Part 3. PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 22 August 2011 19:50

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 of my family's immigration story below.


The green Fiat came to a stop. An old Russian army barrack in the middle of Austria was our first sign of freedom. It was raining and it was dark. I watched my father read a sign taped to the dilapidated doors, Fluchtlingslager (Refugee Camp). This was home, until a temporary home was found.


I remember the army bunk bed in the middle of the massive gymnasium that was assigned to our family of four. The blankets were wool and so rough to the touch. The steel canisters for dinner were too cold to hold for a five-year-old. There was no music or artwork, just hundreds of hopeful people escaping communism. Standing in line, behind hundreds of others, we waited for bland potato soup to be deposited into our army canisters. I was just five but I remember the words I asked my mother on our first night at the refugee camp. "Mama? You promised our new life had no more lines."


Families were given first priority and sent to the front of the administration line. Documents and passports were double and triple checked. The Austrian government stamped REFUGEE across our paperwork and we waited for the first opening in temporary housing (the equivalent of a foster home) somewhere, anywhere, in Austria.


This is how our family of four found ourselves in Ebbs, Austria. Living above a tavern in one room with two single beds.




There were three other families from Poland occupying the bedrooms around us. We had one common room where we gathered to watch television and socialize every evening. Six adults and six children shared the only bathroom. And life was grand through the eyes of a five-year-old girl. Instant girlfriends!


From left to right: The "A" family, my family in the middle, the tavern keeper (in pink) & Jo's family on right.



While our parents rushed to Vienna each month to secure Visas and find sponsors in far away countries, we girls laughed for seven long months like a bunch of sorority sisters unaware of our parents' dreams for us.




Terrible things happened in between. Dreams were tested. Our fathers (all college educated engineers) spent days scraping metals in dumpsters for money, always came home discouraged. Throughout it all we, as children, were welcomed by the tavern keeper that treated us like extended family. She was a grandmother to us. We enjoyed Austrian preschool as the occasional visitors and happily accepted donated toys the tavern keeper collected.


Jo (centered in the photo - me admiring her with my held titled). My sister, cute as a button, is the baby in the photo.


For nearly one year we all patiently waited to be assigned to a country. America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada were accepting refugees in the early 80's from communism. Our fathers worked jobs they never would have imagined, to save enough money for the new world. But it was never enough to fly a family across an ocean to freedom. We were one of the first families to be accepted by Catholic Relief Services, who sponsored our flight to Chicago. We said good-bye to our beloved friends and boarded the plane, uncertain but hopeful for life in America.


To be continued....



Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2011 09:56


# Elaine 2011-08-22 22:39
These pictures and your story give me smiles and chills. But they also put me in awe as well at your family's story.

You look a lot like your Mom. :)
# drohmommy 2011-08-22 22:45
Great post! I love hearing the stories of your childhood. _
# BusyDad 2011-08-22 23:16
Wow. It is amazing what children can withstand when their vision of the world around them is still innocent. Amazing story so far (I just read the other two parts). Growing up, we were friends with many refugee families from Vietnam and Cambodia. Like I said, amazing. Also inspiring.
# Pam 2011-08-22 23:31
Cannot wait for the next one!
# Sarah L. 2011-08-22 23:56
I would be SO sad if you quit blogging. You are an AMAZING writer and an inspiration! I look forward to all of your posts.

I have truly enjoyed reading this series (and your blog in general) and as I said before, if you have any interest, you should write a book with THIS story.

You are doing so much for your immediate family and your kids...writing their history for them to always understand and remember. They are so lucky!
# Amy 2011-08-23 05:10
I love this amazing history of your family. It is a blessing that you can get it down and pass to your children and us. Thanks Paulinka!
# Managed Chaos 2011-08-23 07:20
Totally and completely enthralled by YOUR story. I also love the "whatcu talkin' bout Willis" look you have in the first photo.
# Rachel 2011-08-23 07:23
Amazing to read. My husband as a young boy and his family were doing the same thing at the same time, but from Russia through Italy to Australia. Your mother was gorgeous. And the smiles... everyone with such beautiful smiles.
# alexandra 2011-08-23 07:44
How differently we see things as adults.

