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Zygmunt Wujek

I met Polish sculptor Zygmunt Wujek in July 2017 at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Georgia, near Savannah, during a gathering of descendants of WWII POWs. In the above photo, Zygmunt is pictured at the museum with his American Aviator bronze bust.

The American Aviator is one of more than two hundred works Zygmunt created in his native Pomerania. Among Zygmunt’s many works were monuments commissioned by Lech Walesa to mark the entrance to Stalag Luft IV. To see photos of Stalag Luft IV then and now, including the monuments created by Zygmunt Wujek, please visit this POW site.

The American Aviator bronze bust in the photo…

…is described on the accompanying plaque as …

the only exact copy of the “American Aviator” in the 1992 memorial at Stalag Luft IV, the WWII prison camp for enlisted American airmen in Poland. Wujek used a photograph of Joseph O’Donnell, a  POW at Stalag Luft IV, as his model. At the 2006 dedication of the site as a Polish War Memorial, Wujek gave this bust to former POW Walter Grotz. It took Grotz five years to make the necessary import arrangements, and in 2011 he delivered the bust to this museum which will be its permanent home. Wujek presented it on behalf of the people of the Pomerania region of Poland as a Thank You to Eighth Air Force Veterans, all Veterans and the people of the United States.

Note:  The POW from whom the American Aviator was modeled, Joseph O’Donnell, was the author of the series of “The Shoe Leather Express” books.

My father, George Edwin Farrar, was one of the American aviators imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV during WWII, and so this particular work of Zygmunt Wujek has special significance to me.

I have not been to the site of Stalag Luft IV to see the remains of the prison camp or the memorial erected there, but seeing and touching this memorial to all the men with whom my dad shared this part of his past sends waves of emotion though me. I am thrilled that we have such a monument on American soil to remind us what these men sacrificed for us so many years ago.

Next year, 2020, will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the march of prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV. Plans are in the works to mark the anniversary at the memorial site and across Germany following part of the path of the march. I know Zygmunt would have taken part, but sadly Zygmunt Wujek died on December 22, 2018.

Zygmunt’s obituary shared the following information:

On Saturday (22 December [2018]), a sad news came. At the age of 80, Zygmunt Wujek, a sculptor from Koszalin, a medalist, painter and draftsman and a social activist died. He became famous as the author of over two hundred monuments, including Jan Stawisiński, Victims of Bolshevism, General Władysław Anders and Martyrdom of the Polish Nation.

Zygmunt was born on September 22, 1938 in Rawicz, Poland. He studied sculpture at the State Higher School of Fine Arts (currently the Academy of Fine Arts) in Poznań. In the capital of Wielkopolska he was a participant in the demonstration of support for the workers’ protest in June 1956. He worked as an instructor at the Youth Culture Center in Poznań, but in 1965 he came to Koszalin. Here he was a teacher at the Technical School of Building, and later a sculpture teacher at the State High School of Fine Arts and a lecturer at the Design Institute of the Koszalin University of Technology. He was an activist of the Union of Polish Visual Artists. Awarded many times, including decorated with the Gold Cross of Merit, the Mater Verbi Medal and the West Pomeranian Griffin.

The news about the artist’s death is a huge loss for the Koszalin culture and a surprise for a group of his friends, because Zygmunt Wujek, who was still active, had many plans for the next year.

A more complete biography is included Zygmunt’s full (translated) obituary here.

But something is missing from this summary of Zygmunt’s life. What formed the man is not the list of his accomplishments, but the impressions that formed in his young mind when he was growing up in Poland.

Zygmunt was born during a terrible time in the world, during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Barely over a month following Zygmunt’s birth, over 15,000 Polish Jews living in Germany were expelled without warning. They were loaded in boxcars and dumped at the Polish border. Weeks later, the Nazis coordinated widespread attacks on Jews throughout Germany in an event call Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass.

Shortly before Zygmunt’s first birthday, the Nazis invaded Poland, initiating WWII in Europe. Britain and France demanded Germany withdraw its troops, but instead the Luftwaffe raided Warsaw. In September of 1939, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all declared war on Germany. Before the end of the month, Warsaw surrendered to the Nazis.

In the early years of Zygmunt Wujek’s life, his country was under Nazi occupation. Concentration camps arrived and the extermination of Jews began. Stalag Luft IV opened in May 1944 for the imprisonment of captured allied enlisted airmen.

On January 17, 1945, with Zygmunt only six years old, Soviet troops captured and liberated Warsaw from Nazi control. On the 26th, the Soviets liberated the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. On February 6, with the Russian Army approaching, the POWs of Stalag Luft IV were made to gather their belongings and march from the camp, beginning their eighty-six day odyssey out of Poland and across Germany.

