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In Memory of Chrystian Kretowicz (1941-2012)

Last modified: 2013-08-17 by pete loeser
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Chrystian Kretowicz
(during his aerospace years)

Chrystian, Raisa, and Arthur
(Arthur's birthday in 2007)

Chrystian Kretowicz
(the proud grandfather - 2011)

Chrystian Kretowicz 1941-2012

  • Born 4 Sept 1941 - died 4 June 2012. He was 71 years old.

  • Chris described himself as "an American, by choice and conviction, but of Polish-Tatar, German, Lithuanian and Danish background..." and added the "...old country, for which my ancestors sacrificed a lot, is of a special interest to me, not surprisingly, I guess."

  • Chrystian was born under the Nazi Generalgouvernement, in 1941, before the Communist regime was imposed on Poland. He lived through the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and somehow managed to survive, but many of his immediate relatives didn't.

  • His paternal grandmother was shot by the Soviets in Lwów (Lvov) just because she spoke German to them. She barely knew a little bit of Polish, had difficulties learning that language. She had raised four patriotic officers of the Polish Air Force. His maternal grandfather was shot by the SS guards, in the ditch at the roadside, during the attempted evacuation of the prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp. It was just two days before the Americans liberated that camp. Ailing, he couldn't march fast enough in the long column of the hurried prisoners.

  • Chris, himself, was "kicked-out" (his own words) of Poland for "suspected political activities," but actually didn't belong formally to any of the underground organizations in Poland, but had friends who did, and was under surveillance because of it. After refusing to take a military oath swearing allegiance to the Warsaw Pact and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics while attending Warsaw University, he was given the choice to go into exile and never return, or face a jail sentence of up to 10 years. They gave him 72 hours to leave the country, revoked his Polish citizenship, and with the help of a friend at the US Embassy he left for America by way of Vienna, Munich and Amsterdam, where the preparations for the American asylum were being processed.

  • On the arrival in the United States he volunteered and wanted to enlist in the US Army to actually fight the Communists, but they deemed him too old already for it (he had passed 26).

  • His educational background included law at Warsaw University, political science at NYCU (Hunter College), and engineering at Long Beach City College. A later disability forced to him to retire early after working 30 years as an engineer in the aerospace industry.

  • Chris did not claim to be a vexillologist, saying rather, "my interest in flags is closely related to the relationship of them to the historic and geo-political context," and considered himself mainly an amature historian, but he was, never-the-less, considered a highly respected vexillologist by all his colleagues.

  • His special vexi-interest was the North American Indian Nations (especially Californian ones), minor nations of the vast Russian Empire, and the restless areas of North East India, besides the Middle and Eastern Europe. Chris was a very prolific contributor to FOTW in these areas and quite active on both the FOTW List and on FOTW on Facebook.

  • Chris once told me that he believed the United States is the greatest country in the entire world, and loved living in Rubidoux, a district of Riverside, which is located on a hilly area on the edge of the Great Mojave Desert with spectacular views of the San Bernardino Mountains. He said its main claim to fame was it had one of the first drive-in movie theaters, still in operation. Otherwise it is purely a residential community, some 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles (again, his own words).

  • Chris' wife Raisa, and her then 4 year old son Arthur (Nemirovsky), arrived from Russia in 1987, where she met Chrystian and married him the next year. Arthur, grown up, and his wife Monica, would give Chris his first and only grandchild, named Olivia, whose birth Chris was thrilled to witness.

Messages from/for his FOTW Family and Friends:

I just lost the most beloved man in my life. My dad passed away at 4:05 this morning. He was the most amazing father, my friend, my inspiration and always filled my life with good times, love, and that special feeling that only his heart and words could bring. I am so sorry he had to suffer the last few months while fighting to live. I will never forget all of the memories he filled my life with. His heart had no bounds, and his mental capacity for history, vexillology, international history was larger than anything I have ever witnessed. He will be missed and never forgotten.
Arthur Nemirovsky, Riverside, California USA

