As I research my family's experiences in World War II, I've been reflecting on my two fathers, and the very different ways in which they were swept up in the conflict.
Yes, two fathers: my birth father, and my stepfather, who raised me as his own.
My birth father, Stanislaw, was born to serve. He grew up in eastern Poland, hearing tales of how his father had been a bodyguard to Tsar Nicholas II, and later fought the Germans in World War I. After military service, his father became the mayor. So when rumblings of war resounded again across Europe, Stanislaw enlisted as a Lancer with the Polish Army. In 1939 the Germans invaded Poland, Stanislaw's unit went to meet them, and Stanislaw was captured.
He spent the next five years in PoW camps. The last, Stalag 4B, held 30,000 souls, all trying to survive on meagre rations and avoid dying of typhus. The picture above shows Stanislaw (circled) with some of the other prisoners.
My stepfather Frank was another Polish guy, slightly younger than Stanislaw, and raised in a hamlet close to the border with Russia. It was a wilderness of rivers and forests, and Frank knew every track and trail.
In 1940, Frank joined the Polish underground army and was given a code name, Buzny. (The document pictured above confirms his service with the Home Army). Frank was asked to help a Jewish family escape the Nazis and flee to Russia. Frank led them through the forest to safety. As they said their farewells, the family asked him to rescue other Jewish families.
By the end of the war Frank reckoned he led more than 100 people to safety. He was captured, and escaped, twice.
After liberation, Stanislaw and Frank found themselves in the same Displaced Persons camp in Germany as my mother, who had been a slave worker in a Nazi factory. Stanislaw married my mother in the camp, I was born there, and that's where the complications began. But that's another story, the subject of a book I'm writing.
Come Remembrance Day I will be thinking of these two men. Both chose to serve. Both put themselves in harm's way. Both experienced imprisonment and deprivation.
I salute them, and all who put others above self.