Polish 2nd Corps
Polish Air Force in the UK (308 Squadron)
Jerzy Eligiusz Glowczewski was born on Nov. 19, 1922, in Warsaw. His father owned a lithographic printing company and died in a car accident when Jerzy was 6; his mother, Jozefa, took over the business. A rebellious child, he was sent to a strict Jesuit-run school for what he called “problem boys.”
He was 16 when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and his life turned into something out of the pages of an Alan Furst World War II-era spy novel. He escaped Warsaw with his stepfather and was nearly killed in a strafing run by a German plane as they tried to join the remnants of the Polish army. As refugees, they lived in Bucharest and then in Tel Aviv.
Jerzy served with the Allies in the Polish 2nd Corps’ Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade in Egypt and on the front lines in Libya before traveling to Britain to train as a pilot.
Jerzy Glowczewski flew 100 missions for the No. 308 “City of Krakow” Polish fighter squadron in the UK. He is widely believed to have been the last surviving member of the valiant brotherhood of exiles who fought with the Royal Air Force.
On New Year’s Day in 1945, Jerzy helped turn back the final major offensive on the Western front by the German Luftwaffe, shooting down a Focke-Wulf 190 over Belgium from his Spitfire fighter plane. “As I looked over my shoulder, the Focke-Wulf was a crumbling crucifix against the bright, morning sky. Another explosion, it tumbled down,” he wrote in his memoirs.
“It was probably one of the last classic dogfights in which survival depended on the acrobatic skill and lightning reflexes of the pilot,” he added.
They were men without a country, flying combat missions against the same German war machine that had overwhelmed their native Poland in the Blitzkrieg. Their uncommon valor during World War II made the Polish pilots fighting for the Allies into an example of determination in the face of adversity.
He returned to war-shattered Poland after the German surrender and enrolled at the Warsaw University of Technology’s faculty of architecture, graduating in 1952. As an architect, he worked on the reconstruction of the Polish capital’s badly damaged old town and designed several industrial projects around the country. He married Irena (known as Lenta) Henisz and they had a daughter, Klara Glowczewska.
In 1961 he visited the United States on a Ford Foundation grant, which led to a teaching position at North Carolina State University. He lived in Egypt for two years starting in 1965 when he directed the project for the redevelopment of Aswan, under the aegis of the Ford Foundation, as the Soviets were building the massive Aswan High Dam. In Cairo he struck up a friendship with a local professor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who later became secretary-general of the United Nations.
Jerzy had to flee Egypt in 1967 as the war with Israel broke out, leaving with his wife, daughter and their dachshund, Romulus. In his later years he taught at the Pratt Institute in New York and wrote his memoirs, which were published in three volumes in Polish and translated and released in English in a single volume, “The Accidental Immigrant” (2007).
In his memoir, Jerzy wrote about a stopover in Istanbul after fleeing the Gestapo in Bucharest. “We sometimes pondered how serendipitous our lives as refugees have been since we have left home,” he wrote. “We neither dwelled on the past nor anticipated the future.”
Jerzy died at age 97 of COVID in a nursing home in Manhattan on April 13, 2020.
Jerzy Glowczewski in his Spitfire during World War II. He was a Polish pilot with the 308 “City of Krakow” Polish fighter squadron in the UK.
Credit...via Klara Glowczewska.
Polish: Bronze Cross of Merit, with swords