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When WWII began, Zygfryd became a defender of wow in September 1939. After the Polish troops surrendered, the young cadet officer returned to Warsaw, his home town, but within hours was caught by a German patrol. This is where the Wehrmacht should have backed off and let him be. Admittedly, they couldn’t predict what a pain in the neck for the German army and police this Pole would become.


First, they put him in a huge collection camp. He avoided the appalling conditions (we’re trying not to overuse the word escaped, as it will come handy later) saying he was an officer and ended up in the Offizierslager in Murnau. There, he nearly died from scarlet fever, and, when it was decided that cadet officers were not officers, went through the rank-and-file camps in Oberlangen, Fullen, and, in late 1941, Elsenborn.


In that last one, he determined not to contribute to the Third Reich war effort and found a way to skip the work all POWs were forced to do. At morning and evening roll calls the headcount checked, but between them, Stryjecki hung out in a shelter he dug under the hut floor. He talked 11 others into doing the same, and perplexed German staff couldn’t figure out why at work they were a dozen men short, while at meals they were not.


The Dodgers, as these POWs called themselves, decided to go even deeper underground and began digging a tunnel that would take them out of the camp; they all wanted to join the Polish Army in Britain. In February 1942, when the excavation was past the barbwire fence, it was accidentally discovered, and all diggers transferred to other camps. Stryjecki ended up in Arnoldsweiler, near occupied Belgium, but not for long.

Within weeks, he got civilian garb and ran, heading for Aachen, close to pre-war Belgian border. They caught him and brought him back to Elsenborn, transferred him to Hardthohe, and finally to Hoffnungsthal. He was put in with other repeat offenders and they were given old French uniforms to stand out. To make shooting them even easier, they were ordered to paint large red crosses on the back.

They must have stopped listening at "paint" because what they painted was everything but crosses – racing cars, voluptuous women, Christmas trees, you name it. Zygfryd got himself a sailboat on the back. The commandant went berserk and punished everyone with 2 weeks of lock-up. They were put in the camp’s only solitary confinement in the alphabetical order, so Stryjecki, way down the alphabet, wasn't worried. And anyway, he was planning to be gone before they got to the letter B.

He made himself a compass, collected a map of Rhineland, some food and 5 companions, cut the barbwire fence one night and disappeared, heading for Belgium again. They caught him 5 weeks later in Épinal, occupied France, and put him in the local SD prison. In December 1942, he found a gap in the security measures and got over the prison wall. However, landing on the other side he injured his spine, and this time, didn’t get far.

For this first successful escape from Épinal Gestapo jail, all staff were transferred to the Eastern Front, and Stryjecki also got moved, to the prison of Vesoul. But winter 1943 in France was still healthier than in the Volga region, not just because of the weather. In March, they took him to Hardthohe, a camp he’d been to, and one which, in popular opinion, had become impossible to escape from. A week later, he was gone.

And caught after 3 days, heading for Belgium. Back in Hardthohe, a German general interrogated Stryjecki on the how (the place was sealed tight), and why (he risked being shot). The cadet officer demonstrated the how and explained the why with "Soldatenpflicht," soldier’s duty. Then, again, came the camp of Arnoldsweiler, or Rottweiler, or whatever (it was hard to keep track), but only for a while before they put him in Stalag XIIA in Limburg.

That was in late April; six weeks later, in mid-June, Stryjecki and three other POWs escaped from Limburg, to be caught after 2 days, while crossing the Rhine. Returned to the camp, they got locked up for 2 weeks, the usual punishment, but then, the 5-time escapee maneuvered the Limburg personnel into sending him across the Rhine, to work as a farmhand. The fox talked the farmer into giving him the henhouse key.

In the summer of 1943, the cadet officer ran for the 6th time, this time successfully melting into the population of occupied Belgium, or to be exact, into Armée Secrète. When the US Army liberated the area of Saint-Léger in September 1944, Zygfryd had been working for the Belgian underground for a year, waiting for an opportunity to join the Polish Army. He immediately went looking for Stanisław Maczek’s 1st Armored Division.

In October, the Black Devils accepted him in their 1st Anti-Tank Artillery Regiment; From then on, it was the Germans that ran from Cadet Officer Zygfryd Stryjecki.


Meanwhile, he received news that his brother Olgierd, a pilot, had been killed in 1942 over the North Sea, and it hit him hard.

Source: IPN Facebook page

Copyright: Stryjecki family

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