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October 14, 2013

Leap of faith: One man's journey to citizenship

One man's journey from Poland to citizenship

ATKINSON — Almost 25 years ago, Edward Polonka made a decision that would change his life forever.

Polonka was standing on a large fishing boat in Boston Harbor, preparing to jump off the dock with 11 of his fellow sailors to escape communist Poland forever.

“I had had enough,” Polonka said. “I needed my freedom.”

Polonka jumped with no idea of what would be waiting for him in America.

He didn’t know anyone in Boston, knew no English and had just $15 in his pocket.

But Polonka, 59, found his way and now lives with his wife, Christine, and his daughters, Katherine and Diana in Atkinson. Polonka’s journey was retold in a book by Lynda Healey published this month, “A Leap to Freedom.”

Polonka was a marine specialist for Gryf, a Polish fishing company. He would go out to sea for six months at a time, catching fish and delivering them to different ports around the world.

While Polonka was out at sea for long periods of time, back home things were in turmoil. Poland was fighting back against its communist government and Polonka was worried about what he was seeing in his home country.

“America was always my dream,” he said. “It’s where I wanted to be.”

In the fall of 1988, he saw that the Kantar, a large fishing vessel would be going on an expedition to North America. He saw two destinations which looked possible for his jump, Boston and New York.

“I knew those were two places where people could bring me in,” Polonka said

On Jan. 5, 1989, the ship made its first stop in Boston. He knew it was time. Polonka jumped ship with just the cash in his pocket and a duffle bag with a few belongings.

He was picked up by the Coast Guard and taken to the U.S. Embassy, where he hoped to be granted political asylum.

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