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Polish 2nd Corps


Written by his daughter Anna, and translated from the original Spanish.

Boleslaw Syrewicz was born in Poland on July 20, 1920 in the city of Dzisna, located on the left bank of the River D'wina, at the mouth of Dzisna. Today it belongs to the Vitebsk region of Bielorussia. It was a city with a lot of history. Under Russian occupation and during Poland between wars (1919-1939), Dzisna belonged to Wilno province.

Boleslaw was born in a very difficult time for a young Poland. At that time the powerful Red Army moved through the city, to give a decisive battle to Poland. Suddenly, the Syrewicz family home brutally enter the Soviets, ready to commit the most heinous act, to liquidate their entire family. When a newborn child is seen, a miracle then occurs and the invaders withdraw without any harm. Just a month later the miracle repeats itself, but this time in a decisive battle between the Polish army commanded by Józef Pilsudski and the Red Army, which bore numerical superiority. The Battle of Warsaw is also known as the Miracle of Vistula. God wanted to restore peace to Poland... but not for long.

As the young Boleslaw grew, he was educated like all the young people of the city, when he turned 19, Poland suffered a new wave of invasions. The Ribentrop-Molotov Pact came true. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland from the west and 17 days later the Soviets invaded it from the east. Earlier in the day, a group of Dzisna Border Protection Corps soldiers and Polish students from the local gym under the command of geography teacher, reserve lieutenant Mgr Zygmunt Giergowicz (later killed in Katyn), took over the city's defense. The battle began around 3 a.m. and lasted until 7 a.m. After the NKVD entrance, local communists pointed to Polish activists to arrest them.

This time, Boleslaw, he didn't have a miracle. Pointed out by a local Jew, who joined the ranks of the NKVD, he was taken to Siberia. At that time many Jews welcomed the Red Army, joining the criminal Soviet government organization, NKVD, and as they shared coexistence in the same city, they were aware of every inhabitant of the place. Thus, throughout eastern Poland, many Poles were taken to Katyn and killed with a bullet in the back of the head and others deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia. The properties were never returned to the relatives - if they survived the war. The German and Russian plans for the Germanization and Sovietization of the territories belonging to the Second Polish Republic were under way.

So, Boleslaw shared the same fate as his younger brother, his two sisters, and his mother - Anna. The older brother escaped but was soon caught and taken to the Soviet gulag to perform forced labor. In Siberia his mother died of hunger and cold. To save his family and himself, Boleslaw learns the trade of shoemaker, which in Siberian conditions was in great need.

On 22 June 1941, Germany broke the Covenant with the Soviet Union and attacked its territory. Stalin is obliged to assemble as large an army as possible to defend his land. The ‘amnesty’ for Poles deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia, came into effect with thea Sikorski-Maiski Agreement signed in London on 30 July 1941. Were also null and void all previous pacts between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. On August 12, 1941, tens of thousands of Poles were released from the Soviet gulags. One of them was Boleslaw Syrewicz.

At 21, he joined the newly created Anders Army, later known as the Second Polish Corps. Not everyone was the same luck. Because of the Soviets' difficulties for liberation, many Poles were left on enemy soil forever. Polish-Soviet relations were hurt after the Germans discovered the graves of thousands of Polish officers massacred in Katyn.

Boleslaw, still weakened by suffering in the Soviet gulag, was assigned to the 10th Heavy Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Artillery Group. Their formation began on 19 October 1942 in the desert of Iraq. In Soviet Russia, 97 per cent of recruits went through physical and moral suffering. They would have to regain their strength after passing typhus, malaria, jaundice, scurvy, and other diseases before facing the enemy.

In late April 1943, the 2nd Artillery Group with the rest of the Anders Army was incorporated into the British Forces and evacuated to the Kirkuk area in Iraq. The entire Allied army spent a period of intensive training. Boleslaw specialized in arms transport. In July 1943, the Anders Army changed its name to the 2nd Polish Corps and a month later transferred to Palestine.

His stay in Palestine represents a period of great intensive training. In November, at the training camp near Beerseba, all the Second Corps artillery passed the fire test in front of the main commander, General Kazimierz Sosnkowski, and many thousands of spectators.

