‘It’s a beautiful feeling’ says General Maczek’s granddaughter as she donates the war hero’s uniform to Polish History Museum
A uniform belonging to one of Poland’s greatest wartime leaders has been donated to the Polish History Museum by his London-based granddaughter.
Earning a name not just for his tactical prowess but also his unwavering loyalty to his soldiers, General Stanisław Maczek fought in four wars and was instrumental in the Allied liberation of France
Speaking at the temporary seat of the museum on Warsaw’s Mokotowska street, Karolina Maczek-Skillen said: “This year is the 130th anniversary of the birth of my grandfather, General Maczek.
“It is a beautiful feeling to hand over his uniform to the Polish History Museum. My grandfather could not return to Poland. The uniform came back alone, without the hero who wore it.”
Robert Kostro, the museum’s director, added: “General Stanisław Maczek was a legendary figure. He was an outstanding commander and I would say that he was a man who was prudent and romantic at the same time.
“He fought for Poland's freedom in many places around the world and during the September campaign, in France and Great Britain.
“Moreover, he always remained faithful to the Polish raison d’état and the honor of the Polish uniform. [...] He was also faithful to his soldiers – when he was in exile, he was a great authority figure and support for them: he never left them.
“He was also an outstanding commander, someone who could simply manage the battlefield perfectly, someone who invented armored forces in Poland. We are very happy that this uniform has entered our collection.”
Essentially a British uniform but with Polish patches, the service dress would have been worn both in barracks and during ceremonial services. Together with the uniform – which the General is known to have worn when his unit was based in Scotland – Maczek-Skillen also donated a beret that would have been largely donned in the field.
Something of a master strategist, Maczek was undefeated in battle during WWII, a fact that inspired a 2018 film about his life titled ‘Invincible’.
Born in 1892 in what is now part of Ukraine, Maczek was a diligent student who studied Polish philology at Lwow University. However, when WWI broke out he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army and found himself fighting on the Italian front.
Demonstrating an early flair for leadership, he became the only Polish battalion commander in the Austro-Hungary’s Alpine units.
With the birth of the new Polish state, in 1918 Maczek enlisted in the Polish army and was handed command of a battalion based in Krosno. It was not long till he saw combat, fighting first in the Polish-Ukrainian War and then in the Polish-Bolshevik War. Later, in 1938, he took charge of the country’s first fully motorized formation.
These accomplishments, though, were to pale compared to his record in WWII. Having fought with distinction during the initial phase of the German invasion, Maczek made it to France in 1940 before ending up in Scotland with his troops. It was here that the Polish 1st Armoured Division was created, a unit that would go on to claim a string of victories in Normandy.
Credited with closing the Falaise Pocket in 1944, his tactical nous saw the destruction of fourteen Nazi divisions.
Yet this was just the beginning of a triumphant campaign that was to famously include the capture of Wilhelmshaven naval base, and the liberation of scores of towns and cities in Belgium and the Netherlands: Ypres, Ghent and Breda among others.
That the latter was achieved with no civilian casualties can be seen as further evidence of Maczek’s talents as a commander. Known for his chivalrous attitude, intelligence and often unconventional methods, he was in many respects ahead of his time.
For all of that, Maczek struggled to readjust after the war and his inspirational leadership went largely unrewarded. Choosing not to return to Poland, he remained in Scotland and found himself stripped of his Polish citizenship by the Communist authorities.
Denied a general’s pension by the British, he was forced to take on low-paid, unskilled work and is said to have worked in an Edinburgh hotel bar until the 1960s.
But if the British showed little gratitude, the Dutch proved more grateful – on learning of his dire financial situation, collections were organized and he was granted a pension by the Dutch government.
Passing away in 1994 at the age of 102, he was fittingly buried in Breda, the city that he saved.
Something of an unsung and forgotten hero, recent years have seen a surge of interest in his life. Finally getting the wider attention his actions deserve, news that his uniform will play a star role at the Polish History Museum is further affirmation as to this rising appreciation.
Set to become one of the largest museums in the country, the Polish History Museum is scheduled to open next year in Warsaw’s citadel complex.