As children, playing together in the sandlot we did not feel lack of freedom, which lasted happily until more or less 1955. Then my parents’ paint plant in Gdynia was winded up because of high surtax. I have good memories of how we went a few times in my childhood to the old liner M / S "Batory", where my father took me when he was receiving jobs there. While my father was doing his job, I could play there a bit.
Childhood in Gdynia
On the ship, for the first time in my life, I tried white toast bread, and the senior officer in an elegant uniform gave me a couple of times a real chewing gum. These are unforgettable memories of my childhood. Unfortunately, the introduction of a high surtax for private companies by the authorities meant that a large number of them were not able to bear such a burden.
After the liquidation of the paint plant of my parents, a large company signboard was moved from the facade of a building at Warszawska 44 Street to the basement and for many years my parents looked at it, remembering the good times. The signboard was carefully nurtured by my father, who was kind of waiting for a change in the communist system and improvement of the political situation of people intending to reopen their private companies.
Another painful experience of my childhood was the situation in primary school in Witomińska Street. It was generally known that a significant proportion of the teachers received foreign gifts from parents of some students, and because of that those students had a clear advantage - they were always treated better and were given better grades. For friends whose parents didn’t have such a possibility it was very sad.
The press, radio, television
As a child I often saw my parents sitting in the bedroom next to a Pioneer radio receiver and listening quietly to Radio Free Europe. I already knew that it was an illegal radio station of Western Europe. It was then that I discovered that my parents’ freedom was limited. During the day, we listened to an old radio, the so-called "kolkhoznik", mounted in the living room. There was only one station with the news censored by the then authorities. For most residents of Gdynia it was the only window on the world.
My father bought every day a morning paper, and sent one of the children for "Wieczór Wybrzeża" ("Evening of the Coast") newspaper, you had to often stay in a long queue in front of a small barred window of the kiosk belonging to "Ruch" company. My father always had with him something to read and certainly he read most of the books from the public library, which was located in Śląska Street.
My first contact with the satellite was in 1958 or 1959, when a brand-name shop of Radio and Television Services Company was opened in our neighborhood in a newly built block at Warszawska 38 Street. I watched movies through the shop window. The neighbors who were better-off , who lived on the top floor of our block, also made it possible for us to watch television.
My parents were well informed about the events of political life in the country and abroad. Brothers and sister of my father often visited our house and on each occasion they discussed the events of the last war, their stay in the German concentration camp in Stutthof, about the time of the German captivity, the murders of Poles in Katyń and the unfair system in the Polish People's Republic. Conversations and discussions of this kind took place with all the appropriate precautions, with the closed windows, in order to avoid possible eavesdropping by some neighbors who were known to be political activists or members of Secret Political Police, who in the past were also active, but in cooperation with Germany, after signing Volksliste. For me, as a teenage boy, it was known that those conversations at home, and the discussed subjects were not allowed to be talked about to anyone, as it would bring disaster to our whole family.
Learning and the strike in the port
I had apprenticeship in the Marine Port of Gdynia, where after finishing school I started working in the modernization of port cranes in the main workshops in Warsztatowa Street. At the same time I attended the in-house Extramural Technical College. The managerial positions in the workplace were occupied by party secretaries and the Polish United Workers' Party agitators. A couple of them were also teachers at the technical college for the workers. Similarly functioned in-house Socialist Youth Union, the membership to which had a major impact to belong to a better income group, to be assigned a holiday cottage, company trip, or to receive a better position at work. At that time I had the opportunity to get familiarized with the exact rules of how the managerial group functioned, for whom personal career was more important than the interests of the proper functioning of the workplace.
In December 1970 a protest of shipyard workers, employees of the Port Management Board, Dalmor and other plants in Gdynia took place. I was personally involved in the protests as early as since December, 13. I participated in the first street marches, formation of the Strike Committee on December, 15 in Polska Street. I also encouraged others in the workplace to participate in the strike.
On 17 December 1970, I was going at the forefront of the march which was formed by a group of workers carrying on the door the body of a murdered boy. The march went from the Gdynia Shipyard station down Morska Street, through the Central Railway Station, then down 10 Lutego Street, and then down Świętojańska Street to the City Hall of Gdynia. During the December protests my three colleagues were killed by bullets fired by the militia. In connection with my active participation in the protests I was disciplinarily transferred to another workplace, and the department managers, who were also teachers in the in-house technical college precluded me from further learning. For me it was another blow that made me doubt in the law, justice, democracy and freedom.