Fascinating. I love these stories of coming to America.

The spirit and determination of your parents...the photographs you have help so much with feeling in the moment with you.

Thank you for capturing this story.

Again, I think, BOOK!
# Kristin K 2011-08-23 08:05
I've got chills, Pauline. I want more!
# Marta 2011-08-23 08:16
Love this story and the previous ones. It's so similar to mine, except I was only 2 so I don't remember anything other than what I've been told. You have such great memories from the experience. I'm sure your parents remember it in an entirely different way. :) I'm always fascinated with the concept that I could have grown up in Australia (my parents first choice, but we didn't get in). My whole life would have been different.
# PolPrairieMama 2011-08-23 10:15
We had the option of Australia as well, Marta! I think about that sometimes as well... How different it would have been.
# Tracey Becker 2011-08-23 08:27
I am always amazed at how the winds of fate decide our entire lives. Just think: you COULD have been speaking English with an Australian accent right now!
# amy2boys 2011-08-23 08:49
Catholic Relief Services is one of my charities - this makes me so glad I donate to them!

In that first photo - you look just like your mother! And Lola looks just like you. Amazing to see that resemblance!
# LOVD 2011-08-23 09:19
Such a similar story to my own family's! Isn't it great to be here, in the USA! I shudder to think what my life would be like if my grandfather hadn't been so brave to leave.
# PolPrairieMama 2011-08-23 09:19
Thank you, Pauline, for sharing that. This is part of the missing link in my family history as well. My parents never speak about this time in our lives. All I know is that we were in Warth and a few other details.

We also had a kind tavern keeper caring for us. And Potato Soup.

Your photos were so beautiful. Yes, you do look like your mother. And your sister was cute as a button.

Pozdrawiam serdecznie...
# LOVD 2011-08-23 09:20
On a personal note: I know you have 2 daughters and might be interested in my blog giveaway today - gift card to Dazzle in Chagrin Falls!!!!
# Jo Ashline 2011-08-23 10:04
Oh Paulinko.
What a beautiful post.
You bring back such vivid memories of our time together in Austria.
Thank you for sharing our story. Your story.
It deserves to be told.
# Kasia 2011-08-23 10:05
my favorite post thus far.
# kakaty 2011-08-23 10:10
I love this series. Stories like this always amaze me - how much fate decided your future.

And, my goodness, you look just like your mother. I'd love to hear her "side" of the story...I'm sure it was grueling & frightening for her and your father!
# Jami 2011-08-23 10:19
WOW! What an amazing story you have. I know Jo through blogging stuff. I can't wait to hear what happens next. You should think about writing a book.
# Rima 2011-08-24 09:52
I know that it was difficult and not all fun and games, but this post kind of makes me with I was there with you and Jo :)
# DE Heather 2011-08-24 13:02
I look forward to hearing the rest of the series.
# Jill 2011-08-24 23:20
Love these posts Pauline ... amazing pictures, history, memories that we're all able to visualize.

# Marinka 2011-08-27 14:10
I could read about your immigration story forever. Can't wait for the next installment.
# Melissa 2011-08-30 22:24
I am enthralled! This is the stuff America is made of! I think we have lost so much of this resiliency and the ability to adapt, make do and grow. Our society now waits for what others will do for them instead of having that spirit that strives for more.

I can't wait for the rest...
# Allison 2012-03-20 15:47
This is such a powerful series of posts. My aunt also fled Poland in the 80s with her two sons. She hasn't shared too many stories of the process, but this makes me so anxious to see her and ask her more. Thank you for posting, and can't wait to read the final segment.

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Pauline Karwowski.

Is a self proclaimed globe trotting, minivan driving, SAHM stiletto ho.

Happily married mother to 3 Cleveland natives: Jay the son, Lola the daughter, and Fifi the banshee.

Now in Chicago, IL.

The content on this blog is the opinion of the blogger.


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