Return to

Emigration From Poland Pre – 1989

Emigrants from Poland

Emigration from Poland in the years before the separation of Poland from Russia and the fall of the Berlin wall was motivated by two main reasons – that of political persecution and of making a “quick” buck in the west with the hope of returning back to Poland to live like a King or a Queen. If one takes a closer look at immigrants from communist Poland, one sees that they were for the most part political émigrés who greatly disagreed with what they saw was a sold-out “Russianised” Poland. These people were hard core capitalist or free-market thinkers, much appalled at the idea that Poland succumbed to communist principles, nationalization of private enterprises, and ever-present governmental interference. They escaped by various means, quite often illegally and sometimes spectacularly (stories about stowaways on ships, people traveling in cargo trucks, etc, are not uncommon) to places such as Italy, Britain, the US and Canada, and from there worked hard to polarize the international community against the Polish government and communism in general. In fact, it's not a stretch to say that the most ardent anti-communists came from communist countries themselves, with Poland supplying a great percentage of such people. To many of them, Poland was lost, and they embraced their new countries with zest and zeal for a life they considered impossible to have in communist Poland.

Immigration Poland

The second set of people who went to the West during those times were the lucky individuals who managed to somehow get to Canada or the US not in protest against the political situation of Poland, but to simply make some quick cash. The exchange rate of Poland at the time was quite absurd – for a day's work in Canada, for example, people could live for more than a month in Poland. These people, generally not fluent in English and without the necessary skills to find meaningful jobs in western society, not to mention their illegal status which prevented them from working legally, worked as sweepers, construction workers, worm pickers, and in other such bottom-level blue-collar jobs.

The two groups of people – those who emigrated for political reasons and those who did it so for purely economic ones - did not usually mix well in the west, with the first group very keen on assimilation to their new societies, and the second very keen on spending all their available time making cash. The first group would abandon Poland forever and call themselves “Americans of Polish descent”, for example, while the second group would usually spend a year or so in the West, make a few thousands of dollars, and go back to Poland without any real interest left for the society of the country they just lived in for a year. They would then be heralded as great travelers who've been in the West, seen what it's like to live in America or Canada, and, most important of all, who made more cash in that short year then others would during their entire life.