ZOFIA MATUSIAK SZOSTAK, MARCH 4, 2007
Try to sell Zofia Matusiak Szostak’s story to Hollywood, and they’d hand it back: too unbelievable, they’d say. Since World War II disrupted all phases of life, even in the most remote areas of Poland, Zofia’s story is one of many similar tales of despair and heroism that we’ve recorded throughout ‘Our Polish Story’, but each one is unique when you’re faced with the folks that actually experienced it.
Born in 1924 in Tczew, Zofia was adopted soon afterwards—an event not uncommon in post World War I Poland, but which still has repercussions in Zofia’s outlook. Fortunate to have landed with loving and attentive parents, she was educated in excellent Polish schools, but her studies were interrupted by the twin invasions of Germany and Poland in 1939. The Polish Scouts, an organization which she dearly loved, was para-military in scope as we’ve come several times to understand (Julius Przesmycki was another of our interviewees who used his Scouting training to survive the Nazi onslaught), was a vital training ground for young Poles at this time. Zofia adopted a pseudonym and became an active member of the Polish Underground while her government fled in exile to London, braving such a string of adventures and risks that to look at the sedate and wonderfully friendly woman, grey-haired beneath a painting of Pope John Paul II, stroking her cat, it’s hard to imagine the events that brought her here. Among the most harrowing tales she recounts for our cameras occurred with her unit commander Emilian Szostak. An off-hand comment made by Zofia was purposely misinterpreted by another unit member, and he falsely sussed her out as a Soviet spy. As a result, Szostak was assigned the job of assassinating her, which he clearly did not carry out—in fact, he wound up marrying her.
Now living with her daughter Mary, son-in-law Mark and two granddaughters, Zofia’s life is somewhat less hectic than it was in the Forties, but these experiences have left indelible marks. She’s understandably reluctant to recount some of the worst of times in wartime Poland, but still speaks fondly of some of her dear friends from childhood, at least one of whom she’s still in contact with.
Zofia is yet another remarkable character, often forgotten, in the chronicles of Detroit and what makes us unique and fascinating on the world stage.