Giovanni Wojciechowski from Lodi, Italy grew up never knowing his father, a Polish soldier who lost contact with him after the war. Giovanni’s daughter, Nicoletta, helped her father find and reconnect with his father’s family with the help of a Smart Match on MyHeritage.
Here is her story:
My grandfather, Zdzisław Wojciechowski, was a Polish soldier fighting in the Polish II Corps which helped liberate Italy in 1944.
With his military unit, he had come a long way before arriving in Italy: Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt…
The history of the Polish II Corps is not well-known. After the Soviet Union was attacked by its former ally — Nazi Germany — and changed its alliance, Stalin agreed in 1941 to raise a Polish army composed of Polish prisoners of war captured in September 1939. The Polish II Corps, also called the Polish Army of the West, eventually joined the British Army.
Upon their arrival on Italian soil, these Polish soldiers participated in some intense fighting, including the famous battle of Monte Cassino — for which Zdzisław was awarded the Medal of Military Valor.
From there, they pushed northward through Italy and arrived in Romagna. The Poles fought in towns like Forli, which was liberated on November 9, 1944, and Bologna, which was liberated in April 1945. They were stationed in the region for over a year.
My grandmother, Lina, was from Forli. Her parents lived in a large house in San Lorenzo in Noceto, which was first occupied by the British and then the Polish II Corps. That was how Lina and Zdzisław met, and on May 2, 1946, my father was born. He was named Giovanni, after his paternal grandfather, Jan. Zdzisław was very religious, so he asked his regimental chaplain for permission to be with my grandmother. After learning about the circumstances, the chaplain gave his approval. My grandfather was very generous first by recognizing my father (which was no small matter at the time), then by bringing food and selling his cigarettes to help provide for his daughter’s new family.
Zdzisław had been married when he left Poland at the outbreak of the war, and had a son named Krzysztof. But Poland was so badly devastated in the war that he was sure his Polish wife and son were dead.
After his long stay in Romagna, and only a few months after the birth of my father, Zdzisław was stationed in England. My grandmother and my father were supposed to go with him, but my great-grandmother thought the trip was too risky for a baby and they stayed behind.
A long-lost Polish grandfather
Zdzisław wrote to Lina and Giovanni for 7 months, and then his letters stopped. Years later, his commander, a Polish officer who had remained in Italy, confessed to my grandmother that he had mistakenly told Zdzisław that she had married another man. He had in fact confused her with another Italian woman who had also had a child with a Polish soldier and who had then married an Italian.
Many of these Polish soldiers could not return to their country, then under Soviet occupation, but my grandfather succeeded. He managed to return to Warsaw after 8 years of absence due to the war, and finally reunited with his wife and son, who had, in fact, survived. His family grew in 1949 with the arrival of a daughter, Renata.
So my father grew up with his mother and grandmother, without ever knowing his father.
In 1970, after some research at the Polish consulate, my father learned that his father had died in 1963. He had asked my grandfather’s former commander (the same one who had mistakenly told Zdzislaw that Lina married) to send a letter to Warsaw. His brother Krzysztof answered and my father decided to go there without delay, but he learned that my mother was pregnant — with me — and he postponed his trip. The contact and the beginning of a new connection fizzled out.
Almost 50 years passed. Then, one day, my daughter was assigned a genealogy project for school. This reawakened my father’s desire to know more about his roots, and he expressed the wish to renew contact with our Polish family. We knew the name of my grandfather as well as those of his parents. I searched the Internet for those names. A MyHeritage advertisement appeared and I signed up. When I started building my family tree, I got a Smart Match with a Polish family tree that contained the names I was looking for.
The name Wojciechowski is very common in Poland, but the fact that my grandfather’s name appeared along with that of my great-grandparents confirmed that it was indeed him.
Tracing Zdzisław through the family tree
I contacted the tree owner, Tomek, through MyHeritage’s internal messaging system, and when he replied, we were able to establish our relationship. He is the great-grandson of a brother of my grandfather’s. My great-uncle Marian had been deported to Auschwitz, where he died in 1941. Tomek and his family were completely unaware of the existence of our Italian branch.
Wojtek, Tomek’s brother, says that it was actually Tomek’s idea to create a MyHeritage account. Tomek is the official owner of the site, but Wojtek is an additional site manager. He had collected some data from his grandparents while he was a child, but hadn’t done any deeper research; the reason he created the account was that Tomek wanted to store not only basic data like names, dates of birth, and genealogical relationships, but also events in their relatives’ lives, which he found very interesting.
Wojtek added all the data that he had from his grandparents to the family tree and then kept watching for matches that started appearing. He was actually quite surprised by how many there were. The one from my wasn’t the first, but so far it was the first one that resulted in personal contact.
Quite surprised to learn of my existence, Wojek told Tomek and their father the next day. Their father — grandson of Zdzisław’s brother — was even more surprised than Wojtek was, but his reaction was very positive. The next step was to tell their grandmother, Zdzisław’s niece. Tomek and Wojtek visited her 3 days later. It turned out she didn’t know about the existence of the Italian family either. As Wojtek knew she was very fond of her uncle, he was a bit anxious about how she might react to learning this new fact about his life. However, her reaction was quite positive too.
In the meantime, I had posted Zdzisław’s photo on MyHeritage, and Wojtek’s grandmother recognized him at once — thus confirming the connection.
Coincidentally, at the same time, Tomek and Wojtek’s parents, named Wojciech (that’s the former version of Wojtek) and Barbara, were on vacation in Milan. We exchanged phone numbers and decided to meet at the Polish consulate in Milan.
It was a beautiful day in May. May is our favorite month in my family!
From there, they informed the families of Krzysztof and Renata that we wanted to meet them. We first met Renata, who lives in Southern France. Wojtek and Tomek’s parents made the trip as well.
The 3 children of Zdzisław reunited at last
It was just before the pandemic and we had to postpone the trip to Poland then. It was last April that we went to Warsaw and finally met Krzysztof. Despite the war in Ukraine so close, I had decided not to wait any longer. Renata also moved. My father was able to visit his father’s grave, with his brother and sister. My father, my son, and I traveled (my daughter was preparing for an exam and could not join us).
You can watch my father Giovanni tell his story in this video published in the Italian newspaper Il Cittadino.
For the first time, the three children of Zdzisław were reunited! How exciting for all of us, but especially for my father!
Many thanks to Nicoletta for telling us her story! If you’ve made an amazing discovery through MyHeritage, please share it with us. Submit your story through this form or email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The post I Reunited with My Father’s Lost Family Thanks to a Smart Match™ on MyHeritage appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.
Source: My Heritage