Fear Is in the Past for Polish Family Settling in Westchester

Times Staff Writer

They haven't been to Disneyland . . . yet. But they'll get there.

They have been to a local park, to church, to dinners in private homes and to a supermarket.

And this week, the big event will be moving into a rented home.

All in all, it's been a whirlwind introduction to America for a Polish family of five who speak no English and who arrived less than two weeks ago, knowing no one in Los Angeles and possessing only what they could carry in a few suitcases.

"The most important thing is that we are not afraid," said 36-year-old Jerzy (George) Luczkiewicz, speaking through interpreter Helene Forke. "The best thing that can happen is to have peace of mind."

Solidarity Organizer

And peace is something that Luczkiewicz and his 30-year-old wife, Janina, said was missing from their lives at home in Kielce, a city of 250,000 in southern Poland.

As an organizer for the Solidarity labor union for eight years, Luczkiewicz said he was arrested eight times and questioned by government officials about union activities, sometimes while strapped to a chair and shocked with electrical current. His wife, who did secretarial work for the union, was arrested twice for demonstrating.

He said that his greatest fear, always, was that his three small children would be harmed.

Solidarity was founded to give working people and their children better lives, Luczkiewicz said, but government suppression eventually convinced him that his family had to leave Poland if they wanted to be safe and happy.

And that is what the family did in mid-May of last year, posing as tourists on a two-week Eastern European holiday. Now, after several months as political refugees in Italy, they are settling permanently in the the United States with the help of the 470-member Westchester United Methodist Church.

Home Provided

Through its Refugee Resettlement Task Force, the church has rented and furnished a home for the family and is paying for food and medical care. The children, who range in age from 5 to 9, will start next week at a Catholic school in Westchester--the parish has several Polish families--and the parents will enroll in English classes.

Luczkiewicz said he is eager to find work but is not picky about a job, insisting only that it pay enough to support his family. In Poland, he worked in construction, and is skilled in plumbing, plastering, bricklaying, house painting and welding.

"I can build a house from the floor up," Luczkiewicz said.

The Rev. Dick George, pastor of Westchester Methodist, said the church decided to help with refugee work after hearing a talk last year by a regional Methodist refugee counselor. "We were inspired and thought this was something we could do," he said.

Church Fund-Raisers

The church agreed to officially sponsor the Luczkiewicz family for six months. It will cost about $10,000 and money is being raised through such things as teas, rummage sales and individual donations. The senior high youth group raised $600 with a bike-a-thon. There also was a shower to which church members brought kitchen and bathroom items for the family.

"It makes the church one big family and lets us help someone, too," said Ruth Fellers of the church task force.

Living Arrangements

The Luczkiewiczes have been living with Fellers and her husband, Walt, since arriving in Los Angeles on March 21.

Even though they are Roman Catholic, Luczkiewicz said his family also will go to Methodist services out of appreciation for the help they are being given.

The family pretended they were going on a vacation in order to get passports to leave Poland. When they left, they took only their clothes and a small amount of money and said goodby to Mrs. Luczkiewicz's mother, who still lives in the the Kielce apartment that they all shared.

Sought Political Asylum

Nearly two weeks after leaving their home, they crossed the Italian border at Trieste and settled temporarily at Latina, a refugee center near Naples before moving on to Rome.

They were approved for sponsorship to the United States last July by the United Methodist Administrative Council; after that, all they could do was wait until a sponsor was found.

The Westchester church had arranged to sponsor an Iranian family, but in February, it got word that the family had decided to settle in West Germany. That family's decision turned out to be an invitation to the Luczkiewicz family, who wanted to live in California more than anywhere else.

Even though both Luczkiewicz and his wife have mothers, brothers and sisters in Poland, they said they have no desire to return and they plan to become American citizens.

"The (Solidarity) union has been suppressed," Luczkiewicz said. "Nothing can be done in Poland. If I went back, I would be arrested and jailed. There is no life in Poland."

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