Freedom Fighters

6 patriotic Americans who served in the Polish underground finally achieve recognition

Bill Biega kissing his wife Lili Biega's hand

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These brave men and women who participated in the Warsaw Uprising are today proud U.S. citizens. The battle they fought for freedom in 1944 against the Nazi war machine had for years been relegated to the dustbin of history. But in 2014, their sacrifice and courage was finally recognized in a state-sponsored ceremony in Warsaw. Returning to the city they had fought to save, they shared their stories with the Post in order that their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would know of the value they place on freedom.

George W. Kielak

Las Vegas, Nevada

Polish underground fighter George Kielak
George Kielak

Age: 85

Resistance code name: Orzel (Eagle)

When the Germans came: “Everything that we were used to as expected as normal, penalty was death. Help to the Jewish people. Penalty for death. Even if a slice of bread.”

The Uprising: When he swore his allegiance to the resistance, “I came home to my mother, and I was not sure her reaction, and I told her. She said, ‘They will kill you, they will kill you,’ and that meant to me her approval.”

Close call: As an ammunition carrier, he had a gun that did not actually work, but looked impressive: “I was at a barricade in front of the cathedral. Suddenly, I saw a German in front of me. Both of us jumped behind the big pillar in the cathedral, he from one side, I from the other.” The German tossed a grenade at him, but it didn’t explode. George pulled out his gun. “I told the German to put his hands up, and he was shaking like gelatin.”

Liberation: He was captured when the resistance failed. He was freed from Stalag VIJ, a German prison camp near Cologne on April 17, 1945. George remembers feeling “excitement and disappointment and jealousy,” adding, “American coming for Americans, British for the British, and the French could walk to their country.” He could not return to Poland, now ruled by Soviets who were killing Polish resistance members.

Today: “Freedom doesn’t come free. You have to earn it.”

Krystyna Chciuk

San Francisco, California

Polish underground fighter Krystyna Chciuk
Krystyna Chciuk
Photo (left) by Michael Luongo. Courtesy Krystyna Chciuk

Age: 88

Resistance code name: Sonia

The Uprising: At 15, she secretly followed her older cousins into a building and hid while a priest administered an oath of allegiance to the gathering. When he discovered her, she announced, “It is too late Father, because I already took an oath with everybody.” While the priest fretted over what to do, “a voice came from the dark, a woman’s voice, ‘I will take her.’ And that is how I joined.”

Surrender: The most sad, tremendous moment was when I had to give up my gun. The men were trying to kill themselves, and we had to talk them out of it.” They were placed into cattle cars — “50 people in one wagon, we could not stand or sit”— and sent to German work camps.

Today: Krystyna said her experience is a reminder to “treasure your freedoms. Don’t be so complacent about your freedoms here. America is the best country, and hopefully we are far away from harm’s way. But freedom you have to fight for. You have to teach your children to guard it and fight for it every day.”

Mark Rudnicki

Sacramento, California

Mark Rudnicki
Mark Rudnicki
Courtesy Mark Rudnicki

Age: 92

Resistance code name: Emir (Prince)

The Uprising: Mark and a small band of resistance fighters took over Warsaw’s telephone exchange, one of the city’s tallest buildings. “Once we got inside, the Germans were throwing hand grenades and shooting.” They won the building floor by bloody floor, and Mark and a friend “ran to the top of the building and took the German flag down,” putting the Polish one in its place.

Surrender: At war’s end, he made his way from Germany to Italy and finally the U.S. in 1952.

Today: Six million Poles lost their lives in the war; “Three million were Catholics and 3 million were Jewish. We wanted freedom, and before the war Poland had freedom of religions.”

Christine Stamper

Newport Beach, California

Christine Stamper
Christine Stamper
Courtesy Christine Stamper

Age: 86

Resistance code name: Krystyna II

Invasion: Just 11 when the Nazis first came, Christine lived in the center of Warsaw. “The change was immediate, like from night and day,” she said, with rules forbidding radio and gun ownership and establishing curfews. She recalls segregated street cars, Germans in front, Poles in back.

