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Published: Saturday, 7/16/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Polish leader honors late Holocaust survivor

Former Toledo man died last week at 97

BY ZOE GORMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Marian Wojciechowski led a cavalry unit in 1939 that
charged the Germans. Marian Wojciechowski led a cavalry unit in 1939 that charged the Germans.
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The president of Poland was willing to do some extra legwork to properly honor Holocaust survivor, World War II officer, and former Toledoan Marian Woj­cie­chow­ski.

President Bronislaw Komorowski announced Friday that Mr. Woj­ciechowski, who died last week at 97, is receiving one of Poland’s highest military honors. Because Mr. Wo­jciechowski, who came to Toledo in 1950 from a displaced persons camp in Germany, was no longer a citizen of Poland, Mr. Komorowski needed special permission from multiple levels of government to award him the highest officer’s honor — the Polonia Restituta Krzyz Oficerski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski. It’s an honor that can only be bestowed by the country’s president.

“It’s very rare that somebody who’s no longer a Polish citizen receives the honor,” said Zbigniew Burzynski, chairman of the Polish Cavalry Club, a 360-member, civilian organization that commemorates military figures.

Mr. Wojciechowski led a unit of cavalrymen at Mokra at the start of World War II in 1939 and was one of only 23 survivors in his unit that heroically charged the Germans surrounding it. He was the last remaining member of his unit who was an officer at the time of the outbreak of World War II. Three members who later attained officer rank survive, Mr. Bur­zynski said.

Mr. Burzynski traveled from Poland with other members of the cavalry to attend Mr. Wojciechowski’s visitation Friday and funeral today. They will participate in the funeral wearing uniforms of the 21st Regiment Pulku Ulanow Nadwislanskich, Mr. Wojciechowski’s home regiment.

Two representatives of the Military Attaché from the Polish Embassy in Washington were also in attendance at the visitation Friday. Two representatives of the Polish military — Pilot major Maciej Wozniak and Navy Commander Podporucznik Konrad Szymanski — are attending the funeral Saturday in full uniform.

Mr. Burzynski corresponded by email, postal mail, and telephone for 13 years before finally meeting Mr. Wojciechowski in 2009 when Mr. Wojciechowski visited Poland for the 70th Anniversary of the start of World War II. Mr. Burzynski said he was emotional upon meeting Mr. Wojciechowski after all that time.

On his trip, Mr. Woj­ciechowski visited Auschwitz, where he had been sent on orders of execution for participating in the Polish underground resistance, and Leitmeritz, from which he ultimately escaped on foot to a displaced persons camp in Germany.

He also was honored during the trip at Grudziadz, the ancestral home of the Polish cavalry. Mr. Aleksander Szczyglo, a Polish politician who was killed with President Lech Kaczynski a year later when their plane crashed in Russia, pinned a military medal on Mr. Wojciechowski.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), a longtime friend, traveled to Poland with Mr. Wojciechowski in 2009. She said Mr. Wojciechowski had a great impact on her life and she would not have been surprised if he had become the Polish president had he not been forced to leave after the war.

“Marian was one of those souls who was to be a new leader of his country,” Miss Kaptur said, “and then that was taken away.”

Miss Kaptur’s Anastasia Fund paid for the cavalry club’s trip to the United States for Mr. Wojciechowski’s memorial service.

The four cavalry members, who spoke only Polish, said this was their first time in the United States and added that they were only here for Mr. Wojciechowski.

“We wanted to do the honorable farewell in full military style,” Mr. Burzynski said through a translator.

Among their ranks was dramatic tenor and famed Polish opera singer Andrzej Kosek, who said he joined the cavalry club out of patriotism. Mr. Kosek is the artistic director of the Basilica of Bernadine priestly order.

Mr. Kosek is singing two military and religious songs at the service — one in Polish and one in Latin — and is playing taps on the trumpet.

Mr. Burzynski said the club cultivates the traditions of the cavalry for the next generation and arranges military services for veterans of the Polish army. His dream, he said, is to establish a language and cultural exchange program — in Marian Woj­ciechowski’s name — for young Poles and Polish Americans whose parents are serving overseas.

The cavalry club is also working to educate Poland about the start of World War II. Some Polish history books, Mr. Burzynski said, say Westernplatte was where the Germans attacked, beginning the war, when in fact they bombed Mokra, where Mr. Wojciechowski was serving.

When Mr. Wojciechowski visited his homeland, different groups kept pulling him in different directions to have him speak to them, Mr. Burzynski said, adding that the then 95-year-old cavalry veteran did so tirelessly.

Krystyna Wierciak, who works in international commerce and overseas cavalry club logistics, said Mr. Woj­ciechowski was surprised to see a woman in uniform when she met him.

“In his times that did not exist,” she said, “[He showed] positive acceptance of the fact that women can now wear uniforms.”

Sixty percent of the cavalry club are women. It is the only military club that allows women.

Mr. Wojciechowski is also being honored with a bag of ground from the site of his epic battle at Mokra, which has been blessed by the Jasna Góra monastery.

The funeral is at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Adalbert Catholic Church on Lagrange Street. Lucas County Burial Corps and Polish Army Veterans will conclude with military honors in Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Contact Zoe Gorman at: zgorman@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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