[Note:This is the story of a young Canadian lady who was stranded at the airport in Warsaw, Poland, with no identification. Through the efforts of my brother Oakley Duff, a Canadian immigration officer, she was able to continue her trip. She has given us permission to use her story.]
It is one of the most traumatic moments of my life, although it happened so long ago. Even now when I think about that simple act of carelessness, I am filled with trepidation and shame. My family and I have seldom spoken of that time because, as my sisters tell me, I forbade them. That sounds rather dramatic. It was not a big dark family secret: we just did not talk about it. But my sisters know me very well, and I believe they speak the truth. I know now this was the wrong thing to do.
So recently, I had the opportunity to talk about the events surrounding those four days – and I have not stopped talking. I guess I found my voice while researching our family name on the internet. I had located some very interesting people of the same name in Michigan, who, in turn, directed me to some Belgian roots. You see, my father was born in Poland, yet even he suspected our family name was not of Polish origin.
Not long after this discovery, I hosted a dinner with friends and eagerly shared my genealogical findings with them. Perhaps it was the emotion of speaking about my father or perhaps it was the wine; but one thing led to another and soon I was explaining, with a great deal of hesitance, why I did not feel comfortable about returning to Poland to further my research. My friend Carol Ann was even so bold as to ask: “Why don’t you want to go back? It’s not like you were in jail or something?”
How could she have known she had so accurately pinpointed my anguish? The look on my face must have said it all. So I owned up to my mistake, started talking about what she referred to as my secret and could not stop talking until I had revealed the whole story. Once I had put things into perspective, it seemed so simple. I was young. We do foolish things when we are young. It was twenty-eight years ago, after all. That is a long time when you think about it. At the end of my revelation, another friend, Jan stated in awe: “Bernie, I like you more now; now that I know you’ve been in jail!” We all had a good laugh at that, and it was quite gratifying finally to laugh about it all. As they say, confession is good for the soul. But it really was not jail I was in twenty-eight years ago. I was in airport detention in a communist country because I arrived there with no passport, no birth certificate, and no identification whatsoever. If you doubt this could ever happen to you, think again, and read on.
It was June 1981. I was twenty-one years old and had just graduated with an Honours Diploma in Nursing. Instead of attending my graduation dinner, I chose to accompany my elder sister Mary-Catherine and my father to Poland. My father, being of Polish origin, still had family members there and, though we did not know these relatives, we were familiar with them because of their correspondence with him. We were anxious to meet our cousins and especially our Baba (Grandmother) and tour the country.
Mary-C and I had eagerly accepted our father’s offer to accompany him and we looked forward to the three-week trip. My sister had excelled at Polish school, yet we completed only one year of classes and we knew about a dozen words in Polish. Having been educated in the French school system, we were bilingual. Mary-C and I were confident we would somehow manage and our cousin Bojena had written to us in French, so we thought we could at the very least converse with her. This would later prove to be futile.
On the morning of the flight, Dad, Mary-C, and I boarded the Greyhound Express for Toronto International Airport. Mum and our younger sister Heather accompanied us to the bus terminal. I was feeling remorseful because my mother and I had quarrelled the night before, something about my late night with friends. An unexpected house guest that week, also a friend of mine, had added to the stress of preparing for the trip. I didn’t want to leave with this feeling of unresolved anger between us, so I remember a tearful goodbye on my part as I tried to atone for my behaviour. My mother was as usual stoic and said very little to absolve me of any guilt. I guess this is why, when my nephews make mistakes, I understand how they feel, and try to advocate for them even when I know, like I, they have brought it on themselves. When we’re young, we sometimes do stupid things and we make questionable choices.
It was a four-hour trip to Toronto from our home near Sudbury, Ontario, and time passed rather uneventfully. As we approached the Yorkdale bus station, we didn’t realize we were to connect there with the airport express. We misunderstood the directions and remained on the bus. Well, on our way down the 401, we realized our error, but it was too late. We would now have to disembark at the downtown bus terminal and make our way back to the airport. In 1981, the Toronto downtown bus terminal had a reputation for being particularly seedy, so we weren’t looking forward to departing there. Upon arrival, we disembarked, gathered up our belongings: suitcases, travel bags, and purses and carried these with us into the passenger area.
