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Growing up during World War II in Amsterdam

Growing up during World War II in Amsterdam

Dr. George Tralka of Vienna, Virginia, who died last month at age 92, served in World War II as a rifleman in Germany and Austria.

He became a medical doctor after studies at Georgetown University in the 1950s and worked in the Washington, D.C., area and overseas for government agencies. He was an internist in private practice for many years, retiring in 1994.

Tralka was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, the son of musician Joseph Tralka and his wife, Martha. His mother died in 1935. His father remarried and the family moved to Amsterdam in 1937 when Tralka was about 10. Although most of his life would be lived elsewhere, he had fond memories of his years spent on Amsterdam’s Reid Hill.

Tralka’s father was the organist at St. Stanislaus Church and correspondent for a Buffalo-based Polish language newspaper. Joseph taught George to play the violin.

In a memoir published last year, “Amsterdam N.Y. and Beyond,” Tralka described his Amsterdam neighborhood, including events at the Polish National Association Hall on Reid Street.

Tralka wrote, “It was there that General (Tadeusz) Bor-Komorowski, the future commander of the Warsaw Rising of 1944, spoke at what was probably a fundraiser during the war. I knew nothing about him but I knew I had to have his autograph. I managed to get it as he headed for the exit after his presentation.”

In an earlier book, “Diary of a Replacement Soldier,” Tralka recounted his wartime experiences. He was at his family’s James Street home the Sunday afternoon that radio broadcasts were interrupted to report the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. At first he thought Pearl Harbor was in Alaska.

His parents went ahead with their plans to go out and to have Tralka watch his younger sisters. The next day as he delivered the Schenectady Gazette he heard President Roosevelt’s “day of infamy” speech on the radio when he delivered newspapers to Reid Hill Pharmacy.

“It was a solemn moment in the drug store,” he wrote.

As his senior year at St. Mary’s High School drew to a close in 1944, Tralka enlisted in the Army.  His notice to report came a few days before the senior prom and he was so busy getting ready to leave that he failed to notify his date that he couldn’t attend.

Later his brother accepted Tralka’s high school diploma and he was told the “applause was enthusiastic.”

Many of his war stories are illustrated with his own drawings. Tralka had been art editor of his high school yearbook.

Tralka’s high school friends included Harold Langley, Donald Blonkowski, Lou Hage and John Donlon. 

Langley had a hand-cranked movie camera in the 1940s and organized his friends in making a movie called “The Mad Mortician,” shooting scenes at their homes and Amsterdam City Hall, a stand-in for an insane asylum.

Langley became curator of U.S. Naval History at the Smithsonian in Washington and professor of American History at Catholic University.

Blonkowski was a master of social commentary back in the day. Blonkowski graduated from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. 

Hage provided sage advice as a teen. He had a long career with the State Department in Washington.

Donlon sang tenor growing up in Amsterdam in a group that could be heard “in occasionally raffish song” under Guy Park Avenue’s streetlights, according to Tralka. 

Donlon went to the U.S. Naval Academy and a career as a nuclear submarine commander. John was the son of Hugh Donlon, a reporter/columnist for the Amsterdam Recorder, who wrote a history of Amsterdam in 1980.

Tralka was buried at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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