Everyone expects to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at the National Archives. But when 73-year-old Michael Pupa, of Cleveland, Ohio, was notified that the personal documents of his coming to America would be on display in a new exhibition, his reaction, he says, could be summed up in two words: “total amazement.”
“Attachments: Faces and Stories from America’s Gates,” at the archives through September 4, 2012, uses original documents—“the raw stuff of history,” says curator Bruce Bustard—and the enchanting photographs attached to them to share the stories of several men, women and children who struggled to both enter and exit this country from 1880 to the 1950s. “Their stories demonstrate that we have a long, complicated and conflicted history of immigration in this country,” says Bustard.
Pupa is the only living person featured in the exhibition, and his life story, says Bustard, is one of the most moving. In 1942, when he was just four years old, Nazis invaded his hometown of Manyevitz, Poland (now in Ukraine), and murdered his mother and sister. Shortly after, his father was also killed. To survive, Pupa and his uncle, Leib Kaplan, hid in the woods in Poland for two years.
The heart-wrenching and heartwarming details of Pupa’s journey from Poland, through four displaced persons camps in Germany and to the United States, where he became a citizen in 1957, are rendered in the following documents. The unveiling of these records inspired Pupa to share his harrowing story, with his family and the public, for the very first time.
Here, I have annotated Pupa’s Pre-Hearing Summary for his immigration to the United States, and his Petition for Naturalization in the United States, based on conversations with National Archives senior curator Bruce Bustard and public affairs specialist Miriam Kleiman, as well as a speech Pupa gave at a preview of the exhibition.