Where shall we begin the story of SI layout artist Magdalena Deskur, a tale that has an enchanting resonance as walls tumble in Eastern Europe? We could start with a little something about her old neighbor, Karol Wojtyla, who like Deskur, hails from Krakow, Poland. He's now known as Pope John Paul II.
"In our circle everyone knew the Pope," says Deskur, who studied to be an oboist in Poland. "My grandfather Stefan Swiezawski once taught him theology at the university." An uncle, Cardinal Andrea Maria Deskur, is now an aide to John Paul at the Vatican.
Magdalena, 29, obviously was raised amid extraordinary personalities. Their strength was a great help when the government declared martial law and outlawed Solidarity in 1981. "When Solidarity started, there was great hope," says Deskur. "Then when the government cracked down, the people felt crushed."
In those oppressive years, the police twice detained Deskur without just cause. In 1984 she and her boyfriend, Lukasz Jogalla, decided to taste life outside their homeland. To obtain passports and visas, they needed a letter of invitation from someone in the West. It was provided by Steven Hoffman, SI's design director, who had met Deskur and Jogalla during a vacation in Poland.
"When they reached New York in 1985, they stayed at our place for a while," says Hoffman. "One day they asked if they could borrow some good clothes for a luncheon being given by the president of Yale. Just arrived in the States, and they're lunching with Bart Giamatti."
Jogalla's grandfather, Jerzy Turowicz, was being awarded an honorary degree by Yale for his work as editor of Tygodnik Powszechny, the only independent newspaper in Poland at the time. Deskur says she can't recall if commissioner-to-be Giamatti talked baseball during lunch. "I could barely speak English," she says. "So actually, I wasn't sure what he was saying."
During the next few years, Deskur worked at her new language and at a new trade, graphic design. Hoffman hired her last February. "It was kind of a strange road, yes?" she says.
Deskur and Jogalla gained permanant resident status in the U.S. in June 1988 and married three months later. This year's events in Eastern Europe have, of course, thrilled them. "We've been getting Lukasz's grandfather's newspaper each week, and it's been fantastically exciting to follow the news," says Deskur. "This is the first Christmas in a long time that the people have hope."