IN MEMORIAM: Andrew Demus

by Bob N. Justus

CORNELIA, Ga. - I write as Andrew Demus, a dear friend, enters the final stage of cancer. As we stood by his bed, Kathleen, his wife, said, "Andy is tough."

He had to be tough, beginning with his childhood on the steppes of Ukraine. There he faced starvation in 1933 when Communists removed food and animals, including his father's barn, leaving just one cow. "Her milk saved our lives," he said. Later, he survived under Hitler's evil reign until liberated by American soldiers.

Andy's joy in being an American citizen is contagious. He demonstrates his patriotism by flying the American and Ukrainian flags on his front lawn; the American flag is on the right.

"I am jumping with joy! Everything wonderful happens to me in May." On Monday, May 2, 1966, Andrej (Andrew) Demus became a U.S. citizen. Earlier, in May 1962, a happy event occurred when he married Kathleen English. By then new citizens Andy and Kathy had two daughters, ages 3 and 2, and a son 8 weeks old. Their family grew to five children, three daughters and two sons, plus nine grandchildren.

Andy was born in Lubar, Ukraine, on December 15, 1926. In 1939 Nazi troops arrived. Within two weeks, killer bands of Nazis began rounding up Jews, who were forced to dig their own graves, then were shot. Wreaking violence and mass deaths, the Germans "...were like locusts. We had little, but they took all we had," Andy recalled in a May 5, 1966, issue of the North Dade Journal (Florida). Before the German hordes caused starvation, Stalin's Communist USSR had earlier put the Ukrainian people through two starvation periods, one during Andy's childhood.

Andy at age 13 was hauled off in a freight car to Heidelberg, Germany, where, he said, "They took away your clothes, gave you a number, and you were no longer a person, just something mechanical." The bombing by British and American planes (the former at night and the latter by day) gave Andy and other slaves hope. "Whenever the sirens blew, we lived. The more bombs dropped, the more joy we felt." At least one bomb almost buried him alive.

In May 1945 Andy was liberated by advancing American soldiers. He and five other teenagers remained with the U.S. forces, working in the kitchen and supply room. A GI, Charles Stek, promised to sponsor Andy when he arrived in the U.S. He had no home left in Ukraine. Andy's mother had been shot by a German soldier while stealing her chickens. His father, who had helped Jews find safety from the Nazis, was shot by the returning Soviet Communists for giving a German soldier food, although he was forced to do so.

After several years in England, in 1960 Andrew Demus came to New York. Not liking the cold winters of the north, Andy moved to Florida. He became self-employed there, repairing seawalls and doing carpentry work. He was happy being "Handy Andy." Then he met Kathy, the girl next door who became the love of his life.

Years later, after visits to northeast Georgia, Andy and Kathy decided to settle in Cornelia. Here he became an enthusiastic community supporter and he fashioned many wooden objects as a master at the Ukrainian woodworking craft. He did not carve objects, but rather fashioned them from various woods pieced together.

"They don't know what life is like under dictators," Andy responded to my thought that many Americans didn't seem to appreciate our precious heritage. "I couldn't understand why Germans, so intelligent and industrious, fell for Hitler, but they did. America's freedom was not won at a cheap price and must be defended at all costs."

Andy is devoted to the nation and people that adopted him. Alone or with retired Brig. Gen. Russel Weiskircher (who helped liberate Dachau in 1945), he spoke to student groups about freedom and the need to be knowledgeable and vigilant in guarding that precious freedom.

"Wherever there is a dictator, there is holocaust," he told one group. In a letter to Laura Bush, Andy wrote, "America taught me how to live free. I will always stand under that waving flag of freedom and that is what I give to the children of Georgia; love for that flag of freedom as I lecture on the holocaust."

* * *

Andrew Demus was liberated a final time - from cancer - at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 24. At a memorial service on Thursday, March 30, family and friends met at the Cornelia Depot to say "Godspeed" to Andy, a friend of mine and America as well.

Bob N. Justus is a regular contributor to The Northeast Georgian of Cornelia, Ga. This column appeared in the newspaper's issue of Tuesday, April 4. It is reprinted here with the author's permission.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 9, 2006, No. 15, Vol. LXXIV

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