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