Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Researching Decades Too Late

Updated January 3, 2021
For decades I purposely avoided the dozens of scattered and misplaced documents about my Dad's history and captivity that spanned over 50 years. Papers from the old country, documentation that my sister Susanna obtained some 12 years ago, data I randomly obtained in addition to written and oral family memories. Sure I perused them once or twice, and wow, some interesting stuff that has been laying in a pile for many decades.  But I knew once I got into them and focused, I would  get sucked into that personal historical abyss and I did, big time.

After months and now years of research that generated reams of prints, maps, data and facts, I've  taken a many steps forward and now need to reflect. I am going to post what I have discovered to this point in my amateur analysis of the historical record and present a story and a time-line based on his WWII POW documents and the established historical record of  Polish WWII battles. I need to understand and relate the story of my Dad's  capture by the Russian Army then the captivity by the  German army. These events are only one generation removed from today and must be learned, understood and heeded. Those that don't learn, understand and heed history are doomed to repeat it.  And I'm sure no one would want to repeat this journey.

Damn, It would have been so much easier to ask him while he was alive but I was a dumb rebellious kid not realizing or appreciating the sacrifices he made, the history he could tell. Sure we heard some general anecdotal comments from him that we embellished or made fun of or both, not appreciating what horrendous ordeals he really went through and by the grace of God survived with death and carnage all around him.

So why try to understand his ordeal now? This is a personal redemption quest for me and tribute to a ordinary man that it turns out was really extraordinary. In addition,there is love, pride, appreciation, family history, mortality and  hopefully a story that will survive forever online for generations to come. He deserves the story be told as well as all Polish soldiers and civilians as part of the invasion and defense of Poland.

Now years after the initial publication of this blog, I still continue to unearth shreds of evidence to complete Dad's story.  This is updated/edited regularly, I am data driven for personal accuracy so it will never be "right "for me. In spite of this I hope the reader can find it can be a good read. I appreciate feedback!

To the reader who is here searching as I did to discover or preserve a memory, PLEASE go to the segment XV  (15) "The Journeys End " and play the hauntingly beautiful audio file song  in honor of your lost people.

 If you are bored by endless dates, foreign locations and analysis, I ask you read the 1st two segments and last 4 segments  for the human side of this story.

Based on the relentless pursuit of facts for this blog, my Dad's service and sacrifice were finally  recognized by the Polish government in 2019. An epilogue was added in 2020 detailing this achievement.

Note there are 16 additional segments, if viewing via Facebook, Ipad and other e-devices may require the reader to select "Older Posts" or the "Next"  arrow to see segments beyond VI (#6) and XIII (#13).

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I - Zygmunt Frackiewicz- An intro

Sad to say I also know very little about my dad's family and early life. There was little talk of his family, the war and the old country except for 2 solitary pictures of his father and sister, in the hall, on a table, of my parents house. What I know comes from family stories, POW records, a school assignment interview by my daughter Shannon and a firm "chewing out" by his step-sister, Janina. When he died in 1992, I notified Janina by mail  of his passing and asked some questions about him. By the time I got it accurately translated, I read a well deserved scolding for asking so little, so late and being ignorant of my Polish heritage. Then she passed.

The basics:
  • Born in Warsaw October 17, 1914 
  • Primary school 1920-27
  • Son of Piotr Frackiewicz 
  • Mother Aleksandra (Skowronska) nee Zaremba
  • Piotr died young
  • Brother Tadeusz (Thaddeus) - Born Feb.23, 1923 Warsaw, arrested at age 21 in 1944 by Germans for being Polish underground, in Buchenwald Concentration Camp from Feb. 10,1945 to April 6, 1945. Prisoner # 130719. Tragically, never heard from again.                    This is a story in itself !!   This story is viewable at:   Death at Bisingen Concentration Camp
  • Sister Irene- died 1945, no other information 
  • Entered Army June 1937 for required service, due out June 1939
  • Had to stay in the service to defend Poland against the invaders
I recall dad talking about after flash flooding in his youth, they would wade in the mud and look for bubbles indicating trapped fish for food.
 He also talked about being a glass blower.
My brother Marion recalls Dad stating winters were so cold, prisoner ears were snapped off!
He told my sister Susanna of eating rats.
I asked about the scar in his arm and he stated he was shot by Germans, after he was liberated because they did not know the war was over.
I also wondered why he had no cool war souvenirs like other dads did.  Not knowing it was due to being a prisoner having nothing but clothes on his back.

 I can't believe that is all I know about my dad.

