He saw the Nazis invade his village, joined the Polish resistance and escaped from a concentration camp – all while he was a teenager.
Tributes have been paid to a former soldier who made a life for himself in South Yorkshire following the horrors of World War II.
Rudolf Krzok died on February 7 in the Macmillan unit of the Northern General Hospital at the age of 88.
He had moved to England after the war, marrying local woman Renee Harper.
The pair started a family together and lived on Stannington Road, with Rudolf going on to start his own business, Matlock Motors, based in Loxley Valley.
Born in southern Poland on April 3, 1926, after what he had seen his country suffer he moved to England after the war to find peace.
He met Yorkshire girl Renee at a dance at Eversley House, Upperthorpe and they married, going on to have four children, nine grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. One of his children Helen Forbes said her father found it difficult to talk about his experiences prior to moving to England and only opened up about what had happened in the final two years of his life.
She said: “He did not want to speak of the atrocities he had seen as a teenage boy in Poland, when the SS had arrived in his small rural village in the mountains and told everyone to speak only German in school and in the shops.”
Dr Forbes said in one incident, the SS gathered together 35 people and shot them, including a two-year-old child.
“Their bodies were left in the post office yard all day as a reminder of the chilling but absolute authority which the Germans then had over the village.
“They could only be buried as night fell.”
Rudolf joined the Polish resistance but was captured and sent to a concentration camp in Germany.
But along with two friends, he managed to escape the camp and they made their way into France.
Starving and close to death, he was rescued by nuns at a convent at Biarritz.
Helen said: “They realised a man emaciated by starvation could not take solid food, so for the first days he had red wine mixed with honey.”
After regaining his strength, he rejoined the war effort and was sent to southern Italy to help transport English tanks from ships on to land.
“He drove the tanks from the transport ship over a narrow gang plank on to the dock,” said Helen.
“There was only an inch of leeway either side and his friend walked along in front tapping with a cane to inform dad which way to veer to avoid losing a tank in the harbour. Not one tank was lost.”
Following the war, and after making friends with a British soldier from Stannington, Rudolf decided to move to England.
He initially started working in the steel industry but his love of vehicles led him to working in a garage and eventually starting his own business.
Rudolf and Renee initially lived with her mother but in 1954, they managed to buy a house on Stannington Road.
He started his own garage business, Matlock Motors, in the Loxley Valley, working long days to make the venture a success.
Helen said: “He worked from 6am until 10pm in the summer, returning home for meals and a ‘business’ half-hour in the evenings at the pub.
“He loved his work, finding every job a challenge and would beat out dented panels on a car and respray them so you couldn’t see any sign of a previous accident.”
Helen said her father was also something of an inventer, dreaming up various homemade devices to make life easier, such as long-handled scissors with a three-foot reach to cut tomatoes at the back of a greenhouse he had also built himself.
She said: “When I wanted red shoes, he sprayed my black school shoes with his car paint!”
As well as his practical abilities, he was also a talented linguist and could speak Russian, Czech and Italian in addition to Polish and English.
After retiring at 65, Rudolf and Renee went to live in a bungalow near Mablethorpe for five years, but Rudolf soon began to get itchy feet.
Helen said: “He did the garden, made a pond and built a conservatory for his snooker table but he lacked a challenge.
“So he went touring Brittany in his homemade motorhome and, without seeing inside, he purchased a house on top of a hill.”
The pair moved to Brittany in 1996, spending around 15 years in rural France before ill-health led to his return to England.
Wife Renee died on December 8 last year, with Rudolf dying less than two months later. They had been married for 65 years.
Helen said her father never forgot his Polish roots, but was happy to be an adopted Briton.
“He passed away in a foreign land, but the one he had made home,” she said.
n Rudolf’s funeral is taking place tomorrow, Tuesday, at Grenoside Crematorium and will start at 11am.