Freedom is Alive

January, 17, 1951, was the date I was born.  I was in Spittal, on the river Drau, Austria.  My whole family was there as displaced persons (DPs) and my entire family lived in Bochnia, Poland, before my life began.

My grandmother, Leopoldine, owned a three story house where she rented out rooms and had a small café/restaurant downstairs.  She was a wonderful cook and because of her cooking she was visited often by the Gestapo and regular German soldiers as restaurant patrons.  The Germans didn’t bother Leopoldine and my grandfather, Henry, even though my mother and her siblings were born in Poland.  Leoplodine was a citizen of Austria, born in Vienna, but my grandfather was Polish.

Not everything was easy during the German occupation.  My grandmother’s sister was arrested and put in jail even though her husband was suffering with an illness.  The Germans’ reasoning for the arrest was to capture her son who was a member of the Polish Resistance.

My mother, Maria, was about ten years old then and she was allowed to walk to the jailhouse with food for her aunt.  The German guard was kind to little Maria and always had a smile for her when she arrived.  This situation went on for months.  On one occasion, as Maria was walking toward the town square, she was overwhelmed at the sight she encountered when she arrived at the square.  Hanging from one of the tall lampposts was three Polish residents.  She never forgot that ghoulish scene as it imprinted a picture in her mind for the rest of her life.  The three were hung in retribution for a shooting of a German soldier by the Resistance the night before.

Maria managed to make her way to the jailhouse that day even though her stomach felt queasy.  Finally after months of incarceration, her aunt’s husband died.  The Germans released her from jail in hopes her son would show up for his father’s funeral.  He never showed up and he never got to say goodbye to his father.

War was imminent by the United States, my grandmother managed to move the entire family back to Austria, at a place call Treffling. It was a Displaced Person Camp, where Spittal, Austria was a part of that functioning area.  Years later after the war, other countries began absorbing displaced people.  We were lucky to be taken to the United States on a troop ship.  I was ten months old on October 3, 1951 when we arrived and received my green card that was given to my mother, Maria. I never knew my father. I was in New York beginning a new life as a legal immigrant waiting for when I could appreciate the freedom that the United States stood for.  Growing up in Meriden, Connecticut, at 19, I joined the U. S. Navy during the Viet Nam Era and never regretted my time spent in honor of my country.

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