Transcript

130:

Away From Home
Transcript

Originally aired 05.21.1999

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/130

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Travel to Africa. People from Africa sometimes told Eddy Harris that he looked like he might be from Senegal, instead of St. Louis where, in fact, he was from. And when he finally arrived at the border of Senegal, the first black nation he had ever set foot in, a man at the border found out that he was from America and, incredibly, told him, welcome home. We're glad you're here.

Eddy Harris

It was a pretty magical moment, and I was expecting it to have opened the door into everybody saying, welcome home, brother. And I got a lot of, welcome home, brother. But I also got a lot of, how come you didn't come sooner, brother? Or, what are you doing to help us, brother? You, who are the most educated and the richest black people on the planet, how come you're not doing more to help us out, brother?

Ira Glass

As black Americans.

Eddy Harris

As black Americans, yeah.

Ira Glass

For Eddy, as for a lot of black Americans, Africa had always been this kind of lurking spectre somewhere in the back of his mind. There was this idea that there was some place out there that could be a motherland. And then, there was the reality of life in Africa. For nearly a year, he traveled through the continent, staying with local people, living how they lived, eating what they ate. And he was often horrified at the conditions of their lives-- the lack of food, the disease, infant mortality rates, one repressive political regime after another-- all often accepted with kind of God-will-provide attitude.

Anyway, it all came to a head at the end of his trip when he was on a boat going up a river in Zaire.

Eddy Harris

There was this captain on this boat who, because I was taking pictures on the deck of this boat, had me and this English person, Justin, hauled up to the bridge. And while we were there, he was vilifying this white guy, this Englishman, because his ancestors had hauled my ancestors out of Africa. And he wanted to know why I wouldn't come to Africa to live and help build the place up. And he wanted to know, as well, how I could in good conscience, I suppose, live my life among these white people who had stolen my ancestors away.

And after having traveled in Africa already now for many, many months, and I was tired and exhausted and had lived this African experience and was just beat down, I turned to this white guy, Justin, and said thanks for his ancestors having stolen my ancestors. In in mind and in the eyes of black Americans, that's probably a horrible thing to say. Because what it sounds like is I'm grateful for slavery, which is not the case at all. What it says to me is that I'm grateful for being alive and for having grown up as a black person in America. I don't know if I'd want to trade places with anybody African living in the middle of Zaire.

Ira Glass

Do you feel like there's a certain amount of pressure on black Americans to embrace Africa as a homeland?

Eddy Harris

Yeah, and it's all around. And you're supposed to, as a black person, tow this black person party line and embrace Africa as your homeland, even though most black Americans haven't got a clue about Africa, no more clue about African than I had, no more clue about Africa than they've got about Antarctica. It's a faraway place that, if you dropped them off in the middle of no place and said, you're home now, they'd be completely lost. And yet, they're supposed to have this emotional allegiance to this place. And I can't buy it.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This. American. Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, Going Home to a Place You've Never Been. A lot of people try it.

Act One, Exile. A 26-year-old from Los Angeles gets deported to the country of his parents' birth. He last set foot there when he was five. He has no memories of the place. He knows no one there. People have a hard time understanding him when he talks. This, he's told, is his new home.

Act Two, Brothers From Another Mother, two stories of people finding strangers who they become convinced are, in some way, the home they've never known. Stay with us, won't you?

Act One. Exile.

Ira Glass

Act One, Exile. In 1996, tough new immigration laws were passed making it easier to deport legal US residents who committed crimes. The law expanded the definition of a deportable crime. It made the change retroactive. Gang members from the United States were suddenly being exported in larger numbers to their countries of birth. And many of them greeted these new homes away from home by acting exactly how they had acted here in the States. There have been big, big rises in gang activity in El Salvador and other countries as a result of the new laws.

Jose William Huezo Soriano-- aka Weasel-- was deported just over a year ago to El Salvador. He had to make the adjustment from living in a very rich country to a rather poor one. And he had to figure out who to be in this place that he was told was his new home. Radio producer Joe Richman gave him a tape recorder to document how he's getting along. Here's the story they put together.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

What's up? My name is Jose William Huezo Soriano. They call me Weasel. I've been having that nickname ever since I was a kid, so I've had it for a long time.