A plan of emigration
I would like to point out that my financial situation was always good enough and my existence was never threatened. The negative political experiences of my parents and my own experience over the past few years forced me to leave the home country and seek new opportunities with the prospect of a normal life. A legal trip abroad to countries not belonging to the Warsaw Pact for a normal citizen was absolutely impossible for various reasons. What I had left was to try to organize the trip in a different way. A good understanding of the maritime transport system and the functioning of border services, which I had learnt for a few years of work in the port of Gdynia helped me in that task. Because of my job I could thoroughly prepare a plan of emigration in a container on one of the ships, which took trips to the UK by the Kiel Canal in West Germany. To the trip to Germany or another Western country I was preparing together with a trusted colleague Adam S., which was also informed to our long time sandlot friend Maciej K., who at the last minute resigned from the plan. Informing others about our preparations involved high risk and a danger of arrest and long-term loss of freedom. For a few weeks in our workplace we had prepared basic supplies and tools, which was supposed to be sufficient for a few days journey.
On Sunday evening, October 17, 1971 we said goodbye to our parents and told them we were going on business to a company holiday resort in Jasień in order to perform protection jobs ahead of the coming winter, which would take about a week. It was already after 10 pm. My mother was in the bedroom, and father was reading a book at the kitchen table. During the farewell, I realized that the next meeting could take place several years later. I was not aware then that I saw my father for the last time in my life, and such a picture of him remained in my memory.
On the street, in front of the house we met Maciej K. and after a short conversation we said goodbye to him, because he decided to stay in Poland. We decided to take next steps without him. Our goal was to go on a ship heading for the UK. After crossing the guarded gates of the port we went to my workplace - workshops on the waterfront of Denmark, where in the locker room we stored our supplies packed in two tools bags, used then by dockers. On the way to the container base at the Polish waterfront we had to go past the Marine Station and two guarded gates of the port. The container yard, where was a container suitable for our trip, was very strongly lit. The twenty feet long and about one meter high container was prepared to the trip, that is covered with a tarp and carefully sealed. The container was empty and intended for the transport of thin galvanized sheets, which were used in the production of cans imported from the UK. The container base was always exceptionally well guarded and we had to take special precautions so as not to arouse suspicions of officials, guards and other port workers. When we found that everything was going according to the plan, we decided to enter the sealed container. I cut a hole in the tarp with a knife, through which we slipped into the container, and then I secured it from inside with a patch of tarp using standard rubber cement used for bonding inner tubes.
Waiting for the ship seemed to be endless. Throughout Monday and Tuesday we were waiting in vain. Only on Wednesday, October 20 before 11 pm we were moved by crane aboard the ship M / S "Jasło". The Military Border Protection conducted an inspection of the ship cargo and checked the seals on our container. They had a dog with them. We were sitting quietly snuggled in the corner of the container, and we held breath so that no one could hear us. Customs officers and officials were staying for some time next to our container, which seemed to drag endlessly, to finally give the permission to set off on a journey. It was a short time before midnight. We could observe objects on land and water through the rifts in the container. We heard clearly the voices of sailors and operation of the main engine. The ship departed rather quickly from the port quay and at midnight we passed the lights of the port exit to the bay, where until the end of the Hel peninsula it was very peaceful. We couldn’t see anyone on board, which was for us a huge relief. We felt safer. The container was not very clean, but dry. It got very cold, but we were hopeful.
A stormy cruise
At the height of the Hel Peninsula the ship began to sway more and then the storm broke. The ship drifted in a heavy storm. With the howling wind, high waves were surging across the deck of the ship. All day long, until the evening we were sailing in very difficult conditions. The wind got stronger, and the ship leaned to the side and the bow, cutting through the high waves. The rapid growth in the speed of the main engine and the vibration of the hull indicated that the propeller temporarily lost contact with water. Only later we learned that it was twelve in the Beaufort scale.
The next day and also at night the weather conditions did not change, which made the protection of our container come loose and we started to slide on the board. In addition, the glued tarp began to break, and after some time, ripped in shreds. We hid behind scraps of the tarp at the wall of the container, so that we couldn’t be noticed by anyone from the wheelhouse. We were soaked to the skin, and the waves still surged across the deck and the water poured into our container. M / S "Jasło" had serious problems to take the speed and was swinging in all directions as an inert block on the water.
All Friday until late evening nothing changed, only apart from the fact that a few sailors mounted our container, which finally wasn’t sliding on the board. When fixing the container one of the sailors looked inside the container, but fortunately didn’t notice anything. We were sitting hidden behind scraps of the tarp, which we kept tightly in our hands.
Reaching the shore
The sea raged incessantly all night. It was only in the morning that the ship stopped to sway. Through the rifts in the wall we saw in a short distance the land and buildings. Still we did not know where we're going. The only certain thing was that we would reach the port in one of the Western countries. Around 8:00 we saw on the bank advertisements of companies on the buildings, the dock of "Lindenau" shipyard, factory floor with "MaK-Krupp" signboard, and then right on the bank of a board with the inscription "Kiel - Kanal". This last name quickly reminded me of the Kiel Canal, and at that moment I knew that we reached West Germany. On the board there was a lot of motion, and probably the entire crew was preparing for some important activities. After a short time the ship docked at the quay of the Kiel Canal in Kiel-Holtenau. Some people were standing next to our container and there was quite a stir. I decided that it was not a good time to leave the vessel. It all took maybe half an hour and suddenly the ship engine began to work louder because we were withdrawing from the waterfront.
