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Forced labor badge worn by a Roman Catholic Polish youth

Object | Accession Number: 2014.469.2

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    Forced labor badge worn by a Roman Catholic Polish youth

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    Brief Narrative
    Forced labor badge worn by 14-year-old Zbigniew Piotrowski, to identify him as a Polish forced laborer near Breslau, Germany, between August and November 1944. Zbigniew was a Roman Catholic boy living with his parents, three brothers, and sister, in the port city of Gdynia, Poland, when the German army invaded on September 1, 1939. Shortly after, one of his brothers was abducted off the street for forced labor by the German authorities, and the rest of the family was forcibly transported to the city of Lublin. Zbigniew’s brother was released, and the family relocated to Warsaw, where all but one of the brothers became involved in underground resistance activity. Zbigniew’s mother died in 1941, and his sister was arrested for underground activity in 1942. On August 1, 1944, the city’s underground resistance rose up against the German occupation forces. During the Warsaw Uprising, Zbigniew, his father, a brother, and their housekeeper were forced out of their home. Zbigniew watched as his father was executed, and afterwards he was deported with the housekeeper to a forced labor camp near Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland). In October, Zbigniew escaped to the town of Trzebinia and hid with a Red Cross volunteer he had met in Breslau. In early May 1945, the town was liberated by the Soviet Army, and Zbigniew returned home. He reunited with his brothers and sister, and moved back to Gdynia. Zbigniew joined the crew of the MS Batory, a ship that traveled between Gdynia and New York City. In October 1948, Zbigniew debarked the ship and entered the United States, settling in New York City.
    use:  1944 August-1944 November
    use: Breslau (Germany : Landkreis)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Zbigniew A. Piotrowski
    front, center, printed, purple ink : P [Polish]
    Subject: Zbigniew A. Piotrowski
    Zbigniew Antonii Piotrowski (1929-2021) was born in Toruń, Poland, to Antonii and Antonina Piotrowski (nee Zalewska, ?-1940). He had four older siblings: Ryszard (later Richard, 1919-?), Halina (later Helen Czerwinska, 1920-?), Stanislaw (later Stanley, 1922-2011), and Jurek (later George,1927-?). Antonii was a manufacturer of high-end, custom furniture and replicated antiques. Around 1931, Antonii moved the family to Gdynia, a recently developed port city on the northern coast that allowed the business to grow. They rented an apartment in a villa, and Antonii’s success enabled them to hire a nanny to help with the children. The entire family was Roman Catholic, and attended church every Sunday and on holidays. After completing high school, all of Zbigniew’s siblings attended two-year colleges. Stanislaw and Ryszard then both began working at their father’s factory. Zbigniew attended the local public school through the fourth grade.

    On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. That day, Zbigniew was playing outside when the first German warplanes flew overhead. Within days, the German military marched down their street with no Polish military resistance. Two or three weeks later, Stanislaw and a friend were abducted off the street by German soldiers. The following week, all Poles on their block were ordered to the train station and to leave their apartment keys behind. Zbigniew’s family was among the first group transported on cattle cars out of the city. After two days, the train stopped in Lublin, near the Soviet border, and the family was free to go. They made their way to Antonina’s sister in Kutno, and later joined by Stanislaw, who had been released from forced labor when he got sick. Antonii took several trips to nearby Warsaw, where he had some friends, and the whole family relocated there after Christmas.

    They moved into an apartment near the opera house, and Antonii found a space to rent for his business. There was not a big market for furniture at the time, so he began producing wooden caskets. The business flourished, but they were required to live on rations. They hired a housekeeper, Malgorzata (Gosha) Luczak, and shortly after, in 1941, Antonina got very sick and passed away. Ryszard had gotten a job and moved into his own apartment, and Zbigniew became closer to him after their mother died.

    Zbigniew continued attending public school, where they were required to begin German classes. Polish history and geography were banned subjects, but they continued learning them in secret. Zbigniew belonged to a scouting group, which was also officially banned by German authorities. One of his school teachers was the scout leader, and through this group, Zbigniew became involved with the underground resistance. He became a messenger, and ran back and forth across town. Stanislaw and Jurek were also involved in the resistance, but none of the brothers told their father about their activities.

    In October 1940, the Germans decreed the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, and required all Jewish residents from the city and surrounding towns relocate there. The ghetto was enclosed by a wall that was over 10 feet high, topped with barbed wire, and closely guarded. After deportations began in March 1942, Zbigniew watched from the outside as a house in the ghetto burned, and people in flames were jumping out the windows. His father later told him that they would be targeted next.

    In late 1942, the Gestapo came to the family’s house and arrested Halina, whose boyfriend was involved in the underground movement. She was imprisoned for a few weeks in Warsaw, and on January 18, 1943, she was transported as a political prisoner to Lublin/Majdanek concentration camp. The rest of the family became increasingly afraid to go out in the streets, as they risked getting abducted for forced labor or executed in retaliation for the resistance’s killing of German officers.

