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Tadeusz (Ted) KROL

Part 5 of 6

Lebanon become a member of the newly established United Nations in 1945. France withdrew the last of its troops from Lebanon in April 1946. Lebanon had formed a government where national power was divided among the Maronite Christians, Sunni Moslems, and Shia Moslems. In 1946, political tensions between Moslems and Christians caused Lebanon to close its borders. That year we were not able visit our families until Christmas.

So, I spent Easter vacation of 1946 with my father in Egypt, near Ismailia. It was a new experience for me, spending most of the week in a military camp made that vacation a lot less exiting than being in Ghazir. Father was on duty, so he asked one of his colleagues to show me around. He got hold of a troop carrier, had it filled with gas and a couple of Tommy-guns, and we went fox hunting in the desert. He covered a large part of the desert. We drove into an area that had been the site of fighting between Rommel’s Afrika Korps and the British. We saw some destroyed tanks, large artillery, and other military equipment. But the area had signs posted that warned of land mines, so we didn’t go too far into the former battlefield. Along the way we did see foxes and tried to hit them with our guns, but it was hard to do with the weapons we had. On Sunday, Father took me to Port Said and other interesting towns, but we couldn’t go into Cairo, which was also experiencing the turmoil that was going on at the time in the region.

That summer of 1946, Father couldn’t travel to Lebanon to spend his leave time with the family. However, Mother was able to travel to Palestine, which allowed them to spend a week together in Tel-Aviv. I was able to see them there, since it was easy for me to get a ride. I could get there within an hour.

I spent most of the rest of my summer vacation in Jerusalem, except for a few days at the Dead Sea, and about three weeks in Nazareth. It was an unusual summer vacation, but conflict in the Middle East was becoming all too common.

Zionist terrorists in Palestine started to attack British targets in order to gain independence for a new state of Israel. There were incidents of attacks on British troops, train derailments, and later a terrorist bomb blasted the biggest hotel in Jerusalem, targeting the residence of many British officers and dignitaries.

This bombing attack on the King David Hotel in July 1946 is considered by many as the birth of modern terrorism. The bomb killed 91 and injured 45 persons. Fifty-four of the casualties were innocent civilians.

We became resigned to our fate of not returning to Poland. This was true for at least 98% of us, although some individuals did decide to return. For most of us, it was likely that England would be our home for the next several years, at least. Polish soldiers, at least those who had decided not to return to Poland, were to be shipped to England. Our turn was to come the next year. We continued to study and attempt to learn the English language, although for the most part, that was an uphill battle.

I remember on one occasion that an American of Polish descent visited our camp. He came to give us a pep talk. We were all dispirited. Disheartened, because of the betrayal by our Western Allies, who allowed the communists to take over our homeland. The visitor was with the American Special Services, and although he spoke to us in Polish with somewhat of an accent, we could understand him. He said that we would have to be patient. The Russians had fought the Germans and helped to crush them. American public opinion was pro-Russian at that time, but public opinion could change. People in the States had started to work on it. He assured us that in a few years it would be different, and that war with Russia is very likely. “Be patient,” he told us, “in a few years you may be back in Poland.”

So, we studied and waited. We were issued live ammunition while on guard duty around the camp. There had been attempts by Arabs and Jews alike to break into our armory and storerooms in order to seize our supplies and military equipment. Our guards had to shoot at intruders on several occasions to prevent them from achieving their goals.

Fortunately, the political situation in Lebanon improved and I was able to spend the Christmas of 1946 as well as the following Easter leave with my family. It was great to be with my family again. I knew that since we would soon all be reunited somewhere in England, we had better start to get reacquainted. It was also nice to visit my family in Ghazir because there were many girls there, Polish as well as Lebanese, who started to interest me. The daughter of Mother’s landlord was a pretty girl named Asma. Her brother and I became friendly, and he started to teach me Arabic, which did seem easier than English. George recalls my efforts to communicate with Asma, one day on the house’s large veranda, despite our lack of a common language. George remembers his attempt to spy on us, until I told him to “get lost.”

 I graduated from junior high school in June 1947 after completing a four-year course of study. It was a big event for me, and at the same time, I had to pick which path would best further my education. I had two choices. One was to stick with general education, with some emphasis on mechanical subjects. In that case I would have to move to another school and abandon the cadet training that I had started. The other choice was to major in civil engineering with a concentration in highway design. The Civil Engineering school was connected to the cadet school, but I would have to pass an entrance examination to be accepted. It wasn’t an easy exam, but I decided to take it. I passed and was accepted.

This was not a college, but it did provide students with two years of study in technical subjects before going on to a university or polytechnic institute. We knew that our next school year would be in England. We could go on our summer vacation, but we had to pack our belongings to be ready for the trip to England. Our baggage was to be left in a storage room. The date of our departure hadn’t been set, but we would be contacted wherever we were and would have to be back within three days’ notice. So off I went on my last trip to Lebanon in the summer of 1947.

When I arrived there, Father was also on leave in Lebanon for a few weeks. Our leaves overlapped briefly.  With the exception of Stasiu, we were all together after several years of separation. The last time we had all been together before that was during the first half of 1942 in Siberia.