Someone made enquiries about a taxi to the airport. The ticket agent told us to call for the taxi at the pay phone and discouraged us from hailing one as they weren’t permitted to block traffic. I was in the process of making the call from the pay phone when my sister alerted me that a taxi was already waiting for us. My father meanwhile had managed to hail a cab and came rushing back into the depot and motioned for us to hurry. His impatience we have never understood as we had a lengthy wait before our departure flight. In my haste, I assume I grabbed my travel bag and suitcase, but left my purse at the phone booth. We were loaded into the taxi and my sister remembers the driver telling us to say we had called for the cab if anyone asked. I suppose this was to cover any dispute that could ensue with other customers.
It wasn’t until we were leaving the taxi that I looked over for my purse and realized it wasn’t there. I remember the sense of panic that overcame me, and I remember alerting my father, my sister, and the driver that my purse was gone. Although we learned later that the purse had in fact been taken, I cannot say that it was stolen from my person. I distinctly remember having the purse with me at the phone booth. Whoever took it must have been watching me and, when the opportunity presented itself, he lifted my purse from where I had left it.
At the airport, we once again quickly gathered our belongings. The taxi driver most likely advised us it was foolish to retrace our steps in the mid-day rush hour traffic as the trip to the airport had taken over thirty minutes. I know that getting back into the taxi was not a viable option. I attempted to locate a phone to notify the bus terminal of the loss. I don’t recall the details; but someone from the downtown terminal made a quick search, and the purse was nowhere to be found. Security or someone in authority put us in touch with airport officers and I made a formal report of the loss. I was fully aware of the severity of the situation because in my purse were the following items: passport, travel visa, airline ticket, wallet, money, driver’s licence, birth certificate, and most likely my social insurance card. I now had no form of identification on me.
Sometime after this, the tears started to flow and kept flowing for a long time that afternoon as both my sister and I were quite distraught. I also recall that the airport officials did their best to assist us and put me in touch with someone from the passport office. I spoke with the advisor by phone while he attempted to provide me with a plan to obtain a passport photo and a replacement passport. This was Friday and the passport official advised me to remain in Toronto until this could be arranged. He stated that someone from the passport office would be available on Sunday to obtain the photo and, somehow, the agent responsible for the charter was supposed to try to obtain a connecting flight to Poland on Monday or Tuesday that following week. I agreed to do as advised; but when I shared this with my father, I could not impress upon him or the travel agent the urgency of adhering to this plan. If only they had spoken to the passport advisor themselves, perhaps they would have appreciated the importance.
Much debate and discussion took place and a lot of negating of this plan. My sister and I pleaded with my father to call our mother and make her aware of the situation, but he outright refused. Mary-C and I have spoken about this and how we could have placed a collect call to our mother ourselves. The times were such: you didn’t usurp your parents’ authority. So we didn’t call. The day had already been emotionally exhaustive ,culminating in my father breaking down. Feeling responsible despite the gravity of my situation, I was pressured into doing as my father and the travel agent advised to get me on the plane. Despite my instincts to the contrary, I would then board a plane to a foreign country, a communist country, without any documents.
During much of the afternoon, the verbal exchanges in Polish continued and, although we have no proof, my sister and I believe some money was exchanged in order to procure my passage through security. A replacement airline ticket was issued and I was not deterred from boarding. I took my assigned seat next to my father and sister out of sheer exhaustion. Was I afraid? You bet I was! I have known the difference between right and wrong since childhood and what I was asked to do was in conflict with everything my parents had raised me to believe. I could not or did not want to believe that my father would knowingly put me into harm’s way. I had to trust his instinct. The ever so confident travel agent’s words were less convincing on the plane, however: “You may be detained for a little while, when you arrive, but everything will be okay.”
What an understatement, and he must have known he was being reckless! I fail to understand why he chose to put me on the plane. I have very little memory of that travel agent, but what memory I do have is filled with disdain.
It was evening when we boarded the plane but, though exhausted by the day’s events, I did not sleep during the flight. I was concerned for my wellbeing, concerned for my distraught family members and the family members at home in Canada, and had an overwhelming feeling of doom. The remainder of the time on the flight is a complete blank. The events that followed are very clear, however. When we landed at the airport in Warsaw, the plane came to a stop somewhere away from the terminal. At the foot of the stairwell stood an armed guard in full military uniform and, for a moment, I was certain he was there because of me. My fears were temporarily allayed when my father informed us that the military were in charge of operations at the airport. This revelation only served to heighten my anxiety. We deplaned and boarded a shuttle bus which took us to the arrivals terminal.
