Thursday, June 6, 2013

WWII Veteran: Edward Kolenda

Note: The article written by Smentek and Hess contains a variety of illustrations. Below is just the text. If you wish to receive the original article in PDF format, please e-mail You can also stop by the Cavendish Historical Society Museum and read the story, which is part of the Society's WWII collection. 

Story of Mr. Edward Kolenda’s combatant life Lidia Smentek and B. Andes Hess, Jr.

Edward Kolenda was born in Claremont, NH, in 1923 of Polish immigrants. In July 1932 the family returned to Poland taking Eddie with them. The family was originally from Eastern Poland, and they resettled in Izypol (Wilejka district) close to Vilnius, now Lithuania. 

On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland and World War II erupted. As a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact Poland was also invaded on September 17, 1939 by the Soviet Army, and several thousand Polish army officers, policemen and civilians were arrested and taken to the NKVD (Narodny Kommisariat Vnutrennikh Del = People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, in the former Soviet Union under Stalin’s rules) camps: Kozielsk, Ostaszkowo and Starobielsk. 

In the spring of 1940 thousands of these Polish prisoners were executed with the most infamous execution site being the Katyń Forest. Then, the Soviets changed sides and began fighting the German Army. The treaty between the Soviet government and the Polish government in exile was signed in London on July 30, 1941. On August 14, 1941 a military agreement signed in Moscow allowed the organization of a Polish Army on Soviet territory. General Władysław Anders became its head. It was a volunteer army established for the Polish men who had been kept in captivity by the Soviets. However no one knew how many of them had been living there. At that time a “formal” amnesty was proclaimed (they had been imprisoned in camps only because they were Polish) and the Polish prisoners were freed. Thousands of them joined the newly formed Polish Army, and by February 1942 it was made up of 75 thousand soldiers. Nobody knew at that time why no Polish officers were joining the army. Indeed, no one knew until 1943 when it became known that they had all been killed in Katyń (Lidia’s uncle was among the officers killed by the Russians at Katyń).

Stalin did not fulfill his promise to provide military equipment and food for the newly formed army; there was hunger, death, misery and no arms to fight with. With the approval of Stalin, the Polish Army was transferred to Iran in the spring of 1942 and joined the British Eighth Army to form the Polish II Corps. The Anders Army eventually ended up in Italy fighting along side the British troops at Monte Cassino (

Mr. Kolenda joined the Anders Army as a young boy. While being an American, he was ready to fight for the Mother Country of his parents and siblings, who were born after the family’s return to the village near Vilnius.

Eventually, after a long, treacherous way across war-torn Europe he ended up in England. Obviously, since he had been born in Claremont, NH, he was an American citizen, but of course he had no documents to prove this at that time. In any case his American citizenship was revoked at the moment he joined the forces of an army other than the United States. The key piece of evidence, that proved he indeed is an American citizen, was his baptismal certificate from the Catholic Church in Claremont obtained by his uncle, who was living at that time in Brattleboro, VT, and sent it to England.

Based on this birth certificate from Claremont, his American citizenship was formally restored in London by the U.S. consul just before his departure to the United States. From his “application to resume citizenship in the United States by a person who while a citizen of the United States lost his citizenship in order to perform military service during the second World War” as stated in the document below it is possible to learn Mr. Kolenda’s path to freedom:
I solemnly swear that [...]
I have resided outside the United States as follows:

Poland from July, 1932 to 1942
Germany and France - forced labor from 1942 to Dec. 1944 [taken into captivity] Italy-Polish Forces from Dec. 1944 to Aug. 1946 [after his escape from the labor camp] England from Aug. 1946 to date
that on December 18, 1944, on which I was a citizen of the United States I entered the

military service of Poland [...]
that I terminated such service on November 10, 1947,
that I lost my citizenship in connection with such service
that I intend to return to the United States to reside permanently within a few days
and the document was signed on November 12, 1947 in London, England.

This decision was based in part on a document prepared earlier at the Embassy of the United States of America in London, signed by the Consul who interviewed Mr. Kolenda on April 25, 1947.

The decision about the resumed citizenship on November 12, 1947, and the issue of the passport, was confirmed by the document dated on February 13, 1948, which was sent to Mr. Kolenda under care of his uncle Mr. K. Jurkiewicz who gave him shelter after his return from the war.

December 18, 1944 was a special date for Mr. Kolenda, since this was his return to freedom after escape from the labor camp while the war still underway. This is when he joined the Polish Army established abroad. The war ended in May 1945 but Mr. Kolenda was still far from his birthplace across the ocean, being in England. Poland was already liberated but obviously he did not know anything about the fate of his family. In October 1945 he graduated from riflery training as a non-commissioned officer; the copy of his diploma is below.

While being a soldier of the Third Division of the Carpathian Rifle Battalion (as the diploma states) his documents were not completed to allow him to go home, where he was born. It is interesting however to find that among various, very important documents describing his life of that time, among his private treasures kept for so many years, there is also evidence of his vaccinations from August 2, 1946,

On August 22, 1947 he received the release from the Allied Forces in the United Kingdom issued together with the permission to remain in the country while waiting for the formal documents to depart.
After Mr. Kolenda’s demobilization from the Polish Armed Forces (copy below) on October 10, 1947 all the arrangements to go back to the United States went rather quickly.
He received his EMBARKATION CARD with special instructions

He received a fortune of 16 US Dollars that, as Mr. Kolenda recalls, was confiscated by the British officials on his departure from England. The question how he traveled across the ocean without money is still left without an answer.

He traveled by a British ship, the R.M.S. Nova Scotia, a passenger/cargo ship built in 1947.

