Gradosielski, Danuta and Jerzy
Jerzy Gradosielski, born in 1916 while his family was in exile in Moscow, lived most of his prewar life in Wilno, Poland, which is now part of Lithuania.
At the start of WW2 he was a cadet officer. During the September Campaign, he fought under the 3 Engineer Bn. He was interned in the USSR, following the Soviet invasion from the east in collusion with the prior German attack.
He was saved from the fate of most of the Polish officers during the Katyn massacres as the Soviets misidentified the cadets as enlisted. Upon the German invasion of the USSR in 1941, the Poles were granted "amnesty" and allowed to rejoin Polish units. After an odyssey traveling via Sibera, Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt, he found himself with the newly formed 2nd Polish Corps. In 1943 he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th Division Engineer Bn. Shortly after his promotion, the entire Corps was committed to the Italian Campaign.
It was during the battle for Monte Cassino that Lt. Gradosielski made a name for himself earning both the Polish Virtuti Militari and the British Military Cross for heroism. The Polish VM is the nation's highest military honor and the British Military Cross was the highest award for bravery in the field that can be given to a foreign company grade officer.
After recovering from severe wounds received at Monte Cassino, he continued to serve with the 2nd Corps until the conclusion of the Italian Campaign.
Danuta (Macka) Gradosielska also endured the privations of Siberian exile as more than 2 million Poles were displaced from the Eastern borders under the Soviet Occupation in 1939. With the amnesty of 1941 many of the Polish civilians made their way to the centers where the Polish Army was being reconstituted. Facing many privations, starvation and disease with no assistance from the Soviet Authorities, Anders got permission to evacuate his force to the British controlled Middle East. During their evacuation, he and his troops took as many of the civilians as they could gather on their route.
From these civilians came more volunteers for the Army, including the Polish Women Military Volunteers. These volunteers which were originally planned to provide additional administrative and support services in the rear found themselves in the war zone. Danuta’s story is reflective of many. Still a teenager, she joined the PSK, (Volunteers). She became one of more than 800 woman army drivers and a member of the famed 316th Transportation Company.
Serving both in Palestine and later in Italy, she and her unit were repeatedly commended for their support to the forward units. Technically not combat units, they still faced peril from the treacherous road conditions, artillery or air attack, and exhaustion. More than a few of these girls that served in the transportation, medical and admin. units gave their lives for their country.
These women also epitomized the ideal for their men and many romances came amidst the hardships. Danuta and Jerzy found each other in war torn Italy and were married in August 1945. After the Yalta conference, most Poles chose not to return to a Soviet controlled Poland. Danuta and Jerzy also chose to remain in the Polish Diaspora. Yet, because of the efforts of their generation to keep alive the heritage of the Polish anthem, “POLAND STILL LIVES WHILE WE REMEMBER”, “Jescze Polska …” These efforts have given birth yet again to a Free Poland.