World War II
Memories and Biography
How French Underground saved Chicago Airman
Patriots Rescue 'Chuting Flier Under Nazi Nose
By Elgar Brown
7 January 1945
Lying in his muddy uniform amid the folds of a silken 'chute, the Chicago boy who had survived a 23,000-foot bailout from a crippled Liberator shook his muddled head and began cautiously to reconnoiter.
He was in a gloom-shrouded forest near Juvigny, northern France. Peering through the fog, he studied a cemetery to his left. A hated symbol adorned every grave. It was a Nazi bone yard.
Voices, excited and guttural, cut the dank air to his right. His heart raced; he was trapped. Almost at arms length was a pillbox. The voices spoke German. These ghostly figures were soldiers of the Reich.
Lt. Adolph Zielenkiewicz, 24, shrugged in a fatalistic gesture. This was his 13th mission, on the 13th of December, 1943. His number was up.
But the former Herzl Junior College student, once an aerial photographer and later a bombardier, failed to reckon with the soul of France - the patriots of the French Forces of the Interior, the civilians who would not be enslaved.
He didn't know it, but Lt. Adolph Zielenkiewicz was beginning a matchless war yarn of adventure and intrigue - Escape by Underground - a yarn to be spun only when, as now, its locale was purged of the Hun beyond peradventure.
In Nazi-occupied Paris, as the multi-clad escort of a brave French girl, he was to rub elbows with loud and boorish officers of the Luftwaffe in a glittering café known, oddly, as The Mikado.
In a cave near Toulouse, he was to huddle for days until the furtive band had increased to 13 (that number again!) and trusted guides broke the way to the Spanish border.
In frigid weather on the snow-capped peaks of the Pyranees, he and his companions were to suffer and roam for more unforgettable days till they emerged in a fertile valley and knew that success was within their grasp.
Then Barcelona, Madrid, Casablanca, London - each with its increasing safety, its diminishing need for stealth. And through it all the efficient, friendly, dauntless hand of the blessed, magnificent Underground.
Adolph Zielenkiewicz, son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Zielenkiewicz, 1742 Crystal St., Chicago, left Herzl Junior College in June, 1939, and went to war. He was commissioned at Kirtland, AAF, Albuquerque, N.M., in January, 1943.
He was a veteran sky cameraman and armorer, seasoned under fire, when he began that 13th mission in a B-24 bound for a daylight raid on Ludwigshaven, Germany. Its interruption, four plus miles up, was drenched in drama. Says Lt. Adolph Zielenkiewicz:
A 20-mm cannon shell exploded right in front of the greenhouse, and besides knocking out the Plexiglas, cut off the oxygen supply. The No. 1 engine was out and No. 2 was on fire.
The pilot gave orders to bail out. But I found I was trapped in the turret, which was set at 1 o'clock!
I've been told since that it's impossible to get out through an opening so small. But when you HAVE to get out . . ."
He was shaken but unhurt in landing, according to the version Lt. Adolph Zielenkiewicz recently gave the CAAF Bomb Blast at Childress Army Air Field in Texas. But with a sinking heart he was quickly apprised that he had fallen into a Nazi fortified zone.
There was just one course to follow. Speedily he hid his 'chute in nearby brush, crawled into the cemetery to await darkness, and prayed.
At nightfall, he stumbled aimlessly forth into the Soissanier countryside. He had advanced five kilometers, he believes, when he encountered a group of French farmers.
These men were patriots; they inspected his uniform, recognized it, and made friendly overtures. They led him to a priest in a tiny village. The priest, welcoming him into his home, provided food, civilian clothing and - most important - direction to Paris and members of the underground there.
On this hazardous journey, of course, the bombardier was saved by his civvies. The patriots to whom he'd been directed turned out to be a valorous woman and her daughter.
For six weeks, filled with anxiety but in physical comfort, Lt. Adolph Zielenkiewicz was lodged in their modest home, awaiting underground plans for his removal.
On one pulse-quickening day the underground spoke: Prepare to leave Paris! But a few short hours later came the disappointing word from the FFI:
Gestapo too close; abandon secret get away plans!
Soon afterward, though, it seemed an interminable period, the way was cleared. A rail ticket to Toulouse was mysteriously produced for Lt. Zielenkiewicz. His loyal hostess whispered that five other allied airmen were in the shipment.
Directions were explicit and foolproof. The Yanks spotted each other without difficulty en route, but gave no sign of recognition. In Toulouse, they scattered, each making his way to a lonely cave on the city's outskirts.
During three days of huddling in the cave, with the friendly French bringing adequate supplies, the number of fugitives grew to 13. Then they were ready; then began an unforgettable 15-day trek over the formidable Pyranees.
Suddenly, the ordeal ended and the weary group walked into a beautiful valley. In neat little homes the airmen found rest, food, shelter. And just across the Spanish border waited, of all things, two taxicabs!
Barcelona was entered in style. This was neutral country; the long-time fugitives breathed freely at last.
Easy sailing lay ahead. As guests of the British government, the 13 airmen entrained for Madrid, went on to Gibraltar, left the Rock for Casablanca. An American base at last.
Flown by way of London, Lt. Zielenkiewicz reached America four months and a week after the day he landed in the Nazi cemetery near Juvigny.