Escaping the Iron Curtain

Photographer Sean Kernan followed Polish immigrants Andrej and Alec Bozek from an Austrian refugee camp to Texas

On their first July 4 in America, Andrej (left) and Alec took in the horse races at the Gillespie County Fair. (Sean Kernan)
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 1)

In early September, the police summoned Irene Bozek.

"When I go in, it is the same man who told me ‘no' before, but now he is smiling and very friendly to me," she says. He told her to apply for the passports in Wroclaw, 18 miles away. She was euphoric. "I was flying from the stairs of that police office, so high I don't know how I will get down," she says. Visas from the U.S. consulate in Warsaw followed. No one has ever offered an official explanation for the Polish government's sudden change of heart.

Thus the Bozek family was reunited on November 28, 1976. Amid the crowd at New York City's Kennedy International Airport, which included our camera crew, Irene spotted Andy before he spotted her. He was wearing a ten-gallon hat.

Today, Andy Bozek, 71, is retired from the Texas highways department, where he worked for 18 years. Irene, 63, works for a custom bookbinder in Austin, where they own a house. They raise and sell tropical fish. Darius, 45, is vice president of a fish-food company in Southern California, where he lives with his partner, Thea, and their 3-year-old son, Darius. Sylvia, 39, lives with her parents and maintains tropical aquariums for clients. Alec, 38, also lives in Austin, with his wife, Nicole. He is seeking work, having been laid off last October from a job assembling tools for making semiconductor chips.

"If it had been me, we would still be in Poland," Irene says. "I am the worrier. Andy, he never worries about nothing."

"I know my plan would work for whole family," he says. "And now you can see right here."

Dewitt Sage has been a documentry filmmaker since 1968. His most recent film is Ernest Hemingway, Rivers to the Sea.


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus