at Badgemore Park Golf Club. Mr Gawrysiak said his father, Jozef, never mentioned the war until 35 years after it ended. His son then wrote down his reminiscences, producing a valuable first-person report.

Jozef enlisted to do Polish National Service in 1938. When war broke out his group found themselves encircled by Nazi tanks near the Prussian border.

Jozef volunteered to break through the German lines and succeeded at first but was later taken prisoner and forced on long marches through Poland. Captives had no food and drank rain to survive. The Nazis sent Polish POWs to Germany by a route that involved a combination of marching and train travel. To pass the time in cattle trucks they organised races between the lice from their bodies.

Jozef was taken to do forced labour on a farm near Dortmund for four years. The farmer was harsh and demanding but his wife at least fed the POWs.

Later in the war Jozef was moved to a farm near Bonn where the farmer was not a fan of Hitler. They could discuss politics since Jozef spoke seven languages, including German.

In 1944 the Americans broke through the Siegfried Line and on into Germany. Jozef and five friends hid in a haystack with only beetroot to eat. They soon realised they were in the middle of a firefight.

Once again Jozef managed to survive to join the 2nd Polish Corps under General Anders. The Corps moved all over Europe and were in Italy when Bologna fell on April 21, 1945.

Jozef realised that Poland would not be free after the war and decided to settle in England. He married an English woman with whom he had four children and was always very happy with his new life.

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