Richard Enz often is asked by acquaintances how he came to the United States and when he explains how he came to be an American citizen; he is told he should write a book.
Now at age 84 his book of his life from a birth in the Ukraine to the U.S. is published. The book, “The Little Ukrainian, A boy’s journey from communism in the USSR to freedom in the USA,” is on sale on Amazon and a copy is available at the Kilbourn Public Library.
Enz’s journey took him from extreme poverty to Wisconsin Dells and later a career with the US Air Force’s Strategic Command. Along the way he picked up a new family, that includes Ed Enz of Wisconsin Dells. The story of his life unfolds with rich detail of his circumstances and the war that struck fear in those around him.
Richard or “Wlady” Enz was born Wladyslaw Strelecki on April 16, 1935 in the small village of Josefofka, between Kiev and Rovno in the Ukraine, at that time part of the Soviet Union. He had two older brothers, one younger brother and a baby sister. Wlady’s mother died giving birth to another boy, who also died. His paternal grandmother also lived with the family until she died. They lived in a building that in the middle, housed horses and cattle, the living quarters were on the north side and the south side was for storage for grain and hay.
The area was involved in the war when he was still young and after the family’s horse and cow disappeared his father feared for the family’s safety and that they would starve. Wlady’s Uncle Joseph and Aunt Theodora Bialkowski, who had no children, asked Wlady’s father to send one of his boys to live with them and help with the farm work. His father chose Wlady. He was sent to live with a couple he barely knew and to work on a larger farm. His job was to tend cattle during the day and help with chores in the morning and evening.
One day, a wagon was loaded with possessions, and Wlady and his aunt drove the cattle behind the wagon driven by his uncle. They were going to a nearby town, Korets. “In reply to my questions about what was happening, my aunt said, ‘The Germans are retreating, and they are killing everyone and burning everything behind them. If we want to stay alive, we have to go to Korets.’”
In Korets, the Germans came and loaded people into trucks and took them to Rovno. In Rovno, the aunt and uncle were forced to work in a brick factory but Wlady was left alone at the dormitory where they stayed. He was free to explore the making of bricks, watch the movement of troops and convoys on the roads.
As the war continued to go badly for the Germans, the family was evacuated from Rovno by train. They didn’t know where they were going but after weeks of travel arrived in Berlin. The Bialkowskis and Wlady were assigned to work with a flower and produce business owner, Willy Fritz.
Author Enz describes his life in Berlin in 1944 through 1949 as the city was bombed by the Allies and how he worked and went to school there. Frau Fritz took Wlady under her wing, taught him German and became his “surrogate mother.” He stayed with the Fritzes after the war ended and went to school in Germany. Then letters came from his family asking that he be returned to them, but he said he wanted to stay in Germany. Then Russians came looking for him, but he was at school. Then he had to go to the Polish Embassy where he declared he wanted to stay in Germany until he finished school. Eventually, the Russians came looking for him again, and Wlady and the Fritzes were afraid of his being kidnapped by them.
In 1949, with help he escaped the Russian sector of Berlin into the American sector. From there he was sent to the International Refugee Organization’s displaced children’s camp in Bad Aibling. There he was asked where he wanted to live, and he chose the United States.
Ed Enz said he was 10 at the time and was his parents’ only child. His parents, he said, decided he needed to have a brother. They put in an application for a child with the Lutheran Welfare Society. They had asked for a child around age 10, but when offered one at age 15, they said they would take him. Wlady joined the Enz family, who were living in Waupaca. He did his first three years of high school in Waupaca but graduated from Wisconsin Dells High School in 1952. He became a citizen after five years in the U.S. and changed his name to Richard Wlady Enz.
Richard Enz had planned to end his book with his arrival in the United States, but his brothers, Ed and Greg, talked him into including chapters his high school here including his year at the Dells High School, earning a degree in physics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, transferring to the regular Air Force and his career with the Air Force and as a contractor with the Air Force.
Enz now lives in Orlando, Fla.