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Paul Suchowacky

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Paul Suchowacky was born near Warsaw, Poland in 1922. Paul was separated from his family when he was abducted by Nazis in 1939. He was a German prisoner of war and was sent to a displaced persons camp after the war. With the help of a cousin, he came to the United States in 1949, settling in Bayonne, New Jersey.

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Paul Suchowacky Transcription

My father, Steven Suchowacky, is a first-generation American. His late father, Paul, was a native of Poland who was captured by the Nazis during World War II, then sent to a displaced persons camp after it ended before finally making it to America in 1949. I recently spoke to my father to learn more about what Paul’s story was regarding his immigration to the United States. This is what he recalled.
In 1939, when Paul was 17, the Germans came into his village near Warsaw, Poland, and took him and his brothers hostage under a threat to kill their mother. Once he had been abducted, he was separated from his siblings and taken to a farm in Germany to work for an older lady. Now, you hear all these terrible things about the conditions as a German prisoner of war in World War II, even outside of concentration camps, but Paul didn’t think it was so bad. In fact, he enjoyed it… about as much as you can enjoy being a prisoner of war, anyway. The lady he worked for allowed him to go to church on Sundays and fed him really well; he was given a lot of meat. And he even got paid for some of his work, but his pay was meager and after the war, all of it was worthless anyway.
Paul worked on this farm until the end of World War II in 1945, after which he was considered a displaced person and sent to a displaced persons camp- a DP camp- elsewhere in Germany. The only specific thing we know about the DP camp Paul was sent to is that it was near an American army camp. This would imply that it was in the American Zone in the southeast quadrant of the country. Otherwise, my father couldn’t recall any specifics about the DP camp, except that Paul said he hated it there. Accounts of these camps from Mark Wyman’s Book DP: Europe’s Displaced Persons help to shed some light on why that might have been.
First, he was probably on the move a lot. Displaced persons were almost always in motion. Sometimes this was by choice, to stick with those in their own ethnic group, but more often than not, it was forced movement by officers. He was in the camp for about four years, so he could have moved dozens of times. I know I’d hate that. Second, and more importantly, they barely fed him. Germany suffered a minor food crisis in the aftermath of World War II, and even at its best- immediately following the conclusion of the war- displaced persons were barely even fed 2000 calories per day, which was well below what a man of Paul’s size and age needed to remain healthy. At its worst, in the hunger-winter of 1948, displaced persons were fed not only an inadequate diet consisting of fewer than 1600 calories per day, but a monotonous one as well. Bland items such as cabbage soup, potatoes, and split peas were served on a regular basis and with almost no variation, a far cry from all of the meat Paul was used to eating at the farm where he worked during wartime. Some displaced persons got so desperate for extra money to buy food elsewhere that they turned to the black market.
And one of those people was Paul. The American army camp near his DP camp sold cigarettes real cheap, so what he would do is he would go over to the American army camp and buy the cigarettes on the cheap and then take the cigarettes back to the DP camp and sell them at a higher price- he would arbitrage them. And unfortunately, the officers caught him doing this and reprimanded him for it, but on the bright side, stationed at that American army camp was his cousin, John. John helped Paul with the paperwork required to move him across the Atlantic and in 1949, Paul migrated to Bayonne, New Jersey, a New York suburb. Here he moved in with another cousin of his named Pete. He learned English at Pete’s behest and met the woman who would become his wife, Olga Shira, who also migrated from near Warsaw. The main reason Paul cited for coming to America was to find more work, and he certainly did; he worked various minor jobs for about a decade until being hired in 1958 as an oil blender for Fiske Bros. Oil Refinery in Newark, where he worked until his retirement in 1981. Paul Suchowacky died on February 10, 2010, at the age of 88, but he lived a good, long life here in the United States, and he sure had to go through a whole lot to get here.