Here we go, I'm dialing out of the country right now, 0-1-8-1-8-5-0.

I'm 27 years old. I live in El Salvador. I've been here a year, a year and a half. It's ringing.

Flora

Hello?

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Hello.

Flora

Hi.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Flora, what's up?

Flora

Not much. How are you doing?

Jose William Huezo Soriano

I'm doing good.

Flora

My goodness. Where are you?

Jose William Huezo Soriano

I'm in El Salvador. Where else? I just wanted to talk to mom and see how she's doing.

Flora

Here she is. Hold on.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

All right.

My mom is cool, man. My mom's name is Esther. Esthaire. And I have her name tattooed on me, like with a little rose.

Mother

Hi, mijo.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Mom!

Mother

Como esta, mi hijito?

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Bien, mom. Y como estas, mom?

Mother

Yo estoy bien. [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Jose William Huezo Soriano

I'm the youngest of seven kids. I come from a close-knit family. We're used to being around each other. My mom's in LA. She lives in Burbank. My sister's in Burbank. All my nieces and nephews are in Burbank. My brother's in North Hollywood. And here I am.

She's telling me she likes me to call her up and tell her that I'm doing all right, because then she feels all right.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Bueno, mom. Ya me voy, OK? Te quiero mucho.

Mother

Esta bien, verdad?

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Estoy muy bien, mom.

Mother

OK, si. I love you, mijo.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

I love you, mom.

Mother

OK, mi amor. I love you, mi amor.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

OK, bye.

I've got this document right here. It says my full name, and it has a little box right here that's checked. And it says deportable under section blah, blah, blah. Remove from the States. Anyway, the bottom line is that I've been banished from the US, like they used to do in the Medieval days. They used to ban fools.

I went to kindergarten in LA, elementary school, junior high school, high school. I grew up singing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," that song, "America The Beautiful." I learned pledging allegiance to the flag. I grew up with all that. Here they are, 20-some years later, kicking me out.

OK, we're en route to San Jacinto. This is the number five bus. We're going to downtown. These are old school buses from the United States that they send over here, paint them up, and they use them for public transportation. Everybody's looking at me weird because I'm wearing glasses, headphones, I've got this microphone. I'm just looking at the people, all the little shacks. There's these little shacks on the side of the road. It's a trip right here.

Well, maybe I should tell you a little bit about when I first got here. Damn, as I was driving to the city from the airport, it was hot. I would just look to the side and see little adobe huts, shacks. And I was like, no, I ain't staying here, man. This is crazy, man. I ain't going to live in no mud hut. It was like if they sent me back, like, 200 years. I was like, they might as well have put me on Mars.

We're pulling over now. OK, here we are. We're in San Jacinto already. These streets we're walking on, this is where I first came when I got deported. I didn't know anybody know in Salvador because all my relatives are in the United States. So I got ahold of one of my dad's distant cousins that he hadn't seen for 10, 20 years. She gave me a break and let me stay here.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Hola. Como esta, tio? Gordito. Hola.

When I first got here, everybody thought I was a weirdo. They didn't even believe I was from here because I had such a tough time speaking Spanish. I speak Spanish, but a different Spanish, you know?

We're walking in the door. I stayed in that room right there. It was like a storage room. I'll open this door here.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

[SPEAKING SPANISH] Man, there's no light here.

When I first got here, I looked at the place where I was going to stay, and I said, this is it. Because I walked in and all I seen was pieces of wood nailed together. The house was made out of concrete, but it was all dark. The toilet was in the middle the yard. It was like a little outhouse. It was just nothing I was used to.

I spent the night in this room. The first day I was there, I had almost fallen asleep, and a big old cockroach-- that sucker had to be at least three inches-- fell right on my chest. And I just jumped up. I grabbed at it, and I just threw it. And I heard it-- that's how big it was-- I heard that sucker fly across the room, boom, hit a wall, and I heard that sucker actually run away. It was a trip, man.

