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'This was a great moment'


WWII hero finally honored at Renaissance Festival



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Walter Strzelecki (center) received formal recognition at the Renaissance Festival from VFW Post #1008. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
October 06, 2010 - Groveland Twp.- Last Sunday, more than 65 years after being freed from a Nazi prison camp where he risked his life to save others, Walter Strzelecki received formal recognition for his heroism.

The 85-year-old was given a standing ovation by hundreds of spectators surrounding the jousting arena at the Renaissance Festival as the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #1008 Honor Guard presented him with an American flag as well as a POW MIA commemorative coin.

The Queen at the Renaissance Festival introduced Strzelecki to the crowd, telling them they were there to honor the valor and courage of a man in the greatest of wars, World War II. She repeated the words of VFW Member Jim Storm, who said they were proud to finally honor Strzelecki for his heroism in saving lives while imprisoned at a Nazi camp.

His family was moved to tears, as was Strzelecki.

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"This was a great moment," he said. "I was very surprised that the Renaissance Festival made such an event as this. I never expected this after so many years and never dreamed this would happen to me—that I would be remembered."

Strzelecki was born in Chicago and spent his early childhood in Detroit and Hamtramck, but in 1932, with his parents struggling during the Great Depression without work, Strzelecki and his mother left the United States for Poland, her native country. In 1941, when he was 16, he hid with his mother from the Germans, who wanted boys and men to work in the fields and factories. Strzelecki eventually got work as a mailman in Poland, but on Sept. 6, 1942, he was falsely accused of being a spy and was interrogated and nearly beaten to death by the Gestapo. He was imprisoned at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he worked in the laundry and hid Jews, spraying pepper on their clothes to deter dogs from finding them. U.S. soldiers freed the Mauthausen prisoners on May 5, 1945.

"What my Dad did was silent and secret— hiding people and making sure the Nazis didn't get them and keeping them away from the dogs," said Nassar. "He was wrongly imprisoned, but he was a civilian, so he has never received any recognition from the military. There are a lot of secret heroes, the world is full of them. That's why this recognition is so nice."

Editor's note: For more on Walter Strzelecki's story of courage, go to www.thecitizenonline.com and search "I would think— 'Tomorrow it will be me.'"

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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