My father sought out the immigration officials when we arrived. These were mostly military personnel – and more lengthy discussions took place in Polish. I was approached by someone in military attire who attempted to converse with me or ask questions; but, since neither of us spoke the other’s language, he gave up without much attempt, preferring a discourse with my father in Polish. I suppose this coupled with the fact that I resemble my mother’s Scottish / Irish roots, and do not look Polish, did not help my situation. My sister, on the other hand, resembles my father and could pass for a countryman, yet also does not resemble me. The officials appeared to squabble about this somewhat, but I suppose had to agree that my father was claiming me as his daughter. My sister tells me she remained with me as long as she could before she was told to proceed through immigration with my father.
My memory is sketchy regarding what took place as I remained seated on the other side of the barricade. There was a swinging waist-high gate through which I could not pass. There was also either a counter or desk area and a glass partition. I was able to keep my suitcase and travel bag with me, and, at some point, I was so tired that I rested my head on the bag from sheer exhaustion while I waited for my father and sister to return. All I knew was my father had gone for help.
He made his way to the Canadian embassy by taxi; however, my sister does not recall if she accompanied him or not. I am told that Dad made contact with someone at the embassy who put him in touch with an official who returned to the airport with Dad some time later. He introduced himself as Mr. Oakley Duff. I was told he was a Canadian embassy official and that was sufficient because I believed in my heart that he would help me.
Oakley asked me some questions regarding my identity, if I had any other means of identification, and for affirmation of how I came to be in the situation. I have a vivid memory of the bulk of this discussion. He was very upfront about the gravity of my situation, what I was up against, what the Polish authorities could and would be within their right to do. During the briefing, I was advised by Oakley that I would be detained somewhere at the airport for an indeterminate amount of time, that I would not be allowed to leave the airport building, and that I would not be allowed contact with my father or sister. I was shocked by this final revelation and voiced some concern at which Oakley advised me the officials were well within their right to hold me as I had no means of identification. He was direct in his response and told me that, because I had no papers on my person, I was considered a person of suspicion and the officials could have put me on any plane to anywhere in the world. I would be detained until proven otherwise, but he would do his best to help me.
Oakley also had some questions regarding my lack of secure funds. I had been carrying cash and not travellers’ cheques. I guess this raised his suspicion, given the propensity for the American dollar and the practice of exchanging money on the black market. Oakley cautioned me about this practice, yet I was completely in ignorance. I felt that he believed I was telling the truth. I was aware that my father wore a money belt and was carrying only American funds. I later learned from my father that he intended only to exchange the American currency with his relations for Polish currency. As with many communist countries, the Poles were able to obtain more goods with American money.
When it was time, Oakley accompanied me through security. My suitcase and travel bag were searched after the lock on my suitcase was cut off because the key had also been in my purse. I do not remember if I were physically searched. I was then taken by military personnel and accompanied by Oakley to a room in the airport. In the entrance was a sink and through an adjoining room to the left of this were the bathtub and toilet. The room wasn’t very clean and the bathtub was filled with dirty rubber floor mats. Through a second door was a room which resembled a dormitory. This room contained the bed, a table, and along the back a wall of cupboards. Oakley spent a short time going over my boundaries and advising me of what to expect. He told me he would ferry any letters I wanted to write to my father and sister and that he would check on me every day. I felt anxious when he was about to leave, but I put on a brave face.
Once I was alone, I tried to make the best of my surroundings. I attempted to tidy up what I could and gave up after I couldn’t locate any cleaning products. I washed my hair in the public washroom and bathed at the sink. This caused some raised eyebrows that first day, but I soon learned to ignore this. I was not familiar with the use of attendants in public washrooms, so I relied on their assistance with tipping practices. On the first day, I presented my opened hand with coins and the attendant took some of these coins as payment. I could figure out what was required after that. My father had provided me with some foreign currency through Oakley and I would be restricted to its use in the airport.
During that first day in detention, I realized just how hard it would be to communicate because of my limited knowledge of Polish and my ignorance of currency. I also purchased meals; however, I don’t remember what I ate while detained. I know that I didn’t starve as it is not in my nature to go without food. There wasn’t a great variety of beverages available and I was desparate for even a soft drink. My sister Mary-C had a similar complaint about her surroundings. We were used to so many choices in Canada that we realized we were spoiled.
I spent most of my time in that awful room or walked around the airport. I found it very discomforting not only to be watched by the military but also to be followed around on occasion. I recognized some of the personnel as they had been present on the morning of my arrival. Others would attempt to converse with me although this was futile when they realized I did not understand a word that was being spoken. I was not concerned for my personal safety until after the first night in detention.
