- http://www.jsonline.com/news/obituaries/122205334.html Zdzislaw Szpinalski . Share . . . . . . . Szpinalski s life shaped by WWII He was sent to workMessage 1 of 1 , May 27, 2011View Source
Szpinalski's life shaped by WWII
He was sent to work camp, battle before immigrating to U.S.
By Amy Rabideau Silvers of the Journal Sentinel
Photo courtesy of the Szpinalski family
Zdzislaw Szpinalski served in the Polish Army during World War II, fighting in Italy and the Middle East.
Zdzislaw Szpinalski was only 14 when he was sent from Poland to forced labor in Siberia.
He was 16 when he was given the choice of joining either the Russian Army or the Polish Army during World War II.
It would be another 10 years of war and chaos and immigration before he finally found his way to America and a new life in Milwaukee. Here he met Irene Wargin, also an immigrant, in the local Polish community. They married in 1953.
"It took me a little while - he was a little older - but we fell in love," she said, speaking quietly.
Szpinalski - who also went by Steve as an easier name for American tongues - died Sunday. He was 85. Because he had emphysema, he drove from their Franklin residence to the mailbox. A short time later, police came to their home. Szpinalski was found dead in the neighborhood, probably of a sudden heart attack.
Early in 1940, he found himself ripped from his home in Lida, Poland.
"The Russians came at night," his wife said. "His family grabbed what they could."
Her own family's story differed only in the details. The Wargin family heard that they needed to escape, but were caught before they could get to safety.
"We never made it," Irene said. "The Germans took us and put us in labor camps. I understood what it meant to flee with virtually nothing, but at least someone warned us. ... We didn't have a childhood."
Szpinalski found himself on a freight train to Siberia, where he was forced to cut lumber.
"In Siberia, the motto was, 'If you don't work, you don't eat,'" she said.
"In November 1941, they gave us the chance to join either the Russian or Polish army," he told his family. "Polish army was in Buzuluk. It took me three weeks to get there, two on my own with no money, no food. All I had was a note that I was released from the job."
Then came long journeys by foot, boat and train to what is now Iraq, Israel, Egypt and Italy.
Szpinalski was wounded - shot in the neck - in battle at Monte Cassino in Italy. Two weeks later, he was back in action.
"And three weeks later, the tank hit a mine," he said, in comments written down by his wife. "I was wounded again. Broken legs. In a cast from the waist down."
Months later, he was released from the hospital to serve as a courier in the Middle East region. In 1948, he was ordered to England, where he was released from the army and worked until coming to the U.S. in 1951.
Here he ended up working as a machinist for Vilter Manufacturing, which produced air-conditioning equipment. He and his wife long lived in Greenfield.
The war years took their toll on both his body and psyche.
"My husband was one of those who didn't complain much. But certain shoes he couldn't wear because of that, because of breakage," she said of his broken bones.
"And there are things you just cannot forget," Irene said, saying her husband would shut down at the news of modern-day wars. "He lost so many of his friends at Monte Cassino. How many Polish young men died there? ... He knew what war was, what war does, how many people get killed."
He was, she said, a hard worker and a loyal husband and father.
"I still love that man," Irene said. "It's very hard to be alone."
Other survivors include daughters Alicia Mulder and Diane Gentilini, and grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 10 a.m. Thursday until the service at 11 a.m., both at Bruskiewitz Funeral Home, 5355 W. Forest Home Ave.