Jerzy Główczewski, believed to be the last surviving Polish-born RAF fighter pilot, died in a Manhattan nursing home on April 13 due to complications from Covid-19.
Born in Warsaw in 1922, the then 16-year-old fled Poland with his stepfather to evade the German onslaught. Joining the Polish army in exile in 1941, Główczewski served in Egypt and Libya before traveling to Britain to undergo flight training with the RAF.
One of “the Few”, Główczewski flew on 100 combat missions in a Spitfire with the No. 308 “City of Kraków” Polish Fighter Squadron.
Awarded the Polish Cross of Valour three times, Główczewski flew over France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. His personal war ended over Wilhelmshaven, the main base of the German Kriegsmarine. In April 1945 Główczewski was told, “you don’t fly tomorrow. Pack up, you can go,” he recounted to United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Returning to Poland in 1947, Główczewski enrolled at the Warsaw University of Technology, earning a degree in architecture in 1952, where he continued to serve by playing a key role in the reconstruction of the badly destroyed city of Warsaw.
In later years, Główczewski taught at the Pratt Institute in New York with Główczewski’s daughter, Klara, telling the New York Times that her father “thought of himself first and foremost as an architect and was surprised by the attention his wartime service received late in life.”
In 2007 Główczewski released a three-volume memoir in Polish, rereleased in English in a single volume named The Accidental Immigrant. In his introduction Główczewski reflects, “I have lived on the edge of a precipice, yet have somehow managed to miss the worst fate. I have been steps away from death, a refugee fleeing deportation, starvation, and death camps,” he writes before adding, “We sometimes pondered how serendipitous our lives as refugees have been since we have left home. We neither dwelled on the past nor anticipated the future.”
Główczewski is survived by his daughter Klara and two grandchildren.