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Walter Szczeniak

Dedham, United States

Walter was the oldest of eight children born to Polish-Catholic immigrant parents in a town near Boston, Massachusetts. The family moved back to Poland when Walter was a child, and lived on a family farm near Ostroleka in northern Poland that Walter's mother had inherited. Because his father's American nickname was "Stetson," Walter was mistakenly registered as "Charles Stetson" on his American birth certificate.

1933-39: After I completed secondary school, my father sent me to the University of Warsaw, where I graduated with a law degree in 1936. I was apprenticed to a Warsaw court and my goal was to become a Polish senator. While on summer vacation in 1939, I ignored an order from the U.S. consulate in Warsaw for American citizens to leave Poland immediately. Within a month the Germans had occupied Ostroleka. I joined the Polish underground.

1940-44: In 1941 the underground asked me to return to America to describe what the Nazis were doing, but I was caught in Slovakia and deported to Auschwitz. I knew that my life sentence in a penal unit meant certain death, so I requested to see the commandant to ask if I could be transferred. It was a gamble: either he'd be in a good mood and say "yes," or he'd be in a bad mood and have me shot. I was lucky; he transferred me to the kitchen detail, where I recovered my strength and avoided being selected for gassing.

Walter was later reassigned to a railway repair unit. He was liberated by American soldiers near Salzburg, Austria, on May 2, 1945. He returned to America in 1946.

 

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