My vacation was longer than Father’s. I was able to stay until nearly the end of August. That’s when I got word that I had to get back to Palestine to prepare for our departure to England.

Within two weeks our camp was disbanded. We had to take our tents down, clean up the area, and load our belongings on to a train, which was stationed within a quarter mile of our camp. We were transported to Port Said in Egypt and boarded a ship to England. At the time, I didn’t know when the rest of my family would get there, but I knew that they would be there before the end of 1947.



 Displaced Persons in England


When we left Egypt, the weather was beautiful. Our ship sailed through the Mediterranean without incident. We saw the shores of Crete, Malta, and then the Rock of Gibraltar. But once we got into the Atlantic, the ocean was rough, and most of us, including me, were seasick for a day or more. Our ship docked in Southampton, England. The weather was splendid. The full bright sunshine bathed a vibrant green landscape that we had not seen for several years in the Middle East. The vision made our eyes relax. It was so comforting that I remember that pleasant experience as if it was yesterday. We disembarked, went through customs, and loaded onto a train that took us to the village of Bodney in Norfolk.

There was an air base in Bodney that had been used by US Army Air Forces during the war. Many of the items left behind reminded us of the previous occupants of the base.  The base was certainly not set up to function as a school. For example, it didn’t have nearly enough tables or chairs, but our teachers and commanders made the best of it in order to make classes possible. After all, we didn’t have perfect conditions in Palestine and had to make do with what we had.  After about a week we started to attend classes. Without supplies, we had to stretch the few items that we brought with us. It was clear that the British didn’t expect this school to continue for very long. It was only a question of time until they decided what to do with us and when.

We had to accustom ourselves to a number of different things. Chief among the adjustments was the need for food rationing and acclimating to the weather. In Palestine we were served meat almost daily. In England we had it only once or twice a week. However, the meat in Palestine was always mutton or lamb from Australia or New Zealand. It was usually tough and had little taste to it. For a long while we couldn’t even look at it in England. There were a lot of rabbits in the bushes around the camp and we soon found ways to catch and prepare them for a tasty dish outside the base kitchen. This was a welcome supplement to the meat shortage in our diet. However, there were some foods available to us in England that were scarce in Palestine like apples, pears, plums and fresh milk.

As far as the weather was concerned, it was quite a change. Instead of a hot dry climate with plenty of sun, England presented us with mostly cloudy, rainy days with little sunshine. As fall approached it started to get cold. We had snowstorms called buran in Siberia, sandstorms called khamsins in Palestine, and now constant rain in England. I never thought that the rain could make one miserable. In Palestine we longed for rain during the long hot summer days, since it only rained there during the winter months and perhaps in early spring. In summer all the vegetation was yellow and dead unless it was watered. Here everything was green and soaking wet most of the year. But a person can adapt to anything, and within a year it was hard to imagine how things could be any different.

Within a couple of miles of our base was another base called Bodney South, which also schooled younger Polish soldiers who had returned from Italy or from POW camps in Germany. We had several competitive sports events with them, including soccer and basketball. We didn’t know it at that time, but some of us would later cross paths with some of them in school again.

At about the same time that I was being relocated from Palestine to England, along with the rest of my cadet school classmates, my family was being relocated to England as well. A passenger list from the SS Chitral states that this ship “…travelled from Port Said [Egypt] to Southampton, [having] picked up 385 Polish D.Ps. [displaced persons] from Lebanon and Palestine arriving on 15 September 1947 with c/o Polish Military Transit Camp.” Passengers on this ship included Stanislawa (39), Danuta (14), and Jerzy (11) Krol. The moniker, DPs, was one that was attached to the hundreds of thousands of people that lost their homes and/or their nations in the aftermath of WWII. Our family members were classified as “DPs” in our relocation to England as well as in our later immigration to the US.

In November I received a letter from my family, telling me that they were also in England at another former US Army Air Forces base, which originally served the RAF as Rivenhall. It was 40 miles northeast of London. After the war ended, the base was repurposed as the Kelvedon Polish Displaced Persons Camp, one of dozens of such camps for Polish civilian families throughout the United Kingdom at that time. It took its name from the nearby village of Kelvedon. Chelmsford was the nearest city, 13 miles away.

I received a leave to visit my family for a few days. Although my English was very poor, I did manage to get to my destination and was able to see how my family had settled in England. Father was with them even though he was still in uniform, like many of us.  He had joined the PRC (Polish Resettlement Corps). Father was on the way to start his life as a civilian, after a very full career in the Polish Army, which started with his service in the 1920 Polish-Bolshevik War. His service with Polish Forces under British Command extended from May 11, 1942 until October 29, 1947. At that point Father enlisted in the PRC until September 30, 1949.

The Kelvedon Camp became a temporary home to hundreds of Polish DPs from Africa, the Middle East, India, and other places. Most were the families of army personnel. They organized a school, a group kitchen, and church groups. Mother’s experience in supervising the hospital kitchen in Tehran came in handy. As a result of that prior experience, she was selected to run the communal kitchen in Kelvedon, which served the community of 2000 Poles.