Palestine was also a great temptation for Polish Jews of the 2nd Corps. The desertions of the well-trained Jews were such that they caused significant casualties in the Army garrisons. It is estimated that more than 3,000 of them went into the ranks of Jewish guerrillas in Palestine fighting for the future of the State of Israel. Despite the pressures, General Anders did not pursue this as he did not want to have in his Army soldiers who did not fight for Poland and the most important enemy to face was another.

On 2 December 1943, Boleslaw and his Artillery Group left Palestine and on 4 December arrived at the camp in Qassasin, Egypt, near Alexandria. This camp was the last stage before it took action. After the Christmas holidays begin the transfer by sea to Italy.

At the time Boleslaw belonged to the 2nd Artillery Group commanded by Colonel Ludwik Zabkowski, later, a brigade general. The Group was the first unit of such importance in Poland's history and belonged to the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of the General Wladyslaw Anders. In 1944, the Second Corps became an independent part of the British Eighth Army under the command of General Oliver Leese.

Already on the European continent, Boleslaw trained for the struggle in the new conditions of Italy. The day when the 2nd Corps came into action, neither the political nor the military situation encouraged the morale of the Polish soldier. Prime Minister Churchill's speech, in which he admitted Soviet demands to seize the Polish eastern territories, surprised and hurt the fighting nation. Boleslaw had great concern about his country's future as Soviet troops quickly approached the Polish border. He was concerned about the fate of his family, as he knew the brutality of Russian Bolshevik imperialism. However, he deeply believed that difficulties and sacrifices would not be wasted. He thought the ultimate goal of this horrible war would be the victory of justice. Filled with that faith and trust in the Allies, and honestly and without hesitation, he went to battle without hesitation.

On 17 February, the artillery group marched to the front and on 19 March was in the operational area west of Vinchiaturo and Campobasso. The picturesque towns on the top lands were covered in snow, however, under the 1500 m there was mud that created many difficulties in working in their combat posts. In February and March, the 2nd Corps took more than 60 km of a defensive stretch in the high mountains of the peninsula, getting closer and closer to one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

The 2nd Corps was assigned to the Eighth British Army and as part of the 2nd Artillery Group takes their positions to the attack. The goal is to conquer the Abbey of Monte Cassino, to break the defence of Gustav Line and open the way to Rome and to definitive victory.

On the night of May 11th at 11 p.m., thousands of cannons exploded the air and the ground, illuminating a wide glow in the sky. All were caught by the intense fire. Orders and commands went one after the other. All phones, all the radios were running without interruption. All, with the greatest tension, with the greatest intensity, with all the effort went to a goal, to victory.

The first assault on Monte Cassino, from 11 May to 12 May, caused huge allied casualties, but the 2nd Corps managed to cross the enemy lines, reaching the Liri Valley, just below the monastery.

The terrible, bloody battle continued day after day, night after night. It was melted into an uninterrupted effort of fierce heavy work by soldiers. There were several significant moments in the struggle: a crisis in battle, struggle of nerves, pain and sadness, emotion and joy... then the conquest of Cresta del Fantasma, Cota 593, San Angelo, Piedimonte..., and finally, on May 18, the Polish flag was raised on the monastery of Monte Cassino. The fight continued until May 19. The second assault caused huge casualties in the Polish ranks and Boleslaw remembered this for the rest of his life.

After the conquest of Monte Cassino, there was a lot of fire in Passo Corno, in Mount Cairo, in the conquest of another Piedimonte fortress and in the covering of the Canadian army on the Hitler Line. On May 27, after 15 days of permanent struggle, the Artillery Group retired to a well-deserved rest, leaving the heavy and bloody road with 130,000 traces of its cannons. However, there was not much time to regain strength and on 19 June the 2nd Corps meets completely in the Pescara region in the Adriatic to prepare for a new attack.

The Polish Corps' new task was to capture Ankona and then break the Gothic Line. Bloody battles began in Loretto, Filottrano, Osimo and the Musone River. On July 17 and 18, 1944, with a careful fighting movement, a strategic point, the city of Ancona, was captured.

