Lisa Giullian
Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies

Professor emeritus will be presented Polish award for bravery during Nazi occupation

Tue, 07/20/2021

LAWRENCE — Jaroslaw (Andrzej) Piekałkiewicz, professor emeritus of political science and Russian & East European studies at the University of Kansas, will be awarded the Krzyz Walecznych (Cross of the Brave) this week by the government of Poland. Piekałkiewicz earned the award for his bravery during World War II, but he is only receiving it in 2021 after a long delay caused by the tumultuous events that followed the war.

Piekałkiewicz was 13 years old when World War II broke out. After experiencing a few years under Nazi occupation in Poland, Piekałkiewicz took a more active role in fighting the Nazis. He soon became a resistance fighter at the age of 15. When he was 18 years old, he fought the Nazis in World War II for 63 days during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. During the war, he was repeatedly captured by the Nazis, escaping three times as a POW and later joining the Polish II Corps that was formed under the auspices of the British Army.

For his bravery, he was promoted to the rank of platoon sergeant and awarded the Krzyz Walecznych. In the chaos of combat, the actual medal could not be awarded, though notice of the award was transmitted to the Polish government in exile in London. After the war, Poland’s communist government refused to decorate many of the Polish insurgents like him. Piekałkiewicz immigrated to the United States, earned his doctorate in political science from Indiana University, then came to KU in 1963 because of its Center for Soviet and East European Institute, now the Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies (CREES). He played a crucial role in developing East European studies at KU and served as assistant director.

He retired in 2000 and still lives in Lawrence, yet according to current CREES Director Erik Scott, Piekałkiewicz “remains a very engaged scholar as well as a living link to the harrowing experience of life under Nazi occupation.”

Piekałkiewicz also published a book titled “Dance with Death: A Holistic View of Saving Polish Jews during the Holocaust” (Hamilton Books, 2019). The book is about Polish Christians helping Polish Jews during the Holocaust – a dangerous endeavor under Nazi occupation. It provides insight into the events leading up to the 1939 invasion of Poland that ignited World War II. At the time, one-third of the world’s Jews lived in Poland. The book also gives a harrowing account of his fellow insurgents and their bravery, as well as his own personal tale of survival. Piekałkiewicz gave a virtual talk this spring 2021, available for viewing on the KU CREES YouTube channel.

Now, after so many years, his nomination for the Krzyz Walecznych was discovered in the archives of the Polish Ministry of Defense, which delegated the Polish Consulate in Houston to present the physical award to Piekałkiewicz.

The award ceremony will take place at the Piekałkiewicz residence in Lawrence on July 24, which will be his 95th birthday. Media are invited to attend and may contact Andrew "Pike" Piekalkiewicz for more information. 

Photo: Jaroslaw (Andrzej) Piekałkiewicz.

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