BAYSIDE, WI - A Polish-born WWII veteran separated from his family as a teen planted new roots in Milwaukee decades ago and helped create a space to celebrate his heritage in the area as well.
"Altogether there were almost 130,000 Poles drafted to German army," Joe Marek said.
"I was one of them," he also said.
Born in Poland in 1925 Marek was 15-years-old when Germany occupied the country. Three years later, when he was only 18, he was separated from his family and forced to fight for the Nazis.
“My mother, the last time she saw me I was 18 years old," Marek said.
"When I went to go to the army to report and she died unfortunately before I could see her from here," he also said.
While fighting for the Nazis in France, Marek was captured by allied forces and taken to England where he volunteered for the Polish army. At the age of 25, he moved to Milwaukee to be closer to his uncle. He met his wife at age 30 and married her soon after. They have two kids together and four grandchildren.
“My biggest achievement in my life was giving good education to my children," Marek said.
"I missed it, my [highest level of] school was eight-year grade school," he also said.
Once in the states, Marek never returned to Poland, but he also never forgot his roots. He’s one of the founders of the Polish Center of Wisconsin --something he takes pride in because he said sharing his heritage with others will always keep him connected to home.