He was displaced from his homeland. Pittsburgh welcomed him with open arms

On August 28, 1951, The Pittsburgh Press documented Czeslaw Sikorski’s fifth day in the U.S.

The paper’s second page featured a photo of the 3 1/2-year-old refugee enjoying a doughnut — a “new treat” for the “new American,” the Press said.

A three-and-a-half-year-old refugee from Poland, 1951. (The Pittsburgh Press)

Czeslaw and his parents appeared in the paper in 1951, but immigration is far from old news. Czeslaw’s story is worth revisiting on Wednesday — World Refugee Day — and at a moment when migrant children have been detained in camps along the U.S. border.  

Czeslaw and his parents were Polish refugees, forced out of their homeland during World War II. The National Catholic Welfare Conference brought the family of three, along with 538 other refugees, to the U.S. from a displaced persons camp in Germany.

The war displaced an estimated total of 40 million Europeans between 1940 and 1945, and western Allies established displaced persons camps to house them in the post-war years.   

Upon arriving in the U.S., the Sikorskis were connected with a sponsor, the Rev. Eugene Harkins of St. Anne’s Church, who found a home for the family and a farm job for Czeslaw’s father. Harry Sable, the owner of the farm, was charmed by the tiny refugee’s athletic skills.  

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “The little fellow can kick a football farther than most men of 25. I think we’ve got an all-American on our hands.”

Marella Gayla is an intern at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a rising senior at Harvard. You can find her on Twitter @marellagayla.

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