When I was in the, I think, third, fourth grade, my teacher sent me to get an IQ test, and they recognized me as gifted and talented. My parents telling me, you're intelligent. You're going to be a doctor or lawyer. But things happen when you're growing up. You get caught up in other things.

My criminal history started when I was a juvenile. I'm kind of a short guy. I'm not too tall. But I was a little tough kid. I got into a gang when I was, like, 14 years old. I was into drugs and violence and stuff, auto burglary. I was living a crazy life.

So I was just hanging out with my homeboys one day, and I had a little gun, took it-- a little .25, I think it was, .22. I don't know. We were cruising in this neighborhood and seen some people. The driver pulled over, me and the other guy walked out, went up to the people, told them, It's not worth it, man. Give it up. So they gave it up, their wallets, their purses, watches.

So we took off, went to go pawn the stuff. But as we were leaving the pawn shop, boom, the cops swooped on us, drew their guns, put us all face down in the middle of the street. Helicopter, in front of everybody, big old scene. Took us in. Gave me three years in prison.

Anyway, right when my time was about to finish in prison, I was out in the yard playing handball. They came and called me. An INS agent came to visit me. And I didn't think nothing of it, because I thought he was just going to ask me, where's your green card or where's your papers?

So he interviewed me to prove I was El Salvadorian. They said, what's the national anthem? I was like, man, I don't know. What's the biggest river? I was like, what? I told them, look, man, I don't know nothing about El Salvador. I've been in this country for over 20 years, man. I don't know nothing about that country. He was all pissed off because I didn't know what the biggest river was. I grew up in LA. Longest river there is the LA River.

Anyway, the bottom line is that they said they seen a pattern of criminal history and criminal activity. They felt like there was no chance for me, that I couldn't change. And that's why they deported me.

The longest river here is Rio Lempa, the Lempa River, and it goes all through El Salvador. Well, I know that now.

Right now, we're driving through, making some bus stops. This is MS territory. And about four or five blocks down, we're going to enter a different gang territory. This is a little paragraph in a tour guide book. It says On Your Own in El Salvador. And there's a little paragraph here that's kind of highlighted. And it says, "Gang trouble. Gang violence in cities like LA and New York has spurred the US government to deport many of its worst offenders back to their native countries. For some Salvadorans with a history of violence and arrest, that means a return trip to El Salvador."

So this is in the guidebook. I feel like I'm a tourist, a permanent one.

We're at this place. There's Mexican food called Que Taco Garabato. I've tried the tortas here. They're excellent. I recommend them a lot. I'm going to try a quesadilla today. [SPEAKING SPANISH]

Now that I accepted the fact that I have to stay here, I've started changing a few things. I've had a lot of help from my family, my cousins. They make furniture here. They're carpenters by trade. I work with them for no pay. I don't mind, considering the fact that I was a criminal, and I got deported, and they had heard a little bit about my past. Considering all that, they still let me stay. And I really appreciate it. But now I live out on my own.

The food's here. A little chile right there. Damn, the food looks delicious. When I came back here, I remembered a few things, like foods that I hadn't smelled or tasted for years. And I tried it, and I'd go, hey, I know this flavor. Bam, I remember this flavor when I was a kid. It's like trying to remember a dream. It's fuzzy. You only remember little pieces.

As you can see, I'm talking with my mouth full. We'll take a little break here, savor the delicacies, get back at you in a few minutes. Out.

Where I live right now, actually, it's a good-looking place. It's got a high ceiling. It's pretty big. My room. I had it all painted. I did some graffiti-style spray paint. Artistic stuff. Anyway, right now, I'm just playing some music. Pedro Infante is a Mexican ranchera singer. My dad, he used to like Pedro Infante. There's just something about the music that brings back a lot of memories.

I've got a little black photo album in front of me right here. Here's a picture of me in fifth grade. I had long hair. I had a Pink Floyd shirt on. I'm wearing Vans, Levis. Here's a picture of my brother and I skateboarding. We had a half-pipe in my backyard. Some memories, you know?

I guess my closest relationship that I had would be with my brother. He's six years older than me, and he took care of me a lot. I remember this one time we were hanging out, and there was these two real pretty girls. And my brother was already a teenager. He was trying to make out with this girl.