Families there lived in Nissen (aka Quonset) huts, the kind that were present at all military bases. Given their semi-cylindrical shape, Poles referred to them as their “beczka” or barrel. George recalls that camp residents often jested about their residence as being a “beczka smiechu” or a “barrel of laughs.” Washrooms, toilets, shower rooms, and laundries were in buildings separate from the units used for family living quarters. These latter huts were grouped into four sites. People had to walk to Mother’s community kitchen for meals, and either eat there or bring the meal back to their “beczka.”

George and Danka soon started school again. Their first class was a three-month long accelerated course in English. After that, they were told that they knew enough to start to start attending an English school. George’s recollections about his middle school years in England include a few bumps in the road. English students would pick on the Polish students. One bully gave George a bloody nose, punching him because he thought George looked at his girlfriend. George remembers  liking a math class that he took. There of course, Polish-English language barriers are lessened in favor of the common language of math. That is, except for the class roster. George’s given name, Jerzy, is pronounced as “Yeh’ rzy” in Polish.

However, his English-speaking math teacher decided that he would be called “ Jersey.”

I stayed with the family for only a few days, but when I returned to my base I heard the news that the school would soon be closing. Those who had families in England could join them and those that didn’t could stay at the base until they found a job or decided to move to a place where jobs were available. We learned that a school would be organized for those who were interested in pursuing either a British General School Certificate or a Matriculation Certificate. Those who wanted could put their names on a list with their forwarding address, and potential candidates would be told where to go for an interview.

We were all issued ID cards, health care cards, social security cards, and ration cards. We were required to look for civilian employment and had to register with the local police every time we changed our address. There were several other restrictions placed on us during on our stay in England. These restrictions were in effect the entire time that I lived in Great Britain

Naturally, I decided to join my family. So, around Christmas of 1947, I packed up my belongings, the salary that I had saved over my years as a cadet (about two to three dollars every ten days), and I headed for Kelvedon. Each Quonset hut would typically house two families. Our family was lucky to have a whole Quonset hut (#450/451) to themselves, although it was partitioned in half. I took the vacant back half, where some of the family’s belongings were stored. It was the beginning of 1948 and I started to look for a job… but not particularly hard.

Several other cadets ended up at Kelvedon, and one of them was Stasiu Shuttenbach who now lives near West Point. We organized bridge games and attended dances, although I really could not dance, and naturally, we paid close attention to the girls at the base. Danka was mad at me, because I would not take her to the dances, and she even implied that I did not belong to the family.

Sometime in February 1948, I received a letter from the Committee for the Education of Poles in Great Britain, asking me to interview as a candidate for a new school that was being formed. Since that was what I had been waiting for, I was in London at the appointed time and place. An attendant showed me into a room where there were eight to ten people seated around a table. I was 18 and this was the first time I had faced so many people, all asking me questions. The questions were mostly in Polish, but some also in English. No doubt, they also wanted to find out how fluent I was in English. They asked about my prior education and standing. I showed them my high school diploma from the cadet school. They asked about my family, my father, and what goals I had for my education. I remember telling them that I wanted to be a doctor; most of the applicants did. Frankly, I thought that I had blown the interview, but about a month later I got another letter telling me that I had been accepted. School would start on the 1st of April, in Haydon Park, near Sherborn in Dorset. The school’s name was Joseph Conrad High School. It was a prototype school to see if it was possible to prepare Polish students, who had a minimal knowledge of English, to pass the London University Matriculation Board examination for a high school certificate, within twelve to eighteen months.

We were located to another former American military base. Haydon Park Camp was built by American forces in 1943 as Field Hospital 228. We occupied only part of the base. Displaced Polish families occupied the rest.

There were about 211 candidates that showed up for the crash course. We were housed in large Quonsets, twenty-seven feet wide by eighty feet long.  There were about thirty students per hut. Men occupied five huts and ladies were housed in two huts. There were additional huts designated for classrooms, administration, a dining room, a kitchen and a recreation hut. I was assigned to the hut for the youngest students, seventeen through nineteen-year-olds, most of which came from my cadet school.

We faced a rigorous schedule almost immediately. The first challenge for us was to take exams in various subject areas, so that the teaching staff could separate us according to our abilities, and relative to the knowledge required in our future coursework. We were told that we would have to do our best, no goofing around, or we would have to go back to where we came from. They were not kidding, we had to study hard. There were weekly exams and quarterly evaluations. Some students who did not pull their weight, or who could not stand the pressure, left school after the first six months. In August we had a short vacation, and then at Christmas, we spent time with our families, worrying whether a letter would come, telling us not to come back. My English language skills were far from the level required to pass the final British national examination. My progress in other subjects was acceptable, but I always worried about my English.

