A Family’s Journey, A Nation’s Pride
Tri-C assistant professor Andrew Bajda and father Marian visit Polish ambassador in Washington, hope to bring Anders’ Army exhibit to Cleveland
Since the end of World War II, Anders’ Army has become a symbol of national pride for Poland. Cuyahoga Community College assistant professor Andrew Bajda chronicled the story of the army through the eyes of his family — including his father Marian “Ian” Bajda — in his 2017 book, Captured in Liberation. The book can be purchased via Andrew Bajda’s website, abajda.com.
When Piotr Wilczek, the Polish ambassador to the U.S., received a copy of the book, he became interested in the story of the Bajda family's journey, which began in 1939.
Poland was caught in a vise. To the west was Nazi Germany, rapidly building its Wehrmacht into a powerful force of death and destruction. To the east was the Soviet Union, at that point in a non-aggression pact with the Nazis, ready to unleash the Red Army.
A Nazi invasion was imminent, and the Bajda family escaped in a horse-drawn carriage. Ian was 15 years old when the Nazis pushed across the border on Sept. 1, 1939, beginning the bloodiest war in human history.
When the Soviets invaded from the east two weeks later, the Bajdas were caught in the middle. Ian’s older brother Stefan was captured by the Soviets as he attempted to flee and join the fight against Nazi Germany. He was sent to a labor camp in Siberia, where he might have spent the duration of the war fighting for survival — if not for an abrupt about-face by the Nazis.
In 1941, Germany turned on the Soviets, launching Operation Barbarossa. This massive invasion of the Soviet Union obliterated the non-aggression pact and thrust the Soviets into the war on the side of the Allies.
As such, the Soviet Union had to release all Polish prisoners of war. Stefan Bajda joined thousands of liberated Polish men in taking up arms against the Axis Powers under the command of General Wladyslaw Anders — an army corps that became known as Anders’ Army.
The army made its way westward from the Soviet Union, through Iran, Iraq and Palestine, eventually playing a key role in liberating Italy from Nazi occupation. As Stefan marched ahead with Anders’ Army, Ian risked his life in a pair of escapes — first from a mandatory German work order in Austria and then a POW camp in Romania — in a quest to join Anders’ Army in Italy.
After six years apart, the brothers were reunited by chance in November 1945, in an Italian train station.
Captivated by the story, Wilczek invited Andrew Bajda and his father to the Polish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., for a Polish National Independence Day observance earlier this month. Afterward, he invited both men to a private meeting.
“We met with the ambassador in his office, and when he heard more about my father’s story, he called Anna Maria Anders on the spot to introduce her to me and my father and arrange for a future visit to Cleveland,” Andrew said.
Anna Maria Anders is a senator in Poland and the daughter of Wladyslaw Anders. But Wilczek did more than introduce Ian, now 94, to the daughter of his one-time commander. The phone call also set in motion what Andrew hopes will be an Anders’ Army commemoration event in Cleveland.
“There is a traveling exhibit called the ‘Trail of Hope,’” Andrew said. “It’s the story of Anders’ Army and the epic journey that thousands of soldiers made across three separate continents. Ambassador Wilczek has offered to co-organize an event with me in Cleveland to recognize General Anders through the Trail of Hope exhibit and promotion of my book. We have begun initial planning through an exchange of emails between myself, the Polish Embassy and Senator Anders.”
Andrew Bajda hopes to involve Tri-C in the process, possibly utilizing College facilities.
“I’ve talked to the Government Relations office and several others here at the College and, hopefully, we’ll be able to work with them to host the event here at Tri-C,” he said.
Anders’ Army is an often-overlooked story that exemplifies a nation’s ability to rise up and fight despite brutal occupation and the exile of its government.
But it’s even more than that for Ian and Andrew Bajda — it’s a personal story.
“That was the aim of my book,” Andrew said. “To tell the story of Anders’ Army from the personal perspective of my father and my family. These stories are being lost to time as the World War II generation dies off, and events like the one we want to organize in Cleveland will keep them alive for future generations.”
May 22, 2018
Erik Cassano, 216-987-3577 or email@example.com