On September 1, 1939 the Nazi’s stormed across the border of Poland beginning the Second World War. My great-grandpa, Jon Kowalczyk, was 15 years old and he lived in Poland with his parents at the time of the invasion. Knowing that Jon would be sent to a horrible Nazi work camp his parents hid him in the smokehouse. For three days he stayed in hiding, hardly daring to breathe.
Unfortunately, Jon was captured. He never saw any member of his family again. He was sent to a farm in Germany and only given one cup of rice per day for food. Jon, and many others, tried to find ways to get other food including sucking raw eggs straight out of the shell. Jon was caught doing this once and the German guard took the butt end of his rifle and brought it down on the top of his head leaving him not only unconscious, but with a large scar on the top of his head.
After about a year to two of being at the farm, Jon and two other prisoners came up with an escape plan. One night they crossed the fence line and started sprinting through the woods, with gun shots erupting behind and all around them. Coming across a river they swam furiously and when they reached the other side Jon noticed that one of his fellow prisoners was not with him. The Nazi guards had shot and most likely killed him.
Jon kept running, finding places to hide along the way, and he was eventually found by the French resistance. After some time, he was recaptured and instead of being sent to a prisoner-of-war camp he was sent to a concentration camp.
One night while in that concentration camp Jon got up and realized that the guards were gone! It was close to the end of the war and all Nazi soldiers were being called up to the frontlines of battle. So Jon, and many others, just walked out of the camp that night. Eventually Jon came across some allied troops and he began serving with US soldiers, running ammunition to the artillery guns on the frontlines.
In the last months of the war, while he was still serving with the US artillery troops, Jon was injured when a nearby explosion sent shrapnel through his pack and his clothing and into his upper back. Shortly after that, Jon, along with other Polish men who were serving in different armies all over Europe, was sent to Scotland to be trained by the Polish military.
The war ended before Jon’s training was complete and in 1947 he was given a boat ticket to go to Argentina or Canada. He chose Canada.
My great-grandpa dedicated his time, his effort, his body, to the cause of freedom. This is just one man’s story of how millions of people have put their lives on the line to fight for freedom.
The Second World War was not in any way glorious. But it was necessary. Today there are people among us who understand that necessity better than any of us. They are military veterans, firefighters, police officers, paramedics, first responders who willingly put themselves in dangerous situations so they can save a life.
Remembrance Day is not a day to try to put the wars behind us and move on. It is a day to address the reality of war with respect and reverence and gratitude. It is a day to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made for freedom. This Remembrance Day please take time to honor and remember those who have served and to pray for those who currently serve our country, our province, and our city.