And I liked her friend. So I tried to do the same thing my brother did. So I tried to kiss the girl, and she popped me in the mouth and busted my lip, and I started crying. I remember my brother, he was hugging me, holding me, telling me, hey, shh, be quiet, be quiet, c'mon. Cleaning the blood off my lip with his shirt.

I don't know. For some reason, I always thought I was smarter than my brother. I spoke better English. I had better skills, like math skills. But my brother, he always did the right thing. My brother's an LA sheriff. And me, I'm the convict. He did good things. I did bad things. My brother joined the army. I joined the gang.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Que paso?

Friend 1

What's up?

Jose William Huezo Soriano

What's this [? again ?] called?

Friend 1

I don't know the name of it.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Hey, you got Beatles here? All right. We're going to play The Beatles right now. It's a little loud. Got the Beatles playing in the background. Just relaxing right here in the billiards. Brand-new billiards. There's fluorescent lights. It's cool, man. It's like a place in the United States. Chalk? Where's the chalk at?

Friend 2

Where's the chalk? I don't know.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Well, when I first got here, I didn't know anybody. So one day, I seen two guys in the distance dressed LA-style, like, baggy. And I said, those guys ain't from here. Right off the [? back, ?] I knew they weren't from here. As he got closer I said, damn, I know that fool. He looks familiar. And he got closer, and I said, yep, that's him. And I told him, what's up, fool?

And he looks at me, he's like, "damn!" He couldn't stop saying damn. He was just like, "damn, what's up, man?" He goes, "You're from here?" I said, "Yeah, man. I got deported, man." He's like, "Damn, me too, man, What up? Damn."

Jose William Huezo Soriano

I see you've got a couple of tattoos. You've got one on your arm, like by your elbow. What does that say right there?

Friend 3

Pokey rest in peace.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

I see you've got a really nice one on your leg. Some real good work. Who did that work? Just kidding. I did it. They make you dress like this to go to work?

Friend 3

Well, they don't make me, and the way I like it, the way I dress, you've got to change your style sometimes. A little bit classic, white, long-sleeved shirt--

Jose William Huezo Soriano

I've ran into other guys I know from prison. They're doing all right. There's Edgar. He did some prison time. He got deported. Alex. Frank. Rabbit. It didn't matter that he had kids that were US citizens. They deported him anyway. They split up his family. Ringo has kids, too. A little daughter. They're like my second family.

We're out in the main street now, walking by the mariachis here. We're going to go see what that's like right now.

Friend 4

Here the come, watch out.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Here they come. Aw, you did it now, man. Chiquita, chiquita.

It's weird, but in a way, I'm glad I'm not in LA. Over there in Los Angeles, a lot of guys are dead, they're life in prison, or just lost in drugs. I feel lucky because I'm alive still. I'm just through with that lifestyle. I'm doing good. I'm working. I'm doing the best I've ever done in my life. I feel more alive now. I woke up. I just snapped out of it. I feel like I've been given a second chance.

Here I am in my living room. I got this video. It's a tape that my family recorded. Let's see what's on here. There's Burbank, where we live. I see the main street right there, Victory. The apartments where my mom lives, and my sister lives next door. I'm going to turn up the volume a little bit. There goes my mom. She's smiling all goofy, making faces at the camera. She's all nervous. She doesn't know what to say.

My mom says that she sends me hugs and kisses and that she loves me, she misses me. I haven't seen my mom for over a year, year and a half. I know I'm going to see her soon, but as for me to go live with her and just be around her, that's impossible now. I imagine it, seeing my mom, hugging her, feeling the love that she generates. Damn. Having a meal with her, talking to her, laughing with her, seeing my family.

I'll be 47 years old by the time I'm eligible to go back. 47, man. I don't think I might even want to go back at that age. My mom ain't going to live no-- she's 66 right now. She's not going to live no 20 years, man. It's [BLEEP] up.

Children

We miss you.

Woman

I love you, I miss you. Call me. I'll see you soon.

Boy

I'll see you soon, man.

