Since his death in 1944, Pittsfield native Eugene Kalinowsky has been known as one of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II. The story of his plane crashing and subsequent death has been passed down through the surviving members of his family.
But recently, it was discovered that the last moments of Kalinowsky’s life were far different than both his country and his family had been led to believe.
Connecting Point’s Ross Lippman tells us the true story of his final mission, and how it’s brought together two people seeking to keep his memory alive.
This story originally aired on January 29, 2021.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Since his death in 1944, Pittsfield native Eugene Kalinowsky has been known as one of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II.
The story of a plane crash and his subsequent death has been passed down through the surviving members of his family. But earlier this year, it was discovered that the last moments of Kalinowsky’s life were far different than both his country and his family had been led to believe.
Connecting Point’s Ross Lippman tells us the true story of his final mission and how it’s brought together two people wanting to keep his memory alive.
Carole Brooks, Eugene Kalinowsky’s Niece: This cold makes my eyes water.
Ross Lippman, Connecting Point: Every December, just before the holidays, Carole Brooks comes to the Pittsfield cemetery to decorate the graves of family she’s lost.
Carole Brooks: Well, when you lose a child, that’s very difficult.
Ross Lippman: Some gone much too young, like her daughter, Kristen.
Carole Brooks: She was four and a half, but she ended up having a heart attack.
Ross Lippman: Then there’s her grandfather, Vasily Kalinowsky.
Carole Brooks: He was a good grandfather. Very close with us.
Ross Lippman: Carole could spend all day —
Carole Brooks: My father, my mother —
Ross Lippman: — in the cold —
Carole Brooks: — she was a wonderful mom, wonderful. My sister Anne. She’s six years older than myself —
Ross Lippman: — telling stories about each person.
Carole Brooks: They’re at peace. That’s the — that’s the main thing.
Ross Lippman: But today she’s here to visit a relative she didn’t know.
Carole Brooks: Just always thought of him as being our uncle that was killed in the plane crash.
Ross Lippman: His story, —
three, two, one (camera clicks)
— the story of what really happened to Army Air Force Staff Sergeant Eugene Kalinowsky, may be the greatest story she can tell.
Carole Brooks, Eugene Kalinowsky’s Niece: He was only twenty four when he died.
Ross Lippman: On October 15th, 1944, Gene was on his 50th and final mission when his plane was shot down by Nazi German forces.
Initial reports said that of the 10 man crew, two died while evacuating the plane, including Kalinowsky.
For years, the belief in the story had been that the plane was shot down, and that’s how he died, correct?
Carole Brooks: Right. That’s how I understood it. You know, that’s how I was always told.
I think that’s how they thought of it, too.
Ross Lippman: But Gene, in fact, survived the landing and was discovered by SS soldiers near the German village of Laubenheim.
Carole only learned of how her uncle truly died just a few years ago.
Carole Brooks: After he had landed, and they were taking him to some type of a holding place. He as shot by a German soldier, an SS soldier.
Ross Lippman: So he dies, serving during World War II?
Carole Brooks: Right.
Ross Lippman: The story for for years and years and years is that, the plane was shot down, the plane crashes. He dies during the plane crash.
And then you find out that an SS officer in fact, killed your uncle. What was that immediate sort of gut feeling you had?
Carole Brooks: I couldn’t really believe it. I didn’t know if really it was true.
Ross Lippman: It was true. Gene’s assassination was witnessed by residents in Leibenheim, and in the years following the war, they haven’t forgotten. Including this past fall, seventy six years later, when Carole learned of plans to create a memorial for Gene.
It was around the same time that Carol learned the truth behind Gene’s death that she was contacted by someone in Germany. His name is Joachim Hennig.
He wanted to learn more about Gene’s life and make sure the real story was known. And just as Joachim found Carole —
You want to tap that to turn your camera on.
— we wanted to find him.
Hi! Today’s the day, huh?
Carole Brooks: Today’s the day!
Ross Lippman: And give two people who aren’t so used to Zoom or video chatting —
He’ll turn his camera on in a minute.
— a chance to meet face to face.
Joachim Hennig, Koblenz, Germany: Yeah, hello!
Ross Lippman: Hello.
Carole Brooks,: Nice to meet you.
Ross Lippman: Well, I take it, you two know each other. Joachim, Carole, Carole, Joachim.
Joachim Hennig: We haven’t seen us —
Carole Brooks: No, no.
Joachim Hennig: — live.
Carole Brooks: It’s nice to see a face that I’ve been talking to for a while.
Ross Lippman: How long have the two of you been emailing with each other before today?
Carole Brooks: Since 2016. I told him I was a baby when my uncle left for Germany and that he had taken my baby shoes and put them around his neck for good luck.
So, I’ve always kind of felt a bond to him that way.
Ross Lippman: You think that it is important that this story live on, correct?
Joachim Hennig, Koblenz, Germany: I think it’s very important because we must learn from our history. Learning for the future, from the past.
And we must learn what had happened and that this never may happen again.
Ross Lippman: I look forward to seeing how your relationship grows from here, as well. I think it’s very exciting.
Carole Brooks Like I said, I have friends. I have a friend in Germany.
Joachim Hennig: Hahaha! Me, too. Me, too. The whole family, too. The whole family, too.
Carole Brooks: The whole family. Okay.