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Franciszek Gąsowski

Franciszek Gąsowski

My great-grandfather Franciszek Gąsowski was born in 1892. Even before the outbreak of World War I, at the age of 18 he decided to leave for work in America. Emigration for earning in his homeland (located in Podlasie village of Płonka Kościelna, then under the Russian rule) must have been widely practiced at that time. Looking for traces of the great-grandfather’s family in the US, in the state of Pennsylvania, I came across many familiarly sounding names typical of this region - Gąsowscki, Łapińscki, Stypułkowski, Roszkowski etc. In Forest City, Pennsylvania, not far from the town of Scranton, where grandfather Franciszek settled, there was even founded a Polish Catholic parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which still functions.

Through New York City to the mine

Reviewing the records of ships sailing in that period to the United States, I found Franciszek Gąsowski. He sailed to New York City on May 15, 1911 on the "Lapland" ship from the port of Antwerp. As great-grandfather said, the first view which they saw flowing into the port of New York was a giant statue of Puławski (this is how Polish emigrants dubbed the Statue of Liberty).

Great-grandfather settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he found a job in one of the numerous mines. The end of the 19th and early 20th century, as a result of industrialization and the growing demand for coal, caused a good run for the extraction of this raw material. Emigrants from all over the world came to work in the mines in Pennsylvania, including Polish emigrants. In one of these mines grandfather Franciszek worked sixteen hours a day - eight hours as a coal hewer in the forefront and another eight hours he drove an underground railway locomotive, transporting output coal. He wanted to put aside as much money as possible to return to Poland and buy a farm. Therefore, when during the First World War there was a strike at the mine and the work ceased, great-grandfather for a short time left for New York. There he worked on the barges transporting missiles to transport vessels, which stood far from the port to protect explosive charges against potential German saboteurs. Until the end of his life he could tie special knots, which were used to attach bombs on a barge - strong, but made in such a way that it was possible to untie them with one tug. After the end of the strike at the mine he came back to the better paid, although very hard, work underground.

Gangsters or wedding guests? The wedding photo of Bronisława and Franciszek Gąsowscki, 1917, from the private archivesIn a similar time as my great-grandfather, but independently of him, my great-grandmother, Bronisława Perkowska, born in 1883, also came to the United States. She found a job as a maid with a wealthy American lawyer. My great-grandmother came from the village of Truskolasy Lachy neighboring Płonka Kościelna, where my grandfather came from. However, only in the US she met Franciszek and, despite nearly ten-year age difference, they married in Pennsylvania in 1917. In the family still there is preserved their official wedding photo, where men (probably all were Polish immigrants) look a bit like gangsters from a later era of American prohibition.

After America, Poland ... and once again America

In 1918 in the United States was born my grandfather, Jan Adam Gąsowski, the only child of my great-grandmother and great-grandfather. He was baptized in the aforementioned church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Forest City. Coincidentally, I managed to find the 14th US census in Mayfield, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, 1920, where both my great-grandparents, and two-year old grandfather were listed. They were entered with the English equivalents of their names, which they used the in the US, i.e. Frank, Blanche and John. Shortly after the preparation of the census, in 1922, great-grandparents decided to return to an already free homeland. There my great-grandfather Franciszek built a house, bought a large farm and became the largest farmer in his family village, where he had emigrated from for earning as a poor boy.

My grandfather Jacek for a long time was recorded in Poland as having US citizenship (for example, in grandfather’s application for registration for law studies in Vilnius, 1938). My great-grandmother, although she probably had only a basic education, having seen how well-off her employer, an American lawyer was, made every effort to make it possible for her only son to study law. She hadn’t foreseen, however, the outbreak of the Second World War and the advent of the communist system in Poland, which did not allow my grandfather to effectively practice the profession. What's more, it became the source of persecution of my grandfather by the regime.

In the 1920s, in the face of the global financial crisis, great-grandfather Franciszek returned again to the United States for profit. This time, sailed to America from the port of Gdańsk on the ship SS "Lituania" 25 August, 1923. That fact was recorded in the register of arrivals at the port of New York in 1923. There wasn’t, however, registered in any official documents the history of the meeting of my great-grandfather Franciszek with a bit younger from him American immigration officer in the port of New York. The official behaved quite abruptly in relation to poor migrants from Eastern Europe, including my great-grandfather. It upset great-grandfather Franciszek, who speaking fluent English said to him: "Young man, can you behave a little more amiable in relation to older people? I had been to this country before you were born." The immigration officer was speechless with surprise (great-grandfather, an ordinary farmer from Podlachia, until the end of his life was fluent in English and Russian). However, my great-grandfather soon returned to his wife and son in Poland. While in the US remained the elder sister of great-grandfather Franciszek. Even in the 1970s, my grandfather Janek maintained correspondence with the daughter of the grandfather's sister, Genowefa (Jean) Stypułkowska, to whom he wrote letters in Polish. She was born and raised in the US, probably she had only a passive command of the language and responded to the letters in English.

My great-grandfather after his arrival in Poland dealt with work on the land. Great-grandmother took care of the house. Both survived the war. In the family memories there is preserved a story about a mobile clinic that came in the 1970s to the village in the fight against tuberculosis. The doctors who examined great-grandfather were quite surprised, when performing a lung x-ray, discovered that a farmer living in remote areas, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest mine, had lungs full of black dust. Despite silicosis great-grandfather lived to be almost 90 years old and to the end of his days he was physically and mentally fit.

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Combined emigrations

After many years this brief story of Polish emigrants found its new epilogue. At a similar time as my great-grandfather, in search of better opportunities for life, another Pole – Józef Cichecki, born in 1894, living in the village of Gusin (current łódzkie province, łęczycki district), left the Russian Partition territory. Probably he also planned to emigrate to the United States. He even reached Hamburg, where for a time he worked in the harbor. Either due to the lack of resources or looking for new challenges, he made his way to the city of Perleberg, located at that time in Prussia, today in the German state of Brandenburg, in search of another job. There, working on farms, he met a German woman, Hedwiga Kröhnert, whom after some time he married. They had two children who took the surname of the mother (the reasons for this decision are not entirely clear, perhaps it was due to the fact that the relationship of Józef Cichecki and Hedwiga Kröhnert was probably legalized only after the birth of their children).

Józef Cichecki stopped on his way to America in Perleberg. As luck would have it, the city turned out to be his destination, from the private archive

Józef Cichecki stayed in Germany. He died shortly after the war. His family did not maintain contacts with Poland. In 2005, Józef’s grandson, Michael Kröhnert, looking for an original place to spend New Year's Eve made a spontaneous decision to buy a plane ticket to Warsaw. There, at the party in one of Warsaw clubs he met the author of this story. For over four years we've been married. We have two children, we live in Warsaw. Some time ago we discovered that we share the history of our ancestors - Poles who pursued their happiness abroad, outside the borders of the occupied by the invaders at that time country.

This story was written down by Hanna Gąsowska-Kröhnert (a great-granddaughter of Franciszek Gąsowski).