Jose William Huezo Soriano

And that was the end of the tape. Everybody's happy in the video. They're all telling me they miss me, they love me. That's really good to hear once in a while, especially if it's pre-recorded. You could always play it again and again.

Well, got a few minutes left before I close. I just want to say, what's up to all my familia, let you all know that I'm thinking of you. And I don't want you guys to worry because I'm living good here. I love you, Mom. I miss you, and I know you're proud of me. That's about it. I'm signing out. It's a wrap.

Ira Glass

These days, Weasel's job is working with an organization in San Salvador called Homies Unidos. He's their treasurer. The group is made up of current and former gang members who are working to reduce gang violence in El Salvador.

Weasel wanted to dedicate this radio story to his friend at Homies Unidos, Ringo, who was mentioned in the story, actually, and was shot and killed in El Salvador last week. Weasel's diary was reported and narrated by Jose William Huezo Soriano, that is, by Weasel. The story was produced by Joe Richman as part of the Radio Diaries series, with help from Wendy Dorr.

[MUSIC--"CALIFORNIA GIRLS" BY BEACH BOYS]

Coming up, a photograph spotted by chance in a country other than the one in which it was taken, a man named Irving met one spring night in a living room, and how these random encounters push people's lives through 180-degree turns. That's in a minute, from Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. Brothers Of Different Mothers.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of stories on that theme. Today's program, Going Home to the Place You've Never Been. Up until now on our program, we've heard stories of people who ended up in foreign countries that they'd been told was their motherland. But it didn't really feel like home when they got there.

In this half of the program, we hear from people who stumbled upon a place where they instantly and instinctively felt more at home than in their real homes. We've arrived at Act Two. Act Two, Brothers From Another Mother.

As Stephen Dubner a writes in his memoir, Turbulent Souls, he was raised in a big Catholic family in Upstate New York, youngest of eight kids, altar boy in church. And one year, after he went away to college, a student was giving him a ride back to his mother's during spring break. And they stopped at a house on the way. The driver announced that they were going to stop for two days to attend his grandfather's 80th birthday party. And Stephen found himself in this house full of strangers.

Stephen Dubner

And the night before the party, I was staying there, and there was this other family staying there. And there was this guy named Irving with his wife and two children. Irving said to me-- they said that they were from Brooklyn, that they had flown down from Brooklyn. And I said, "Oh, my parents are from Brooklyn."

He said, "whereabouts?" And I said, "I don't know. I think my mother lives somewhere near Ebbets Field." He said, "you've never been back? You've never been back to visit your bubba?" I said, "What's a bubba?"

And he looked at me, he said, "Aren't you Jewish?" And I said, "Well, no." I said, "But now that you mention it, my parents were both Jewish, and then they both became Catholic." And when I said that, he looked at me like I was a freak.

For some reason, I was very relaxed with this family. And we were hanging out in this place where I had no idea why I was there, what I was doing there. And I started playing piano, and we played and played, and they sang. I played, they sang.

And he said, "Well, you sure play the piano like you're Jewish." I said, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" He said, "From where I sit, that's a good thing." And I felt this connection with Irving and his family like I'd kind of never felt before. It was a level of comfort that was very odd. For me to be a weird, shy teenager, in a place that I was uncomfortable, with people I'd never met, to be relaxed enough to hang out all night and play the piano with them and sing songs that were essentially silly, there was level of relaxation that went beyond-- it's like what you want your family to be.

I think there was something that-- I'm scared to call it genetic, and it's obviously something more than some kind of cultural fingerprint-- but there was something in the way that Irving looked at the world and the people in it, and there was a manner about him that relaxed my genes a little bit. And it's one of those inexplicable things that is very real. It's like love, I guess, right? You can't define it, and you can't bottle it, and you can't turn it into an equation, but you know how much it either hurts or makes you feel good. And this was exactly like that.

Ira Glass

This is precisely the sort of not-easy-to-explain experience that changes people's lives. And it changed Stephen's. Later, he looked back on it as the turning point that led him to converting to Judaism, which brings us to our next story. A Hungarian journalist who was passing through the States told us about this one, and went out with a tape recorder here in Chicago to do the interviews for our program. Her name is Anna Lengyel.