I had a very pleasant surprise that occurred during my Christmas 1948 vacation. Mother was able to get in touch with her cousins from Rakow, Franek Kosowicz and his two brothers, Jan and Tuniek, and invited them for Christmas. During the war they remained in Poland, fighting in the underground Polish Home Army. After Russia imposed a communist government on Poland, they escaped to Italy and were able to join the Polish Army in the west. It would take a book to recount all their experiences during and after the war years. Some of those experiences are described in several books that have been published. It was a real pleasure to be with them, especially with Franek, who was a playmate of mine in Rakow. He is only a year older me.

I had another surprise that Christmas vacation. Father mentioned to me that by summer I might have a baby brother or sister. It was a surprise for everyone involved. For a while, I didn’t know if I should be happy or distressed about it.

Danka and George both attended a local English school in Witham, about four miles from the base. They had to walk to a bus stop and ride on a bus to school. Initially, Father worked at the base while he served with the Polish Resettlement Corps. Later he got a job at a home for elderly and disabled people, near Chelmsford. He also had to go on a bus or ride a bicycle, just as most of the local population was doing.

Later that year, Jan Kosowicz, through his connections in London, was able to get Danka and two of her friends from Kelvedon into a convent school that was south of London. There, they would have a better chance to get a good education within a convent school setting.

The year 1949 was one of intense study for everyone in our school. Twenty-seven students in our group, those with the best command of English, were selected to take the University of London matriculation and general school certificate examination in June. The level of their success would determine the future for most of us. Either we would be able to take a similar exam in December, or we would be sent packing. So, as we traveled home for summer vacation, I wasn’t sure if I would be coming back to school that fall. When I arrived back in Kelvedon, I learned that I had a baby brother. He was born on June 1st, the day of Father’s 49th birthday. He was such a nice baby that everyone had to love him. He was christened at the base. His godfather was Frank’s brother Jan. Father and Mother named him Jan Kazimierz.

I worked in a pub in Witham that summer. I had a group of friends there, some of whom were from the cadet school. We did have a good time together, playing bridge, going to dances, and flirting with the girls.

Frank visited us from London every other week. He was more of a ladies’ man than I, but eventually I got into the swing of things. At one point, the two of us paired off and dated two sisters at the base.

Naturally, I wasn’t very eager to parade around with my baby brother. But I did love him and played with him when my friends were not around. George remembers other schoolboys laughing at him because he had a baby brother, particularly when he was pushing John’s baby carriage around the base.

In the latter half of July, I got a letter from the school inviting me to come back on August 1st or 2nd. All our students had passed the exam and most of us would be allowed to take a similar exam in December. Everyone was excited about the success that our first group showed. The next four months required an even greater academic effort for all of us. That effort would give us a chance to attend a college or a university in England, and to provide us with the prospect of a reasonable future.

After that December examination, the school was closed. We packed our belongings and returned to our families to await the results. I had to start work and was hired at a textile factory in Braintree, less than ten miles from Kelvedon. I usually got there on a bicycle, or by bus when it was raining. The factory was very noisy, but now I was getting some real money, and after giving some to Mother, I had enough left over for my own needs.

Frank and his brothers joined us again for Christmas of 1949. They even brought a friend. Everyone wanted to spend the holidays among relatives or close friends. I managed to cut a Christmas tree from the woods nearby. It wasn’t the kind of tree we had in Poland, but it was green, and it looked similar enough to a real one. The Christmas spirit was all around us, and our community at this abandoned air base was like a small town in Poland. All our traditions were revived again after the strain of the war years, and we enjoyed an exceptional holiday spirit that year. Although food was not easy to come by, and many products were still available only with a ration card, somehow, we managed.  

As 1950 began, and our daily routines continued, I anxiously awaited the results of my examination. The results finally arrived in early February. I got them while on my way to work for the afternoon shift at the factory. I was walking toward the bus just as Father was coming home from his own work shift. He had stopped at the mail distribution center and picked up our mail. He handed me the letter I had been waiting for. I opened it right away and read the results. I passed with good grades, except in English. The test results would allow me to get a college education, but not at the best universities or colleges. When I mentioned to my factory supervisor how happy I was to pass the exam for the General School Certificate of the University of London, he was quite surprised. Many of the British students, who worked alongside me at the factory, couldn’t pass that examination.

An invitation to attend the certificate award ceremony in London came along with the results, along with additional information about my options for further education. In March, all of the students who had taken the December examination gathered at the building that housed the Committee for the Education of Poles, for a small celebration and speeches. We were congratulated, because over 75% of us had passed the exam. Although the results were not as good as those from the June exam, the Committee was satisfied. With the support of the British Education Ministry, more schools like ours would be established for those who could qualify and weren’t lucky enough to have been admitted to our school. We were encouraged to apply for admission to British colleges and universities and were promised scholarships that would cover the cost of tuition plus some allowance for living expenses. I investigated some options for college while I was in London. After returning to Kelvedon, I started to apply to several colleges. I had decided to study civil and structural engineering and applied to the institutions that offered those programs.

Life in Kelvedon became routine. We enjoyed Saturday dances, although I still had not learned how to dance very well. Work at the factory had its rewards. George and Danka attended school, and while Father was at work, Mother took care of the household and baby John. I started to receive responses from the colleges that I had applied to. Many did not accept me because of my weakness in English, but I finally decided to accept admission to South West Essex Technical College in east London. I was to start in September 1950.

