Frank Smolen, who turns 100 on October 4, survived Auschwitz. When Nazi Germany occupied his country, Frank joined the Polish Resistance. He spent about three years in this infamous concentration camp after the Gestapo discovered his allegiance to the resistance.
Frank moved from Poland to Australia after World War II. He met his future wife, Hedwig, on the boat trip to Australia and they enjoyed a happy life in Melbourne suburb, Footscray, before she passed away about 10 years ago. His family says that he has only recently started talking about some of his experiences. They are now learning about his amazing survival and just how brave he was.
Today, he lives at VMCH aged care residence, St Bernadette’s, in Sunshine. Frank’s family describe him as a treasure.
“He’s just an adorable man and we love him to bits,” his daughter-in-law, Ina, says.
She says Frank still exercises and his health is exceptional.
“He knows that if he doesn’t keep moving he will deteriorate. Apart from age-related things he is doing exceptionally well. His memory is phenomenal and he’s still got all his hair.”
Frank was touched when he was asked to be part of St Bernadette’s Anzac Day service for the past two years.
“St Bernadette’s asked him to lay the wreath for their Anzac Day service because he was the oldest one in the centre,” Ina, said.
“He was so emotional and so proud. I really think that is the closest he’s ever come to somebody acknowledging what he’s been through.”
Ina says the family hope to record his experiences during World War II to make sure his memories and important story is not lost. She sees parallels between his reasons for joining the Polish Resistance and what the ANZACs did.
“We have asked him why did he do it? ‘Why were you part of the underground?’ He said, ‘I did it for Poland. I did it for the love of my country.’ That’s exactly how we look at our ANZACs and what they have been through at Gallipoli. They just do it because it’s for their country,” she said.