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Almost Forgotten, Stanislaus Stephen Krajewski in WWI

StanislausKrajewskiDrawing 001By Peter Finley, Member, Saratoga Springs History Museum

Before I knew much about war, I latched onto a pen and ink drawing that belonged to my grandmother, Edna Mahar. The drawing is of a man with one abnormal hand, staring off into the distance, sitting on a small table, and nearby was an empty liquor bottle. It was dated, Jan 16-1924, and signed, SSK.
Fast forward 30 years or so, and I remember being told by my grandmother that the artist was her cousin, Stanislaus Stephen Krajewski, and he had fought in World War I. We will call him Stan the rest of this story because that is what his family called him.

Recently, my brother, Paul, found a Saratogian newspaper article, dated, March 3, 1919, that described Stan’s war experience in great detail. It answered a lot of questions, and for that I am very grateful.
Stan was born in Bayside Long Island, NY, but lived in Saratoga Springs prior to enlisting in August 25, 1917. After basic training, he arrived in France on April 2, 1918. American troops, like him, were part of the American Expeditionary Force that was sent to Europe to help end World War I. The American troops might have lacked experience, but they made up for it in their “can do” fighting spirit.
At the Second Battle of the Marne, which began on July 15, 1918, Stan belonged to Company B, 30th U.S. Infantry. Unfortunately, on the opening day of that battle, every man in his platoon was either killed or captured. German troops had crossed the Marne River and overwhelmed Company B. Stan’s fate was not only to be captured but to be badly wounded as well.

A machine-gun bullet penetrated Stan’s right hand, between the thumb and forefinger, and passed through the hand, struck the bones in the wrist, and exploded. It actually tore out bones and flesh in his arm for about eight or nine inches.

After Stan’s capture, the Germans laid him on the bank of the Marne until morning. He had lost a tremendous amount of blood and he didn’t care if he lived or died. The next day, the Germans carried him to a brick house, but left him uncared for. He begged for water many times, but was ignored.

Stan eventually received treatment when a German Red Cross doctor put a bandage on his wound. He then got moved again. At Longvall, a base hospital, he started to see bugs coming out of his bandage. Although Stan begged for treatment, he didn’t get any, until a German nun heard his pleading to God and dressed his wound.
At Longvall, Stan was finally operated on, but they gave him no ether, they were short of it. Two doctors held him down while the third operated on him. And in his delirium he yelled out things in Polish. A few days later, a doctor came in and asked him his name. The doctor didn’t stay long and acted like he didn’t want anybody else to know about it.

When Stan reached the Neuhammer prison camp, it dawned on him that the doctor must have recommended this prison camp for him, and it was probably the best prison camp he could have been sent to. The place was largely run by Poles. Stan met an American aviator at the prison camp that would lift his spirits further. He told him those bugs on his wound probably ate the poison out of it. Unfortunately, Stan was treated cruelly by the head doctor. When it came time to take off his bandage, the doctor pulled it off, instead of unwinding it. And it would have grieved him further if he knew his parents were notified, in early August of 1918, that he was killed in action.
One day, a Polish sergeant slipped Stan some books to read, and he learned that the Americans were winning the war. He also found out that after his capture, Allied troops had gone on and won the Second Battle of the Marne. Once it was discovered that Stan was alive and in a POW camp, he began receiving packages and letters via the American Red Cross. But he didn’t receive all of the packages sent to him because the beleaguered Germans got to most of them first.

On November 10, 1918, Stan knew the Germans were beaten, and an armistice was signed the next day. Soon after, Stan was released from his captors, and was put on a British hospital ship and landed at Leithe, Scotland. There he spent a month in an American military hospital and then sailed for America. Back home in Saratoga Springs, Stan just wanted to forget the war, but still spoke to gatherings about his horrible war experience.
World War I has been called the forgotten war, but 12,000 Americans died or were wounded in a battle that’s much less known than the war itself. Despite this, the Second Battle of the Marne has been called the turning point of World War I. In this battle, inexperienced Americans fought beside battle-hardened but weary Allied troops, and stopped a very determined German army from capturing Paris and winning the war.
After reading the newspaper article and reading about the battle, I still had a few questions, and Stan’s nephew, Joe Krajewski, did his best to answer them. Joe believed Stan was gassed at the Second Battle of the Marne and also developed shell-shock because of his hideous battle experience.

There was something I really wanted to know from the very beginning: Was Stan right-handed and did he use that hand to draw when he returned? Joe wasn’t sure, but said he was able to move his fingers in that hand a little. Luckily, in another newspaper article, dated, November 1, 1918, it mentioned that Stan’s right hand was so badly wounded a fellow prisoner wrote a letter for him. So, Stan must have been right-handed, and that drawing, because of that abnormal looking hand, could have been a self-portrait. Whatever hand he used, we know that Stan took art lessons after the war, but never made a living from his artwork. Sadly, I was told, Stan would spend the rest of his life in and out of veterans’ hospitals, dying in Albany’s Veterans Administration Hospital in 1959.
The terrible irony is that on the day Stan was wounded, his infantry unit was to have been relieved. And it wasn’t until 1933 that he received a Purple Heart decoration.

I never expected to end this story on such a sad note and I won’t. What Stan suffered as a result of that battle, was more important than anything he could have achieved as an artist. His suffering was no doubt redemptive and benefited us all. No, Stan, you were not forgotten.

If you want to pay him homage, visiting the World War Memorial Pavilion in Congress Park is a good way of doing that. In this memorial, he is honored for being both injured and captured in battle.

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