Stories told by real people.
My mother and I are immigrants. At this time US enforced strict immigration laws and screened against communist associations. My mother qualified to enter the US as part of her being reunited with her only surviving sister whose train after traveling through Uzbekistan, Russia and Poland, somehow ended up in a German DP camp. My mother and her sister got separated, my mother’s train stayed in Poland. Pola arrived on Ellis Island, January 7th, 1951, on a ship General S D Sturgis. She called herself stateless and was heading to 15 Park Row, NYC. She was alone on this trip. I am assuming her husband with whom she traveled from Uzbekistan was waiting for her. Pola lived in a German refugee camp for five years before she came to NYC. I can only assume that Pola’s husband had to earn money to pay for her passage and that a family member payed for him. After the death of my father in Poland, in 1961, my mother finally reconsidered leaving Poland. From the time she submitted papers till the time we left it took over four years. But there was a condition. My mother’s sister and her husband had to sign documents that our family would Not End Up on Welfare and that they would be responsible for or wellbeing. Racism and antisemitism under communism did Not Disappear as it was supposed to. My mother even before the war was mistrustful of communism, and her doubts were solidified during the six years she had lived in Stalin’s Russia. After the war in Poland my parents refused to join the communist party even when our lives were threatened. I grew up knowing that joining the party was never an option. My mother in her youth, in Warsaw, was a Bundist. During the interwar years most Jews in Poland were Bundists. Bund’s ideology also exposes the lie on the stereotype of Polish anti-Semites that Jews were conditioned from birth to be communist.
We felt very fortunate to have been able come and live in America. We were forever overwhelmed with nostalgia for our Polish homeland where our ancestors had lived for centuries. We always felt that we have been chasing after two worlds, our old homeland and our new adapted home, America. Not quite fitting in either. At the same time we have always had that strong attitude of being grateful, of being allowed to exist in a free world, of being able to leave Communism behind. Most people take for granted just how much Jewish immigrants, Holocaust and Communist survivors contributed to the building up of America.
We arrived in NYC at the end of 1960s. We left everything behind. We left before the official removal of all Polish Jews from Poland by the Polish Communists. It had been twenty years since my mother and her sister had last seen each other. My mother’s sister and her husband had just retired to Florida. My mother was desperate, she decided we would not join Pola because we would have fewer opportunities for work there. We stayed in New York. All I could think of is that we should be living next to family. I never knew what it was like to have a family. Growing up after the war with the Holocaust aftermath it was normal not to be surrounded by family members. I argued with my mother that we belonged with Pola. But all my mother could think of was we had to have jobs and she made the ultimate sacrifice. She would awake at six in the morning and take the one-hour subway ride from the Bronx to Manhattan. With an address scribbled on a piece of paper and directions from strangers, she managed to get to work and back home again. She was determined to make the best of her new situation. My mother always felt education was the most important thing, but now in America my seventeen-year-old sister, who graduated at the top of her class in Poland, could not go to university. She went to work to help support us. She would get her degree in night school. I went to high school. The three of us spoke fluent English within three months. We never forgot our native tongue, Polish.