Stanislaw Maczek was born in 1892 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ethnically, he was a Pole and when Poland became an independent country again in 1919 (after more than a century hiatus), he joined the Polish Army. By 1939, he was commander of the only mechanized infantry regiment in the Polish Army. When the Germans attacked his country in September of that year, his was almost the only unit in the Polish Army that could fight against German troops on with the benefit of modern weapons. At the end of the campaign, he and the survivors of his unit managed to make it across the border to Hungary where they were interned before ultimately making their way to France. In 1940, Maczek and his men again fought resolutely against the Germans, but soon found that the entire French Army was disintegrating all around them. So Maczek and his surviving troops once again had to withdraw through Vichy, France, then Spain to reach Portugal where they ultimately made it to the United Kingdom. There they joined the Polish army in exile. Over the next 4 years, Maczek’s command was organized into the first Polish armored division. They received the latest tanks and equipment and trained hard in the hopes that they would be able to fight their way back to Poland. In the Normandy campaign, the men of Maczek’s division had the extraordinary good luck of being almost the only Poles who had a chance to fight against the Germans on anything like even terms. After the victory in Normandy, Maczek’s command managed to liberate the Dutch City of Breda with a minimum of civilian casualties. For that fete, Maczek received honorary Dutch citizenship. The war did not end happily for the Polish army in exile. Stalin imposed a puppet regime of Polish communists in power. Those Polish quislings declared the Polish army in exile to be traitors and counter-revolutionaries, and 99.5% of those men chose to remain in the west rather than to live under communist rule. Now, how’s that for a statistic? When the Polish army was demobilized in 1947, Maczek found himself a 55-year old exile with no pension. Granted Maczek was a great deal luckier than a great many of his contemporary polish officers; thousands of whom were shot and buried in Soviet mass graves. Even so, I can only imagine the sadness he must have felt knowing that, for all of his courage and sacrifice, he was destined to spend his old age working as a bartender in Edinboro.
Ironically enough, General Maczek managed to outlast the communists. The General was 97 when the Polish communist government lost power in 1989 and, in 1994, at the age of 102 — only a few months before he died — he received Poland’s highest decoration: the Order of the White Eagle.