The story is about two people who had exactly the same kind of irrational moment of recognition that Stephen Dubner experienced. They simply decided, at some point, that they had more in common with each other than either one of them had with anyone else. The story begins with a woman named Ida, who was born in Poland during the Second World War to a Jewish family. When the Nazis invaded Poland and started shipping Jews off to concentration camps, she was separated from her family, including from her twin brother, Adam.

A Christian family took her in and pretended that she was their child until after the war, when her father tracked her down and retrieved her. They searched for the rest of their family, but they never found them. And long after she moved to the United States-- to Chicago-- she couldn't get over the feeling that her twin brother was still alive, out there somewhere. She found that she was always thinking about him, imagining what she would say to him when she saw him again. It was kind of a compulsion.

Ida Paluch

Whenever I went to another city or another country, the first thing I would do is pick up the telephone book and search for his name, Paluch. But I had no luck. There were Paluch, but they were not Jewish, or another country. They were maybe Italian or French or whatever. Wherever I went, I looked in the telephone book.

Adam Paluch

I was looking for family almost for my whole life.

Ira Glass

While Ida was searching, there was a man in Poland named Jerzy Dolebski. He grew up in a Christian family, but he never felt right in his family. He says his parents never showed him the affection they gave to their other children. Like Ida, he told his story to Hungarian journalist Anna Lengyel.

Adam Paluch

I was thinking, what going on? Because I saw other kids, they are kissing my parents. They walk in Sunday together. I never. My responsibility was only clean yards around home. Clean shoes for everybody.

Anna Lengyel

Were you badly treated?

Adam Paluch

Yes, my Polish parents treated me like that. And they told me, this is for your best.

Ira Glass

Around the time Jerzy was 12, his Polish parents decided to send him to an orphanage. They told him it was because they didn't have enough money to keep him at home, but Jerzy noticed they didn't send their other children away. And he concluded that he must be adopted. His Polish family denied it for years, then finally admitted it. So as a teenager, Jerzy started to look for his real family. He contacted a Jewish organization in Poland, but they turned him away. They told him he wasn't Jewish.

And what finally ended his search and brought these two people together-- Jerzy and Ida-- was a photograph-- one photograph-- that happened to be published in America.

Ida Paluch

One day-- it was 1995-- my girlfriend sent me this article from Connecticut, from Jewish Ledger. And she inscribed on top of it, you might find it very interesting. And in the article, there was description of Jewish Holocaust children survivors and the picture of a bearded man, who kind of took me into a little shock when I look at him, because he looked like my grandfather.

So I was in shock a few months. And finally, one day, I decided I must do something about it. And I wrote to the reporter of that Jewish Ledger. And when I found her, I ask her about this man that she interviewed in Poland. What does she know about him? And she said, actually he does not remember much from his childhood.

Adam Paluch

I don't remember anything from wartime. This is like blank something, like, doesn't exist.

Ida Paluch

And I thought many times that the reason I do not hear from my brother is probably he does not remember. And I decided I'm going to get in touch with him. So on January 13, 1995, I finally called him. And he said, "Why do you think I am your brother, your twin brother? When were you born?

"I was born on May 3, 1939." So he answered, "You're not my sister, because I was born October 15, 1942." So I said, "How do you know for sure?" He said, "Because my Christian birth certificate says so."

So I took a breath and I told him, "Guess what. My Christian birth certificate says the same thing, that I was born in 1942. So there are discrepancies here because we had false papers."

So I felt very, very strong about it. And I said, my God, how am I going to convince him that he's my brother.

Anna Lengyel

Because you were sure?

Ida Paluch

My instinct told me, my everything. I was already sure. And I ask him, "Do you remember anything from the past? Anything?" And he says, "I told you first time that I did not remember, but now I know that I remember one thing. When I was taken by my Polish foster parents after the war, I was praying-- something that they reminded me all the time-- I was saying, God help mommy, daddy, and Mr. Leon."

And I said, "Do you know who is Mr. Leon?" He says, "No." I said, "That's the name of our father. You were praying for your father."