The ship sailed slowly in the canal and at one point we saw a very high bridge. There was absolute silence on the board, which gave us a sense of security. After some time, we saw the next bridge over the canal. The weather was sunny, on the banks of the canal it was quiet and you couldn’t see anyone. There was not more than one hundred meters to the shore. In this situation, we made a quick decision to leave the deck. The prevailing silence on the board allowed us to calmly prepare to leave the ship, which we intended to do after passing the second bridge. We decided to jump into the water from the right side. We hid documents in a blue plastic box and the jackets were to be left in the container.
We left the container together, and quietly headed to the right side of the ship. Before jumping into the water we said goodbye to the crew, waving a couple of times in the direction of the superstructure. The alarm was sounded immediately: "Man overboard!". With clothes and shoes on, we jumped into the water and we had to quickly move away from the side, not to be caught by the ship screw. Actually we had no major problems to swim to the shore, only when entering the top of the slippery rocks we ran out of strength, which was a natural reaction after a long journey in the awkward sitting-lying position, malnutrition and getting cold. M / S "Jasło" sailed further towards Brunsbüttel. On board we could see several people who we also waved to.
A fisherman, broth and asylum
On the shore we met a fisherman who offered us cigarettes. We tried to talk to him, but unfortunately he did not speak Polish nor Russian, and we - German. Only with the help of gestures and facial expressions we got confirmation that we were in West Germany. Our conversation was heavy-going, and the fisherman started to suddenly rush. He quickly took his fishing equipment and disappeared into a nearby bosket. At that point, we saw two uniformed men approaching us, who turned out to be policemen from the nearby Neuwittenbek municipality at the Kiel Canal. The police very kindly offered us to go with them to the police station, located just nearby. Because we were all wet and cold, they gave us their own jackets, which for passers-by must have looked very funny, and for us it was a great gesture.
At the police station we were accepted with really nice welcome, and the wife of one of the police officers, Ms. Pries, gave us a freshly cooked chicken soup, the taste of which I remember to this day. Then we were taken to the hospital at the University of Kiel, where after a thorough examination and we were given new clothes and taken to a nearby hostel, where we spent the first night in Germany. Soon we submitted requests for political asylum in the frontier station, located at the Kiel Canal locks. On Monday, October 25, we were taken to the headquarters of special service in Lübeck, where we spent a week explaining the reasons for our arrival in FRG. In the first days of November we received train tickets to travel to the refugee camp "Sammellager für Ausländer" in Zirndorf near Nuremberg. There the case of granting us political asylum was recognized by court. The asylum was granted to us on December 22, 1971, which was confirmed by the relevant document - "Bescheid". Stay in the camp lasted until the end of January and for me it was a serious and quite new life experience. Together with hundreds of other political refugees and people of different nationalities I spent three months there. We stayed at eight-bed rooms with bunk beds. Despite the enormous cultural and religious differences we had no major problems and we lived in a friendly atmosphere. Often we talked about the political problems of countries we were from.
Work in Germany
In Kiel I took advantage of the possibility of training and in the years 1975 - 1977 for four semesters I attended regular mechanical college, which I graduated with a degree of a technologist. With the favor of a few people I got employment in the computer center of "MaK-Krupp" company in Kiel at the position of an operator and coordinator of computer-related works.
Lack of the German citizenship meant that after two years I was transferred to the office in the production of engines and tanks. Because I was very unhappy about that decision, I chose to look for another job. Since 1 January 1980, I have been employed at Miele company in the external service for planning, consulting, sales and service of industrial and laundry equipment. My clients are located in Kiel and in the north of Schleswig-Holstein.
The first return
I visited Poland and my family town Gdynia for the first time after my emigration after seventeen years in July 1988. After frantic efforts and various chicanes on the part of employees of Polish People’s Republic consulate in Cologne, finally I received a visa only for seven days, and I could show my hometown to my sons and wife, introduce them to my family in Poland and hug old friends. After a short stay we had to go back to Kiel through GDR. We crossed two state borders, where we had to wait for hours in a line. The border control and customs clearance lasted on average 5 to 20 hours.
On this occasion it should be noted that we were simply robbed by the majority of border workers. Humiliation of human dignity was also commonplace. I received information about the Polish accession to the European Union and the introduction of new traveling regulations with great joy.
To this day I’ve lived in Kiel, which is the city which, dripping wet, I crawled into 40 years ago. Kiel is my second homeland, and always reminds me of Gdynia. It pleases me greatly that these two cities have signed an agreement on mutual friendship and cooperation, which from the very beginning I actively supported and which, in my opinion, reduces the distance between my first and second homeland.