Living Out Loud May/June 2019

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Right after the release of our March/April issue, we received a special note from a reader that touched our hearts. Lynchburg resident Helen Swanson has a very personal connection to D-Day and was especially moved by our story “The Relics of War.” We are publishing her feedback in full.

“THANK YOU for the wonderful article in your March/April issue on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The article was especially poignant for me because D-Day was the beginning of the American and Allied soldiers liberating the German slave labor and concentration camps one year later.

To explain in a condensed version—my father, Joseph (Jozef) Seczkowski, was just a young man of 19 when he was rounded up with other men, women and children in his hometown in Poland in April 1940. He was taken to various Nazi concentration camps in Germany. He spent five years of his life as a prisoner in these camps. Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, Germany, located outside of Berlin, was the last concentration camp he was in. Not as well known as Dachau or Auschwitz, thousands passed through its gates and heinous experiments were conducted on many of its prisoners.

My mother’s home and village in Poland were burned to the ground in 1943 by German soldiers. She and her parents and sister were given the choice to stay and be killed or board the train that took them to a slave labor camp near the port city of Kiel, Germany. My mother Irena was just
15 years old and was forced to work at the shipyard unloading coal from the ships. Some days she tended to graves at a local cemetery.

After the camps were liberated, my parents spent five more years in “displaced persons” camps set up by the Allies before obtaining sponsors and visas to come to the United States. Troop ships were retrofitted to transport refugees to their new destinations. With a few meager possessions, they boarded the General W.C. Langfitt at Bremerhaven, Germany on November 4, 1950. Jozef was 29 and Irena was 22. They arrived at Ellis Island, New York on November 14, 1950. From there they traveled by bus to Chicago, where they began their young lives in America.

Full of spirit and determination my parents worked hard, learned the English language, and became naturalized American citizens in 1960. They loved their newfound freedom in their new country and never looked back. They were forever grateful to America and the soldiers who freed them. My mother passed away in March of 2006. My father died in January of 2017 at the age of 95. He felt that with the passage of time the struggles and strife of WWII and his generation will be forgotten.

It is important that we never forget the sacrifice of our soldiers or the strength and courage of the immigrants who came to the United States. The D-Day Memorial and your article certainly keep them in our memory.”

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