I’ve been rather busy lately, but my brother-in-law sent some additional information which I have copied and pasted here (Thanks, David). I think he got most of this information from his own research and a visit with his father to his uncle’s house so the two brothers could jog each other’s memory.
“Stalin released the Polish prisoners as a part of an agreement with the Allies. The initial process was to establish a Polish fighting force that would fight along side the Russian forces in attempting to defeat the Nazi forces. Stalin, of course, became paranoid that the Poles would turn on the Russians, and although he kept his side of the bargain in letting them go, he did not want them to fight on the Russian front. There was also the issue of lack of supplies and food for the existing Russian forces which contributed to his subsequent decision to have most of the almost 80,000 strong Polish army moved to Iran and eventually under British control.
The Poles, unofficially known as Anders Army after General Wladyslaw Anders who was appointed commander of the Polish forces by General Sikorski, were known as fierce fighters and were instrumental in helping the allies take stubborn axis strongholds in the Italian campaigns. Anders had been a prisoner in Lubyanka before being released and taking command and did not have a lot of love for the Russians. Interesting side note, one of the Polish fighters released from the camps was future Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin.
Once the polish family members began to be released, their first real aid station was in Uzbekistan (pretty sure this is where Dad and family started this part of their journey), somewhere near Tashkent. This is where they were de-liced and fed for the first time. Dad recounted how the first arrivals at the aid camp were so malnourished and the aid workers so shocked that they gave them too rich food, and the vast majority of them died from dysentery. When Dad got there they were fed clear broth with a tiny shred of meat, and would slowly be re-introduced to food. Dad’s sister was so infested with lice that when they deloused her, her entire scalp came off along with her hair. They thought she was going to die, and if she lived that she would be bald (she lived and grew her hair back). From Tashkent, they started their journey through Persia, Afghanistan, India and eventually Africa.”
A Little Modern History
I knew that Polish visitors to the U.S. must obtain visas to enter the country, but that is not the case for visits to Canada. Consequently, we plan to join my wife’s cousin & her family in Toronto or Niagara Falls when they come for a visit sometime in the future.
A visa to the U.S. costs time and money. A Polish citizen applying for a visa (including children) must pay $160 and submit to an interview with a U.S. consular officer be considered for a visa. There is currently a nine day wait for an tourist visa interview in Warsaw. Processing may take as little as one day, or as much as sixty days.
Most countries in the European Union are members of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) which means that their citizens do not need a visa to visit the United States. Member countries include many of Poland’s neighbors, but not Poland. Poles consider this unfair. They are staunch allies of the United States and there is long history of cooperation between the two countries. In fact, there are about 10 million Polish-Americans in the U.S.
And oddly enough, that is part of the reason that Poland is not eligible for the VWP. By U.S. law, in order to be considered eligible for the VWP, a country must have a visa rejection rate of less than 3%. That is the rate at which U.S. consular officers reject visa applications for a given country. Poland has a relatively high rejection rate because a significant percentage of those who enter the U.S. overstay their visas, in part because of the support offered within the large Polish-American community. Approximately 40% of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. are people who have overstayed their visas, and Poland is in the Top 20 countries of origin for illegal immigrants.
But there’s hope. Poland’s visa rejection rate has dropped from 13.5% in 2009 to 6.4% in 2014. The Polish economy is growing steadily and Warsaw is a modern city with an impressive business center. Those factors will reduce the desire to emigrate to the U.S. and the visa rejection rate will drop further. Within five years, the rate will probably be around 3% and Poland may very well become a VWP country.
Side note: My father-in-law’s doctor said that Jewish Polish-Americans lobby the U.S. Government to keep the visa requirement in place so as to encourage the Polish government to pay reparations to Polish Jews who lost property during the communist regime. The Polish government’s position is that they cannot compensate any Pole – Jewish or otherwise – for the actions of that previous regime. I could not find evidence of this during my research.
We so enjoyed our time in Warsaw and consider it a good place for ex-patriots to retire. The cost of living is low by U.S. standards and Poland’s EU membership makes it a good location from which to visit the many wonderful places in Europe. Language, on the other hand, could be a problem for me.
The Polish alphabet has 23 consonants and 9 vowels and many don’t follow the same rules that we English speakers are used to. I can probably learn that “dz” makes a j-sound and that “ł” is a w-sound, but “prz” is going to take a bit longer. Apparently, you’re supposed to pronounce each letter’s sound very quickly, but to my ears it sounds like “che.” That’s not even close. No wonder my wife laughed at me every time I attempted to speak Polish on our trip. Come to think of it, she wasn’t the only one who laughed or looked confused at those times.