Their reticence did not surprise Mark Wyman, emeritus professor of history at Illinois State University, who wrote a 1989 book, “DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons 1945-1952.”
“It was very, very common that the kids grew up not knowing anything,” Wyman said. The United States accepted only 400,000 refugees, and those only after several years of delay. At the start of World War II, Poland had been split between Germany and Russia, so “when the war ended, people in Poland and the Baltics retreated with the Germans, in hopes of getting to the Americans or British. They went as far as they could, and many ended up in the camps.”
After a normal American childhood on Long Island, Dubicka Americanized her first name to Sophia, married and started using her husband’s surname of Goldston. They had four daughters. The couple separated about 25 years ago, just when the New York medical center where she worked started cutting back. Dubicka moved to Alexandria after she heard there was plenty of work in the region. She moved to Fredericksburg two years ago.
Animated and friendly, she now works at the front desk of a Fairfax pediatric lung center, where she is used to calming down upset patients and parents, sorting through complicated medical forms and organizing office procedures.
That experience came in handy in the spring as she began filling out forms and collecting documents in her effort to become a U.S. citizen.
Dubicka’s interview with Smith was scheduled for mid-August. Smith, the immigration officer assigned to help her become a citizen, found the family’s immigration and naturalization records “in a nice, neat package because nobody had opened it in years and years,” Smith said.
The Washington district office of the Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services has caught up on its once-fearsome backlog. It takes five months on average from the time an application file is completed to naturalization; in 2008, the wait was closer to 13 or 14 months, an agency spokesman said.
The background investigation into Dubicka went smoothly, and she had collected all the necessary paperwork. All that was left was the citizenship test, which she easily passed. She planned to return to the Social Security office Thursday morning and finish registering for benefits. She has begun returning her legal documents to her birth name, reclaiming Zofia Dubicka as her new American identity.
On Tuesday night, she gathered outside Alexandria City Hall along with 24 others from 14 countries.
Dressed in pearls and a sparkling American-flag brooch, Dubicka raised her right hand and swore allegiance to the only home she’s known for the past 64 years. Then she kissed the small flag she’d been given, and waved it.