Irena Szpak

Irena Szpak

Amica at Westboro Park

Foreign Service – Armia Krajowa (Home Army), Polish Resistance Movement

Irena is one of the 56 veterans now living in Canada who were once underground messengers for Armia Krajowa (Home Army) that functioned as the dominant Polish resistance movement in World War II in German-occupied Poland. The Warsaw Uprising lasted a brutal and tragic 63 days before the city’s remaining civilians capitulated after trying heroically to liberate their city from Nazi occupation. Two hundred and fifty thousand lives were lost.

When war broke out, Irena was twelve. She and her young friends transitioned from being Girl Guides to insurgents. In school, learning the trades was the accepted activity; academic studies were not allowed. Teachers secretly taught classes under punishment of death if caught. Parents were arrested by the Gestapo for no real reason. And learning to use field telephones and rifles as well as taking long runs around Warsaw to learn the best routes and secret passages including those in the city sewers became the “other” curriculum. Luckily, Irena was a good, fast runner; despite their best efforts, some of her friends didn’t make it. The snipers made sure of that.

Says Irena’s daughter Kita: “The enslaved five-year existence culminated in the Uprising which began on August 1, 1944. Unbeknownst to the insurgents, information had been leaked to the enemy. Just over two months later, the valiant effort to free their beloved city was over. Declared allied soldiers by the Geneva Convention, the now-prisoners of war were force-marched out of Warsaw to an uncertain and perilous future. My mother was among them. She had lost her shoes in the last days of bombing and desperate to find footwear, finally lucked into a pair of surrogate combat boots. She left her birthplace for the last time for what would be many years wearing purple high heels and head held high.”

In 2014, Irena was awarded Poland’s Memorial Medal, signifying the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising of 1944. Honouring the living participants of the uprising, the medal is a “symbol of remembrance and gratitude towards the men and women who had Poland in their hearts and Poland’s best interest in mind when they served their country so courageously.”

“Mom’s walk is still resolute and dignified despite having to use a walker these days. She seems a planet away from her youthful days in wartime Poland. Yet if you were to call out, “Irka,” her code name, Mom would turn around in a flash with eyes bright and unflinching ready to do whatever it takes to make life the best she can. My mother: once the hero, always the hero.”