01/03/2012 04:54 pm ET

Suburban Resident, Gulag Survivor Makes First Trip To Homeland Since 1939 Over Holidays

Sometimes people ask Adam Szymel about his education. He tells them that he has a doctorate in "life experience."

The 82-year-old Western Springs resident has indeed worn many hats in his time: naval quartermaster, Chicago immigrant factory worker, Berwyn hardware store owner. But if his life experience were a degree, Szymel did much of his study as a child in the desolate hell of a Soviet logging camp, battling unimaginable odds to preserve what was left of his family.

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