WASHINGTON — Approaching her retirement, Zofia Dubicka went to register for her Social Security benefits in March when a clerk delivered stunning news.
"You're not a U.S. citizen," he told her.
She was incredulous. Then devastated.
"I just started crying. I said to him, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'Yes ma'am, I am.' "
She thought: "How could that be?"
Dubicka, who will turn 67 on Saturday, has lived in Northern Virginia for 24 years. Before that, on New York's Long Island for four decades. Her family had fled Poland at the end of World War II, and all this time she thought that she had been born on a farm in Germany. They immigrated to the United States when she was 3, and she vividly remembers the day her father became a naturalized citizen in 1961, when she was a teenager.
"Zofia, now you are a free American citizen, too," she remembers him saying. "You can be anything you want to be, go anywhere you want to go."
But now at a federal office in Fredericksburg, Va., the clerk was telling her she was not who she thought she was.
Worried about the possibility of not being able to claim her Social Security benefits, Dubicka immediately started what she assumed would be the long process of applying for U.S. citizenship. Then three weeks ago, the immigrations officer assigned to her case told her about another shock that she had discovered deep in Dubicka's family's immigration records: She had been born in a displaced-persons camp, in Westrhauderfehn, Germany - not on a farm.
"My parents never talked about it," Dubicka said this week. "On Sunday after church, all the relatives gathered for a big meal, and the only thing my father said was how bad Hitler was, how terrible everything had been, and how lucky we were to be here."