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Archive for Monday, November 6, 2006

Resident recalls role in Polish resistance

At only 15, he organized 100-member unit to fight Germans

November 6, 2006

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Jaroslaw "Jarek" Piekalkiewicz and his cousin started a Polish resistance unit to fight the Germans during World War II. Now a Lawrence resident, Piekalkiewicz will speak Nov. 16-19 at the International Conference on World War II at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Jaroslaw "Jarek" Piekalkiewicz and his cousin started a Polish resistance unit to fight the Germans during World War II. Now a Lawrence resident, Piekalkiewicz will speak Nov. 16-19 at the International Conference on World War II at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

At the age of 15, Jaroslaw "Jarek" Piekalkiewicz and his cousin started a Polish resistance unit during World War II. It grew to include 100 members.

"I was commander in chief," said Piekalkiewicz, now an 80-year-old Lawrence resident. "We mostly focused on training and gathering weapons."

The Germans invaded Poland in September 1939 and defeated the Polish army in three weeks. At the time, Piekalkiewicz was placed in a school where he was in training to be a secretary. When five Germans entered his classroom one day, Piekalkiewicz thought they were coming to arrest him.

Piekalkiewicz said he ran across the room, dashing from desktop to desktop until he jumped out of a window.

"I nearly jumped on top of a policeman," Piekalkiewicz said. "He was so surprised. Then I ran."

Despite being shot at, Piekalkiewicz escaped into the country and eventually made his way to Warsaw. He later found out that the Germans had gone to his classroom not necessarily looking for him but to round up some slave labor.

As a young man, Jaroslaw "Jarek" Piekalkiewicz, center in above photo, was involved in the Polish resistance of the Germans during World War II and earned several medals. He organized a resistance unit with his cousin to gather weapons and train fighters when he was only 15 years old and became the group's commander in chief.

As a young man, Jaroslaw "Jarek" Piekalkiewicz, center in above photo, was involved in the Polish resistance of the Germans during World War II and earned several medals. He organized a resistance unit with his cousin to gather weapons and train fighters when he was only 15 years old and became the group's commander in chief.

While in Warsaw, Piekalkiewicz and other resistance members fought the Germans in street-by-street battles during the summer 1944 uprising. The Russian army had neared the city, and the resistance fighters hoped to hold out until it arrived. The Russians never came, and the resistance folded.

"We ran out of ammunition and food," Piekalkiewicz said.

Piekalkiewicz became a prisoner. He and other prisoners were taken on a forced march into Germany. He tried to escape three times. Successful on the third try, he ended up working on farms until he was liberated by the Americans.

After the war, Piekalkiewicz eventually made his way to the United States and to Lawrence. He was a political science professor at Kansas University from 1963 until he retired in 2000.

Many of Piekalkiewicz's relatives also fought with the resistance. His father was one of its leaders and was tortured to death by the Germans. His mother, a lieutenant in the resistance, was captured and executed.

Sometimes the war memories still bother him.

"I am a different person," he said. "I think many of the veterans, when they talk about the war, especially if they were in hard fighting, it's like something that happened to somebody else, not to them."

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