Stanisław Szczepański, a WW2 veteran who fought for the Second Polish Corps under General Wladyslaw Anders, died on 6 June 2022 aged 95.
From left, former Polish Ambassador to New Zealand, Zbigniew Gniatkowski, Polish veterans Stanisław Szczepański and Adam Piotrzkiewicz, and Honorary Consul for Auckland, Bogusław Nowak, at the presentation of Pro Patria medals for the two veterans in Auckland in 2017.
Pan Stanisław was long-time member of the Auckland Polish Association and the Polish Ex-Combatants Association (SPK, Stowarzyszenie Polskich Kombatantów). He received several decorations for his part in the Italian campaign of 1944–1945, and in 2017 the Polish Ambassador to New Zealand, Zbigniew Gnatkowski presented him with Polish Pro Patria medal for “Outstanding contributions in perpetuating the memory of the people and deeds in the struggle for Polish independence during World War II.”
Pan Stanisław was born in Zenonowo, on a farm which his father, Bronisław, established after volunteering in the 1919–1920 Polish-Soviet War. After WWI, the government of the new Second Polish Republic made grants of the often-impoverished land that the Polish men fought for. The men who received grants in this way had to pay taxes, and for all improvements such as buildings, but it gave those who put in the work a much-needed new start in life after Poland had been wiped off the geographical map for 123 years.
The hundreds of new communities of former soldiers in eastern Poland were known as osady. Zenonowo was near Wiszniew in the Wilno province. Pan Stanisław, the second of four children, was 13 in February 1940 when Soviet troops rounded up his family at gunpoint in the early hours, turned them out of their home and—with hundreds of thousands of other Polish civilians—transported them by cattle trains to work in forced-labour facilities scattered throughout the USSR.
They managed to survive but, after the Poles were allowed to leave the Soviet facilities in 1941, the family split in Uzbekistan. His father and older brother Jan managed to find and enlist into the Polish army. His younger brother Józef was put into an orphanage. His sister Wala (Walentyna) was in hospital, and later arrived in New Zealand in 1944 with 732 other Polish children and their 105 caregivers. But his mother, Anna née Rutkowska, simply vanished.
Then, too young to enlist into the Polish army proper, he joined the Polish Military Cadets’ Mechanical School in Tel-El-Kebir in Egypt.
Ted (Tadeusz) Szczepanski at his father’s funeral: “Despite his young age Dad was put in charge of 36 other youths. He had to be their father, mother, and mentor. This shaped his life in terms of being ‘the rock’ for people to lean on and for wanting to serve others.
“In Palestine, by chance, Dad met his older brother Jan. This was very emotional for him—it was the first contact he had had with a member of his family for two years.
“Dad joined the regular army when he turned 16. He studied and worked in the engineering division near Cairo in Egypt. He graduated top of his class as a fitter and turner. Later he was promoted to the signal section where his work included laying telephone cables in the battlefields of Italy. He and his fellow signals soldiers worked close to enemy lines ahead of the main Polish forces, which then used the communications they provided as they engaged the enemy. Here he witnessed a lot of death and dying.
“After the war, Dad was sent to England to set up training schools for returning Polish soldiers. He was a leader and a diligent worker.”
Like most of the WW2 Polish veterans who fought in Europe, Pan Stanisław, his father and his younger brothers had no desire to return to a communist-controlled Poland. They elected to join Wala in New Zealand, which was then accepting the families of the Pahiatua refugees. Pan Stanisław followed his father and Józef in November 1948, arriving as one of 18 “foreign souls” from London off the RMS Rimutaka in Wellington in November 1948. Jan died at sea during the war, on a ship that was sunk by Germans.
In 1952, Stanisław Szczepanski married Janina Malczewska, who arrived in New Zealand in 1944 with the Pahiatua orphans, and who died in 2015. They moved to moved to Auckland in the early 1990s, where their sons Andrzej, Tadeusz and John-Paul lived, and where they were closer to their six grandchildren and great-grandchildren (eight this year).
Tadeusz: “Dad loved his family and was very much loved by us all. He was deeply religious, very hard working and demanded nothing but the maximum effort from us—he was a product of his time. He was convinced that a strict adherence to following the commandments and the teachings of the Church was the only way to live.
“Dad also had a strong community spirit. He knew everyone on the street—everyone knew Stan! He loved to give advice. He used to say that he “had experience.”
“He was active in the Polish community and often took the new arrivals he met at Sunday Polish Mass under his wing and helped them find accommodation or work. He would even give them English lessons if required!
Dad contributed a lot to New Zealand but it was Poland that was always in his heart.”
Rest in peace.
For more details about the capture of around 1.7-million civilian and military Poles from eastern Poland between 1939 and 1941, see https://polishhistorynewzealand.org/missing-humanity/.