So, the time came when I had to be away from my family again. I moved to Walthamstow, near Epping Forest, rented a room that included meals with an English family and started my studies. I was surprised to find that there were about fifteen students from Haydon Park at the college, most of whom enrolled in the structural engineering department. All in all, there were about two-dozen Polish students there, so I didn’t feel lonely at all. We studied, and during Christmas break, most of us got jobs at the post office or at the railway station, loading and unloading mail trains. Naturally that kind of seasonal work stopped by Christmas Eve, and I was able to travel to spend the holidays with my family. Mother prepared our traditional Christmas Eve meal for the same group of extended family. While food rationing was still going on, the quantity allowances did increase.

Not unlike most situations when there’s an influx of refugees to another country, there was resentment by many Brits of the Polish refugees in their country. Even though both nations fought side-by-side against the Nazis, we did have a different language, customs, and we were perceived to be taking jobs from the English. Then as now, most English persons would like to see the new immigrants leave their country. Frank began to discuss immigrating to the United States, since Congress had just passed the Displaced Persons Act of 1950, which would allow up to 18,000 former Polish soldiers and their families, who were then living in the British Isles, to immigrate to the United States.

Frank’s girlfriend was not too happy about this development, as her family did not intend to move. Frank, nevertheless, got all the papers ready and was on his way to Rochester, New York in February of 1951. Rochester was a logical place for him, because he and our mother had some relatives there from Rakow. Mother’s aunt had raised a family there following her pre-WWI emigration to the States. After Frank had settled in Rochester, started working, and got a good sense about living conditions there, he wrote our parents to share this information with them. Soon afterwards, Father decided to begin the paperwork needed for our family’s emigration to the USA. By the end of that summer, everything was set to go. I finished my first year at college, came back to Kelvedon for the summer vacation, and worked nearby on construction. We talked about the move, and my parents and I agreed that for me it would be better to complete my studies in England and then join them later.

Stateless…Immigrants to the US


In September I returned to college. In late October, my family stopped in London at Frank’s brother’s house, for a night, before continuing on to Southampton to board the RMS Queen Elizabeth for the voyage to New York City. At that time, the Queen Elizabeth was the world’s largest ocean liner. We spent our last evening together, all in a sad mood about parting again. The next morning, October 21st, we took the London Underground to the railroad station to board the train to Southampton.


One thing I remember well from that trip was that John was terrified of the Underground and screamed most of the way. He quieted down a little, but not completely, when I held him. George remembers this as well. He remembers that John was walking at this time but was terrified of the escalator that would take us down to the lower train platform. He recalls that he also carried John at some point. In any case, we were all glad when we got to our destination. There were tearful good-byes at the station. This time we would be far apart, across the ocean, and it would be more than four years before we would see each other again.

It took the Queen Elizabeth 5 days to cruise from Southampton to a dock in New York City harbor. Danka recalled a great deal of sea sickness during that voyage for our family.

Although Ellis Island still functioned as an immigration inspection port until 1954, the Queen Elizabeth docked at a Manhattan passenger terminal on October 28, 1951. The Manifest of In-Bound Passengers (Alien) included: Fortunat (51), Stanislawa (43), Danuta (18), Jerzy (15), and Jan (2). The Passenger Manifest included a column to indicate the Nationality of each passenger. Each of our family members was listed as being “STATELESS.” At the time, this did reflect our reality. The Passenger Manifest also stated that our destination in the United States was to 85 Manchester Street, Rochester, NY. The family was met in New York by another of Mother’s cousins, who we called “Ciocia” Janczewska. She was a very delightful, widowed, long-term resident of Brooklyn, who provided a “welcome” to our first family group in the United States.

After a short stay in Brooklyn, and another terrifying ride for John, this time on the New York City subway, the family boarded a New York Central train bound for Rochester. In Rochester they were met by John Zylinski who lived with his wife Rose, and their daughter Eleanor (Nora), at 85 Manchester Street. He was a first cousin of Mother’s who had immigrated to the US in 1917.  It’s probable that John Zylinski was our family’s sponsor for permanent residency in the US. With his help the family found its first residence in Rochester, a small upstairs apartment on Peckham Street, a half-block from Hudson Avenue, which is the primary artery of the old Polish neighborhood of Rochester.

Ethnic neighborhoods are crucial in acclimating immigrants to their new country. The transition to a new language, customs, laws, foods, and educational institutions is a culture shock that is lessened when it is shared with others. Vital support in that transition also comes from more tenured residents of that same ethnic neighborhood. That’s the way it was for the Krol family in Rochester. Several of our mother’s relatives and acquaintances had left Rakow years earlier and gravitated to Rochester, some drawn to the tailor shops that thrived in that city in the early 20th century. Hickey-Freeman was one of these. The network of these former- “Rakowians” eased the stress on our parents as being strangers in a strange land. Shoulder to Shoulder was a book written about the history of Polish Americans in Rochester. It states, “Families who emigrated to Rochester from Rakow in Russian Poland formed a fraternity for Rakowians in 1915.” This fraternity began as a mutual aid society and continued as an insurance association and social club. While Father was not a member of this social club, our parents knew nearly all of the families that were members.

