AVONDALE — Charles Komosa wishes the walls could talk at his Victorian single-family home.
Komosa is the third generation of his family to own the large abode in the 4000 block of West Wellington Avenue, where thousands of Polish World War II refugees from Europe's Displaced Person Camps resided for weeks at a time.
The house from the mid-1940s to mid-1980s was jokingly called "Hotel Rozmarek," in honor of Komosa's grandparents, Charles and Wanda, who certainly would have honored Monday's World Refugee Day, a time to recognize the millions of refugees fleeing violence from their native countries.
Charles Rozmarek, a Harvard Law School graduate and the son of a coal miner, was the co-founder of the Polish American Congress and president of the Polish National Alliance from 1939-67. He felt it was his "moral duty and responsibility" to house as many refugees as possible, Komosa said. The live-in tradition continued for decades, when Wanda would let older widowed women reside in the home in the 1980s.
Charles Rozmarek (far right), founder of the Polish American Congress in the Oval Office with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during WWII. Rozmarek's home in Chicago's Polish Village would shelter thousands refugees over the course of World War II and the decade after its end as more than 100,000 Displaced Persons from Eastern Europe found a home in Chicago. [Photo courtesy of Daniel Pogorzelski and Charles Komosa]
"It's a unique place," said Komosa, 49, who bought the home from his mother in 1997 and now lives there with his wife, Agata, and their two sons: Charles, 12, and Alex, 11. "I always wondered what kinds of conversations took place during those times."
After World War II ended, hundreds of thousands of Polish refugees from Displaced Person Camps came to America, first by boat to New York City and then usually by train to Polish hubs like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago. The Rozmareks immediately offered their services to the refugees.
"My grandfather really loved Poland," said Komosa, a Gordon Tech College Prep graduate. "He would always let people live there."
The women and girls stayed in five bedrooms upstairs. Men and boys slept on cots in the basement. Wanda would give the guests copies of local newspapers and tell them to find jobs.
Komosa, the National Secretary of the Polish National Alliance, said the refugees wouldn't stay longer than a few weeks.
Daniel Pogorzelski, one of the authors of the history book on Avondale and Chicago's Polish Village, said without temporary living quarters like the Rozmareks', many people might have been forced to return to their native countries.
"The role of Chicago as a refuge for the waves of Displaced Persons from Eastern Europe who settled here after World War II is an overlooked chapter of our history, but one that is vitally important," Pogorzelski said. "Often stateless, many of these people would have been killed if they returned to their home countries, which would be under Soviet occupation for the next half-century.”
Komosa said he's proud to live in a home with so much historical and family value.
"People that pass by here don't know the history of the house and all the people that stayed here," he said.
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