Below it is seen from his Canadian Immigration Admission Card that the ship made a stop in New Foundland, to unload cargo. This card was issued to allow him to go ashore while the ship was in port at St. John’s, New Foundland.

The most important document and the main piece of evidence that the long procedure required of him to return home after the war is his Landing Card stamped at the Boston Harbor “ADMITTED NOV 26 1947”:

Mr. Kolenda’s landing card showing that he was admitted to the United States on November 26, 1947, only 16 days after his citizenship had been restored in London

It is interesting that he still has this card in his possession given that it states on the card, “THIS CARD MUST BE ... SURRENDERED AT THE GANGWAY WHEN LEAVING THE VESSEL. After traveling to Boston by ship he caught the train to Brattleboro, where he was reunited with his uncle, while the rest of his family, whose fate was unknown at that time, was left in a war zone near Vilnius. Interestingly his ship arrived some hours late in Boston, and he was unable to catch the train that his uncle was to meet in Brattleboro. He took the next train and arrived in Brattleboro in the middle of the night with no one waiting for him at the station. Even though he had left the United states 15 years earlier as a young boy, he remembered how to get to his uncle’s house in Brattleboro from the railway station. One can imagine the scene when he knocked on his uncle’s door in the middle of the night.

Mr. Kolenda does not like to talk about this part of his life, saying that it is past, and only the future mainly matters but over the years we have been able to learn his story, because Lidia is Polish, and they share the memories, tragedies and knowledge of the history of this part of the world, not to mention the language. During the time Mr. Kolenda was fighting for freedom as a soldier on two fronts, the situation at home close to Wilejka was neither calm nor safe. The atmosphere of terror during the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union after the German attack, especially in the Eastern part of Poland (the borders were changed after the war) is well described in an article written by Lidia on the occasion of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s death (attached).

Mr. Kolenda’s father shared the fate of thousands of Polish victims killed by Soviets at that time. On May 22, 2011, Lidia talked to Dominik, Edward’s younger brother who remained in Poland after the war (born in Poland, and recently deceased) who told her the following story: “Those who in the thirties came back from the States to Poland had an extra opportunity to buy ground after the parceling out of the private manors. Our parents bought ground in Izypol, in the district of Wilejka, only 10 km from the Russian border. Our father was arrested, not by the obvious enemy, the Germans; but by the new ones, the Russians, who in 1939 had joined Germany. He was transferred deep into Siberia. We did not know what happened to him, since there was no contact. Mother’s two sisters were captured along with their families and also taken to Siberia. Mother with her children, [but without Edward, who was fighting as a soldier at the front], was able to be back in Poland in August 1945, and she settled in the Western part of the country [this was after the war and their native village was that time in Lithuania, so they had to move to those parts of Poland that were emptied of Germans in what is now western Poland, but before the war was part of Germany]. But the uncles, mother’s brothers did not return to Poland until March 1946. At that time they brought information about our father, since he wrote to them [apparently it was after the war ended when his wife, Edward’s mother, was already in Poland] letting them know that he was kept in captivity in a camp in the far northern part of Russia. Having this information, the family wrote to father providing their new address, and as a reply they received in 1946 two letters informing that he is sick in a hospital and asking, ‘please, do not wait for me!’ After the so-called Gomułka’s thaw [the political thaw in Poland after Stalin’s death] in 1956 my sister asked the Red Cross for help to find our father. She received an answer from Moscow that such a person died in 1948 in a camp, but no more information they are providing. It is interesting, and unbelievable what we learned later! The neighbor from our village Izypol was also kept in captivity in the same place where our father was. There were two camps, one for men and one for women. While kept there, she did not have any idea that Mr. Kolenda was in this camp, otherwise through her connections that helped her to survive and be back in Poland, she would have been able to help our father.”

Mr. Kolenda lost his American citizenship when fighting for the mother country of his parents, Poland, and also the country of his nationality. In the war he lost his youth, freedom, contact with the closest ones, the stable ground and prospects for the future, especially at the point when it was unknown in which direction fate (or officials) would let him go; back to the village near Wilejka, which after the war became part of the Soviet Union, or to the country of his birth, the United States. The Cross of Valor, The 1939-45 Star and The Italy Star distinguished him in honor of his actions in the battles against the Germans, but the question remains unanswered whether all these honors and distinctions can compensate for the trauma he experienced during these years, so early in his life. Finally given that he fought bravely on several fronts during WWII, there is no question that he is a WWII hero, who lives in Proctorsville, VT.

The value of the distinctions mentioned by Mr. Kolenda in the Demobilization document of October 28, 1947 give support to his heroism during WWII. It is enough to read the description of each of them to realize, and even imagine, the danger and, at the same time, the strength of determination of those who were fighting for freedom of Europe when occupied by Germany.

The Cross of Valor  (in Polish: Krzyż Walecznych) is a Polish distinction awarded to those who “have demonstrated deeds of valor and courage on the field of battle”. This medal is presented only during wartime or immediately after. It is written on the obverse: “On the field of Glory”, and on the reverse “To the Valiant” and the date 1944.

The 1939-45 Star  was the medal awarded by the British Commonwealth for operational service between September 3, 1939 and September 2, 1945. The obverse of this star (yellow copper zinc alloy) contains the Royal Cypher (a monogram-like decoration with the initials of the monarch) surmounted by a crown. The ribbon of this medal represents three equal bands for the victory achieved by the Royal Navy, Army, and the Royal Air Force.

The third distinction is the Italy Star, which was the campaign medal of the British Commonwealth awarded to those fighting in WWII. There is the Italy Star Association 1939-45, which organizes the reunion every May in Chichester, United Kingdom. Their motto is: When you walk in peaceful lanes so green – remember us - and think what might have been”.
Do not we need to remember them? ... and salute them?

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