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Nazis Branded This Polish Catholic

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Brooklyn, N.Y. … This year’s traditional Christmas “Opłatek” of the Downstate N.Y. Division of the Polish American Congress was a joyous celebration of the holy season with good wishes, Santa Claus and a performance of Christmas carols by the Guadate Children’s Chorus of Maspeth’s Holy Cross Church.

Two birthdays were also commemorated:  The Christmas birthday of Jesus Christ and the 91st birthday of Walter Kolodziejek, one of the first Polish Catholic prisoners of the dreaded Auschwitz concentration camp.

Photo by Polish American Congress Hitler’s SS Guards changed the name of Walter Kolodziejek (in photo above) after he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in the summer of 1940, just a few weeks after the Germans opened it. He was only 18 then. The day he arrived he came to be known as Auschwitz prisoner #2254 and has worn that number on his chest ever since. He is shown here displaying the number at the Christmas “Opłatek”. He surprised everyone there because they thought all Auschwitz prisoners had their numbers imprinted on the forearm. It was only the first Polish prisoners like Mr. Kolodziejek who had their number put on their chest. Almost all of these early Polish prisoners who survived the camp have already died and Mr. Kolodziejek is believed to be the only one still living with this kind of tattoo. With January 28, 2013 as the date of his 91st birthday, the Polish American Congress and its guests celebrated this momentous day with a chorus of Happy Birthday and Sto Lat!

While bidding farewell to the old year and welcoming the new, a disturbing event that took place in 2012 reminded the guests at this ethnic event that the Polish people are forced to still keep fighting to make sure the world is given the truth about what happened in Europe in World War II.

The Polish American Congress maintains its Holocaust Documentation Committee for this purpose.  The co-chair of this committee is Michael Preisler, a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz like Mr. Kolodziejek.

Mr. Preisler was sent to Auschwitz about a year after Mr. Kolodziejek.

“Nowhere else is Holocaust history as distorted and as misrepresented as it is about Poland.”  As someone who personally lived and survived that history, Mr. Preisler is forced to frequently repeat this statement because of the continual misinformation given the public.

Among the numerous misrepresentations coming from the “Blame Poland” crowd is the misidentification of WWII’s death camps as “Polish” instead of “German.”  The Polish American Congress’ battles with American media on this issue have been an ongoing struggle.

To the frustration of the Congress and everyone else, even U.S. President Obama fell into the trap of repeating this falsehood last May while conducting a ceremony posthumously awarding the Presidential Medal of Honor to Jan Karski.  Even at the White House, one of Hitler’s death camps was called “Polish.”

The President quickly recognized his mistake and expressed his regrets for it to the president of Poland.  But it proves how easily a falsehood can be accepted as a fact if it is constantly repeated, according to the Holocaust Documentation Committee.

Karski, a Polish Catholic officer in the anti-Nazi and anti-Communist Polish Underground, completed a secret mission of going to London and Washington to warn the Allies about the atrocities being committed against the Jewish prisoners in the death camps. Unfortunately, the Allies refused to believe him.

Karski’s humanitarian efforts and Poland’s important contribution to the Allied victory in Europe are a matter of historical record.  That is why it troubles survivors like Preisler and Kolodziejek that traces of the anti-Polish Nazi and Communist propaganda they constantly heard during the war still remain and are often accepted as valid.

Mr. Kolodziejek hopes his public appearances will help promote the accuracy and credibility of Holocaust history and remind Americans Poland was the first country in Europe to stand firm and fight German aggression.

During the Christmas ceremonies, the Polish American Congress presented Mr. Kolodziejek with a copy of a WWII poster which became popular in America’s Polish community at the time Germany launched WW II with its invasion of Poland in 1939.  It showed a tattered and torn Polish flag full of bullet holes standing above the smoke of the battle field with the proud inscription , “Poland – First to Fight.”

“It seemed an appropriate way for us to honor Mr. Kolodziejek and the first Polish prisoners of Auschwitz,” said Frank Milewski, president of the Downstate Congress.

The first medical experiments German doctors conducted on Auschwitz prisoners were performed on these Polish inmates.  Mr. Kolodziejek was one of them.  His inner strength allowed him to endure these experiments and survive them.  In amazement, the Nazi doctors nicknamed him, “Hard as a Rock.”

Among the guests attending the Christmas tribute to Kolodziejek was Dr. Henry Cioczek, a Brooklyn oncologist and a member of the Polish American Congress.  He comes from a noble Polish family which distinguished itself during the Holocaust.

Dr. Cioczek’s mother and father and also his grandmother and grandfather are honored at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as “Righteous” Christians.  These four members of the Cioczek family risked their lives to rescue Jews during the German occupation of Poland.

Despite the fact Poland was the only country where the Germans were ordered to kill any Pole who tried to help a Jew, more Poles are honored at Yad Vashem than anyone else.  More Poles were killed for helping Jews than  anyone else, according to the Polish American Congress.

– Frank Milewski