Yesterday the Poland First to Fight Historical-Cultural Association announced the death of 92-year-old Jerzy Radlowski Nowak, a Polish veteran of World War II.
A Catholic of Jewish ancestry in German-occupied Poland
Jerzy was born in Kraków in 1927 to a Catholic family, a faith he professed throughout his life. Of Jewish ancestry (his mother had converted to Catholicism), Jerzy was the youngest of the family (he had three older sisters: Zofia, Irena, and Halina). He was 12 years old when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. He fled his hometown with his sister Irena, but when the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland began, they returned to Krakow. His father, who had belonged to the Polish Legions in World War I, was detained by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz, from where he managed to return home, at the end of the war, walking in his striped pajamas and never inadvertently tell nothing of what he had lived there.
In 1942, through his brother-in-law Stanisław, Jerzy joined the Armia Krajowa (AK, Home Army), the main organization of the Polish resistance. In 1944 he was arrested by the SS in the Borek Fałęcki neighborhood in Kraków. At first he thought he was going to be shot, but he was sent to a forced labor camp on the outskirts of the city. Shortly after, he was sent to work at a gas plant, from which he managed to flee thanks to the help of the AK.
The exile and his enlistment in General Maczek’s Division
The AK sent him to Stanisławów, where his sister Zofia lived. Later he went to Warsaw with a false name, working in the reconstruction of the city with a group of Yugoslavs. In 1947 he left Poland, reaching the German city of Haren, next to the Belgian border, a town called Maczków by the Polish soldiers who settled there at the end of the war, and who formed almost a Polish enclave there along with thousands of former Polish prisoners released from German camps. There Jerzy joined the 1st Armored Division of General Stanisław Maczek. Under pressure from the new Polish Communist government, Maczek’s Division was sent to France, where its soldiers were licensed. Many of them were stripped of their nationality by the Polish Communist Government, so most had to go into exile.
His arrival in Spain and an absurd confusion that led to prison
Jerzy stayed in Toulouse, France, with two friends, until one day they encountered a communist demonstration carrying portraits of Lenin and Stalin. Frightened, after the terrible experience they had with the communists, they decided to move to Spain. His first contact with Spaniards had been with members of the Blue Division in Poland, a unit of German Army volunteers who was known for their good treatment of Poles. When they arrived in Spain, they ran into a Civil Guard patrol: “They greeted us kindly and indicated with their hands that we could cross the river. We did so and when we arrived, they invited us with wine and omelette.”
The Spanish Police accompanied them by train to San Sebastián. During the trip there was absurd confusion: very happy for the good reception, Jerzy and his Polish friends began to sing a Polish song from the Siege of Monte Cassino, “Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino” (The red poppies of Monte Cassino). Hearing the word “maki” (poppies, in Polish), the police believed they were communist guerrillas from the Maquis, so they ended up in Ondarreta prison, then the Vitoria prison and finally in a labor camp in Nanclares de la Oca. They achieved freedom thanks to the mediation of the Polish Embassy in Madrid, faithful to the Polish Government in exile.
Marino, translator, actor and poet
The following year, back in France, Jerzy embarked as a merchant seaman, traveling the world. In 1951 he returned to Spain, settling definitively in our country in the early 1960s and meeting his wife, Pilar Toribio, in 1961. He worked as an interpreter for the Civil Guard, in hotels, on television and in the cinema, participating as an actor in various films, among them “Doctor Zhivago”, “Krakatoa, East of Java”, “Battle of the Bulge” and “Spartacus”. He also devoted himself to poetry.
Decorated with the Order of Polonia Restituta
In the 1980s Jerzy and his wife helped Polish exiles who fled their Homeland due to the imposition of Martial Law by the communist regime. In 2015 Jerzy received the Order of Polonia Restituta, one of the highest medals in Poland, during a ceremony that took place at the Polish Embassy in Madrid. Jerzy was a very active person in the Polish colony in Spain, and was an honorary member of the Poland First to Fight Historical-Cultural Association, formed by Spaniards and Poles who spread the history of Poland in World War II through reenactments, conferences and exhibitions.
Jerzy was the last Polish veteran of World War II to reside in Spain. You can see here an interview that Alberto Gómez Trujillo, president of the Poland First to Fight Association, did in 2011, in which Jerzy recounted -in Spanish- his experiences (some of them terrible and very painful) in the World War II:
Serve this entry as a tribute to this excellent man and great patriot, who always carried Poland in his heart. It is sad that due to the confinement of the coronavirus epidemic, this hero cannot even receive the honors he deserves at the time of his burial. Rest in peace.
Cześć ich pamięci!
Honor to his memory!
The mail subscription service to Contando Estrelas will allow you to receive in your mailbox a daily email with the new entries published in this blog. It is a free service provided by Feedburner. Once you have entered your email in this box and press the "submit" button, you will receive a confirmation email in your mailbox to activate your subscription.