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.