SZNUK firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2005-08-30 published
Krystyna SZNUK- SPARKS, Resistance Fighter (1922-2005)
A member of the Polish Home Army during the Warsaw uprising of 1944, she cared for the wounded and survived by her wits until sent to Ravensbruck and Buchenwald
By Buzz BOURDON, Special to the Globe and Mail, Tuesday, August 30, 2005, Page S11
Ottawa -- A loud pounding at the door meant only one thing for people living in occupied Poland during the Second World War: The Germans had come for you.
Krystyna SZNUK watched in horror as the door opened. The Warsaw uprising had erupted two weeks earlier, on August 1, 1944, and as a member of the Polish Home Army, she was on the run.
"Two Vlasov men walked in. They looked us over. No, they were not interested in males, they wanted a female. Jazdia was holding her child in her arms, so I was the obvious choice," she wrote 50 years later in an unpublished memoir. The soldiers, members of General Andrei Vlasov's so-called Russian Liberation Army, Soviet soldiers who had switched sides to fight with the Germans, ordered her to come with them. She knew they wanted her for sex. Just 22 at the time, she refused.
"They both had hand grenades and indicated that if I didn't go, they would throw [them] at us. They promptly began to remove the pins. There was no choice so I went, my mind racing with plans of escape," she said.
Fortunately, the soldiers started to argue about "who would go first." She bolted up a flight of stairs, knocked desperately on a door and was admitted to an apartment where someone whisked her across to a window. "[I went] through the open window where a helping hand was outstretched to me. A minute or so later we heard a pounding at the door and noises of a search."
After that, she took to disguising her looks by smearing coal ash on her face and hair. Later, she came upon more of Vlasov's men in an abandoned factory. "[They] were checking for jewellery. One of them noticed a diamond and blue-enamel ring on my finger, which I had inherited from my grandmother. He almost tore my finger off trying to get [it] so I took it off and gave it to him. Being dirty and smeared with ashes seemed to repulse them and I was left alone," she said.
During the uprising, during which almost 50,000 members of the Polish Home Army attacked the German garrison, she helped care for the wounded. When the Poles surrendered two months later, about 18,000 Polish fighters had been killed, along with 150,000 civilians.
The Nazis destroyed 90 per cent of the colourful and cosmopolitan capital she had known as a child. Her family was upper-middle class, with connections throughout Polish society. "[They] lived in very comfortable circumstances," said daughter Mariea SPARKS. "They lived in a large, comfortable apartment filled with art and employed a cook and a maid."
Major-General Stefan SZNUK was a pioneer Polish aviator who fought in the First World War for Imperial Russia and later, after the Russian revolution, with the counterrevolutionary White Russians. For his daughter Krystyna, who studied at the exclusive Plater-Zyberk School, life as a teenager during the 1930s centred on school and family.
Dr. Danuta PODKOMORSKA, now living in retirement in Winnipeg, first met her when they were both eight years old. "We went to prep school and then to high school together, where we sat at the same desk. My mother died when I was very young so her mother mothered me as well."
It was "carefree and naive," said Dr. PODKOMORSKA. "We were sheltered from the world through school and family." In May of 1939, young Krystyna graduated from high school. "I was bursting with life and joy. The world was open to me, first the holidays, then entrance exams to university, and maybe an occasional meeting with my boyfriend. Those were my plans."
It all came to an end on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Over the next six years, she and her mother, Stanislawa, survived a brutal and oppressive occupation in a "grey and sad" Warsaw. Food was short and fear was endemic. One day, two Gestapo agents barged into their apartment and interrogated her on the whereabouts of her father, who had escaped to Britain, where he became an aide to General Wladyslaw SIKORSKI, head of the Polish government-in-exile.
"Of course we did not know, and what little we suspected we would not divulge." Her mother was arrested the following day. Weeks later, her uncle was shot.
Desperate to get her mother out of jail, she borrowed money, which she gave to a lawyer to bribe the Gestapo. It worked, and her mother arrived home a few days later.
"I opened the door and my heart sank with pity, a feeling stronger than the joy of seeing mother free. I could not believe it was the same person. She was so thin, poor soul, and her hair had gone completely white. Four months of prison took its toll, but she was free, free, free and we were together."
She herself was not free for long. For the last eight months of the war, she was a slave labourer at the infamous Ravensbruck and Buchenwald death camps. Risking their lives, she and her Friends "deliberately sabotaged the shells they produced," said daughter Nina SPARKS. " She knew that if the Germans caught them, they'd be killed."
After the war, Krystyna SZNUK decided to emigrate to Canada, where her parents had already settled. They were reunited in Ottawa and in 1948 she married Roderick SPARKS, scion of a prominent local family.
Krystyna SZNUK- SPARKS was born on January 2, 1922, in Warsaw. She died of an aneurism on June 11 in Ottawa. She was 83. She leaves her daughters Nina, Mariea and Anna, and son Robert. She was predeceased by her husband, Roderick SPARKS.
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