In Memoriam today is in honor of Private Paul Mitak (1914-1944), killed in action during World War Two, in France on 21 August 1944. This photograph was taken at the Brittany American Cemetery in St. James, France, and sent to me via e-mail. The American Battle Monuments Commission webpage states this as a beginning declaration:
Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) commemorates the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC manages 24 overseas military cemeteries, and 25 memorials, monuments, and markers. Nearly all the cemeteries and memorials specifically honor those who served in World War I or World War II.
A few years back I had traveled to France, and while there I made a trip to this beautiful cemetery, to honor an uncle that had also died while in battle in France during WWII. At that time, my sister and I did not know that the first husband of a family member had also been interred there. That person turned out to be Paul Mitak – the first husband of Stephania “Stefie” Mosch.
When doing research it is always suggested to start with what you know. We knew that Stefie had been married three times, that her first husband’s last name was Mitak, and that he had been tragically killed while in service during WWII. Her second marriage was only occasionally mentioned, in that it had been a mistake. Her third marriage was to Joseph Mirota, Jr., and he always encouraged Stefie to keep a photograph of her first husband displayed with all the rest of the family photos.
I vividly remember seeing that photograph of a young man in an Army cap. At some point, when I was very young, Stefie also gave me a beautiful Star of David necklace that I admired, telling me it was from her first husband. I still have this necklace and cherish it. By the time my sister and I started researching our family, Stefie had long passed on. After meeting a cousin of Stefie’s, I got to talking about this first husband. The cousin insisted the man’s first name was John Mitak. I assumed this was correct. This is where every researcher will pause, and recite that old chestnut, “ASSUME makes an * * * out of you and me.”
We also knew that Stefie had grown up in Manhattan, New York, near the South Street Seaport. Her father, Rudolph Mosch, had a restaurant for many years in Manhattan, but he also had a house on School Road in Whitehouse Station, NJ. Looking at the database from the National WWII Memorial for any men with the surname Mitak from New York or New Jersey, the only serviceman killed in action was Paul Mitak.
I asked Stefie’s cousin if the husband’s name could have been Paul. Definitely not. But, going with the date given at the above website, I decided to look in the local newspaper for Readington Township, Hunterdon County, NJ for any Army casualties. I narrowed my search around 21 August 1944, since that was the date Paul Mitak had been listed as KIA. Going through microfilm of the local newspaper, The Whitehouse Review, I quickly found the article I was searching. Here below is a copy from 26 September 1944, with the headline, “Private Paul Mitak – Killed in France on 30th Birthday”.
This showed, without question, that Paul Mitak was Stefie Mosch’s first husband. I then wrote in 2010 to the Department of the Army for a copy of Private Paul Mitak’s Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) under the Freedom of Information Act, and quickly received back his file containing 63 pages. I copied the entire file, and sent to the Brittany American Cemetery, where the staff keeps files on all the service personnel that have been buried there.
If any readers of this blog want to know how to order IDPF files, I’m happy to help them with more information.
From Paul Mitak’s IDPF file, I read heartbreaking handwritten letters by Stefie, to the Department of the Army, trying to find out information on her husband. At first he had been reported missing in action, and then on 18 September 1944 he had been declared dead. She asked about his personal belongings, and after some correspondence was sent them. After the war was over, the ABMC again notified the next-of-kin they had the right to have the remains of their loved ones sent back to the States for burial, or to have a re-internment near the original cemetery with other fallen comrades. On 2 November 1948, Paul Mitak was re-interred in Brittany, France against her wishes.
The letters show that Paul’s parents, George and Catherine Slezak Mitak, of 41 Rose Street, New York, NY, requested that they be named next of kin, because Stefie had re-married during the interim. A copy of Stefie’s marriage record to her second husband, Paul Sukupcak (another Paul – so much for the helpful cousin), from 4 August 1946, that Stefie supplied, was used against her. Paul Mitak’s brother, George, wrote that although Stefie was in the process of divorcing from her second husband around 6 August 1947, the pain and anguish of having to rebury their son, would be too extreme for his parents, and they requested not to have Paul Mitak’s body sent back home.
Stefie Mosch had married Paul Mitak on 17 February 1936 in Manhattan when she was 19 and he was 21. They had eight years of wedded bliss, and they were childless. From the WWII Honor Roll, Paul Mitak was listed as Protestant, buried at the Brittany American Cemetery at Plot G Row 5 Grave 6, and that he served with the 331st Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division. Paul Mitak had earned the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge. He had been inducted into the Army on 22 December 1943 and killed in France while fighting Nazi Germany, on his 30th birthday.
