MARYSVILLE — Danutsia Burgy remembers the day when her father handed her the scrap of cloth.
“He had this huge smile on his face and said, ‘I have a real surprise for you,’ ” the Marysville woman said Friday.
That day about 20 years ago, he gave her a piece of the uniform he was forced to wear as a Nazi prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II. The tan fabric included his prisoner identification number.
“That cloth was everything to my father,” Burgy said. “To this day, I have never seen him smile as big as he smiled that day.”
John and Danutsia Burgy lost roughly $400,000 in belongings March 23 when burglars broke into their Marysville home while they attended the funeral of John’s mother. The cloth strip was in one of the two stolen safes. It doesn’t have the monetary value of the stolen jewelry, watches, firearms and electronic technology.
Still, it was Danutsia Burgy’s most priceless possession.
She was crushed when she learned that it likely is gone forever.
A Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office detective broke the news earlier this month. She had interviewed one of the suspects responsible for a string of similar burglaries.
The cloth, a symbol of her father’s enduring spirit, apparently met a shameful end.
“Our suspect said she flushed it down the toilet” at a Portland hotel, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.
Danutsia Burgy said she finds it hard to believe anyone could be so cold.
“I haven’t been the same since,” she said. “It has torn me to pieces. I didn’t want to believe it. It was the ultimate insult.”
Police believe the Burgys were hit by a ring that targeted homes while the people who lived there were at family funerals. Detectives believe the burglars found their targets by scouring newspaper obituaries.
Danutsia Burgy is grateful that police did recover a document showing that her father was a Nazi prisoner held in Buchenwald. It was among dumped loot found behind a day care center in Vancouver, Wash., in April.
Buchenwald was the second stop for her father, who was born Jerzy Budzynski in Poland. He was part of the Polish resistance and was arrested by the Gestapo during the Warsaw uprising. He was first sent to the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland before being moved in a cramped boxcar to Buchenwald two months later. Tens of thousands of people died or were executed at both camps.
Budzynski lived to tell his story. After the war, he volunteered with the U.S. Constabulary and helped track Nazi war criminals.
He later immigrated to America and settled in Seattle, where he changed his name to George Gordon. He became a U.S. citizen.
Danutsia Burgy will never forget his stories of the wartime atrocities he observed inside and outside the camps.
At 86, he lives in Seattle. She visits him often.
The cloth was a tangible connection to his past, she said.
With or without it, she vows to continue telling his story.
“I promised him,” she said. “People need to know. He always felt history could repeat itself.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org