Meet Your Neighbor: Janek Skawski, Immigrated from Poland to US; “Smile” He Says!

Janek Skawski

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 338)

For Americans of a certain age, the Cold War with Russia is a memory from years ago.  There were occasional bomb drills where school children practiced hiding under their desks until the all clear signal came on.  Americans of a certain age were convinced by the government that there was the possibility that Russia might drop a nuclear bomb on us – some said “Better Red Than Dead.”  But for Janet Skawski, 42, living under a Communist Poland was reality.  It was very real.

When Janek was growing up on a farm in  Poland near Karkow in the 80s, it was under Communism; a military dictatorship.  He recalls the shortages of food and everything else; from bread and butter to shoes.  The lines were very long and sometimes there was nothing at the end of the line to buy.  Everything that was made in Poland went to Russia or a western nation like the United States, France, Germany or England.  Poland nedded hard currency for the arms race.

In 1986, Janek defected from Poland with a group of about 30 students from the University of Krakow where he was a student.  He was forced to leave behind his family.  First the train went to Germany and then to Switzerland.  He spent nine months in a refugee camp in Austria.  “At that age, life is about excitement,” said Janek several weeks ago at the Holltop Coffee Shop. He said it was very difficult for a young person his age to get a passport out of  Poland at the time.  

In 1987, he found a sponsor in Minnesota so he was able to move there.  “People in Minnesoa were great, much friendlier than in Maine,” he said.  He moved on to Wisconsin where he was a mechanical engineer for five years. 

Janek lives on the Hill and works for METSO Paper USA again as a mechanical engineer in the area.  He is able to return to Poland often to see his parents and a brother who still live there.

“Smile.  There is a lot to smile about here,” he says his face finally breaking out into a wide grin.