     It was on Facebook where I saw Doug Bloudoff's message of condolence, I was very saddened to learn of the death of My Very Very Dear FRIEND.
     It was March 13, 2010 that we met virtually, I believe when he found an essay of what I had collected about the emblems of the princely states India around 1985; he coloured the flags and submitted them to FOTW, where my name is indicated as Filcher.
     While searching for emblems I seem to recall that Chrystian asked me to befriend him, or maybe I asked him (I do not remember the details) - I was interested in his album on the nationalities of China. I traded a CD at Christmas 2010 containing many items I had gathered, and he indicated when this CD reached him at Christmas that he was so excited he had abandoned his guests to consult this CD. Since then we continued to communicate and exchange information.
     In these publications, particularly on Native American tribes of North America (Canada and USA) I sent him much information.
     This is not only a great loss of a sincere FRIEND for me but for all of us of a distinguished colleague who will be missed, he will remain in our hearts. Personally, Chris is the second person who I'll really miss, or, miss equally. I refer to my other friend, the late Lucien Philippe, who joined the vexillologists' paradise a few years ago, and who I also miss enormously for the our discussions of our sources and our ideas.
     I attach a message that his dear son Arthur has just sent me.
Andre Flicher, France [translated and paraphrazed from the original French]

Thank you for the kind words Andre, while still able to speak months ago at the hospital, he would ask if you messaged, and spoke of you. I know he enjoyed the conversations you two had. Thank you for this and your condolences.
Arthur Nemirovsky, Riverside, California USA

I'm really sorry with tears in my eyes that I'm passing on this message from my Facebook Group, provided by Andre Flicher, about half hour ago. Rest in peace our dear friend and valuable member of our community.
Vanja Poposki, Skopje, Macedonia

     It is with an incredible deal of sorrow that I hear of Chris' passing, both at a professional and personal level. On my entree into the world of vexillology, he was one of the first to befriend and help me on the development of my personal flag website (now part of NAVA). I was honored to work closely with him in 2009 developing our "Flags of the Poles and Poland" pages which later became the basis of a series of articles in FlagMaster written and edited by our friend Michael Faul.
     In the process he published a series of supportive articles on Polish Historical Flags which I invite you to visit, I can think of no better way of honoring his passion for his native country´s flags than reading his own words:
     1. Polish Resistance to the German Occupation 1936-1945.
     2. The White Eagle of Poland.
     3. Tales of Polish Kings and Queens.
     4. The End of the People's Republic in Poland.
     5. The Evolution of the Polish Coat-of-Arms - Parts 1 and 2.
     His many contributions to FOTW were legendary and also stand as a lasting monument to this amazing individual, whose quiet and gentlemanly treatment of his subject and colleagues also speak to his character. His family's survival under Nazi occupation and the infamous work camps, his escape from Communist-controlled Poland, and his successful resettlement in Southern California, were all the stuff of legends to a middle-class American history teacher like myself, and his sharing of them was profound and heart wrenching.
     To my everlasting personal sorrow we never got to meet in person. I missed my first opportunity at NAVA 44 in Los Angeles in 2010, where my lack of transportation and his health prevented our meeting, although sadly at the time we were only separated by miles. Two more aborted attempts to visit Southern California in the next couple of years kept me from visiting him, although we continued to corresponded because of our shared interest in Polish and later Native American Flags. Now, sadly, I will never get a chance to personally shake the hand of this valued friend and colleague.
     My best wishes go out to his family and friends, and know I shall miss his company and kind voice in our small scholarly community.
Pete Loeser, Laytonville, California USA

A great loss. I was just quoting him the other day (in connection to a book recently published on the Warsaw Ghetto). R.I.P.
Nachum Lamm, Jerusalem, Israel

Chrystian was one of the great stars in our firmament. His passing is a wound to the heart. We will miss his work, his intellect and mostly his wonderful compassion. So sad I could not meet him.
Lee Herold, Rochester, Minnesota, USA

There's very little I can add that hasn't been better said by others here. I am deeply sad to hear of Chrystian's passing. He will be sadly missed, both in the flag community and outside it. My condolences go to his nearest and dearest.
James Dignan, Dunedin, New Zealand

What shall I say? FOTW has lost the intercessor of the underprivileged and forgotten peoples on earth. I'll miss his contributions. May he rest in peace
Klaus-Michael Schneider, Hamburg, Germany

A sad day for vexillology. Rest In Peace.
Annie Platoff, NAVA Second Vice-President, Goleta, California USA