The second support system for our immigrant family was the parish church. In the Polish neighborhood of Rochester, there were two choices. St. Stanislaus, a larger and more ornate structure, seemed to be the one preferred by the established Polish families; those that had emigrated to the area well before WWII. These were families whose children  and  grandchildren, were born in the US. The other choice was the much smaller and modest parish church of St. Theresa. St. Theresa became the home parish for most post-WWII immigrants. The Krol and the Piotrowski families were in this group.

Mother’s closest relative in Rochester was her mother’s sister, Stefania Janczewska. She and her husband, Frank, had both immigrated to the US by 1910 and so, had lived in Rochester for over 40 years by the time we arrived. Occasionally, our family would be invited to spend a holiday event with them. John recalls visiting their house on Nester Street when he was about 4 or 5 years old. He swiped a piece of candy out of a candy bowl that was sitting on a table, without asking. This was followed by some serious interrogation about the theft.  John says that he learned two things that day. First, don’t steal. Second, some people take their candy supply very seriously. Their eldest daughter, Mary, married Bill Kamola.

Beyond the social network of Rakowians in Rochester and the fellow parishioners at St. Theresa’s Church, the Polish neighborhood offered our parents the familiarity of Wojtczak’s Bakery, Lorentz Insurance Agency, Attorney Sawyko, Andy’s Candies and Ice Cream, and Dr. Artemowycz, who sewed a good number of stiches on John over the years. The Polish People’s Home (Dom Ludowy) was home to many holiday celebrations, children’s performances, adult dances, and wedding receptions.

Barbara’s parents, the Piotrowskis, had been teachers in Poland. For several years, they ran a Polish School on Saturday mornings at the Hudson Avenue Public Library. John attended many of those classes and picked up an elementary ability for reading and writing in Polish. These people, businesses, institutions, and others all served to support our family’s cultural identity as we progressed to become naturalized Americans. They made up Rochester’s Polonia and it was a good neighborhood to help our family and many others become acclimated to living in the US.

Mother’s letters to me indicated that Father had some trouble in finding a suitable job. He did work as a construction laborer on Rochester’s first public high-rise housing project, Hanover Houses. This cluster of seven-story apartment buildings was completed in 1953. However, construction laborers were subject to winter weather layoffs, and that type of work becomes tough for a man in his 50s. Father later found work doing maintenance on the night shift at Arpeako Meat Products. His duties involved cleaning up and sanitizing the equipment and floor space from each day’s production in this meat processing plant. The work was steady, but it was also strenuous. And working the night shift meant that Danka, George, and John saw little of him during the work week. One of the few perks of this job was the employee discount Father got on the Polish sausage and various cold cuts produced there, which the family usually had in ample supply at home.

Since Danka was eighteen, she had no real option to continue her education. She was too old for a high school in Rochester and she hadn’t received enough preparation in the convent school to begin a college program in the US. Importantly, the family could use additional income. So, Danka ended her education and started to look for work. Mary Kamola helped Danka to find her first job at the Strong Memorial Hospital and Uncle Zylinski helped her to find to find her next job at Bausch + Lomb Optics.

Danka’s jobs supplemented Father’s income and helped the family put together a down payment to purchase a house. The apartment on Peckham Street was really too small for five people and larger apartments were expensive. The owner who lived in the lower unit was reputed to be a bit strange and George tried to avoid him. At this point, George was 15 years old and had just barely passed the English verbal proficiency test. He was placed into the 10th grade at nearby Benjamin Franklin High School.

George recalls a dilemma in their search for a house. Our parents would have preferred to purchase a house that included a rental apartment, which could provide additional income. Afterall, this had been their plan with the house that bought years earlier in Molodeczno. They found such a house in the Hudson Avenue Polish neighborhood. But the down payment required for that house was a good deal more than they had been able to save during their first year in the US. Instead, in the fall of 1952, the family bought a single-family house at 113 Sellinger Street for $2500.

This marked the end of an eleven-year odyssey for our parents. It had started on the day in June 1941 when our family was forcefully evicted from their home in Molodeczno by the Soviet NKVD. It did not end until the fall day in 1952 when they were finally able to plant a new seed in the United States with that first house they bought in Rochester.

It was a nice house on a small lot (36’ x 118’). Despite its relatively small size, the yard provided family members with the things they valued individually. Father and Mother both enjoyed their roses, hydrangeas, lilacs, and pansies. The Bartlett pear tree provided succulent pears to eat fresh or to can for winter use. John liked to climb that pear tree and also appreciated a shed that stood in the rear yard, where he could “hide” by climbing on to its roof. A plum tree next to that shed aided in screening him. Mother planted an herb garden that provided her meals with dill, parsley, and green onions. But the house did have a negative aspect. It was located a good distance from the Polish neighborhood, and our family had no car. George continued to attend Benjamin Franklin High School and he also worked at Andy’s Candies and Ice Cream after school each day from 3 until 6 pm. Both his high school and Andy’s were in the old neighborhood, a 35-minute walk from Sellinger Street. Danka and Father would rely on city buses to get to work. At this time, George and Danka’s earnings were considered as family income and were used as such.