Friday, May 8, 2015

II - The military situation overview on Sept. 1, 1939


While I will not dwell on the Polish people's plight in WWII,  I do have to comment on is the scale of carnage, murder, mayhem, massacre, deceit and suffering by the Polish people. Reading accounts of atrocities on a case by case basis really drives it home. Personal accounts are much more horrendous than an abstract "millions killed" statistic. The volume of innocent victims is like reading a NYC phone book only  with unique, individual, unimaginable, tragic personal stories that could happen to anyone. No one was spared, peasants, farmers,civilian bystanders, women, children or active military, Given the similar precursor events, it could happen anywhere.

Following years of preparation, on Sept. 1, 1939 the German offensive began in the West of Poland.

  • Neutralizing Poland in the East was key to Hitler's conquest of Europe
  • Hitler gained a secret non-aggression pact with the Soviets (so they wouldn't help the Poles)
  • The bulk of Poland's defense resources were on the West fortifying against a massing German juggernaut, not realizing the Soviet treachery and the German-Soviet plan to divide Poland between the Germans in the West and Soviets in the East
Another key date is September 17, 1939
  • Soviets invaded Poland from the East
  • This was a"sucker punch" to the Poles in violation of numerous pacts and treaties between these 2 countries
  • The 1500 km Eastern border was lightly defended as there was mortal battle for 17 days in the West against the German onslaught with no knowledge of Soviet-German secret pact and impending 2nd invasion from the East.
  • Orders not to engage the Soviet advance were given  but often ignored. Some Soviet fighters were actually waved in by the Poles thinking them reinforcement allies.
  • The battles in the East are the ones I will look at on the key date of Sept. 19, 1939 for Dad's capture location as it clear from the record that Soviets  captured him then did a prisoner swap with the Germans. This is part of the complexity of the records.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

III - POW Documentation Issues

Dad is 3rd from the left

What is the issue with the official records I have to research ? I am learning the "rules of the road" researching a generation too late: Accuracy, transcription errors in the original documents,faded memories and correlation!

The one point that is clear on all documents,  Zygmunt Frackiewicz was captured on SEPTEMBER 19,1939.
  1. But where he was captured and at what battle\skirmish? The records gives 3 alternatives I want to understand.
  2. What was his military  assignment, unit, division?
  3. The history of his lengthy captivity as POW in numerous Stalags, Arbeitcommandos and other (forced/slave labor) camps is mind boggling. I want to chart a accurate time line and understand this part of his life.
These are the sources of the official and personal data I am using;
  • Polska Czerwony Krzyz (Polish Red Cross) from January 27, 2004
  • Central Museum of Prisoners of War Labinowice-Opole from January 27, 2004
  • Centraine Museum Jencow Wojennych w Lambinowicach-Opolu from March 3, 2015
  • Archive, Archiwun- Looking for Witnesses (Internet) May 14, 2008
  • Letter from step-sister Janina Wozniak from December 4, 1993
  • Sacred Heart class project project interview by Shannon Frackiewicz in 1998
  • A scribbled note I took for unknown reasons after many beers stating he was traded to the Germans by the Soviets in Hannover by the North Sea
  • 2016 addition resources came from Facebook sites "Kresy-Siberia group" "WWII Polski 2 Korpus" and ""
  • Piotr Olecki from the XXA museum in Torun, "Fundacja Muzeum Historyczno-Wojskowe"
  • Many, many dead end letters, emails and referrals
One major issue in this document research is translation. The translation of Polish to Russia to German is not seamless and introduces error. Just in the initial document, his first name is spelled 3 ways and that sets the  stage for more inaccuracies. Not only is language the issue but overwhelmed and uninterested German and Russian captors cared little for accuracy in record keeping of the captured masses of"subhumans".
 Usually the Germans shot their prisoner so not to be burdened with them, so in many ways Dad was "lucky".

Sunday, April 26, 2015

IV - Where was he captured? Grodno ?

Dad relaxing

The POW documents with multi- language translation issues and the personal history all differ on the capture location.

