When Mr. Victor Bik of Sarasota, Florida, received a letter from Dr. John Lenczowski, he was struck by the similarity of the Bik and Lenczowski family experiences in German and Soviet-occupied Poland during the Second World War. This prompted Mr. Bik to write Dr. Lenczowski a letter, which we are reproducing below.
Born in 1922, Mr. Bik belonged to a generation of Poles who had been tested by history like none other since and as few others had before. The joint invasion and subsequent occupations by two of the twentieth-century’s most murderous totalitarian regimes–the German Nazis and the Soviet Communists–ravaged the country. Many young Poles–having been raised in the spirit of patriotism and sacrifice both at home and in the schools of the Second Polish Republic–responded to the challenge and joined the national anti-Nazi, anti-Communist resistance network. They thus risked their very lives in the full knowledge that the punishment would be imprisonment, torture, or even death.
Mr. Bik joined the pro-western Polish underground, one of several pro-independence underground resistance outfits. He was eventually arrested and incarcerated in seven German prisons and seven concentration camps. While at the Bergen Belsen camp in Western Germany, he was liberated by the British on 15 April 1945. The freed inmate initially wanted to return to his homeland, but was too weak to board the first transport to Poland. This may have saved his life, for he soon learned from the press that the communists were establishing a dictatorship in Warsaw, with Soviet backing, and were hunting down the members of all non-communist resistance organizations.
After completing his education, which had been interrupted by the war, in Allied-occupied Western Germany, Mr. Bik received an invitation from a friend to come to the United States. Following his arrival in the Land of Opportunity, he graduated from DePaul University in Chicago. He loves his adopted American homeland and, simultaneously, cares deeply for his native Poland. Naturally, Mr. Bik was very happy to learn about and support the Institute of World Politics and its Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies, which is currently held by Prof. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz.
Dear Dr. Lenczowski,
Upon reading the history of your personal background I felt as if I was reading my own family history.
My wife Barbara, who is 84 years old, and is presently in an assisted living community, is a former child survivor of Siberia. Excerpts from Barbara’s diary of 210 pages, which was written in Polish and covered the years 1939-1947, were published in Poland in book form as Polskie dzieci na tułaczych szlakach [Wandering Polish Children] as a commemorative edition by the Institute of National Remembrance. The last part of this volume contains various official documents from the time.
The last chapter (pages 285 to 307) and a selection from 50 sketches and drawings on p. 340 are fragments from The Memoir of Barbara Wanda Bik.
I took considerable effort on my part to make a good copy and also to preserve the original that is in a very delicate condition due to its age. My next goal is to prepare a typed copy for a translation and possible publication of this historical document as a book. This task will probably remain for our sons to accomplish.
I am a 90-year “young” Holocaust survivor who endured transfers, evacuations, and death marches before the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15, 1945. Prior to that, under the Nazi occupation of Poland, I was “inducted” into youth labor camps, prisons, and a 6-month sentence in Liban, a stone quarry in the suburbs of Kraków in Poland. Yes, I do have my own “Testimonial” written in English. Like Barbara’s Diary, it needs considerable work for it to be made public in any form. I take these projects seriously. Consider them part of Polish history. We both belong to the so-called “Polish Catholic Holocaust Survivors.” I hope that my honest effort will pass to our three sons. What is my earliest memory? What is my wife’s earliest memory? My wife comes from the eastern part of Poland. I come from the western part of the country. Sure, neither of us thought of making it through our respective hells. Our separate hard journeys, ending in America, and our long happy marriage, must have been designed by Providence. We attained the great American dream. Arriving in the United States with little more than intelligence and a desire to succeed, we both found our way, however different, into academia and raised a family.
Today, who knows how many more years are left for us? As always, I strive not to be a burden for society or my own family.
My lovely wife deserves the best I can possibly provide her. Yes, she gets it in an assisted living community. She has special needs.
I still function relatively well and live in our family residence. I need a little more time to complete the never-ending family matters. Admittedly, I am much slower in performing these tasks now.
At this time my token of support for your great work means a lot more than I could pledge.
Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.