Until VE (Victory in Europe) Day, May 8, 1945, Zygmunt Wujek had known nothing but war in his life, but now at school age, those terrible times would become memories, but memories that would last a lifetime.

It is impossible to think of the memorial at Stalag Luft IV without remembering Zygmunt Wujek. Though he will be greatly missed by family and friends, including the daughters of Stalag Luft IV, his memory will live on through his works of art, and especially for me, his memorial sculpture for the airmen of Stalag Luft IV and the American Aviator.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

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WWII Timeline – Winter 1937

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at January – March 1937 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Winter 1937

January 1937

The Nazis banned Jews from many professional occupations including teaching, accounting, and dentistry. Jews were also denied tax reductions and child allowances.

January 19, 1937

Japan officially stopped adhering to the Washington Conference Treaty of 1921 which limited the size of its Navy.

January 27, 1937

China Nationalists and Communists agreed to combine forces against Japan.

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Fall 1936

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The Shoe Leather Express

Seventy-four years ago, near the end of WWII, with Allied forces advancing from the west and the Soviet Red Army advancing from the east, the Nazis began a series of forced marches of prisoners out of their prisoner of war camps. There is no definitive answer as to why the prisoners were marched from the camps or what the Nazis planned for them in the end. One theory is that the prisoners were marched out of the camps simply to delay their liberation.

By the end of January 1945, the plan to march allied prisoners out of Stalag Luft IV and away from liberation by the Soviet Red Army was ready to begin. The winter of 1945 was one of Germany’s coldest on record with blizzard conditions. The prisoners of Stalag Luft IV, the POW camp in which Dad was held prisoner, were ill-equipped for a march in such weather. They had been underfed and were not clothed properly for the conditions.

On February 6, 1945 the march out of Stalag Luft IV began. With just a few hours notice to prepare to march out of the camp, the prisoners scrambled to gather what they could.

The prisoners did not know where they were going or how long they would be on the road. The march out of Stalag Luft IV has been given many names – the Death March, the Black March, and even the Shoe Leather Express. Most of those that survived just called it “The March”. My dad, George Edwin Farrar, usually called it the “Forced March” when he told me stories of sleeping in the hay and stealing a chicken for food.

Many books have been written about the 86-day 500-mile march of Stalag Luft IV prisoners. The best book on the subject is the original The Shoe Leather Express by Joseph P. O’Donnell. Joe was Stalag Luft IV POW 1414 and experienced the prison camp and the march firsthand. Joe wrote a series of six books on the subject of POWs, with the first book of the Shoe Leather Express series subtitled The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany.

The complete list of the Shoe Leather Express books is as follows:

  • Book 1:  The Shoe Leather Express, The Evacuation of Kriegsgefangenen Lager Stalag Luft IV Deutschland Germany
  • Book 2:  The Shoe Leather Express Book II, Luftgangsters Marching Across Germany, A Potpourri of Prisoner of War Experiences in Nazi Germany During World War II
  • Book 3:  The Pangs of the Thorn, Book III of The Shoe Leather Express, A Collection of True Stories of Prisoners of War in Japan and Nazi Germany WWII
  • Book 4:  A History of Stalag Luft IV, May 1944 – February 1945, Book IV of The Shoe Leather Express
  • Book 5:  And Then We Came Upon A Time of Great Rewarding, A Time of Remembrance, A Collection of Prayers and Poems for and by Prisoners of War
  • Book 6:  Talent Behind Barbed Wire, A Collection of Sketches and Cartoons of Prisoner of War Life

The harsh conditions of the march from Stalag Luft IV and treatment of the POWs is not well known. The march itself is rarely a topic of discussion in the subject of WWII history. But that needs to change. February 6, 2020 will mark the 75th Anniversary of the start of the Black March, and this event from history should be recognized and remembered.

The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March was commemorated in the Congressional Record. On May 8, 1995, in the First Session of the 104th Congress, John William Warner entered the commemoration into the 141st Congressional Record (S6237). It may be read here in one of my past posts.

As for Joseph O’Donnell’s Shoe Leather Express books, they are out of print and hard to find through used book sources, but the preface and first two chapters of the original Book I may be read online courtesy of Joseph O’Donnell and Gregory Hatton here.

Candy Kyler Brown, daughter of Stalag Luft IV POW John R. Kyler kindly provided me with the titles of all the books in Joseph O’Donnell’s The Shoe Leather Express series. Candy began researching her father’s WWII and POW experiences long before I began researching mine and has produced both a website and book with must-read information for anyone interested in learning more about the WWII POW experience.

