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November 12, 2012

Veterans Day 2012: Local veteran recalls World War II events

NEW CASTLE — Two freedom-loving boys who survived in concentration camps are among the memories of World War II veteran Al Padula.

Now 86 years old, Al Padula of Pearl Street was only 18 when he went to war, and one of the youngest in his outfit, the 278th Field Artillery Battalion. The unit saw action in France, Germany and Belgium, and was one of the first to enter the Dachau concentration camp and extermination center outside Munich.

That is how he got to know Walter and Bill Plywaski, two Jewish boys who escaped from the Dachau-Karlsfeld sub-camp about 10 miles from Munich in April 1945, days before the camp was liberated.

The youngsters, then 15 and 16, crawled through the camp’s barbed wire enclosure as the Allies shelled the area and the SS guards ran and hid, according to Walter Plywaski. Now 83 years old, Walter lives in Boulder, Colo. He is the father of three daughters and grandfather of five.

Born in  Lodz, Poland, in 1929, Walter, formerly Wladyslaw Plywacki, survived the urban concentration camp of Lodz Ghetto, the Auschwitz death camp and the concentration camp of Dachau. His adopted brother Bill, is actually his cousin.

Born Wlodzimier Fialko, he is now William Plywaski who also lives in Boulder. When Bill’s  parents died of tuberculosis in the Lodz Ghetto, Walter’s father adopted him, making the boys brothers.

Padula, who has stayed in touch with Walter over the years, was touched by a recent letter from his “young” friend who thanks the American soldiers who “in grimy helmets and uniforms who in that unforgettable spring of 1945 brought life’s early light into the barbed wire hells of Germany.”

“These men, landing on Normandy’s bloody beaches, poured freedom from the muzzles of their guns for my brother, all our concentration camp comrades and me.”

He notes that the Americans and other Allies “transformed us from those about to die like vermin to men preparing to live again.”

The young Polish boys became the “mascots” of Padula’s unit. They were generally cared for by a Polish-speaking sergeant from Chicago and traveling with the unit from May 1945 to May 1947. The brothers came to America, arriving at Ellis Island on Dec. 16, 1947.

Walter graduated from Oregon State University as an electrical engineer. In 1962, he moved to Boulder to join the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.

In September 2010, Walter lost his home and all of his possessions in the Fourmile Canyon fire that devoured the Boulder foothills.

“I think of those boys often,” Padula said. “They were smart. Walter spoke five languages. Of course, none of them was English when I first knew him.”

He adds, “They came here, knowing no one, and made a good life for themselves here.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

 

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