Researching on Ancestry.com I found the database, U.S., WWII Jewish Servicemen Cards, 1942-1947. The record below shows one more way Stefie had tried to find out information on her beloved first husband. Stefie Mosch Mitak Mirota died on 18 July 1991, and she was buried next to her husband, Joseph.
7 thoughts on “Private Paul Mitak (1914-1944) – In Memoriam”
Even though I have heard this story about Paul and Stefie before it still brings tears to my eyes to read it again. Stefie was completely devoted to her husband Joseph whom she married in 1948, and he adored her, but she never forgot her first love or the pain of losing him in the War. She would be so delighted to see his memory kept alive and his service honored.
Veronica, I became very emotional writing this blogpost about Paul Mitak, too. I feel it is so important to remember those that died, and also those wounded in service, so that we can enjoy liberty, justice, and freedom.
Hello. I am writing here in reply first off to thank you for your outstanding efforts and writings. They have answered many questions I have had about Paul and Stephania. My father was Paul’s cousin. You see, my father (another Paul – the family wasn’t very creative with different names – everyone is a Paul, George, Steve or Martin it seems) thought the world of Paul when he was a child growing up a few blocks away from Paul and Stephania in the 30’s. He was a big brother to my father. My father was always very saddened by Paul’s death and for years had searched to find where his cousin Paul was buried in France. He said before he died he would find his grave and go and see it to pay his respects. My father when I was born named me after his cousin Paul. You see, Paul Mitak is my namesake! My dad said that his uncle and aunt were devasted by Paul’s death and never talked to him about any details. Paul’s brother didn’t discuss it either. This put my dad on his lifelong quest to locate the grave of his beloved cousin. My father with the help of my mother (a native of France who survived occupied France!!) tracked down the grave site. I am happy to say that my father was able to make the trip to France to pay his respects to his beloved “big brother” Paul. I have a very moving picture of my father at the gravesite should you wish a copy of it to add to this continuing story. I was so happy that he was able to make it before his passing in 2010. I am curious if it is possible to get a copy of the Whitehouse Review article shown in this article. I eagerly look forward to hearing from you and having the opportunity to correspond further with you! Veronica, as you can see Paul’s memory lives on and I will be sure that it does and his service remembered and honored! Maryann, again, thank you so much for sharing this. You have really filled in quite a chapter in my family history!!
How wonderful to hear from you. Thank you so much for letting us know how much your namesake meant to your family. As Maryann said, we are so glad to be able to share what ever information we have regarding Paul with you.
Paul, Thank you so very much for contacting me after reading this! How wonderful to find out more about the Mitak family, and to find out your father was able to go to the cemetery where Paul is buried. Here is what I would suggest – if you are on Facebook, please send a private message at our Geneaolgy Sisters page with your email, and I’ll get the jpeg of the newspaper to you. I can also mail the copy of the article and Paul Mitak’s deceased Army file (the IDPF). I have an early photo of my aunt Stefie, when when was in her teens, with her sister and two young men. I think the one man could be Paul Mitak. I’ll put that photo, and the jpeg of the newspaper article up on the Genealogy Sisters Facebook page for you to look at. Then you could also email me the photo of your father visiting the cemetery where his cousin Paul was buried, and I will continue the story on this blog. Again than you so very much! Warmest regards, Maryann
I am Paul John Mittak wife Micheline (born in Paris France), thank you for all of the details, I only wish Paul had been able to see them
We did go to St James, the ceremony on Memorial Day was beautiful with representatives of both countries, Honor Guard, military band (US Navy) fly over and so forth
we saw the grave of Paul, all of the graves had beautiful flowers, two flags, American and French, we were given those to bring back, they are near Paul’s Flag and recognition papers for his services during cold war
After the ceremony we3 went to City Hall for a reception with dignitaries of both countries
I have pictures of the cemeteray should any one want one
Micheline Mittak nee Aubert
I thank you so very much for your kind offer and words. Your son has my email address, and I would really enjoy seeing your photographs, and with your permission I will use some of them, with some of the ones I have of visiting the cemetery, in another blog posting. How wonderful that the town has a reception at the City Hall for not only the dignitaries, but most important for the families.