1 March 1980 we embarked in Gdynia on M / S „Gen. Kalinowski” container ship of Polish Ocean Lines. After two days, March 3, we sailed from the French Quay, and at night after we entered the Kiel Canal, we were sure that we were beyond the reach of the Secret Political Police and the malignant customs officers from Gdynia Marine Station.
I, 30 years old at that time, my wife and 9-year-old son were penultimate members of Tubis, Jankun and Cieplicki families to leave Poland. Our families since 1945 have been still on the road, marked with adversity and the course of history.
To the maritime border
In 1945, the Russians occupying part of my grandfather’s Tubis house, in gratitude for the hospitality watered with liquor advised uncles to take grandfather and flee from Ostrowiec near Vilnius to Poland. If NKVD had appeared in Ostrowiec, the kulak grandfather would have been inevitably exiled to Siberia.
For residents of the village it was not easy to get the repatriation papers to Poland. The family initially hid in Zhytomyr. There they met Zofia Strój, a girl raised by Mr. and Mrs. Reszke (bandmaster Reszke sat in Vilnius repatriation committee). Zofia, future wife of Mietek Tubis, helped uncles get the papers, and Benjamin Wittenberg, who was hiding with my grandfather during the Nazi occupation, arranged for them places in the wagons. They all got to Łódź. There, the friends of Jewish origin chose the direction of Berlin and the US, and the grandfather with sons went to Gdańsk. They chose Gdańsk just in case to be near the maritime border, because if life in the new Poland didn’t work, then they would need to go further.
A liaison with America
Years 1945-1953 was a paradise for enterprising people, but in 1953 uncle Mietek was arrested for insult of Stalin. Further years and the beginning of the 1960s meant the destruction of private initiative. The only thing left was the possibility to move on poorly-paid state job, undertaking business on the black market, death-defying or extraditable. Stanislaw Tubis asks his friend Benjamin Wittenberg for an invitation to the United States. He emigrates in 1960 – going aboard M / S „Batory” in search of a new place for the family. 40-year-old bachelor, who in Poland had a restaurant, small craftsman factories, transport companies, Western cars and money for rakish life, found himself in Connecticut, where lived several of his friends from Vilnius guerrilla and one uncle from the early emigration, who did not want to send Stanisław the invitation. The first year, as he remembered, was depressing – Stanislaw was not accustomed to the loneliness and emptiness, and honor did not allow him to admit that, for example, he would spend Christmas alone. Despite the difficulties he quickly assimilates, learns the language to get citizenship and bring the rest of the siblings and their families after five years.
In 1963 Stanislaw invites to the States brothers and brothers-in-law, so that they could earn some money. They work for lousy rates on Jewish farms. In 1967 he arranges for them better-paid jobs, and urges them to emigrate permanently.
My father was afraid that if he emigrated then, they would take me to the army in the US and send to the front in Vietnam. The family of brother Edek prefers to spend dollars in Poland! Stanislaw’s brother, Mieczysław, at the age of 50 with his wife and children aged 15 and 13, finally emigrates to the US in 1968. Embarking M / S „Batory” in Gdynia, Mietek hears from customs officers that he should have come back from the US instead of bringing there the family. As time will tell, here uncle’s sons will finish studies and enter serious offices.
A short visit
In 1970 I was studying at the University of Nicolaus Copernicus, my sister finished high school, commercial shops were emerging, despite of shortages of goods and shrinking savings. In 1972, parents with sister get a passport and visa – emigrated to the United States within the framework of immigrant visas for family reunification. I had already had my own family, so I couldn’t take advantage of this kind of visas. Parents and sister in a farewell hug on the steps of the Marine Station assured me that they would do everything to bring us to the United States.
In 1974, I get an invitation to visit family in the United States. My son was then two years old. After many visits at the passport office in Piwna Street I manage to get a passport. Waiting for a visa at the American embassy I can see on the wall a poster with an offer of airlines, which is even cheaper than a cruise on the M / S „Batory”. Just before the departure, it turns out that my cousin has also received a visa to the United States. We fly together, another cousin picks us up from New York airport. America does not surprise me because I’ve already been to England, France, Germany and other neighboring countries.
For a year I work in a bakery in the US and try to get a permit for the arrival of my wife and child. A lawyer for $ 1,000 arranges for me a job sheet, and suggests that my wife could come to claim the alimony in the US courts, and the child will be then brought by the Polish Red Cross (the Polish authorities always had to have a hostage). My wife does not agree to such conditions. I hear advice like „Do not send money and she’ll come”, but I did not want to risk losing a son.
„Batory” not the same anymore
My parents want to delay my return to Poland saying that there are no tickets for the ship, and any day now in America my sister’s wedding is to be held. My English tutoring has been paid for many years, however, not to make me unable to get a ticket.
I flew to the United States by plane, but I went back on the M / S „Batory” to check father and uncles’ stories about the luxury travel, and by the way, to take more gifts for family in Poland. The bus from New Britain to Montreal arrived early in the morning. I have a double, inner cabin, I sleep on a bunk bed, and a fellow passenger introduces himself taking a hairpiece off his head and saying: „In the morning you can see me bald, but it’s still me, just bought some hair.” We sail the St. Lawrence River, breakfast was served at a 10-person table. One of the passengers orders a glass for everyone. Next meal with the same company and there is a quid pro quo. Fortunately, we agreed to only one round.
The menu cards are beautifully edited, and the descriptions of the dishes worldly, but usually it was a well-known dish, but with a different, more mysterious name. I am myself seasick, so I can use the official kitchen very little, I had to order room service for extra pay for the cabin stewards – a piece of bread and kabanos sausage. On the ship the atmosphere was typical of the return: „we can afford the best bars, as the ones run by Orbis company in Poland „.