    On August 1, 1944, the Polish Home Army (or Armia Krajowa), part of the underground resistance movement, began an attempt to liberate Warsaw from Germany. Although Zbigniew was assigned to a post, forces occupying his street prevented him from getting there. Jurek was among the fighters, but Stanislaw, their father, and their housekeeper were also at home.

    On the sixth day of fighting, German authorities came into their house and ordered everyone to assemble in a local square. Zbigniew’s father had accumulated a large amount of cash, which they hid in two hollowed-out loaves of bread and put in a briefcase which Zbigniew carried. Men ages 18 to 25, including Stanislaw, were separated out, and everyone else was marched on, past piles of corpses. When the men were stopped, Zbigniew stayed with his father, and SS officers came around collecting wallets, IDs, cash, and jewelry. One of the officers made Zbigniew go with the women who had continued on around the corner. Zbigniew watched as the SS officers turned a machine gun on the group of men, including his father.

    When Zbigniew joined the women, he managed to find his family’s housekeeper, Gosha. They were marched out of the city, and joined by groups from other sections of town. In order to stay together, Zbigniew pretended to be Gosha’s son, and they were deported by cattle car to Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland). They were then force-marched to a slave labor camp on the outskirts of the city. In the camp, the men and women were separated and given identification badges. Then they were sent to work, digging trenches for sewer pipes laid down by British and American prisoners of war (POWs) from a nearby camp.

    In October, Zbigniew and Gosha were selected for a new work detail. They were marched through Breslau to a school, where they were photographed, housed, and forced to clean up city parks and public facilities. Later that month, the Red Cross came and supplied them with winter clothes. A volunteer, Jakubina Skombska, covertly offered Zbigniew a place to stay and gave him a slip of paper with her address. Zbigniew was initially reluctant to leave, but Gosha convinced him to escape and go stay with the volunteer. Since they were working in the train station, Gosha used the money they had hidden to purchase a train ticket. The following day, Zbigniew took a train to Trzebinia (now in Poland), and met Jakubina with the help of a priest at a nearby church. From November 27 to May 3, Zbigniew stayed at her home, spent some time with the priest at his monastery, and occasionally hiding in nearby limestone mines.

    In early May, the Soviet army liberated Trzebinia. Zbigniew heard his brother, Ryszard, was in a Red Cross hospital in Krakow recovering from injuries sustained in the Warsaw Uprising. Zbigniew traveled to Krakow, and camped inside a hospital until after the war ended, but he did not find his brother. He then spent four days traveling to Warsaw, and went to find his old home, which was just a shell. On the gate of their courtyard, Zbigniew saw inscribed names of people who were looking for family members, including Ryszard and his address in the city of Lodz. Zbigniew took the train to Lodz, and reunited with Ryszard. A couple days later, Jurek arrived. After the Warsaw Uprising, Jurek had been captured and taken to a labor camp near Dresden. Halina later arrived from Germany. On April 19, 1944, she had been transferred from Lublin/Majdanek concentration camp to Ravensbrück (prisoner number 36662), and then on June 16 to Leipzig-Schönefeld, a Ravensbrück subcamp that became a Buchenwald subcamp on September 1 (prisoner number 3722). After being separated from Zbigniew and their father in 1944, Stanislaw ended up in a German prison camp in Italy, but managed to escape and joined the Italian underground. When the Polish army invaded in cooperation with Allied forces, Stanislaw joined them and eventually went to England, where he survived the war. He then spent 10 years in Australia.

    After reuniting with his siblings, Jurek went to see one of their uncles, who was a dentist. As a result, Jurek began learning dentistry. Halina got married. Zbigniew returned to Gdynia with Ryszard, Ryszard’s wife, and their baby. He began attending high school, but left in his third year to work on the crew of the MS Batory, a ship that traveled between Gdynia and New York City. Occasionally, he got to see his brother Stanislaw when the ship docked in England. In August 1948, Zbigniew got a telegram from a film program he had applied to years prior, summoning him to Lodz which was in the Soviet Union, under the Stalin regime. To avoid this situation, on his next voyage to the United States in October, Zbigniew debarked the ship and entered the country without proper documentation.

    Zbigniew lived in New York City and began going by the name of Tony. In December 1951, he married his wife, Rita, and together they had three daughters. Tony spent two years in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the Korean War (1950-1953). The family moved to New Jersey, and in 1960, Tony obtained a degree in metallography from the Newark College of Engineering.

    Physical Details

    Identifying Artifacts
    1 folder
    Physical Description
    Diamond-shaped, unused badge printed on a square of off-white cloth. Printed on the front of the cloth is a yellow diamond with a thick purple border on all four sides, and a large, purple capital ‘P’ in the center. The design is slightly misprinted, leaving narrow stripes of white around the interior edges of the diamond. There is one selvedge edge, and the other three edges are unfinished and fraying. At the top point is a small, orange stain.
    overall: Height: 3.250 inches (8.255 cm) | Width: 3.250 inches (8.255 cm)
    overall : cloth, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The badge was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2014 by Zbigniew Antonii Piotrowski.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-25 13:00:30
    This page:

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