The two young Polish men grew up together, joined and then went underground in Solidarity together, and together they spent 18 days at sea hidden in a wooden crate aboard a U.S.-bound Polish freighter in a desperate escape from their homeland, where they said they were wanted by police.
Their journey ended Wednesday morning at Baltimore's Dundalk Marine Terminal when the crate--6 feet wide, 10 feet high and 30 feet long--was unloaded and the two men kicked their way out, pale, thin and weak from their cramped conditions and a daily diet of three glasses of water, vitamins, one graham cracker and three squares of a Hershey's chocolate bar apiece.
The first people they met in America were longshoremen, who offered them cigarettes and startled greetings.
The men had brought with them an English-Polish phrase book, and they pointed to the question for "Where are we?"
When the longshoremen told the foreigners they were in America, they smiled and pointed to the Solidarity photo album and Solidarity poster they had brought with them.
They had landed in a city with a large, spirited Polish community, and the longshoremen drove the two men to the Polish Home Club, where a big color photograph of the pope--a Pole--hangs on a wall.
Joseph Borzymowski, president of the club, welcomed them warmly in their native language and fed them pea soup, coffee and Polish beer. He said he then called officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service who questioned the men almost all day and then released them, indicating that they would be granted asylum. INS investigator Jesse Grogg told the Associated Press that the two carried documentation to substantiate their claims. "There are warrants for them in Poland," Grogg said.
They spent their first night in America in the Lord Baltimore Hotel and ate fried eggs and bacon yesterday morning at the Polish Home Club. And yesterday afternoon, on the club's second floor where members of Baltimore's Polish community dance the polka on Saturday nights, they smoked Kool cigarettes and told reporters, through Borzymowski, their story.
They were tired and, though glad to be in America, "a little sad." And they said that though the Communists have declared martial law and suspended Solidarity, Poland's national movement of workers still lives.
They had left everyone and everything behind in the city of Gdansk, where Solidarity was born in August 1980. One of the men, a 25-year-old welder, left his parents, his two sisters and one brother, his wife and his 3-year-old son. The other, a 26-year-old stevedore who is divorced, left his parents, two sisters and a 4-year-old daughter. They want to send a telegram home, saying they are safe. The men came with their Solidarity literature and medals, a black and white photo of detained Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, religious medals around their necks and the clothes on their backs--blue jeans, sweaters and boots--and nothing else.
"Our hearts are in Poland," they said.
They said they were afraid to give their names because of what might happen to their families back home. But the cigar-chomping Borzymowski, their interpreter and proud host, dubbed them "Stas" and "Jas" as he translated their story. It began when the welder came home one day from work and learned from his wife that the police had been looking for him. He had a mimeograph machine in his cellar, and he and his friend used it to circulate news of the Solidarity movement. The two men, certain that they would be thrown in jail if found, went into hiding. For seven days they moved from place to place, staying with different friends.
On April 24, the stevedore noticed the crate on the dock in the port city of Gdynia. It was marked "Halifax" and built to hold an industrial lathe. He told his friend about the crate and they decided--three hours before the freighter Kazimierz Pulaski left that night--to stow away.
The welder told only his wife. "She didn't want me to go, but she knew I had to," he said through Borzymowski. His comrade told only his mother. They took, in addition to their meager food and water supply, containers for human waste, a deck of cards, a flashlight and candles. Despite their hasty departure, "I think they were briefed pretty good on what to do," Borzymowski said. The crate was stored in the hold of the ship. During their voyage, they passed the time with card games, whispered conversation and saying the rosary.
"We were afraid," the welder said.
"They didn't know what they were coming to," Borzymowski said. They told immigration officials they planned to escape at the ship's first port of call-- Halifax, Nova Scotia--but found their way blocked by other crates there. The crate marked "Halifax" in which they were hidden had been rerouted. The next port was New York, and then Baltimore.
"Here, you can live free," said the welder, a brown-haired, blue-eyed man with sharp cheekbones. "You can work here and rest and eat."
He brought a message about the movement he left behind: "No matter how many thousands will die, there will always be more thousands to take their place. And they will never disappear . . . Solidarity lives."
He said he has a friend in Hoboken, N.J. The stevedore said he has a friend in Chicago. After their 45-minute press conference, Borzymowski, a retired auto worker, collected quarters and went to the pay phone to begin trying to find his compatriots jobs and homes. The men said they will not separate.
"We've been together since we were kids," the welder said. "We fought in Solidarity together. We were in the hold of the ship together, and we will stay in the United States together."