Vince Kucharski’s youth in Poland was plagued by turmoil and war, but in the difficult moments of his life, acts of kindness provided by the global Red Cross would nourish a bright future for him.
“They were very good to us,” said Vince. “I still donate to the Red Cross and I like the Red Cross because they did help us. If they didn’t send us the packages we would be awfully hungry.”
Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1929, Vince lived through a tumultuous period, one that separated him from his family for 24 years. Germany had invaded Poland in 1939 when Vince was 10 years old. It was dangerous to walk the streets, especially if one did not carry the right documents.
The uprising in Warsaw lasted many days and the city was completely destroyed. He witnessed one of his friend’s from the platoon getting hit and he couldn’t do anything for him because he had to keep running. If it wasn’t for the International Red Cross, he would have gone hungry as well.
“One day I came home, and my mother was very upset,” said Vince. “My neighbors asked me where was my brother Ted, and his friend? I said I don’t know, I saw them last night and they went home. A half hour later across the street from my apartment building, there were two bodies that were just lying there. They were my brother and his friend. My brother was only 16 and his friend was 18.”
Amidst the hardships his family endured, the Kucharski family received relief. Vince’s first encounter with the Red Cross was in 1940 when he was a teenager. The Red Cross provided his family with food and medicine.
Sometime after his brother died, a man approached Vince with an invitation to join the Polish Resistance movement and form part of the Polish underground forces. This was the only way one could become part of the army, because it was so secret.
No one could know, not even his family. It was during his time with the Underground Army that Vince would once again come in contact with the Red Cross, helping him bear the brutalities of war.
On the day Vince set out to unite with fellow members of the Underground Army, his mother stopped him to ask where he was going.
“She told me, ‘I have a feeling I won’t see you for a long time.’ I said, ‘Oh ma.’ At that time, I didn’t even know where I was going,” he said.
His mother was right. Vince thought he would be gone for two days. It would be a total of 24 years before he saw his mother again.
In early October of 1944, Vince went to a Prison Camp in Germany called Stalag 11A. During his three months there as a laborer, the Red Cross would send packages once a month. After the three months, he signed up to be a laborer at a prison camp in another part of Germany and still received Red Cross packages.
The Stalag 11A Prison Camp fell into the Russian hands sometime after Vince left to the new camp and all of the prisoners were sent to Siberia. The new camp that Vince had moved to was later freed. He was sent to Hamburg, Germany which was under English control to work as a guard.
The packages helped Vince and others to keep going and alleviated their suffering. Furthermore, the food that he received from the Red Cross nourished a bright future that lay ahead of him.
Vince was given a ticket to Chicago in 1950 where he raised a family and bought a house where his family portraits hang on the walls. He has four daughters and many grandchildren. In looking back at his past, it is astonishing to see how that led to a fruitful present, one that is filled with much joy.
Written by Diana Brokop