The following article appeared in the Globe & Mail, �Canada�s National
Newspaper�, on Wed. Feb. 28, 2007. It was featured on the outside back page
of the first section and accompanied by a large two-column coloured picture
of The Order of Polonia Restituta that was presented to Mieczyslaw Oziewicz.
His wife, Stella, also a survivor of Siberia, spoke at the ceremony about
�the forced exodus of hundreds of thousands of Poles to Soviet Central Asia
and their harsh ordeal throughout the war.� The medal was presented by the
Polish Ambassador to Canada. .
A hero in two countries
Parents spend their entire lives being proud of their children but this was
an occasion when my siblings and I could beam with pride about our father.
[by] ESTANISLAO OZIEWICZ
A nursing home in downtown Barrie, Ont., had some unusual visitors on a
snowy and blustery weekend morning recently.
A delegation representing the Polish government, led by Polish Ambassador
Piotr Ogrodzinski and including the Polish Consul in Toronto, a military
attach�� and a top-ranking military chaplain, came to present my father,
Mieczyslaw Oziewicz, with Poland's highest civilian honour.
The award is called the The Order of Polonia Restituta and is presented for
meritorious service to Poland. It is akin to the Order of Canada. My father,
who just turned 90, has lived in Canada for more than 50 years and is a
Canadian citizen. Here, Mieczyslaw became Mark.
Polonia Restituta means Poland restored, and his Commander's Cross was
presented in recognition not only of his wartime service as an Allied
veteran -- he flew bombing operations with Royal Air Force Group One's 300
Polish (Mazowiecki) Squadron -- but also for keeping the idea of Poland
alive throughout the wartime years and his life in Canada.
One of the interesting things we learned along the way is that Rideau Hall
[seat of the Governor General of Canada] had to rubber-stamp the award.
That's because any orders, decorations and medals bestowed by a foreign
government on a Canadian citizen must be vetted by the Chancellery of
Honours and approved by the Canadian government.
My father had been invited to Warsaw to receive the award at the
Presidential Palace. But he has become increasingly infirm in recent years
and, around Christmas, had a stroke, was hospitalized and then moved to a
nursing home. So, the Polish government generously went out of its way to
bestow the honour in Barrie, among Leisureworld residence staff, some other
residents who are also Second World War veterans, and family and friends.
Parents spend their entire lives being proud of their children -- whether
they deserve it or not -- but this was an occasion when my siblings and I
could beam with pride about our father and mother, Stella, who I later said
should also have received an award for having put up with my father for 57
Mr. Ogrodzinski said my father is a great Polish hero and a great Canadian
hero. "I'm happy to see his family here from the life he created in Canada,
but he also never forgot Poland. It is wonderful to hear his children
speaking in impeccable Polish and it is an honour to be here today."
The "impeccable Polish" surely was a reference to my mother, who made a
heartfelt speech that touched on the forced exodus of hundreds of thousands
of Poles to Soviet Central Asia and their harsh ordeal throughout the war.
She was exiled as an 11-year-old and became an orphan not long afterward,
but throughout all the succeeding years, retained her mother tongue. She
ended her comments with words from Poland's national anthem: "Jeszcze Polska
nie zginela," -- Poland has not yet perished.
The ceremony ended with a beautiful benediction by Gen. Ryszard Borski, a
Roman Catholic military chaplain, who was in Canada attending a conference,
heard about the event and insisted on attending.
Despite his stroke, my father still has many of his mental faculties. His
biggest impairment is hearing loss, which was ameliorated a bit for the
occasion by a special headset and microphone. He is humble, as far from
loquacious as one can be, and he was a bit awed by all the fuss. His teary
eyes did most of the talking. It was the only time any of us children can
ever recall him crying.
"I am so grateful. It is so nice, especially to have all my family here," he
whispered. Around his neck Ambassador Ogrodzinski had clasped the Polonia
Restituta badge: a red, white-striped ribbon bearing a large, gilt-edged
Maltese cross enameled in white.
A local Barrie reporter asked him whether he had any advice for Canadian
soldiers in Afghanistan. I'm not sure whether he understood the question and
he replied, "I'm happy to have all my family here. I'm very lucky to have
five children." My sister, Eva Hunter, interpreted his comments: "I think
perhaps he's saying that you fight for your family."
Near the end of his life, my father's roots have now come full circle,
another reason why I think he appears to be more serene and more easy to get
along with than he has been in years. The Polish government's tribute means
that he can leave his children and grandchildren with a sense of
Even the stroke has not fazed him. He's always been prone to fatalism, and
lately has become a Doris Dayist: "Que sera, sera," he says, in neither
English nor Polish.
Stan Oziewicz writes for The Globe and Mail.