One man’s 13-year journey to stand on American soil after an escape during WWII

Escaping the Soviet Union during WWII wasn’t an easy task. A friend’s great-grandfather Peter somehow managed to escape for a new life in the USA. For years, the questions of how it was possible were left unanswered.

That was until yesterday. The man’s Alien Case File (the golden gem of researching mid-20th century immigrants) arrived on a CD, filled with pages of records to answer the questions.

It was quite a shock to learn about Peter’s journey to arrive in the USA. He left a village near Yaroslav, USSR, in 1944 and got on a plane “via Romania, Hungary, Austria” to Erfurt, East Germany. He stayed in communist East Germany for a year and then moved to free West Germany for three years.

Peter then moved to Cambridge and Oxford, England, for five years and returned to West Germany. It took him 13 years to finally arrive in the USA.

It sounds like an immigration journey that wouldn’t end. But how did Peter find a way to escape the USSR by plane? Why was communist East Germany his destination and why was he one of the lucky ones to get out after a year?

It is not surprising that it took 13 years for him to find his final home in the USA. With coming from the USSR, living in communist East Germany and later free West Germany, I can imagine U.S. immigration officials wondering about Peter’s activities before, during and after the war.

When he finally arrived in the USA, he got a room at the Bridgeport, Conn., YMCA and found a full-time job for $1.25 an hour at an aluminum foundry.

Not much else is known about his life from his file because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is claiming that releasing another 10 pages of information would constituent invasion of personal and law enforcement privacy.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security will hear from me about what I think about using exemptions for my Freedom of Information Act request. I have successfully appealed their denial of information from an Alien Case file at least once.

It took five years to get this far and I am not stopping until I get all possible information to complete this man’s story of escaping the USSR. U.S. national security will not be threatened by releasing information on a Soviet immigrant who would have been 111 years old this year.

Peter’s great-grandson voluntarily sweated for days in a Kiev cemetery to find my great-grandparents’ graves last summer. I owe him my full determination to complete the story of his great-grandfather, who is buried a few rows from my grandfather (whose father’s grave was found by Peter’s great-grandson).

Our relatives escaped the Soviet Union for a better life, said their final goodbyes to their family and chose to be buried in the same cemetery. My grandfather and Peter’s great-grandfather never met but their relatives came together in a freer world they never imagined.

Previous posts on this journey:
Grandmother creates brickwall with weak mortar, thanks to one detail

Old electrical tower leads the way to family graves

Related posts:

Documents that open doors to information

Guide for success in obtaining Alien Case Files

 

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Unimaginable breakthrough comes after years of hoping

Somethings I have refused to put on a wish list or as a goal because I know reality won’t bring fantasy to life no matter how much heart I put into it.

Recently, I got a message from a man I know from a forum for my grandmother’s hometown. Sometimes, his messages don’t provide much help. This time, it was a message with an unbelievable surprise that it felt as if it were Christmas again.

My immediate reaction was to call my mother with the shocking news that this man found the street where her mother lived as a baby in the early 1920s. It doesn’t sound as if it’s a big deal until I mention that my grandmother lived in Soviet Ukraine.

Getting records from Ukrainian archives past 1917 is quite a miracle. Ukraine won’t release its records online in the same way as the USA nor Canada does in my lifetime. Plus, the damage to Ukraine from WWII has resulted in many losses in archive records.

So, the countdown to mid-February begins. That is when my friend expects to get his hands on the records again. Two weeks ago, he told me that last week he would send me scans of the records he found. He wasn’t able to visit archives and he learned this week that archives will give him the records in mid-February.

I’m not going to complain about the wait. My friend has found where my grandmother lived as a baby and other things he hasn’t detailed. I’m not going to pester him with “so what is it?” Let a Christmas surprise come again in February.

This surprise will top his last from July, when he sent me a scan of the 1922 census of my grandmother’s birthplace that shows my great-grandfather was a tailor who skimped on paying his taxes and a scan from the local Russian Baptist church that shows he was a member and served in leadership. That is likely where my great-grandparents met.

The luck of having this guy help me for free is what I earned for getting out of my comfort zone and posting messages 6 years ago in a forum for my grandmother’s hometown near Kiev, Ukraine.

I used Google Translate to figure out how to register for the forum and posted messages looking for archive documents on my grandmother’s family and cousins from her father’s family. I never found family through the forum but the things that have landed on my lap were never on my radar.

That forum was deleted recently. It’s scary to think if I never got out of my comfort zone and never posted on the forum, I would have missed out on so much.

Previous related post:
Thanks for skimping on your taxes, great-grandpa

Get out of your comfort zone:
Secrets of searching the Internet in Russian and Ukrainian like a native speaker