The Sellinger Street neighborhood was blue collar, working class. During the 1950’s, the families living on Sellinger Street and in the surrounding area were white, with no particular dominant ethnic group. A good percentage of families and businesses in the area were Jewish, not unlike in old Rakow. We knew of only one other Polish family on the street and they were not recent immigrants. Mother and John formed a friendship with the Jewish family that lived next door, the Bakers.

There were plenty of kids in the neighborhood, who all felt free to play and roam from dawn to dusk…or at least until the streetlights came on. After-school hours were spent playing baseball in the public parking lot, football in the street, or hide-and-seek any and everywhere. Playing “war” or “cowboys-and-Indians” built fertile imaginations as well as dramatic skills. Parental supervision was limited to mothers’ shouts that it was time for dinner. That’s what kids did in the 1950s.

Mother wrote to me about Danka’s boyfriends and eventually about her engagement to Ted Kolacz. Danka and Ted were married in June 1954. I was not able to be there, but I was given a complete rundown about everything that happened, through letters and photographs.

George attended Franklin High School from which he graduated in 1954. Despite some initial struggles with the English language, George graduated 10th in his class of about 450 students. That fall, George started his studies at the University of Rochester where he had been accepted. He majored in chemistry. John was five years old in September 1954 and was enrolled in Kindergarten at nearby Public School #20. He recalls having a young and pretty teacher there who only spoke in English. This was something new and different for him. The following year, John started the first of his eight years at St. Michael’s Parochial School.

Leaving England


I wasn’t completely alone in England, there was Janek Kosowicz and his wife Grazyna. I was able spend the holidays with them and get some moral support at least, if needed. But it was not the same as being with my parents, sister and brothers. This time I would be an ocean away from them.

But life went on. My studies always waited for me, and time passed from month to month. I worked during the holidays and vacations. I picked up jobs that were arranged through the students’ union or through other students. December meant working at the post office. Easter and summer breaks were usually spent on construction jobs. I finally improved my dance skills. My group of friends went to the college dance hall on Saturdays, and at least once during the week to another dance hall in the area. Absent the kind of guidance that I received at Haydon Park or from my parents, I probably spent too much time dancing and not enough time studying. For some reason, the strong focus on academic achievement that I and others had at Haydon Park was now missing. Looking back, I certainly should have worked harder. I passed my exam at the end of the second year and received a graduate’s certificate from the Institution of Structural Engineers, which is like the Engineer in Training certificate given in the States.

Frank was drafted into the United States Army and was going to be sent to Korea, but an accident caused him to spend some time on sick leave, while his unit was shipped there. He was later stationed in Berlin and was able to come to London from there, on leave.

After being asked to provide my parents’ income information, my living allowance was reduced during the last two years of my studies. At that time, wages in the States were much higher than those in England, so it appeared that Father was making a lot of money, although by US standards it would have been below average.  My grant was reduced by 15 to 20 dollars per month, and my parents tried to make up that decrease. In June 1954, I finally completed my studies at the college, and we all started on our professional careers.

A consulting engineer hired me and another student, who had also attended my college and Haydon Park. It was a small office, but it allowed us to have a variety of experiences. The office was in an area of London where there were a number of national embassies, including that of communist Poland. We often had a chance to listen to some of the embassy personnel, who lived across a narrow alley from us. We pretended not to know what they were talking about and were able to have a good laugh about our covert operation.

In July 1955, I learned that Danka gave birth to my first niece. Christine Teresa Kolacz was our parents’ first grandchild, the first child of the next generation, and the first of our family to be born in the United States. John remembers being excited about the prospect of having another child in the family, finally he would not be the only one! When he learned that Ted and Denise had left the hospital with baby Christine and were on their way to Sellinger Street, he ran to the corner where their car (a new 1954 blue and white Chevy) would be turning on to Sellinger Street, in order to see her first. Then early in 1956, I learned that Danka was expecting her second child.

In June 1956, I received a telegram that my father had had a heart attack. I telephoned Mother, but at that time trans-Atlantic telephone communications weren’t easy. You had to wait until a line was available, sometimes for up to eight hours. When I finally got through, I spoke with Frank, who was living on Sellinger Street with my parents at the time. He told me that Mother was at the hospital and it did not look good. He suggested that I try to get to Rochester as fast as I could. I went to the US embassy in London and waited a long time until I spoke with an official, who wanted some proof that what I was telling him, was true. I placed another call to Rochester, and Frank went to the Red Cross in Rochester, which sent a telegram to the embassy, giving them the required information. After that the embassy was helpful. I was given a visa, even free of the usual fee. They helped me with the British Post Office, where I had my savings, to withdraw funds for the flight to New York City.  Normally, it would take up to three days to clear and obtain a larger cash withdrawal. I got it within three hours. I had a similar experience with my flight reservation and I was on my way the next day. One thing was overlooked with my flight reservations. I should have booked the flight with a connection to Rochester. I had a lot of things on my mind, and no one else picked up on it either. I did feel some job-related pressure since I was close to finishing a project, which had a definite deadline, and no one was available to complete my work. But in this situation, I couldn’t be concerned if I put my boss in a bind.