The Uprising: It was forbidden to go to school, so she attended an underground one. One day in 1944, her school’s block was surrounded by Germans. The situation seemed hopeless, but “somebody knew there was a way to get into the storm drain,” Christine said. She and 88 insurgents crawled underground nearly 8 hours, emerging in cabbage fields in territory controlled by the Germans.

Today: “You do anything for freedom, and you don’t know what you would do until you lose it.”

Bill and Lili Biega

Monroe, New Jersey

Bill And Lili Biega
Bill And Lili Biega
Top Photo: Courtesy Bill and Lili Biega. Bottom Photo: © Uprising Museum

Age: 92 and 91

Resistance code names: Palak (Collector) and Jarmuz (Parsley)

The Uprising: Bill had been wounded by machine-gun fire. He met Lili at a field hospital where she trained young women as medics. Love blossomed quickly, and they married on August 13, 1944, an event filmed by the resistance’s propaganda team. Their wedding became famous among resistance fighters and is often reenacted during commemorations.

Surrender: Bill and Lili were transported to the German POW camp Stalag IV-B Zeithain, where they were allowed to remain together. When the war ended, Bill became a Polish liaison officer to United States Armed Forces occupying southwest Germany. The family made its way to England, finally reaching the U.S. on January 2, 1951.

Today: Bill wants others to know “the importance of standing firm for your beliefs.”


Accompanying articles from the July/August 2015 issue:

“The World War II Struggle That Time Forgot” by Michael Luongo
“Behind Enemy Lines” from the Post archive

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Comments

  1. I don’t like the use of the word insurgents. “She and 88 insurgents crawled underground nearly 8 hours,” An insurgent is one that fights against the government of their own country. The Germans invaded our country, they were not there legitimately. These people were freedom fighters, members of the resistance to german rule, please honour them by describing them correctly.

  2. Nice article, especially when published by American media. It very often thing to see WWII article related to PL without “polish death camps”.

  3. My heart soared like a Polish eagle to read not one, not two, but three articles in the Post about Poland heroics in WWII. I am the creator and administrator of the 1,100 member Facebook Group, “The Way Back-Unknown Stories of WWII Poland”. For over four years, we’ve try to take “the way back” to the truth–to understand what really happened to Poland in addition to exploring the reasons why we’ve known so little for so long. Through hundreds of posts including the most recent ones linking to your superb articles in your July/August issue it has been the experience of a lifetime…especially for those of us of Polish heritage who knew little or nothing about any of this. On behalf of the entire Group, I want to extend my most heartfelt gratitude for these three articles. 75 years ago the gates of hell opened in Poland when they were invaded and brutally occupied by both Germany and the Soviet Union. Their national nightmare would not be over until 25 years ago and we are only now able to finally learn of the full depth of their misery and the heights of their heroism. Long live the new, free Poland! Thank you again!

  4. I was deeply touched reading the accounts of survival by the Polish people. I am in the same current age group as many of them (I’m 84) but when I think about the contrast of our lives during those war years I find it remarkable. I was busy being a girl scout earning a cooking badge, learning to make a milkless, eggless, butterless cake because those ingredients were rationed during the war. Our sacrifices were small when compared to the Polish people. When I was eleven years old we had paper drives and tin can drives at school. We had no idea of what many in the world were up against except through newspapers and newsreels at the movies. The food and gasoline rationing along with the paper and metal collections at school gave me a feeling of participating in some enormous, far away, ugly event that I could hardly imagine. When I was about eleven, I organized all the children in the neighborhood to have a parade around a block of our neighborhood, ending in a front yard where we “put on a show” to raise money for the Red Cross. It was a way of helping yet, comparing my life with the lives of some of the Polish children, what we did was no minute. “The War” was far away, often talked about, but we were spared from the fear that the Polish children could not escape.
    Michael Luongo has made me so aware of how very fortunate I was during the time of the Polish resistance to be living in my safe warm home in Tulsa, Ok.
    These stories, and most likely there are more, need to be compiled in a book that should be in every text book in American schools as required reading. I fear that our younger generation and those that follow, will never learn about the extreme sacrifices made by so many people during World War II. They need to be reminded what it takes to maintain and appreciate our freedom. It is too easy these days, to take it for granted.

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