Topic: Polish immigrant story
When I was born, Poland, my country of origin was at the stage of rebuilding after World War II. I remember the songs about the great future we were building; the heroes of that time were the bricklayers. They were competing with each other to lay more bricks in a day, not for more money, but just to prove that they wanted to rebuild Poland from the ruins that the war caused. And then it changed, the first sign was, when one day at school the crosses were taken off the classrooms walls and the nuns did not come to teach us anymore.
When I started high school, we were told that we were not allowed to wear any religious items or bring prayer books to school camp, and at the same time our priests in church told us to do so. It was very difficult and confusing for young children.
Every year we all marched at the 1st May parade, which was a bit of fun really, but it was compulsory. The army was also compulsory for boys, so they studied hard at High School, as only those who continued their education were excused from 3 years conscription to the army. They still had military training during their time at University, but only for a month at a time.
For my first year at University, I moved from my home town Katowice, which was a centre of heavy industry and coal mining, to Krakow. What a change; from a totally polluted city, where to clean windows, one had to first brush off the soot, to a town full of trees, parks, with the farms around and close to our tallest mountains.
I was working at the University, married and had my first son when I was offered a place in an expedition to the Polish Arctowski Antarctic Station on the King George Island, one of the South Shetland Islands, to collect specimens of a species of white blooded fish.
On my return six months later the political situation in the country had not changed, lots of people were dissatisfied but surprisingly the government had relaxed the rule for travels to Western countries. Lots of people were leaving, supposedly for holidays, but never returned. There were rumours, which later proved to be true, that the Soviet Army was moving close to our borders on the east and west. Poland had been taken over by various countries many times before, so this could happen again. We had had enough, and with our involvement in the Solidarity movement, anything might have happened.
Having a young son and hoping to have more children, there was not much hope for this life to improve, so we took our chances, packed a few suit cases into our little Mini Fiat and left for a holiday in Greece; but we went straight to Austria, arrived on the 1st of November 1981 and applied for asylum. Six weeks later on 13th December Marshal Law was imposed in Poland, communication to our country was cut, many people were arrested, but there was no invasion from USSR. History proved that Martial law was the better alternative, and remained in place until 1983 and then it took a few more years of struggle and repression, until in1989, the Solidarity Party become part of the government and consequently the governing system become open and the communists become just one of many parties.
By then I was well settled in New Zealand, and had been granted citizenship. Ten years passed before I returned to Poland to see my family. I had my two NZ born children and I introduced them to their grandparents, and other family members.