Anna Grabiec has been sending letters to America all her life, but one unmailed letter made her quite the American celebrity. Her village of Niwiska had been evacuated so the Nazi Regime could conduct research on a top secret project of Hitlers: building and testing the V1 and V2 missiles. Many villagers were kept as workers for construction and to provide food for the Germans through the maintenance of the confiscated local farms.
After World War II, the villagers in Niwiska suffered under the equally oppressive Soviet occupation of Poland. The Russians occupied the area shortly before WWII officially ended. They used the flat lands of Niwiska to operate an airstrip.
An American B-24 bomber was hit and disabled by an anti-aircraft fire and had to make an emergency landing in Niwiska. Obviously relieved that they were able to land in a region of Poland that was no longer overrun with Germans, they were accommodated by the Russians in an old schoolhouse with food and vodka until arrangements could be made for them to get back to their base in Italy. The crew of American airmen had to stay in Niwiska for several weeks but were kept away from the locals. Perhaps the Russians didn’t want the villagers to be influenced by American values and the good news of democracy.
The Niwiska villagers, of course, knew that the Americans were there and seized the opportunity to send letters to their relatives in America. They lost almost everything during the Nazi occupation of their village and wanted others to know of their desperate plight.
The villagers had written letters and hid them on the shelf above the outhouse door near the schoolhouse. At great risk of being caught, the villagers asked the American airmen to deliver the letters. One of those letters was from Anna Grabiec who wanted to communicate the situation in Niwiska to her aunt and uncle in Cleveland.
The Airmen were happy to fulfill this request, and they divided the letters between them. Upon returning to America, the letter from Anna Grabiec was returned to one of the airmen as undeliverable. Perhaps her aunt and uncle had moved, or the address was incorrect. The young pilot, Ed List put the undelivered letter in a briefcase and forgot about it−for more than forty years.
It was in November 1989 when Ed List and his daughter Talia Moser found the letter in the briefcase, and he explained what had happened. Talia was determined to find the writer and with the help of a Polish coworker, had the letter translated. Talia contacted the priest in Niwiska and he, of course, knew Anna Grabiec, a teacher in the village.
Talia’s generous and inquisitive spirit has been rewarded by a thankful and steady twenty-year correspondence with Anna Grabiec who wrote to List and Talia about her family’s hardships during the Nazi invasion. Typical of what I have learned about Anna, her letters also contained sincere gratitude for the kindness of those American airmen so very long ago.