Anna Lengyel

You had been married by this time, hadn't you?

Adam Paluch

I married my wife in 1965. And when I saw my wife, after three days, I decided to marry her. And I don't know why til I found my sister. She sent me picture of my mother, you see here? My wife looks similar, very similar, to my mother. And I think [UNINTELLIGIBLE] I remember something.

Ida Paluch

Since that time, when we both established that there is possibility we are twins, I cried every day for any little thing. I was so sensitive. I couldn't concentrate at work. And I missed him. I wanted to hear him all the time. I wanted to talk to him. And it seemed like we had like tele--

Anna Lengyel

Telepathy.

Ida Paluch

Yeah, right. Whenever I thought about him, he would call me. And in the beginning, he called me once in two weeks. Then he called me every week. And toward the end, he called me five, six times a day. It was not enough.

Ira Glass

Still, there was no concrete evidence that they were brother and sister. And nothing in the official paper trail suggested that they were related. But Ida decided to go to Poland anyway, to meet the man she believed was her brother.

Ida Paluch

So the final date that we established that I'm going to go to Poland, April 28, 1995. And we met in the Warsaw airport for the first time. And it was like a magnet. From all the people that stood there, I knew which one is my brother. My brother also brought some people from Polish television to record this moment of us meeting. So there were cameras, and we felt like celebrities. And, of course, we had no privacy.

Anna Lengyel

Wasn't that too bad?

Ida Paluch

It was a little strange, but I just see my brother, nobody else. I just see the miracle, what happened. And people were standing and crying, not knowing, actually, why we are crying.

Adam Paluch

First night in our life together, we slept in one room.

Ida Paluch

But we were talking, all night.

Adam Paluch

And we talk. And in one moment, we started to sing same song.

Ida Paluch

Lullaby.

Adam Paluch

And I ask her, from when do you know this song? Because for today, I don't know from when, because I never heard it from my Polish parents.

Ida Paluch

We were singing the same lullaby about two kittens, like twins.

Ira Glass

Ida was supposed to stay in Poland just two weeks, but two weeks became four. They just could not stand the idea of being separated from each other. Then Jerzy decided to change his name to Adam Paluch, the name Ida told him he'd been born with. Meanwhile, his family was having trouble adjusting. And his wife of 30 years-- the mother of his children-- started to become jealous of Ida.

Adam Paluch

When my sister came, I bring her to our home. And this was understandable for me. I hold her hand. We walked on the street, for example. We talk all the time. And I have no time for my wife. Me and my sister, we have so much information to say.

Anna Lengyel

And your wife was jealous.

Adam Paluch

My wife, for example, told me, "I don't want you to go to walk without your sister hand with her--

Anna Lengyel

Hand-in-hand.

Adam Paluch

--hand-in-hand, because people started to talk. You have other woman. Nobody knows this is your sister. And I tell her, "Don't fight with my sister, because you will lose."

Ida Paluch

His family did not respond the way he expected. When I came, I was the proof that he was a Jew. And they did not want anybody in Poland to know that. They told us not to advertise that we are Jewish.

When I was about to leave Poland, he told me that he would like to meet my family. And I wanted him to meet my family. So he came here as a tourist. He had a visa for a few months. And once he came with me to Chicago, every time we talked about that separation, it was harder to talk. And also, unfortunately, his family got cooler toward him, his wife and his children. They stopped calling him. They stopped talking to him. His wife wouldn't come to the telephone when he called her. Things fell apart.

Anna Lengyel

I suppose you had a family of your own.

Ida Paluch

Yes. It's a very good point you're asking me. My family was surprised and felt like they're losing me. Like, what's happening to me? All heart somewhere else. They were not ready for that.

Adam Paluch

I was stranger. And they tried to understand how, in which way I am her brother.

Ida Paluch

It was very hard. Even my daughter told me that I'm neglecting her children because of my brother.

Adam Paluch

In Poland, they show, on TV, movie about our meeting, about my life. And they prepare opinion I am bad man because I leave my family.

Ida Paluch

He was portrayed as the one who left the family, the bad guy. And they were the victims.

