Zbigniew Piatek

[ Age 80 ] He fought the Nazis and then the communists in his native Poland.

"He was a great hero," a friend recalled. "He ... risked his life many times."

April 02, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Zbigniew Adam Piatek, a Polish freedom fighter who fought the Nazis during World War II and the communists who swept into Poland in the late 1940s, before leaving his native country and settling in the West, died of sepsis Friday at Good Samaritan Hospital. The Abingdon resident was 80.

Mr. Piatek, who was born and raised in Zdunska Wola, Poland, was a teenager when he joined the Polish underground during World War II.

"It was called the Home Army in English and AK - Armia Krajowa - in Polish. It was very well-organized," said his son, Matthew S. Piatek of Essex. "He was known as `Grabina' and fought for his homeland throughout the war."

The Rev. Marian S. Mazgaj, an Episcopal priest in Wheeling, W.Va., was a boyhood friend of Mr. Piatek's and fellow member of the underground.

"He was a great hero and fought very bravely. He was exposed to many dangers and risked his life many times," Mr. Mazgaj said.

In 1944, Mr. Piatek and Mr. Mazgaj joined the 2nd Regiment of the Home Army, which was also known as the Polish Legionaries.

"We wore British uniforms and had British armaments and we inflicted lots of damage on the enemy," Mr. Mazgaj said.

"After Yalta, when Poland was given to the Russians, they felt very betrayed by the West," Matthew Piatek said.

In 1945, Mr. Piatek joined WiN (Freedom and Independence), an underground anti-communist organization that fought Russian domination of Poland.

In an unpublished monograph, the elder Mr. Piatek, who had been imprisoned and tortured on several occasions, recalled an anxious moment when he and a fellow WiN member were attempting an escape from Poland to West Berlin in 1951.

They were in the Russian-occupied zone in Germany, hiding along a railroad embankment, when they heard Russian soldiers, who they suspected were looking for them.

"We were in a hopeless trap. There must have been thirty to fifty of them. We could hear their slow cautious steps," he wrote. They thought the Russians would wait for daylight to finish them off.

"Five days ago, we had shot ourselves out of another of their ambushes. In our escape that night, we lost three members of our group," he wrote.

Both men were reconciled to their impending fate.

"I was trying desperately to keep my mind blank. I was worried that I might become paralyzed by fear," he wrote. "But it was impossible to control my thoughts."

The men decided to climb to the top of the embankment and meet the Russians they were certain were there.

To their surprise, the woods were quiet. There were no Russians and never had been.

"It was an hallucination both men shared because they were sleep-deprived, hungry and fearful of capture," Mr. Piatek's son said.

He served with a U.S. Army guard unit in Germany and Verdun, France, from 1951 to 1952.

"He also served with another military reserve unit that was supported by the Polish government-in-exile," his son said.

Arriving in New York City in 1952, as a displaced person with only a few hundred dollars in his pocket, his wife, the former Donna Niedziela, and his son, Mr. Piatek settled with his family in Buffalo, N.Y.

He earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and worked as a laboratory technician for McDougal Butler Co.

In Buffalo, he became involved in several Polish organizations and founded and edited Pogoniak, a Polish-language newspaper.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1957, and was responsible in 1962 for bringing President John F. Kennedy to the city to attend its annual Pulaski Day Parade.

He moved to Middle River in 1963, when he took a job as a lab technician at Farboil, a paint company, on Key Highway.

He later worked for Baltimore Chemical and Paint Co. and DynaSurf before establishing Yonar Laboratories Inc. in 1978.

"He was still coming in shouting and shaking things up," said his son, who operates the business.

Mr. Piatek had been active in many Polish organizations and had been a supporter of the Katyn Memorial in Inner Harbor East.

He was an avid collector of Polish stamps covering the years 1918-1939. He also enjoyed playing chess and was a Ravens fan.

"He certainly had an eventful life," his son said.

Services were Sunday.

In addition to his wife of 56 years and his son, surviving are a sister, Marsia Piatek of Zdunska Wola; and a grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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