Re: Immigrants from Poland Returning #general


Daniel Mendelsohn <damendel@...>
 

The question of immigrants who returned goes beyond people who went
back to the 'old country' either to find spouses or even simply to
visit their "old country." We take it so wholly for granted that the
move to America (or wherever) was such an improvement over the life in
the old country that we forget the subtle reality of the situation. (A
visit to the sites of the old shtetls can often correct this.) After
the death of my great-grandfather in 1912, his eldest son, aged 18, (my
grandfather's older brother) sailed >from his town of Bolechow (near
Lwow) to New York to begin the process of resettling the family in New
York; a year later, instead of sending for the rest of his family, he
sailed back to Poland. Why? He absolutely hated New York. It's
important to remember that many of these immigrants were, essentially,
country folk, and despite the various disadvantages of shtetl life,
these Jews lived in what we, today, would consider charming small
villages in terrifically picturesque locales--in this case, the
beautiful hills and forests and streams of the western Ukraine, leading
up to the Carpathian foothills, and area even today still dotted with
the many resort spas, with their 'healthful waters,' that were so
prized at the fin-de-siecle. They were, moreover, well established
socially and enjoyed the advantages of life in small towns where
everyone knew each other, and where they themselves were known to all.
Today we think of the progress to New York as so inevitable and
desirable that it's easy to forget that, for many of the immigrants,
the move away >from the towns where their families had lived for
generations was traumatic, and constituted leaving lovely country towns
for the filth, squalor, noise, and alien hubbub of a city in a country
where they didn't speak the language.

My great-uncle and his wife and four daughters were all killed by the
Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators between 1941 and 1943.

Daniel Mendelsohn
New York, NY
damendel@princeton.edu

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