  1. Step-sister Janina stated before  she passed, he was in the Polish Grodno army and captured in Grodno (now Belarus). This may be a translation issue.
  2. Documents state he was captured in Lwow, Poland aka Lviv aka Lvov, aka Lemberg (now Ukraine)
  3. Documents also state he was captured in  Brzezany, Poland aka Berezhany (now Ukraine)
  4. After I started this blog, in late 2016 I obtained a faint document in Russian with old world cursive that required translation, with no resources available, it sat.
Distances are important to note as is location as it relates to the Soviet advance that I will discuss later.
  • Grodno is 549 km from Lwow, basically due North
  • Brzezany is 89 km from Lwiw, basically Southeast
I can assume early in his military service, the letters home were more frequent and he probably was in the Grodno army. This initial information stuck with his family. As the German massed on the Western border of Poland in 1939, Zygmunt's service, which was due to be completed by June of 1939, was extended to battle the invaders and he was sent where the greatest defense need was.

I can eliminate the Grodno location due to distance from the most referenced capture sites of Lwow and Brzezany.  As it became evident of the impending invasion, not only was his "draft" extended but he was marshalled where the greatest need was, and after September 1, 1939, it could be anywhere. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

V - Captured in Lwow or Brzezany?

X marks the location of Brzezany

To determine which of these 2 cities was a more plausible capture location, I have to cross reference some major and minor battles from the historical record and correlate the dates with the unanimous agreed upon capture date of September 19, 1939. Understanding the invasion advances and battles from both the East and West give key insights.

I have looked at over 50 documented battles and clashes in the Polish Eastern borderlands with around 30 Polish units involved with the Soviets. A sampling;

  1. Grodno- Fierce defense Sept 20-21
  2. Wilno - Fighting Sept. 18-19 NE Poland
  3. Polesie Region -  State border defense Sept 17/18-19/20
  4. Krasne - East of Lwow armored clash Sept.19-20
  5. Lwow - key to Romanian Bridgehead, defended  Sept 12-22, back and forth battles with Germans then Russian advance from East  joined Germans encircling the city forcing surrender.
  6. Lwow Region - 14 area locales Sept 13-22
  7. Brzezany - scant references, battle Sept. 18-19
For reference and to explain my analysis; In viewing the map of "Troop Movements after September 14, 1939" on this page, I have marked the location of Brzezany with an "X"  on the lower right hand corner. The dashed red line to the immediate left shows Soviet  advance to the West. In the direction of this advance, the first red/blue circled city is Lwow.

Remember the key September 17 Russian invasion date? Looking  at the invasion forces movement map after Sept. 14, 1939. It shows the Russian spearhead advance toward the East and toward Lwow, effectively swallowing Brzezany which is 89 km to SE of Lwow. So Brzezany was overrun and defeated days before the surrender of Lwow on September 22.

This correlates to the Eastern battle dates list including Brzezany. This would also explain why such a minor town and battle was listed in 2 different POW documents. It also makes sense that referring to a major battle/capture site as Lwow was listed, for convenience of the bulk processing of POW's even though not 100% accurate.

Based on these facts, I was initially confident Zygmunt Frackiewicz was captured in Brzezany, Poland likely defending the Romanian Bridgehead (an Eastern contingent escape route through neutral countries for eventual regrouping with French and UK Allies).

Saturday, April 18, 2015

VI The Russian Holy Grail

German Blitzkrieg to the West, Russian Red Army to the East

Over the past year (2016), my mass mailings for information yielded a lots of dead ends, “not my job" type responses, "we don't do that anymore" letters and some referrals that were immediately followed up on.  An interesting letter came from “Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe” in Warsaw with
a copy of a faded, wrinkled, copy of a copy , a Russian record card in old Russian text with cursive entries. It sat for months before I tried posting it on-line, The great folks at Kresy-Siberia group translated most of the document for me.

Within the basic form information was the question - “Place taken into Captivity”
                                                  LIPICIA DOLNA
Wow this was the a game changer for me, the initial, 1st hand record of his capture by the Russians…….Finally

Armed with this information I was able to get a very informed opinion from historian/researcher
 and guide from the Lwow area.

  • Lipica Dolna is 12-15 km from Berezhany
  • Berezhany is SE of Lviv in direction of Romanian border
  • There is a road running North to South and a railway line from East to West, to Rohatyn and then turns to the South
  • Due to double aggression, Soviet and German, Polish Command gave the order to retreat to the Southeast, to advance and defend access to the Romanian border to regroup
  • Soviet troops advancing from the East, intercepted that retreat, close to the fore mentioned road       or railway
New boundaries 9 days after his capture

 My initial amateur analysis was close, very close, But now I know Lipicia Dolna was the place
of his capture, 
I can now walk the road, I can walk the rail line, we 
can  share something that was life changing for him  
albeit 77+ years later.

******PLEASE SELECT  "OLDER POSTS"  at bottom of page to continue the next 6 segments
 of the journey********************************************************************