How a son found his parents after 40 years

Last week I got package with famous Mercury paddle from Bencher. Original author of this paddle is Steven Nurkiewicz, N2DAN. After his dead the rights were sold to Bencher and they serial numbers start at 1000. My paddle has s/n 1200.

Steven’s life is very interesting. On 22th of March 1981 was published his life story in Parade magazine which was distributed with many large metropolitan newspapers e.g. Atlanta Journal and The Chicago Tribune. The story was “How a son found his parents after 40 years“.

 How a son found his parents after 40 years

If prizes were awarded for family reunions, Stefan Nurkiewicz of Freeport, N.Y. would surely win a blue ribbon. His reunion with his parents was 40 years in the making and took the unlikely combination of Polish-American friendship, luck and a father’s singular determination to see his son again.

The dramatic meeting between Nurkiewicz, a 54 year old machinist and his 80 year old father marked the end of a tragic separation that began in war-torn Poland of 1939. At first glance, the ruddy-faced bespectacled Nurkiewicz is the average American. He married the girl next door, has two handsome children, an attractive waterfront home and a successful precision machine ship he and his wife built together “by working until 2 or 3 in the morning.”

But Steve is no ordinary American. He was born near the Polish border with the Soviet Union in 1926. Thirteen years later, his father Zdzislaw, a dashing calvary commander, would lead his men – armed only with sabers and lances – into the battle against invading Nazi troops. Stefan parted with his heroic father on that day, 2 Sept 1939. Just two weeks later, Russian soldiers, crossed the border 10 miles away to claim a huge expanse of eastern Poland. Thousands of frightened Poles, including Mrs. Nurkiewicz and her children, were rounded up and herded into railroad cars for a torturous three week trip to a hellish Siberian exile.

Within the next two years, two of Stefan’s younger brothers died of malnutrition and illness. Then a sympathetic doctor, pitying the family’s misery, allowed him to join an army of Polish exiles fighting for the Allies. He was sent to Tehran for training, then fought in Allied campaigns in the Middle East, North Africa and Monte Cassio, Italy, where he was wounded.

After the war, not knowing if his parents were still alive and unable to return to his Soviet occupied

homeland, Stefan emigrated to Brooklyn. The story might have ended there if it hadn’t been for a wartime photograph (taken for a Polish magazine called Parade) of the teenaged soldier Stefan and a 47 year old veteran who had become his unofficial guardian. It was published in Polish newspapers and later in a book in which the repatriated Zdzislaw Nurkiewicz and his wife Jazefa excitedly recognized their son and began the long search to locate him.

The elderly calvary soldier had miraculously survived the German destruction of the Polish military. But he had become an enemy of the Soviet controlled government for having dared to fight the invading Russians. He evaded the authorities for a while, but eventually the secret police caught up with him. He was tried as a “bandit” and sentenced to death. But the sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison. 

Meanwhile, Stefan’s mother scrubbed floors in Poland to feed herself. In Brooklyn, Stefan was raising a family and establishing his successful business. “I really thought they were all dead,” he recalls. “I gave up hope and gradually it helped me to forget. The Germans destroyed the Polish Army and getting my mother out of the Soviet Union would have been like squeezing water from a stone.” 

Then a chance encounter in New York City in 1977 set off a bizarre chain of events. Stefan had read that a touring Polish orchestra was in town and being a musician himself (he plays bass) he decided to drop by for a drink with his countrymen. I then gave them my business card and told them to give me a call if they were ever in NYC.

Steve’s acquaintances did better than that. Months later, when the troupe returned to Poland, the card was passed along to Kazik Nurkiewicz, a violinist friend of the symphony musicians who was also the keeper of the Nurkiewicz family tree and who happened to be Stefan’s cousin. A letter was sent immediately to the American’s business address. “I’m writing in the name of your father. If you’re the man we are seeking, this would make your father extremely happy.” But problems reared up again, the machinist had moved, his home and business. The undelivered letter was returned to Poland.

Undaunted, the elder Nurkiewicz, now released from prison and full of hope for the first time in 15 years, wrote to the same address, that note, too, was returned. But the old stubborn calvary commander wasn’t going to give up. His next letter was given by the postman to a former business associate of Steve’s, who offered to deliver it by hand. So on 6 December 1979 a trembling Steve Nurkiewicz opened the following letter and read the neat Polish script. “Dear Sir, I’m seeking one named Stefan Nurkiewicz, born in 1926, if you are the person I’m seeking, please answer..I wouldlike to close my eyes in peace.” 

Shouting to his wife Terry, Steve ran to phone the man at the return address. But 40 years of separation wasn’t going to be breached so easily. The only phone in Adzislaw “Nurkiewicz’s town was the post office and it took a week to set up the call. The night before, neither Steve nor Terry could sleep. At precisely 6 a.m. the phone rang, “Stefan?”..”Father?”.. How are you?

There was still a trace of doubt in Steve’s mind. Quickly he thought of a reassuring question. “Father, what was the name of your horse?” Ogien (fire), came the immediate reply. – Then an old woman’s voice came on the crackling transatlantic line. “My knees buckled and I almost feel to the floor,” says Steve. I never expected my mother to be alive too! But he recovered long enough to shout, “Mother!” Save the Christmas tree – we’re coming to Poland!

Two weeks later, after some visa troubles had been cleared up by friendly Polish Embassy officials in Washington, a joyous Nurkiewicz family flew to Krakow. Finally at the airport, says Steve, “I walked down the long path and saw a stout gray haired ham with a cane. I had mixed emotions. I didn’t know this man. But I ran to him and said, “At last, Dad!” We all cried. 

The Nurkiewicz’s two week stay in Poland produced other surprises, Stefan had a 30 year old brother, born after the war, he’d never heard of and his older brother, Zdislaw, was alive and well in Russia. The 14 days and nights were filled with endless rounds of talking and Polish vodka. 

Last June, Stefan brought his parents to America for a 10 week visit. “The first thing my father wanted to see was the Statue of Liberty,” recalls Nurkiewicz, with a trace of pride in his voice. Two weeks after his return to Poland last September the elder Zdislaw Nurkiewicz expired, finally knowing what became of the 13 year old boy he left behind when he went to war.

Steve S. Nurkiewicz (N2DAN) age 70 expires of cancer 21 May 1997 in Florida.  He made 300 of these legendary paddles. 

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