Walter Szczeniak

Walter Szczeniak

Born: February 4, 1911

Dedham, United States

Walter was the oldest of eight children born to Polish-Catholic immigrant parents in a town near Boston, Massachusetts. The family moved back to Poland when Walter was a child, and lived on a family farm near Ostroleka in northern Poland that Walter's mother had inherited. Because his father's American nickname was "Stetson," Walter was mistakenly registered as "Charles Stetson" on his American birth certificate.

1933-39: After Walter completed secondary school, his father sent him to the University of Warsaw, where he graduated with a law degree in 1936. He was apprenticed to a Warsaw court and his goal was to become a Polish senator. While on summer vacation in 1939, Walter ignored an order from the U.S. consulate in Warsaw for American citizens to leave Poland immediately. Within a month the Germans had occupied Ostroleka. He joined the Polish underground.

1940-44: In 1941 the underground asked Walter to return to America to describe what the Nazis were doing, but he was caught in Slovakia and deported to Auschwitz. Walter knew that his life sentence in a penal unit meant certain death, so he requested to see the commandant to ask if he could be transferred. It was a gamble: either he'd be in a good mood and say "yes," or he'd be in a bad mood and have Walter shot. He was lucky; the commandant transferred him to the kitchen detail, where he recovered his strength and avoided being selected for gassing.

Walter was later reassigned to a railway repair unit. He was liberated by American soldiers near Salzburg, Austria, on May 2, 1945. He returned to America in 1946.