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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Southie Spotlights: John Grygorcewicz

Tom Palmer of On the Dot® sits down with John Grygorcewicz, longtime South Boston resident and Holocaust survivor.

John, nice to see you. I call you John G, because I never can remember how to pronounce your last name.

You’ve got to break it into syllables: gre-GOR-sa-vitch.

You’ve been in South Boston a long time.

I’ve lived here from April 1954 to the present, in the same house. I moved here with my parents, who had five kids. I had four brothers, including twins, and a sister.

You’ve written a book about your life recently – “Boston—Poles Need Not Apply,” by Janek F. Grygorcewicz. It’s a very interesting read. What a life you’ve had. You’ve lived in a few places before you even came to Boston. Not many people today have a story like yours.

After World War II, we were in England from 1946 to 1954. Before that, we were in France, we were in Italy, tracing our roots back before that, we were in Austria. And before that, in a concentration camp in Germany. I think ours was one of about 100 subcamps of Dachau. We were close to the Austrian border. They got overcrowded, and we were moved from one camp to the other. Like I stated in the book, my mother wished the bombs would hit us; we were moved so many times.

How old are you?

I was born April 1, 1943. I’m 78.

Where were you born?

I was born in Poland, Naliboki, which is near a bigger city, Novogrudok, Poland. It is now Belarus. We called it Poland, ‘cause we were there from the 12th century on till we were moved by the Germans.

Where was the best place you ever lived?

I think England was the best, but toward the end of the war the English people wanted all the Polish people out, because there was a job shortage. We were called dirty Pollacks. As a young kid, “Get out of England.” But I got along with a lot of the English kids. We were at a camp near Eastleigh and Winchester, in between those two cities. I went to school there.

Where did you go to school when you moved to Boston?

My father’s sister was our sponsor. I went to St. Mary’s. They put me in the fifth grade – they started doing fractions, and I never saw fractions in England. So I was a little behind. I was always trying to catch up.

Did you go to college?

No. I went to electronics school. I took the engineering exam at Northeastern and I got accepted. But I couldn’t get used to big classes. I also went to Franklin Institute and even taught algebra at Franklin Institute for six months. I taught the kids to do algebra, because the teacher gave up on them. I had fun with algebra, I could solve any problem. I don’t know if I could do it now.

Did you have one job or many jobs here in Massachusetts?

Oh, I’ve had over 100 jobs. You name it, I’ve done it. General Dynamics, MIT Draper Lab, where I was a mechanical technician, Dian Controls. I was in electronics. I drove a bus for the MBTA for 23 years, and I was a shop steward, too. I did it for six years.

Do you have children?

I have a son, Paul, 47, and a daughter, Mary, 45.

Where do you live in Southie?

I live on Woodward Place, the same place I’ve lived since I first came to Boston with my family. They bought the house for $2,700.

You’ve seen a world of changes in this neighborhood. How do you like South Boston today?

I liked the good old days better. You had families. You don’t have families now. We had 15 kids in the house. Our house was originally a five-family. We made a three-family out of it. It’s ridiculous. Nobody talks to anybody. Nobody knows who lives next door. Everybody’s got that [John points to a mobile phone]. I liked it in the old days. People used to talk to one another. I used to know who lived next door. All the kids used to hang out. There was no traffic. We used to play softball in the street. I knocked out the windows. We had to replace them  – that’s how I learned to replace windows, I broke so many.

Do you go back to the old country?

I’ve been to Poland four or five times. Been to London, too. We’d usually stop over in London and stay a few days.

John, why did you write this book?

I was speaking with my brother once. He told me that when he tried to apply for jobs he couldn’t get any. All my brothers were college graduates except me. We were like second-class citizens. Most of my friends were Irish. I applied for the police, but didn't get in. My brother moved far away and got a good job. I applied to the T several times before I got in.

Thank you, John. What a life. We just skimmed the surface. Where can someone find your book?

It’s on Amazon.

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