John Kunz is not just a Great Falls resident, he is also a survivor. He was born in a Nazi concentration camp in Ramsentahl, Germany, in 1944. Kunz said he rarely told his story, noting that did not want to be portrayed as a victim. He believed, however, that these past several years have been the perfect time to tell others about his experiences.
"I started in 2018," Kunz said. "The reason I wanted to share the story is because of the controversy that's happening right now in the world, and I thought it would be very important to share my story so it wouldn't be repeated."
John was ethnic Polish with a Catholic upbringing. He mentioned that it wasn't just Jews that were the target. In fact, many non-Jewish Poles were also murdered by the Nazis.
John, alongside his parents and four siblings, survived imprisonment.
After the liberation of the camps, Kunz and his family were stationed at a refugee camp in Amberg, Germany. John said it wasn't easy, but they had the necessities; food, water, clothing, and shelter.
John discussed some of the brief memories he had during that time: "The earliest memories that I have are the refugee camp in Germany, where we spent four years, and the the friendship that we experienced from an American army soldier that came to visit us in our little room and in a refugee camp. And he's the one who taught me the words to the song, 'You Are My Sunshine.”
That ended up being the first words in English that John knew.
It wasn't until the sponsorship of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Fairfield that the family arrived in America. They lived in the basement at St. John’s annex. One year later, they moved to Great Falls. John was just six years old at the time. The path to freedom came with some challenges, particularly for his mother.
"My mother struggled," John said. "She wasn't out in the workforce at all, she was just home. She struggled with the language. She never was very fluent in English, and I don't think she ever learned to read in English. She was still getting the Polish newspaper, printed in Chicago, every week to get the news."
His father, John Sr., worked in maintenance at Great Falls Central Catholic High School
John himself graduated from Central Catholic in 1962. Shortly after, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Upon discharge as a Sergeant, he lived in New Jersey tending bar at his brother’s Polish tavern.
John also studied at Rutgers University. He returned to Great Falls in 1972 where he spent many years in auto sales and management before turning to real estate in 1995. Retiring after selling his real estate business in 2016, John and wife Colleen enjoy vacationing and their vacation house on Flathead Lake.
To John, Great Falls will always be home.
John said that in certain aspects, he was fortunate to be born in the camps, because if it wasn't for that, he wouldn't be living in the U.S.
"I'm very fortunate," John said. "That's part of my daily thought is how fortunate I am, and I don't ever take anything for granted."
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