Resistance fighter defied death, loved life

Polish military man's sense of fun survived his early days of battling

the Nazis and enduring a concentration camp


By: Florence Loyie. Journal Staff Writer


EDMONTON JOURNAL December 07, 2008

 Mieczyslaw Janusz was wounded in Adolf Hitler's blitzkrieg of Poland, spent two years in the resistance underground after his homeland fell, and later survived one of the Nazis' infamous death camps.

Despite the horrors he witnessed and somehow survived in his 20s, throughout his long life he was a gregarious man with a ready sense of humour, his family said.

The father of four daughters, always proud of his Polish heritage, Janusz worked for many years as lab technician at Gulf Canada Resources.

He died Monday in Edmonton from liver cancer at the age of 91.

When German forces attacked Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, without warning or a declaration of war, Janusz was 22, an infantry soldier newly graduated from military academy. Poland's outdated cavalry and army were no match for Hitler's modern war machine of airplanes and tanks. Janusz was wounded early in the fighting.

"It was a godsend, because within 48 hours the Germans had overrun Poland," says Barbara Janusz, the second oldest of Janusz's daughters.

During the Nazi occupation of Poland, her father helped organize an underground cell of resistance fighters who covertly gathered counter-intelligence for the Allied forces.

After his arrest in 1943, he was beaten and interrogated, then sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz, Austria. He survived until the camp was liberated on May 5, 1945.

Janusz spent two years peacekeeping under British command in Italy before immigrating to Canada as a refugee in 1948. With Poland under communist rule, he wasn't able to go home, fearing the Russians would identify him as a former political prisoner and send him to Siberia, his daughter said.

Barbara Janusz said her father seldom spoke of his time in the concentration camp.

"My father was a very gregarious person," she said. "He loved life. He loved music. He loved movies and the silver screen. He loved to dance and he had an incredible sense of humour. But because of his military training and what happened to him in his life, he had a sombre side as well."

Janusz was the middle of five children, born to Antoni and Maria Janusz in 1917 in Ostrow, Poland.

Barbara Janusz said her grandparents would have been referred to as "nouveau bourgeoisie" before the war. They were peasants who moved to an urban centre and embraced entrepreneurship. At one point they owned a brewery, several rooming houses and a restaurant.

They sent their children away to be educated, the three sons by Jesuit priests, the two daughters by the Ursuline nuns.

He said her father recalled being an unruly boy who was kicked out by the Jesuits because they could not handle him. His parents then sent him to the military academy.

Barbara Janusz said her father's military training suppressed his artistic side, but made him a disciplined man who was loyal, courageous and patriotic.

After arriving in Halifax at Pier 21 in 1948, her father took the train to Edmonton. He met his future wife, Krystyna, while working as an orderly at the Charles Campsell Hospital.

The couple married and settled in the Westmount neighbourhood, where they raised their four daughters.

Janusz was instrumental in establishing Polish School on Saturday mornings, his daughter said. He was a member of the Polish Combatant's Association and the Canadian Polish Academic Club and held various executive board positions with the Canadian Polish Congress Edmonton Chapter.

He was fluent in English, Polish, German and Italian and spoke some Spanish. He was an avid photographer, and his daughter said there was seldom an occasion or holiday when her father was seen without his camera. Though he never had formal instruction, he could pick up any musical instrument and play a few bars or notes, she said.

After his wife died on May 5, 1987, Janusz decided to exercise and swam three times a week until he was diagnosed with cancer on Sept. 11. He went into hospice care on Sept. 24.

Janusz had eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.



© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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