In the middle of the night, I was startled and awakened by the knowledge that there were two males with flash lights standing in the room. I recognized the familiar military uniforms, but was cautious as they were behaving suspiciously. One male had pulled back the bed covers and started pulling at my nightgown. I resisted his efforts and pushed his hand away instinctively. This was sufficient to discourage his intentions and they both left the room, muttering something in Polish. I was very frightened following this encounter. Up to this point, I had considered these military personnel an annoyance; but the shock of what could have happened made me realize I was vulnerable and at their mercy.
The next morning, I informed Oakley of the soldiers’ inappropriate behaviour and asked him to keep them out of the room. I don’t know if he intervened on my behalf, but they never again entered the room and, in future, just shone their flash light through the window of the door. The next two nights were very unsettling and, from this point on, I slept in my clothes.
Oakley did return every day and I looked forward to his visits. He was the one constant on whom I could depend in order to preserve my sanity. He was also the only English-speaking person with whom I had any contact. You do not realize how important that contact is when you have been deprived of it for even a short period of time. He took letters back and forth although, as I recall, there was nothing of much importance being said on my part. I asked for toilet paper, writing paper, and peppermints. My sister tells me that she was concerned for my well-being after receiving this note and told our father that they had better soon get me out of there as I appeared to be losing it. I attempted to keep myself occupied by sketching anything of interest. I remember a drawing of my lower body or feet with the cupboards in the background.
As soon as the Canadian officials in Ottawa were able to confirm my identity, Oakley brought a Polaroid camera with him to take my passport photo. The photo didn’t initially turn out and had to be taken outside the airport building. This was the first time I was allowed out of the building and it was a bit of an adventure trying to obtain the photo without drawing the attention of the military personnel. I remember there was even a bit of levity on our part as we witnessed the soldiers crane their necks in order to keep a close eye on me.
Oakley kept me informed of the progress with the documents and I knew my release was imminent as soon as the temporary passport could be issued. True to his word, the following day, I was released from detention, went through immigration without any difficulties, and was reunited with my father and sister. This is also where Oakley Duff and I bid farewell. My family and I are eternally grateful for the part he had played in obtaining my passport and release and for keeping me out of harm’s way. My sister remembers that my father was overtly expressive in his gratitude and I am pleased, as being European, Dad was always a very affectionate and outwardly gracious person. I, on the other hand, do not remember if I did thank Oakley. This has always bothered me and I can now say that I have finally written to him after all these years and expressed my heartfelt gratitude for his efforts in obtaining my release. I was also curious to hear how they were able to obtain my release. It is also very important in relation to this story because my search has led me to his brother and thus enabled me to share my experience with you.
Once released, I spent part of the day touring such places in Warsaw as the Chopin monument, a museum, and a war memorial. My father and sister were anxious to move on as they had already seen a good portion of the city while I was incarcerated. That evening, we travelled by train to Czestochowa accompanied by our cousins Bojena and Ella. The remainder of the family had made the trip up the day we arrived; but upon learning of my detention, they went home. As is customary, our relatives brought flowers to the airport; but, sadly, I was unable to share in that experience.
We spent most of that first week at the home of our Uncle Kazmierz, aunt, their daughters afore mentioned, and their sons Krzysztof and Swawek. They were all exceptionally gracious and generous individuals and it was humbling to observe their ability to work together and provide for their guests. I was in awe with the culinary delights as I was not much of a cook in those days. Everyone in the family took great pleasure in doting over us; and my sister and I were not only grateful to be together again, but it was enjoyable to be in their company. I will always cherish this time as it was a more pleasing start to our journey.
Mary-C and I were on age with our cousins and found we had very similar interests. Although our hopes were dazzled upon the realization that Bojena’s French language skills were quite limited, we were soon able to rely less on our father as translator. We could not readily converse but found such other common interests as music and dance. They shared their recordings of John Lennon and other artists on their reel-to-reel tape recorder. I, in turn, shared my music interests. I was listenning to Elton John, Burton Cummings, Stevie Nicks, Men At Work, and Journey in those days on vinyl or cassettes. Our thirteen-year-old cousin, Swawek, was an endearing young man and was determined to teach us Polish by using every opportunity to quiz us. He told my father that, given a month, he could well achieve this goal.
