Polish professor recalls fighting the Nazis in WWII
by BRIAN NADIG
After World War II, Zbigniew Anthony Kruszewski eventually left Europe and came to the United States with a dream of fulfilling his mother’s wish that he become a diplomat or a political scientist in the hope of bringing some sanity to a world in which millions had been killed.
His mother died in a Nazi concentration camp, according to Northwest Chicago Historical Society vice president Dan Pogorzelski, who moderated a Dec. 6 discussion with the 93-year-old Kruszewski at the Copernicus Center, 5216. W. Lawrence Ave.
Also attending was contemporary history professor Beata Halicka, author of "Borderlands Biography," which focuses on Kruszewski’s life in wartime Europe and post-war America.
Kruszewski recalled his experiences as a teenager fighting the Nazis during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 in which Polish rebels fought to free the city from German control ahead of advancing Soviet army, which would invade and take over from the east. It is estimated that at least 150,000 civilians and 16,000 members of the Polish resistance died during the uprising, which lasted 63 days.
"We are all volunteers, and we expected to die," Kruszewski said of the resistance. Serving as a scout and courier for the resistance, Kruszewski would traverse through the sewer system, which the German military would throw grenades into.
In the uprising, he was arrested by the Germans and was able to escape transport but ended up being a prisoner of war until a camp he was in was liberated. He later joined the Polish Army in Italy and later departed to England.
"There were two different wars … soldiers killing soldiers and the extermination," with the concentration camps and mass executions, Kruszewski said.
In 1952, he came to the U.S. and studied at the University of Chicago and became friends with the parents of Hubert Cioromski, who is chairman of the Copernicus Foundation in Jefferson Park.
Cioromski said that the living room at his parents’ house was a gathering place for Polish community leaders and others to discuss important issues.
"I always had immigrants staying at my home as a child," said Cioromski, whose father served as a freedom fighter during WWII.
Kruszewski also was friends with former Northwest Side congressman and alderman Roman Pucinski and helped Pucinski write speeches on U.S.-Poland relations, Pogorzelski said.
Kruszewski has been a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.
"I came for 5 years and stayed for 50 years."
Considered a leader in the field of borderland studies, Kruszewski used the school’s location to help study U.S.-Mexico relations. He also helped to establish the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center.
Pogorzelski asked Kruszewski how he is able to embrace life given the violence and countless killings he saw in Warsaw."You have to look to the future," Kruszewski said. "You have to really think about the next generation."