Fire battles continued in constant change of positions from 19 July to 4 September. San Vito, Ripe, Monterado, Senigallia, Scapezzano, Belvedere... seemed to be just one great battle.

After a brief break in the area of Recanati, the Artillery Group had more action during the heavy autumn rains in the high mountains of the Apennines. Then came battles in Rimini, Cesena, Forli, Faenza..., in the Chioda, Pratello, Lechia and many others. Then, approaching the valley of the Po River, the struggles along the Converselle, Mount Fortino and Rici road to Imola. All battles without interruption, always with new changes of position in a very difficult, destroyed and mined terrain, crossing the mud, sometimes worse than the enemy. But for Boleslaw and all the 2nd Corps there was no other way than this. Poland was so close...

In early January 1945, the 2nd Corps headed to the defence positions next to the Senio River and the Artillery Group, on a wide front, monitored for three and a half months the security of its soldiers and equipment. Boleslaw, in free times, learned to play an accordion he bought in Italy from which he would never separate.

In late March, two newly formed regiments arrive at the base of the 2nd Corps. The vast majority of its members were young Poles, freed from the German army. With the beginning of spring, monotonous life in defense mode is over. The Polish Corps receives the order of preparation for the great battle of Bologna.

In the days before and during the attack, Boleslaw had a lot of transport work to supply the missile and ammunition posts. On April 9, between the Senio and Santerno rivers, an avalanche of fire flooded the Pad Valley. For 12 days the fire of the 2nd Artillery Group did not stop. The whole Group, in a space of more than 40 km, through the rivers Senio, Santermo, Silaro, Gaiano and dozens of other channels marked the victorious passage of the 2nd Polish Corps. They were the first to enter the city. The inhabitants of Bologna received them with a warm welcome. The end of the war was near.

The Battle of Bologna was the latest in a series of great feats of the 2nd Polish Corps in the Italian Campaign. The Artillery Group in this campaign fired 5,500,000 ammunition. At the end of the war the Group concentrated on the area of the recent struggles between Castel San Pietro and Bologna. Everyone was waiting for the next decisions for their fate.

In 1945, the 2nd Artillery Group began to dissolve. A few thousand Polish soldiers decided to return to Poland. They still didn't know they would later be subjected to torture or deported to the Soviet Gulag with their entire family. However, many decided not to return to their homeland.

In 1946, the unit was evacuated from Italy to Scotland. He was located at Stobs camp in the County of Scottish Borders. Since May 1946, he remained in Langholm, and since July in Nettlebed, near Henley on Thames and Reading, Oxfordshire. There, on one occasion, he met Franek Gryniewicz, a friend of his childhood. From this moment on, friendship between them will be affirmed for the rest of their lives. On December 6, 1946, the regiment was dissolved.

When the 2nd Corps dissolves, the English no longer need the Poles and offered them other countries to settle. Boleslaw, advised by Franek, decided not to return to Poland, opting to travel to distant Argentina and from the port of Southampton, on the transatlantic Entre Ríos. On September 26, 1947, at the age of 27, he arrived at the port of Buenos Aires. From now on, Argentina will be its second homeland.

In Argentina he resides in Necochea, a city where Franek already had his uncle, Konstanty Gryniewicz and family, who arrived from Poland in 1929. There he meets Franek's cousin, Mary, and soon after he marries her. Of their marriage they had three children, Henry, Anne and Victor. They live near their countrymen, Polish families: Wsowski, Mazurek and Sokoowski. He works at the Necochea People's Cooperative. At the same time, he has a small shoe shop, a trade he learned in Siberia.

The importance of Franek Gryniewicz in this story is even more significant, as he was the founding partner of the Society of Poles in Mar del Plata. In the first Steering Committee he carried out tasks as a member.

Boleslaw Syrewicz's story was passed on to Polish Cinema by his daughter, Ana. Anna was born in Necochea. In 1977 she was based in Mar del Plata, joining in marriage to Juan Carlos Chimiento. They have two children: Maria Paula and Juan Pablo.

For Ana Syrewicz, telling her father's story is like a tribute to everything he lived in World War II and, as she says, it's an honour to be his daughter.

Original Spanish text:

Boleslaw Syrewicz  1920-1993

Copyright: Syrewicz family

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