The remainder of the trip was comprised of many tourist interests interspersed with visits to other family members. We spent time with Dad’s brother Frankie and family. and then went out to the country to visit our Baba, Aunt Marisha, and her children. We purchased many nice souvenirs for family and friends and many I still cherish. We also toured several such historic sites as Krakow, Wawel Castle, the mountains of Zakopane, the salt mine Wieliczka, which my father being a miner especially enjoyed. We also visited Oswiecim, the site of the holocaust. This was an emotinal and horrific place to visit, but I am grateful to serve as witness.
My sister Mary-Catherine became quite ill with bronchitis after our time on the mountains and we were all concerned for her well-being. Her respirations became so laboured that Dad took her to see a physician who prescribed antibiotics, cough syrup, and vitamins. Mary-C used her Polish dictionnary to translate that thyme was a key ingredient in the cough syrup. She was incapacitated for a few days, but soon made a remarkable recovery. Of course, sleeping under our grandmother’s down quilt did not help her limited breathing; and she realized she must be allergic to feathers.
The trip was uneventful as far as any further encounters with officials. We heard from my grandmother that some of her neighbours had been questioned regarding the imminent arrival of visitors from Canada. We took this to mean the officials were watching, but they did not approach us. After several days, we forgot they had been in the area.
When we returned to Warsaw, my father, as promised, booked us into a nice hotel so we could relax this time before our return trip to Canada. My sister said it had been a far cry from the less appealing room they had resided in while I was detained. She also did not miss the nightly renditions of “Irene, Goodnight” from the juke box.
On the following day, our time at the airport and passage through immigration were uneventful. My father was asked to pay duty on some of the crystal we had purchased for our mother. Once the duty was paid, we proceeded through without further incident. I also have no memory of the return plane trip. I was relieved to be returning to Canada.
When we returned to our home outside Sudbury, we learned that my mother had learned of my predicament, as we feared, through an official from the embassy. She remembers his name was O’Connor because that is her family name and, in particular, the official was very concerned that I had not only left the country without the proper documents, but that we had followed the advice of the travel agent. We learned that someone had indeed been dispatched to obtain my photo and had searched the airport in vain for me that Sunday as planned. I felt very responsible for wasting his time, and we had many questions to answer regarding the whole experience.
My mother seemed to weather this much better than usual, perhaps because she had chastised the Sears travel service upon learning of my detention through the official. My sister Heather remembers there were many phone calls placed back and forth and our mother was indeed very concerned for my well-being until they received news of my release through the telegram we had persuaded my father to send.
We also learned from my mother and sister Heather that my purse had been found by a custodial employee at the university near the bus depot and that it had been dumped intact into a trash bin. The passport had been seized and returned to Ottawa. Some time later, I received a letter from Ottawa asking me to return the temporary passport in order that my permanent passport could be forwarded. The police had also sent a letter identifying my purse and belongings and where they could be retrieved. My parents and I made the journey to Toronto, and I am pleased to report that my purse with driver’s licence, birth certificate, social insurance card, wallet, and two letters I was to mail in Poland were returned. The only items missing were the money and a pair of sun glasses. My original passport was also returned after I had forwarded the temporary one. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have retrieved my identification. I returned the letters to Gisela, a senior nurse who had written to relatives in Germany, but I did not tell her that my passport had also been in the purse nor that I had been detained. If she reads this, she will finally know the truth.
I believe in the power of prayer and, in the end, I was kept out of harm’s way aided by the guardian angels in the form of Oakley Duff, the numerous people who came to our aid at the airport, Mr. O’Connor, the official to whom I spoke, and the university custodian who found my purse. I got lucky, but it was still a hard lesson to learn.
My advice for first time travellers is to learn from my mistakes. Do your homework! Research your travel agent and travel with a reputable airline. Beware of Charters who are more concerned with filling seats and securing funds than in protecting their passengers. Ask questions. Talk to people who have travelled to the country you plan to visit. Find out as much as you can about the lay of the land, the people, and the politics. Determine if it is an ideal time to be travelling. Are things stable? In my case, this was not the most appropriate time to be travelling to Poland as it was very near the time of martial law being declared. Food supplies were scarce; there was a lack of adequate beverages; and we felt at times we were imposing on our poorly provisioned relatives. Even some hotels were poorly supplied as many items were just not available.
Make copies of your documents prior to your departure and leave them with a responsible person or e-mail a copy to yourself so you can retrieve this information if needed. Carry your documents separately and do not put everything you own into your purse. Keep your passport on your person at all times. Carry travellers’ cheques, not cash. Stay alert and keep a clear head. Listen to your inner voice and heed its warning. If you make a mistake, own up to it. If you do lose your documents prior to departure, get in touch with authorities, and do not leave the country until you have replacements.