It has been said that old vexillologists are assured their place in heaven, as they have already done their pennants. We will miss you, Chrystian. I met Chrystian online, via Facebook, several months ago through the "I Love Flags" group, and never had the opportunity to meet him in person. Other than exchanging online greetings and flag postings, Chrystian was one of those vexillologists I would get to meet "someday," perhaps at a convention, perhaps on a special visit. I am saddened that our meeting will have to wait now, but am certain it will eventually happen.
David Pawson, Plano, Texas USA

Oh, Chrystian! Why did you have to go? Such a great friend, such a kind person, thoughtful and passionate. I will miss your kind words, I miss them aleady. Rest in peace. Someone is waving flags at us from above, I can see that! Thank you dear friend!
Philippe-Pierre Darras, Région de Nîmes, France

Rest in peace my friend! We never met in person, which is a pity, only electronically. I wish the family much strength these days.
Ralf Hartemink, Director, Heraldry of the World, The Netherlands

A very sad day today. Thanks for all your kindness during our messages exchanges about Polish flags, you gave a lot of your time and experience to vexillology and we will all miss you. May you rest in peace. All my sympathy to his family and friends.
Pascal Gross, Grandvillard, Switzerland

I am so sad to hear about my friend Chrystian Kretowicz. May God bless his family.
Edward Mooney, Palmdale, California USA

I've been catching up old mail and only now read this. Sad news, indeed.
António Martins-Tuválkin, Lisboa, Portugal

I'm really sad. He said to me some time ago that his heart was not right, but later seems to be better. He was one of the main contributors to Flag Report. He was a man that made a real deference for the oppressed nations and forgotten peoples in the field of vexillology. I hope that his archives were not lost and they can be honored and saved by NAVA.
Jaume Ollé Jolle, Reus, Spain

     While working on Chris' memorial page I was going through old messages we shared and found yet two more interesting stories he told me about his childhood. One about the kindness of a soviet soldier and another about his first act of "defiance and resistance," when he was three.
     The first one went: "Ever since I was born on Sept. 4, 1941, my grandparents were always talking German to me, which, later, caused a potentially horrifying incident during the Warsaw Uprising (with the Soviets approaching Lvov again, we had moved back to Warsaw.) During the heavy bombardment of this particular section of the city, my mother, myself and a crowd of others took shelter in the concrete basement of an office building. A group of SS-men entered the basement for inspection. I was holding a tattered and dirty stuffed toy - a black Polish crow. The SS officer looking around for young men among the people to enlist as labor, spotted me, and good-naturedly asked Was is das? (what is it) pointing to my Polish black crow, probably not expecting any answer from the Polish little boy. Everybody froze hearing my answer - der Deutscher Adler (the German Eagle). For much more trivial reasons people were collectively killed in those days. The SS officer, stunned at first, start laughing heartily after a moment, waved his heavily armed men off and walked out of the room, still laughing. I was only 3 years old and hadn't comprehended anything about it, of course. Later, my family and friends, always joked about it, calling it my first act of "defiance and resistance."
     His second story went: "My mother, her mother, and I were taken to the [German] transition camp in Pruszków, then released, to join the relatives in Kraków. According to my mother I was close to dying from hunger and sickness when a young, Soviet soldier, with the Asiatic features, stopped on his way through the basements on their drive to liberate Kraków, and said something to me, patted me on the head, and gave me a bar of American, bitter chocolate, probably a treasure to him. He then thought for a moment and pulled out a can of American Spam from the sack on his back, before running off in pursuit of the Germans. My mother credited that unexpected act of kindness with saving my life."
     As I already said, Chris was an amazing guy who led an amazing life.
Pete Loeser, Laytonville, California USA

Let me add my belated sadness on hearing this news. Chrystian was an upstanding guy, with broad yet obscure interests, always kind, always fun to talk to. As I live not that far away from Rubidoux, I regret not having been able to take him up on his invitation to visit. The list will be poorer for his absence.
Eugene Ipavec, Tustin, California USA

     Chris also had a keen interest in soccer (football for the non-American rest of the world). He told me once that he was a close neighbour of Paul Caligiuri, the living legend of US soccer (110 caps with the national team), and that he shared "a couple of beers" with him from time to time.
     At least, the Grim Reaper spared him the failure of the Polish national team in the Euro 2012, which he would probably have commented with his usual, witty fatalism.
Ivan Sache, Versailles, France

in memoriam ce 2012  Image recoloured by Mark Sensen

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