by Patricia Kolodziejek
I reflect on my father’s 95th birthday on Jan. 28, and his legacy as a Polish Catholic Holocaust survivor. It is nothing short of extraordinarily good fortune and his deep faith in God that spared my father’s life during five years of unthinkable Nazi brutality.
Waclaw Kolodziejek was arrested in August 1940 in Warsaw as a teenager. His crime: being Polish. And he was Catholic. It took many days in a crowded standing-room-only cattle car train before he was unloaded in Auschwitz concentration camp. He found himself in the company of hundreds of thousands of other Catholic Poles just like him. Auschwitz was not yet completed, so my father was forced to finish this Nazi order.
Auschwitz was specifically constructed by the Nazis initially to imprison Poles. From 1940 to 1942, prisoners were almost exclusively Polish Christians. 1941 saw the first exterminations of these Christian prisoners. From 1942 to 1944, Jews were delivered to Auschwitz in the Nazi “Final Solution.”
Many of these Polish Christian prisoners not killed in the gas chambers or individual executions, died of starvation, forced labor, and medical experiments. My father suffered forced labor, starvation, medical experimentation, and torture. He refused to succumb to death. His unbreakable endurance was remarkable, and the Nazis nicknamed him “hard as stone.”
He was condemned to death and tattooed on his chest with “2254.” In June 2009, Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s Director of Research explained this Nazi branding:
“The difficulties in identifying the corpses increased… tattooing was done with a special metal stamp, holding interchangeable numbers made up of needles approximately one centimeter long. This device allowed the whole serial number to be punched at one blow onto the prisoner’s left upper chest.”
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum believes that my father may be the last remaining Holocaust survivor from one of the first transports into Auschwitz with a number on his chest. My father has always worn this “2254” tattoo as a badge of Nazi defiance that encapsulates his determination to live despite all odds, a symbol of his witness and testimony to Nazi atrocity.
Some Holocaust survivors could not or would not discuss their experiences of terror committed by the Nazis. But my family lived my father’s near-death horrors each and every day. My sister and I grew up listening to his recollections daily. He lived his life never forgetting what the Nazis did and he never let his children forget.
The subject of the Holocaust as it pertains to Christian Poles continues to be met with ignorance and outright distortions to its history.
It is no secret that Hitler’s Generalplan Ost (General Plan East) was a plan to colonize Central and Eastern Europe, implemented by genocide and ethnic cleansing, and that Nazis viewed Slavic People as inferior. It is no secret that Poland’s territories have always been geographically and strategically valuable, and historically fought over. It is no secret that on Aug. 22, 1939 Hitler ordered his commanders to “kill without pity or mercy, all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language.”
Nazi crimes claimed the lives of three million Christian Poles and three million Polish Jews.
On this 95th birthday, I wish to celebrate my father’s life, defined as a Holocaust survivor, and wish him a Happy Birthday. We celebrate his life in defiance of Heinrich Himmler’s dark intent: “All Poles will disappear from the world. … It is essential that the great German people should consider it their major task to destroy all Poles.”
As we begin a new year, I wish our world peace that includes acknowledgment, inclusion and deep respect for our Polish Christian Holocaust survivors that is so deserved and overdue. My hope is for a balanced reference of the Holocaust that correctly tells its history for future generations to learn from. It is a responsibility that benefits humanity and the legacy of all who suffered the Holocaust.
Editor’s Note: Readers who want to join his daughter Patricia Kolodziejek in wishing Mr. Waclaw Kolodziejek a Happy Birthday may respond to P.O. Box 294, North Chelmsford, Mass. 01863.