Ukrainian Auschwitz survivor honoured

From the Richmond Review:

Stefan Petelycky wears a symbol of his luck on his arm, a tattoo emblazoned with the numbers 154922. The number was branded on him when he was taken to Auschwitz when he was only 20 years old.

Since his harrowing days as a German prisoner, Petelycky has passed some of his luck onto other people through his humanitarian efforts. The former aircraft mechanic to the Canadian army retired 20 years ago and has spent much of his time since then sending medical supplies and children’s clothing back to his home country, Ukraine.

From the The Province:

Between 1991 and 2003, Petelycky helped fill and ship 19 containers of goods, including used wheelchairs and hospital beds, from the B.C. chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Social Services charity to Ukraine.

During that time he travelled 47 times to Ukraine to help supervise their unloading and the distribution of goods to orphanages and hospitals.

Charity treasurer John Tymchuk said the amount of goods sent was valued at $1.5 million and shipping costs amounted to $200,000.

Petelycky was awarded a medal of honour for all his work by Ukrainian ambassador to Canada Ihor Ostash on July 30 at the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Richmond, BC.

Petelycky was a member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), freedom fighters who fought both the Nazis and the Soviets during the Second World War.  Millions of Ukrainians perished in Auschwitz; but history only records that a few Ukrainians sided with the Nazis. He wrote a book on his time as a POW in Auschwitz from 1943-1945 called “Into Auschwitz, For Ukraine” (a hard find to buy, but you can probably find it at the library).  Here are some excerpts from the book:

“Inside the prison cells I saw what had been done to our priests. Crude crosses had been carved into their chests before they were done in. The walls of the cells were spattered with dried blood and there were holes in the walls as if from bullets. In one cell there was a large pool of coagulated blood on the floor. This was a place where many people had been slaughtered. The corpses we uncovered were already decomposing, but we could see that some of these victims had their eyes torn out or their seual organs mutilated, had their faces and bones crushed with rifle butts, men and women alike. …Some innocents had been dismembered, buchered, mutilated. The stench…”

“…his greatest tormentor in Birkenau was a Jewish kapo in Block 4 who beat him mercilessly whenever he caught him praying. That man hated Father Kovalskyi because he was Ukrainian and a priest. He did not care that Kovalskyi was there because he had tried to help Jews.”

“I stayed in Barracks 7 at Birkenau for about another week. It was a mixed barracks, housing Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians, all of them trying to survive. After the first week, we were marched over to Block 11 in old Auschwitz. There were 29 of these blocks in all. They had been used as housing for Polish border troops before the war. Each one had two accommodation levels and a small attic above. We were on the top floor, which was almost entirely populated by Ukrainians. I notice that there were quite a few more SS men here guarding us. There were also quite a few Jewish kapos, dressed in black outfits, better fed than the rest of us, who did a lot of killing. Many of them belonged to a special formation known as the “Canada Commando” which sorted out the belongings of incoming prisoners, taking everything that was of value to the Third Reich’s war economy, leaving only the naked men, women and children, many of whom were then gassed. That task gave those kapos many opportunies to steal, which they did, not that it helped most of them in the long run.

“I remember that there were this time a lot of Soviet POWs in the camp, including a large group of Ukrainian women. They were housed in Block 11, two floors below us. We could sometimes hear them singing Ukrainian songs at night. That went on for about three weeks, and then one night their singing abruptly stopped. We heard the next day that they had all been taken away and shot. Only the empty cellar floor and an echo of their songs were left in our minds.”

“19 January 1945. I had fallen quite ill by that time and was so weak that I couldn’t really walk. My friends half -carried and half-dragged me with them. We left a night. The rumours were that the Red Army was alreay in Cracow. So, between ten and eleven o’colock that evening we were told to get ready to go and at about one, we were paraded and counted up. I walked through the Arbeit Macht Frei (Work shall set you free) gate one last time. I was free in Auschwitz, but gave it no thought. I was almost a musulman (lost soul walking but with vacant look – one who has given up on life).

That same day he was awarded the medal he also did an interview on CBC Radio’s The Early Edition.

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