FAIRFORD, England (Reuters) - Richard Komurek has travelled the world with the U.S. Air Force, but his deployment to a British air show this month provided a poignant homecoming to the English town where his mother was born to Polish refugees after World War Two.
After accompanying a senior U.S. Air Force general to the world’s largest military air show in the town of Fairford, Komurek, 49, visited the site of the Polish resettlement camp where his mother, Mary, was born in 1949.
His grandparents, Tadeusz Tarach and Anna Kuszczak, both Polish forced labourers in Germany under the Nazis, fled to England after the war, where they met at the camp, got married and had two children before moving to the United States in 1951.
“The people in my family are extremely grateful to the British for giving them refuge in those dire times,” Komurek said, adding that he felt great warmth from locals who shared their experiences with the post-war Polish camps in Britain.
“People have been so friendly,” he said. After hearing his story on local radio, one woman wrote to tell him she was born at the same camp in southwest England as his mother.
She sent him a photograph of a commemorative plaque at the site, which housed 1,500 Poles who had been deported to labour camps in Siberia or Germany.
Komurek’s heart-warming experience stands in contrast to the emotive debate over the roughly 800,000 Poles who now live in Britain and frustration over record high immigration rates that triggered Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
The U.S. Air Force officer said his visit to Fairford - which each year attracts senior military officials and industry executives - made him feel more connected to his family history, and strengthened his sense of being both a proud American and a global citizen.
“It’s just a kind of chance where my family ended up,” he said. “Because of history, I could have been Polish, I could have been British, or even Canadian.”
Komurek grew up in Arizona and worked as a journalist for several years before he joined the Air Force - a career that has taken him to places as far-flung as South Korea, Honduras, the Netherlands and Germany.
He thinks Polish refugees after World War Two may have had an easier time than modern day refugees given the shared war experiences.
“After the war, when everyone had suffered, people were less threatened by people coming. Maybe now ... it’s hard for people to find empathy because it’s not a shared suffering. They can’t comprehend what it’s like to be a war refugee if they haven’t experienced war themselves.”
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ros Russell