Anna Grabiec had 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 during WWII so the Nazi Regime could establish an SS training center. They also built a top-secret research facility to test the V1 and V2 missiles. Many villagers were kept as forced laborers for Nazi construction projects and to provide food for Germany through the maintenance of the local confiscated farms.
Before the war had officially ended, the Germans had been pushed out of the area by the Russians in August 1944. The villagers in Niwiska suffered under the equally oppressive Soviet occupation of Poland. The Russians used the flatlands of Niwiska to build and operate a military airstrip.
On December 26, 1944, an American B-24 bomber was on a mission to target the Austrian oil refinery near Auschwitz. It was hit and disabled by an anti-aircraft fire and had to make an emergency landing in Niwiska. The crew was relieved they were able to land in a region of Poland that was no longer overrun with Germans. The Americans were accommodated by the Russians in an old schoolhouse.
The Schoolhouse in Niwiska where the American Crew was Housed.
Lt. Ed List, the 20-year-old pilot, reported the Russians were quite hospitable and offered them food and vodka in the evenings at the Hupka Manor House, the home of the former landowner in Niwiska. The crew of American airmen stayed in Niwiska for several weeks but were mostly 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. It could also be that the Russians were attempting to learn all they could from the remains of the VI and V2 missile research facility in Blizna that the Germans were forced to abandon. Blizna was just a 15-minute walk from Niwiska. This knowledge may have given the Russians a strong advantage in the future space race.
Lt. Edward S. List
Ed remembered enjoying one meal in the home of a local Pole. As is typical of Polish hospitality, the family offered them the best of their meager food supplies. They could not communicate because of the language barrier, but the crew was touched by the kindness of the locals. Ed mentioned he was aware the meal offerings were given at great sacrifice by the family and so the crew did not eat much.
The villagers had lost almost everything during the Nazi occupation and wanted their families to know of their desperate plight. It had been almost five or six years since they had heard from their relatives as the Germans prohibited any communication.
Perhaps this meal was when the villagers first asked the Americans to deliver their precious letters to their relatives in America. How the locals managed to pull off this mail transfer with the Americans is a mystery although it appeared the crew understood the procedure.
The villagers hid their letters on the shelf above the outhouse door near the schoolhouse. The Americans collected the letters from this covert location during their three-week stay and stored them in their briefcases and pouches.
Crew from Group Mission 177 before their emergency landing in Niwiska
The Airmen were happy to fulfill this request, and they divided the letters between them. One of those letters was from young Anna Grabiec who wanted to communicate to her aunt and uncle in Cleveland.
After a three-week stay, the crew left Niwiska on a Russian piloted C-47 plane. It flew from Yashunda to Poltava Ukraine and then to Teheran. From there it flew to Cairo, and they finally landed at their base in Bari, Italy. All the crewmembers returned to active duty on January 26, 1945.
After List’s return to America, he delivered all of the letters, but Anna Grabiec’s letter to her relatives was sent back to him as undeliverable. Perhaps her aunt and uncle had moved, or the address was incorrect. List knew that any attempt to return the letter to Niwiska might put Anna at risk with the Russians. So, the young pilot 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 discovered 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 was rewarded with a grateful and steady twenty-year correspondence with Anna Grabiec. Anna 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.