In conclusion, there have been other traumatic moments in my life like the death of my father in the spring of 2002 from complications of open heart surgery. Another occurred in December of that same year of being displaced from a nursing position which I truly loved in the heart cath lab, or of the subsequent events which led to my, in turn, displacing another from her much loved nursing position. I have weathered these storms perhaps because I had to and, along with the experience of that initial trauma, they have made me a stronger person. I would like to end with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
“A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.”
Correspondence to the author of the book:
Hello Duane Duff,
I have recently read a story in your book entitled, “I Have a Story to Tell” by R. L. Duane Duff which was about an immigration officer named Oakley Duff. The Oakley Duff you spoke of worked for the Canadian Government in many countries including Poland. I understand from your book he is also your brother. I also have a story about an Oakley Duff and require your assistance in forwarding a message of gratitude to him. The Oakley Duff I speak of was with the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland in June of 1981. He was instrumental in obtaining my Canadian passport while I was detained at the airport for several days. Similar to the movie with Tom Hanks but without the drama, I had lost my passport. Long story short, impatience, neglect and poor judgement had put me in a rather difficult predicament. I was a Canadian stuck in a foreign country, a communist country no less, with no means of identification. While I was detained at the airport, Oakley Duff was the only English speaking person and Canadian I had any contact with. This was frightening for a naive young woman from Sudbury, Ontario. That was 28 years ago and that experience proved to be very helpful in exercising better judgement in years to come. I have often wished I could thank him for not being too hard on me and for keeping me out of formal detention.
If you think the Oakley Duff you speak of in the book, your brother, could be the same, I would appreciate if you would forward this letter to him. I am having difficulty locating him and thought you could be of assistance.
Thank you for the interesting email. I have forwarded it, along with the attachment, to my brother. Since my brother was working in Warsaw at the time that you mentioned, that will have been he who helped you. That was not a good experience in having lost your documents and continuing to a Communist country.
I am wondering where you came across my book. Did a friend lend it to you or did you purchase a copy online? Currently, I know of no library in Manitoba that carries the book. Since you have used my latest email address, it would appear that you know someone in Winnipeg whom I know.
Thank you letter to Oakley Duff:
July 30th, 2009
Dear Mr. Oakley Duff:
I am attempting to contact the Oakley Duff who was employed at the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, in June 1981. If you are this man you may remember helping a careless young woman regain her Canadian passport. My name: Bernardine Brys. My story: I had absentmindedly left my purse at a phone booth in the Toronto downtown bus depot. Needless to say the purse was stolen as were my documents (passport, visa, birth certificate, SIN, driver‘s licence). I was left with no piece of identification. Against advice, I boarded the charter destined for Poland along with my father and sister. My second mistake that day. I cannot recall how I was provided access to the flight without the passport or visa. I remember that the travel agent had re-issued my ticket and thus a boarding pass was obtained. We had no idea what was about to unfold. Thus began what could have ended in a nightmare had my father not been able to obtain your assistance at the Canadian embassy in Warsaw. If this jars your memory, please feel free to contact me. I have often thought of how you went out of your way to provide assistance and I would like to say thank you!
Following this brief though unnerving detention, we were able to continue on our vacation touring Poland and visiting relatives we would otherwise not have had the opportunity to see. My father passed away some years ago and I am grateful I was able to visit his birth country with him.
Reply from former immigration officer, who worked at Canadian Embassy in Poland in 1981:
Hello Bernadine Brys,
I very much appreciated receiving your thoughtful message of July 30, 2009, which my brother, Duane Duff kindly forwarded to me. It is remarkable that, years after such an unusual experience brought us together briefly in a distant country, we are again in contact, facilitated by a book written by my brother.
Yes, I remember you very well and I am pleased that you weathered your difficult experience at Warsaw Airport in 1981. In those days, circumstances in Poland were indeed challenging in the midst of the cold war and trying economic times for Poles. I and my colleagues at the Embassy were quite concerned for your welfare, being held alone at a dingy airport by authorities who we knew from other experience could sometimes be heavy-handed. As communications and information systems were much slower in those days than now, I recall that it unfortunately took several days to get permission from Ottawa to issue your new passport. Under the circumstances, I believe you were very brave and I am grateful that, in doing what was after all my job, I was able to be of some assistance to you. I am sure that it was an unforgetable experience for you (I have encountered no similar situation, either) and I wish you many happier experiences in the future.