Candy’s book, What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father, is available on Amazon.

Candy’s website, Remember History, offers a wealth of information about her father and about her friend, Joseph O’Donnell, and his POW experiences.

As Candy and I and other sons and daughters of Stalag Luft IV POWs have learned, it all starts with an inquisitive mind and a desire to know the truth about our fathers’ captivity during WWII. Don’t let this important part of our country’s history and your family’s history be lost to the past.

Learn everything you can by reading published books and personal accounts published online.  Search for your own family WWII-era letters and photos long packed away.

If you’re lucky enough to have a living father, grandfather, or uncle in his mid-90’s, ask him if he served in WWII. Ask about his war service and learn everything you can from him. If he is a former prisoner of war, find out everything you can about his POW experience. Record it. Share it with the world or just share it with future generations of your family.

We must not forget their service and we must not forget their sacrifice. Remember and make these men proud.

Resources

Preface and first two chapters of The Shoe Leather Express Book I

What I Never Told You: A Daughter Traces The Wartime Imprisonment Of Her Father by Candy Kyler Brown

Candy Kyler Brown’s website, Remember History

The 50th Anniversary of the Forced March commemorated in the Congressional Record

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

WWII Timeline – Fall 1936

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at October – December 1936 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Fall 1936

October 1, 1936

Spain’s Nationalists declare Franco head of Spain.

October 25, 1936
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sign a treaty of cooperation or friendship.

October 29, 1936

Soviet tanks and planes see action in Spain on the side of the Loyalists.

November 1, 1936

Roosevelt is re-elected to his second term as U.S. president.

Germany and Italy announce a Rome-Berlin Axis one week after signing a treaty of friendship on October 25. Benito Mussolini, speaking to a crowd in Milan, said,

the line between Rome and Berlin is not a partition but rather an axis around which all European states…can also collaborate.

This was the first time Axis was used to mean Italy and its allies. The main Axis powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan. Germany was led by Adolf Hitler and dominated most of continental Europe; Italy was led by Benito Mussolini and dominated the Mediterranean Sea; and Japan was led by Emperor Hirohito and dominated East Asia and the Pacific.

November 6, 1936

Germany’s “Condor Legion” of planes and pilots arrives in Spain to support the Nationalists.

November 18, 1936

Germany and Italy formally recognize General Francisco Franco’s new Spanish government.

November 25, 1936

Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan sign the Anti-Comintern (Communist International) Pact which was directed against the international Communist movement.

December 1936

In China, General Chang Hsueh-liang orchestrated the kidnapping of Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek. His intent was to force Chiang Kai-shek to concentrate his time and energy on confronting the Japanese rather than the Chinese Communists.

December 11, 1936

George VI is crowned King of England. His brother, Edward VIII, had married American divorcée Wallis Simpson and had abdicated the throne. George VI’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth, would succeed him upon his death in 1952 .

Sources:

This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

Anti-Comintern Pact on Wikipedia

World War II Chronicle by the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

Most recent post from the series:

Summer 1936

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

The New Year

My father, George Edwin Farrar, spent New Year’s Eve seventy-four years ago as a prisoner of war in Germany’s Stalag Luft IV prison camp. He had been a POW since the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision between his B-17 and that of another flying fortress in his own group. If he believed his captors, he knew that he was the only survivor of his crew.

On that New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1944, Daddy’s family back home in Atlanta, Georgia received a telegram with joyous news as the year drew to a close. Their son was a prisoner of war, but he was alive.

The next day, the first day of a bright new year, Daddy’s mother sent her own telegram to the family of the pilot of his crew, John Oliver Buslee, announcing the good news. Mr. Buslee responded with a January 1, 1945 letter.

The telegram that we received from you this morning was indeed a piece of good news for the New Year.  To learn of your son’s safety is indeed wonderful and I hope means such good news may come regarding all of the other boys and more that this terrible struggle will soon end and that all may return and lets hope that the peoples of the World will realize that there is but one way to get along and that is in a peaceful harmonious manner forgetting all greed and selfishness and faith in the Lord.

My wife and my daughter and myself are overjoyed in learning that your son has been reported.

In the midst of despair, one telegram provided hope and joy for the new year.

Seventy-four years later, we are reminded that lessons are learned and then forgotten. Greed and selfishness live on and peaceful harmony will forever be fleeting. Faith in something higher than oneself comes all too seldom, mostly in moments of joy or despair.

The world is not going to change overnight, or even this year, but good intentions on our own part and kindness towards others would be a good place to start. Have faith in a happy new year.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019