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Lt. Roman Wójciak 1912-1986

Roman Wójciak was born in 1912 in Dzików Stary in the southeastern Poland to a family of lyceum professors. After his parents and four brothers moved to Poznań, he studied in the University of Poznań, where he obtained his degree in law. In the prewar period he began to practice law and he also trained in the Reserve Officers' School. His military training ended up in the rank of a second lieutenant and resulted in teaching courses in military law. In September 1939 joined the army as an officer and was nominated a battalion commander in the Poznań Army, which he led in the September defense campaign. Between 9-20 September 1939, during the Bzura River battle near the region of Łęczyca-Kutno-Łowicz-Sochaczew, Lt. Roman Wójciak fought with his troopers until the battalion was decimated and surrounded by squadrons of the German 8th army. Two Polish armies took part in this battle: the Poznań Army, commanded by General Tadeusz Kutrzeba and the Pomeranian Army, commanded by General Władyslaw Bortnowski.

Polish forces also engaged the 4th, 8th and 10th German armies. After the initial success in the first phase of the battle on the 16th and 17th of September 1939, Polish forces were surrounded by the Germans and then defeated. Remaining groups of Polish soldiers escaped from the German encirclement and fought their way through the Kampinoski Forest into besieged Warsaw. Polish casualties in the Battle of the Bzura River amounted to about 20 thousand soldiers killed in action.

Lt. Roman Wójciak was taken prisoner on the 17th September 1939 and was sent to Woldenberg camp. The POW camp in Woldenberg, presently named Dobiegniewo, was first established in September 1939 and operated until May 1940 as a POW camp for private rank soldiers and under-officers. During this time, some 14 thousands POWs were kept in the camp known as Stalag II C. Since May 1940 and January 1945, the camp was renamed to Oflag II C (Oflag - Offizier Lager- POW camp for officers only) and was a place of imprisonment for 6 thousand higher rank POWs, including generals and commanders, captured during the September war campaign.

The attorney Roman Wójciak spent 5 years as a POW in Oflag II C camp. Due to the fact that Wermacht supervised the camp, the German authorities were fulfilling minimum requirements of the International Convention for the POWs' treatment and the imprisoned officers were not forced into a hard physical labour. The long term isolation, psychological suppression, hunger, dirt, insects and lack of war effort activities for thousands of young men were taking a toll on lives of the POWs. Highest rank professional officers, lawyers, university professors, scientists, artists, members of the prewar establishment and intelligentsia, even counts and barons of the Polish high society had to unyieldingly stand up the hardships of a long term imprisonment. There were many that did not survive the diseases and humiliations of the imprisonment.

My memory goes back to the times when my father was telling me tragicomic stories about camp life. He described how some of the counts or generals were hastily pushing their visiting-cards with their names and all their prominent titles into manure left by the horses pulling the faeces disposal truck arriving to the latrines. This "booking" was done to ensure that the manure was not taken by anybody else. The valuable fertilizer was needed in the little vegetable plots that the prisoners were allowed to cultivate and grow fresh carrots and other vegetables, otherwise available only in scarce amounts. This was a survival struggle where titles really counted. Some of these painful as well as rare cheerful moments of hope in the Olflag's camp life were commemorated in a hand-made lithographic album created by the camp's artists.

This album has survived the war and was handed to my mother in 1945 as an engagement gift by my father, right after the end of the war in 1945. For many years after the war, my father did not recall his experiences of life as a POW. In the early 70s, he bought a book about the Battle of the Bzura River and September 1945 war campaign. In the book he found his name on the list of officers killed in action and that he had been posthumously awarded with a highest rank Virttuti Militarii Cross by the Polish Army Command.

Extremely committed to his work during the post war years, he ran a private law firm until the late 60s. Then he was forced by authorities under a new law to end his activities as an attorney and consequently took multiple positions as an advisory lawyer for the state and a newly formed co-op company in Poznań. He was co-founder and legal initiator of a cooperative movement leading to the establishment of one of the first cooperative public transportation companies like "Silnik" and "KSK - Krajowa Spółdzielnia Komunikacyjna".

As a patriotic person, he never gave up the thought of living to see Poland free of the communist regime. These feelings were put under extreme strain in the 50s, when he became a defense lawyer in the disenfranchisement trials initiated by Gomułka regime in order to disintegrate and seize property of the Catholic Church. Roman Wójciak died in 1986. His life work was awarded with various recognition awards by the Poznań bar community and his September campaign efforts were recognized by awarding him a National Virtue Cross - Krzyż Walecznych and the Cross of September Campaign 1939.

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