Wilkins woman honored with Quilt of Valor
Irena Kierski's daughter, Barbara Grossman, can recall the many quilts her mother made for her and her four siblings using old blankets, shirts, sheets and even worn pants.
“When we were growing up, she was always remaking things, and the quilts were always on our beds,” Grossman said. “You cut things up and made them into useful items back then because it's all you had.”
So it is fitting that Kierski, who was a prisoner of war in German-occupied Poland during World War II, was honored recently with a quilt from North Pittsburgh Quilts of Valor.
“I believe that I lived a little bit longer so that I could receive such a beautiful quilt,” said Kierski, 91, of Wilkins.
Kierski, from Płock, Poland, was 14 years old when Germany invaded her home country at the start of World War II. In 1941, she was taken from her family and deported to work in Germany. She eventually found her way back to Warsaw, Poland, but in 1944, she was forced into Germany once more, this time to a prison camp in Lamsdorf.
“Traces of My History,” a 237-page memoir she wrote, tells Kierski's story as a POW in two separate camps and life afterward — joining Great Britain's armed forces and working at a YMCA canteen, settling in England, starting a family and eventually coming to Pittsburgh in 1968.
Today, she is the oldest living female POW from World War II in the Pittsburgh area.
It was at a quilt show in 2016 hosted by the North Hills Quilt Guild that Grossman and her sister, Ann Szilagyi, told members of the North Pittsburgh Quilts of Valor — a chapter of a nationwide nonprofit that honors veterans with handmade quilts — their mother's narrative.
Georgette Temme, leader of the local Quilts of Valor, said that the organization appreciates making quilts specifically for World War II veterans, and when they heard Kierski's story, members were interested in honoring it.
“Unfortunately, there's so few World War II veterans left,” Temme said. “What I like to do is surprise them. Irena was very taken aback.”
The quilt now sits folded on Kierski's bed as the ones she made decades ago for her children once did. But it will not be limited to being displayed in her home. The quilt and the organization that made it will be featured at the Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival in April, an event that both of Kierski's daughters help organize.
“I think it's the idea of being recognized is what meant so much to my mom,” Grossman said. “To be recognized with a gift that is a representation of her time as a POW and her work as a veteran, I think it's a very beautiful gesture.”
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.