Adam Paluch

And the movie was prepared like that, [SPEAKING POLISH]

Ida Paluch

This is a true Jew. That's why he left his wife.

There was no way to come back. They didn't make him welcome anymore.

Adam Paluch

The truth was, I burn after me bridges.

Ira Glass

Adam decided to stay in America. He filed for divorce. He'd been struggling in his marriage for years anyway. He moved in with Ida's family for two years and moved down the street from her. He took English classes. But getting a green card was difficult. Ida wrote letters to congresspeople, to immigration officials, to anybody she could think of.

Adam Paluch

My sister fight for me about almost two years. And this was really fighting. She lost, two times, job because of that.

Anna Lengyel

How come you lost jobs?

Ida Paluch

Because I couldn't concentrate anymore on anything. I wanted him to stay. And I felt very, you know, to defend him like a mother. And I have this closeness to him. I have to protect him.

Adam Paluch

Nobody in my previous life took care of me like she.

Ida Paluch

Did.

Adam Paluch

Did.

Ida Paluch

We are inseparable. Every day, we call each other. And now that he lives in his own apartment, we still see each other almost every day. It's very strange but true.

Adam Paluch

I cut finger, she cut finger in the same time.

Ida Paluch

In the same place.

Anna Lengyel

In two different houses?

Ida Paluch

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Ida and Adam told reporter Anna Lengyel story after story like this, of coincidences that seemed to prove to them in some way that they must be brother and sister, even though no hard proof exists. Their families both agitated for DNA tests, but they refused. To them, they don't need further proof. They just know.

There's an uncanny quality when you fall in love. And there's an uncanny quality to finding the home you've never had. And at some level, what is there to say? What makes home feel like home? The fact that it feels like home.

Anna Lengyel

You mentioned that you are the two people feeling closest to each other, really closest in this world. So if you happened to have a DNA test tomorrow, which would prove that you're not sister and brother, how would you feel after those--

Ida Paluch

We'll be still sister and brother, definitely. A DNA test was already thrown in our faces many times, which in the beginning, upset us. Not anymore. We don't want to prove to anybody anything. We just prove to each other, and that's enough for us.

Anna Lengyel

Anyway, it seems that you were absolutely sure, or you wanted very badly, very much, to believe.

Ida Paluch

No.

Adam Paluch

No. When I saw her first time in airport, my doubts gone out, away. Immediately.

Anna Lengyel

You don't really take after each other.

Ida Paluch

Well, he is exact copy on father's side and I'm copy of mother's side.

Adam Paluch

When I was in Poland, I decide I will not do any blood test.

Ida Paluch

We don't need it.

Adam Paluch

And I told to my son, if you need, I will do, and I will close an envelope, and I left it in lawyer office, and after my death, you can open. I can't tell anymore.

Ida Paluch

He'll cry.

I believe in God. I don't need DNA test, because I believe what happened to us, it has the hand of a higher power.

People who are not touched by Holocaust, they don't understand Holocaust survivors, what every little thing means to us. To some, it might be unimportant, nothing to think about twice, and to us, are very important things, because we'll look for every little piece of evidence.

We are already sister and brother when we are Holocaust survivors. We have the same past. We understand each other very well. Not only me and Adam but all the people who are in our group of hidden children and Holocaust children survivors understand each other. You can say one sentence, and they'll finish it for you.

Ira Glass

Those interviews by Anna Lengyel, a senior producer for Hungarian Radio in Budapest.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program produced today by Alix Spiegel and myself, with Nancy Updike and Julie Snyder. Contributing editors, Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, and Consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Jorge Just, Todd Bachmann, and Sylvia Lemus. Marketing by Marge Ostroushko. Research help this week from the authoritative Julie Rigby. Eddy Harris, who I spoke with at the top of our program, writes about his long journey through Africa in his book, Native Stranger.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

To buy a cassette of this program, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. Or you can listen to most of our programs for free on the internet at our website, www.thislife.org. Thanks to Elizabeth Meister, who runs the site. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who greeted me today as he greets me every single day--

Jose William Huezo Soriano

Damn. Damn. He couldn't stop saying damn. He was just like, damn.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.