By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
Recently, area residents got the chance to see and hear an amazing story by Chez Raginiak. His story is one that inspires…
Raginiak was born and raised in Poland during Communist rule. He had a hard life growing up until he left Poland in 1985 at the age of 25 “for a life in the free world,” he said. He wanted to eventually make his way to America.
With the Cold War raging in Poland when Raginiak was a young boy, he said he didn’t understand the politics of the times.
“Poland’s failing political system at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s was making it increasingly unbearable to live,” he says on his website.
After Raginiak was in college in Poland, he took part in an anti-communist government strike, along with thousands of others.
“For that, I was arrested and beaten,” he described.
He explained store shelves were always empty and jobs were scarce.
“My pay was a joke, a mere 50 cents per day while new jeans cost $20! I never had new jeans until I came to America.”
When Raginiak was in his college years, he shared a small room with one other guy, with only two beds and a closet-no stove, refrigerator or TV. He said it was like a jail cell. He shared a tiny bathroom with six other guys with just a sink and a toilet. Raginiak said if he wanted to use the shower, cold water only, he had to schedule the usage a week in advance with the building’s landlord.
Because of his up rising, Raginiak said he and his family were on the government’s black list “for our anti-communist actions and beliefs.”
There were times when Raginiak was beaten in public for no reason by Communist police. “Just like that-for doing nothing!” he said.
This finally led to his decision at the age of 25 to leave his home county of Poland, his friends and family behind for a better life. He said it was hard saying good-bye, especially to his mother as the youngest child of the family.
“It was heart-breaking,” he said. “But something had to change”
Raginiak said he climbed the Alps on foot and eventually found an Austrian refugee camp. He shared close quarters with other escapees for six months straight, with as many as 10 people in one room. He worked to earn a living, what could be purchased with $1.50 an hour. Like conditions in Poland, Raginiak described the treatment in the camp: “Heartless treatment almost made the work unbearable-almost. We accepted any job we were offered, from local farmers to construction companies. We needed money, and we needed to stay busy to stay sane.”
Wanting to get to America, he was able to receive asylum through the First Lutheran Church in Clarion, Iowa.
“I started out with no family, no friends, no money, no job, no useful education or profession, and no knowledge of the English language,” he said on his blog. “Everything in American culture and customs was unfamiliar to me.”
Raginiak said his greatest obstacle in America was not knowing much English at all. He only knew three sentences.
“Nobody in Clarion spoke Polish, so the communication was rough at first.”
He arrived on Dec. 11, 1985, in Des Moines at the airport, not knowing Decembers in Iowa are typically frigid with a lot of snow on the ground. He was not dressed nor prepared for such conditions.
“I landed in a T-shirt, shorts and light jacket,” said Raginiak during a speaking engagement in Monticello.
He said looking outside, he saw nothing but white; no trees, birds, nothing but snow.
Those living in Clarion then, including Gerald and La Donna Retzlaff now of Monticello, helped Raginiak with his Engish.
He said his dream in coming to America would be to build his own house, own an electric guitar and buy a car.
“I wanted to start a new life in the U.S.,” Raginiak said.
After being in the U.S. for several years, Raginiak decided to go back to Poland in 1991 to see his family again. Since leaving, he had become an American citizen. He said his family wanted to hear “real stories of America, not what you hear from Hollywood or CNN.”
Raginiak said his family was shocked by the fact that people in America are friendly and they smile. He said in Poland, the government removed their smiles from their faces due to the oppression.
Since leaving his family in Poland, Raginiak has started a family of his own.
“I started with nothing, and today, thanks to the opportunity and good people in this great nation, I am an educated man, the owner of two companies, and an award-winning author,” said Raginiak. “I am now able to help my family back home and show my children the world, thus allowing them to grow as global citizens with a wide understanding of issues.”
To learn more about Raginiak and his mission, visit www.1moment.us.
PHOTO: Chez Raginiak, originally from Poland, now living in Minnesota, spoke at several events in Jones County recently, telling the story of how he escaped communist rule in Poland for a better life in America. (Photo by Kim Brooks)