By the time that the plane arrived in New York and I got through customs, it was nearly noon. I couldn’t get a connecting flight to Rochester, and I had to travel the rest of the way by train. I arrived at Grand Central, it was an impressive station. I learned that the train that I boarded there would not arrive in Rochester until almost midnight. But I had no other choice. Uncle Zylinski met me at the station in Rochester. Although we did not know each other, he approached me and introduced himself. He took me to my parents’ house, but by then I felt that I would probably be too late. Soon Mother and George, and I think Danka, arrived and I learned that Father had passed away a few hours earlier. That was really a sad and tearful moment for all of us. The next few days that followed seemed to be consumed with making the funeral arrangements. Although I was in a completely foreign environment, and didn’t know what steps should be taken, Mother wanted me to be involved. We went to the cemetery to select a plot, to the funeral house, and to the florist. I sent telegrams to Poland and to our friends in the United States. Later we went to the meat packing plant where Father had worked, and then the Social Security Office.

After the funeral Frank took me to see Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and showed me around Rochester. I helped to finish some of the house painting that Father had started, and naturally, I spent a lot of time with Danka, Tadek, George and John. With the help of Uncle Zylinski, a contact was made with the Office of Congressman Keating in an effort to get permission for me to remain in the United States. However, nothing came of that effort. I had to return to England and wait for my turn at the immigration gate. However, a greater effort was exerted through other contacts to speed-up the processing of my permanent visa application.

After I arrived back in London, I changed jobs in order to work at a larger company, mainly to get a different professional experience.  At that time, I lived with Frank’s brother John and his wife Grazyna. I was godfather to one of their twin daughters, Zosia. John got an excellent job outside of London for about a year, and I agreed to take care of their house, collecting the rent, paying bills, etc. During that time, I also corresponded with relatives in Poland, and I mentioned to them that it would be nice to get to know a Polish girl. My aunt wrote back saying that she knew of a nice nurse, who would like to see London. Although we were dissuaded from visiting Poland, there was no concern about inviting Poles to come to England.

After corresponding for a while with the Polish nurse, Juzia, I invited her to England. About that same time the American Embassy informed me that my entrance visa application could now be reviewed. I had put together all the required documentation, when Juzia arrived. Mother learned what I was up to from Danka, and she wrote me a very nasty letter. Juzia was very pleasant, cheerful, and intelligent, but something did not click between us. And on top of that, Mother’s hostile attitude toward our budding relationship, torpedoed the friendship.

Mother was intent on getting me to relocate and join the family in Rochester. After Father’s passing, she struggled as a single mother. While there were Social Security survivor benefits for her, John, and George (until he was 21), these were not big checks. As John recalls, each survivor’s check was about $75 per month. There were many years of mortgage payments left to be made. George had some college expenses that weren’t covered by scholarship. Mother turned 49 the year that Father died. The years in Siberia as a captive, and later in Iran, Lebanon, and England as a refugee, had affected her health. She had to make ends meet financially. She was able to find some part-time work as a housekeeper in some more affluent neighborhoods, doing cleaning and laundry in the suburbs. This always required lengthy bus trips, which were less of a problem when John was in school. But they became a problem during summer months.

A larger source of additional income for the household came from the occasional boarder who would rent a room in our small house on Sellinger Street. Most of them  were also provided with a dinner meal, usually with our family. There were several different boarders over the years after Father’s passing. All but one of these were Polish. Usually, there was just one extra room available for an individual, but after George graduated from college, an additional bedroom became available to rent. The boarders were all good-natured men, who appreciated Mother’s cooking, and were kind to John.

The years of our family’s dislocation taught Mother a great deal about how to minimize expenses. Most of their clothing and shoe purchases were made at a thrift shop affiliated with the University of Rochester. Medical and dental procedures, when possible, were completed at low-cost clinics affiliated with the Strong Memorial Hospital.

By mid-1958, Danka and Ted had already been married for four years and had two lovely girls. Chris (Krysia) was already 3 years old and Margie (Malgosia) was 2 years old. Ted Kolacz worked for a Rochester metal arts company and was already a skilled metal finisher. George graduated from the University of Rochester with a B.S. degree in chemistry in 1958. Subsequently, he worked for the University of Rochester Medical School doing research. John had just completed the 3rd grade at St. Michael’s School that year.

In April 1958 I had my visa and took the train to Southampton, to board the Queen Elizabeth for New York. “Ciocia” Janczewska met me at Customs just as she had met the first wave of our immigrant family in 1951, and she put me up at her house for about a week. She showed me around New York City. After that I boarded a train to Rochester to reunite with my family. The last of the Krols was now in the United States, permanently.

Copyright: Krol family

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