Colorful, Laskowitzpictures.com, Photographs, Photography, Pictures, Ray Laskowitz
Comments 45

It Continues


In all its glory.

In all its glory.

I’m going to tell you a story.

This story, in so many ways, is about all of us in The United States.

My grandfather was a Russian immigrant. He came to this country in 1905. He was a sailor in the Royal Russian Navy during the time of the first Russian Revolution. He was a large machine mechanic. A machinist’s mate. He served on board a battleship. His ship, like so many others, was ordered to fire on Russian people in order to quell the early uprising. Like so many others in the navy, he refused. He would not fire on his own people.

He jumped ship somewhere near Vladivostok. He and a large group of his unit. There is a famous book and movie about this called, “The Potemkin Incident.” It is about a battleship crew, how they scuttled the ship and deserted. But not his crew. He made his way to Hamburg, Germany. He had few citizenship documents. And, if history serves, Russian police, soldiers and agents looked everywhere for these men. They had to, since about half the navy deserted. Yes. Deserted. My grandfather deserted rather than kill his own people.

When he got to Hamburg, he managed to buy a steerage class ticket on some broken down old tramp freighter. He and his friends lived in the bottom of a ship for about 30 days eating only apples and Kasha (a sort of rough grain that we still eat today) and drinking putrid water. When they arrived at New York harbor they were quarantined for a short time and then passed through immigration at Ellis Island. My grandfather spoke no English. The immigration officers spoke no Russian or Ukrainian. That’s how I got my family name. When he entered, they wrote “Laskowitz” because that’s the best that they could do. That’s not what our name is. It is something like Laskowicz, or Laskevitz or…

He passed through immigration and made his way to the Lower East Side of New York City, which was an Eastern European ghetto. In 1910, he met my grandmother who immigrated from Poland. They married. They moved to Newark. New Jersey. They had two children. My aunt Olga. And, my dad. Walter. In 1917, while World War I was starting to move slightly in the Germany’s favor, my grandfather enlisted in the US Army. As did many immigrants, he went back to Europe to fight for his newly adopted country. The US government decreed that all immigrants who served and who were holding the historical equivalent of the “green card,” would immediately be granted full naturalized citizenship upon being discharged from the military. They just had to  apply.

Apparently, my grandparents learned a couple of lessons too well. They didn’t trust any government.  Register? Apply? Noooooo…. Although he could have been naturalized in 1919, he wasn’t. He waited until 1947. My dad, by this time, had served the country during World War II. He was home and convinced my grandfather — his dad — to claim his veterans right. He did.

My grandfather passed in 1949. I never knew him.

One more family story. My grandfather’s family were sausage makers by family trade. They lived in a small village. During World War II, the Nazis burned the village to the ground. Later as the Soviets pushed through the village, they salted the land so nothing would grow. The only thing that stands there today is a small monument.

Today is 30 January 2017. The past week was pure hell. Think about it. Make what you will of my family’s story.

Barbed wire.

Barbed wire.

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45 Comments

      • right1946 says

        Interesting family history. I believe that there was a time when immigrants were welcomed into this country, to help build it I supposed (except for those who were enslaved and made to participate). I remember learning a song in my high school chorus “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free…” When I visited Philadelphia many years ago, I remember seeing these words inscribed on a bridge or something. The president’s slogan “Let’s make America Great Again” troubles me as an African American. Because America is better than it has ever been for Blacks, the “again” suggests that we go back to something that once was. What is that? Slavery, segregation, inequality, etc. The racist in this country seem to think that’s what it means so they’ve come out of the wood work in support of the new president. I like the slogan that Hilliary had “Stronger Together”. Together we can make sure that our country does not revert back to discrimination of any kind. By the way, I like the beautiful photography.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think what I know of my family history is like many others. If you historically trace the region where my grandfather came from, you’d learn the we were serfs, which is slavery by another name. That said administration is made up of white men who want to bring the country back to the turn of the century. The 19th Century.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank-you Ray for your well expressed rich family history! Folks in the USA must feel very frustrated and powerless right now – but that is my rather simplistic opinion based on available news coverage.

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    • May I suggest that people are passionate about the political scene right now. Foreign news may convey facts, not feelings. To me it seemed that Ray is conveying his decisions, not rebuking at a personal level.
      Please feel free to ignore or delete my comment if it feels wrongly placed. Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The only thing that I want add is that I have a lot of friends and followers from many regions in the world who express their sympathies by saying something like “over there” or “down there, ” seemingly forgetting that the world today is a very small place. What affects me affects you even if you live 12,000 miles away from me. Peace.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you on that. Unfortunately the distance is real, not perceived. And that filters the emotive component of an indirect experience through the news.

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      • Thank-you for clarifying. My comments actually stated how I thought US citizens “must feel” – Ray’s response suggested that I was personally accusing him of “being” powerless and frustrated. Also, living just across the border, I well realize the powerful impact US politics has on Canada. Also, I was raised by a single mom – who emigrated from Germany in the early 50’s – so I do have some personal perspective on the immigration issue. My apologies to Ray for any misunderstanding. Anyhow, I will refrain from further shallow comments on this issue.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve traveled and lived in many places, all of my life. Because of lived in many places, I’ve come to know the people. That gives me amore unique perspective. Much more than say a tourist looking for the next best shopping deal or famous landmark.

        Liked by 1 person

      • From academic studies I know that know matter what I post (mostly) pictures, the reader or viewer makes his/her own meaning. Even this very kind response assumes that I was taking it personally. As a wise musician once wrote, “You don’t know what it’s like to be me.”

        I took the original response to be one of those that I’ve heard a number of times, which is about the US’ current problems being “over there” or “down there.” The world is a small place these days. What affects us “down here” affects you, “up there.”
        Don’t let this stop you from posting. Fully. And, in meaningful tones. Way too many replies around WP are nothing more than a kind of affirmation.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for telling your story, America is great because of our diversity. I am the great, granddaughter of a slave and am proud of my ancestors too. America was built on their backs and we are not “going down” without a fight for liberty and justice for all.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your very interesting family history. Your grandfather was a hero! While I understand and sympathise with those who seek political asylum, those seeking refuge from terrible conditions, and those who want to travel and see the world, I do not understand those who emigrate with stars in their eyes, thinking America is the answer to everything. How can you depend on having a better life away from your people and your roots? And why not try harder to make things better in your own country? I don’t agree with Trump’s actions, which are prompted by racism and imperialism, but I do think if more people who could, stayed home, the world might be a better place. Look for the promised land under your feet, before you look outward.

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      • I have been on a short visit to the US, Ray, and thought it a beautiful country! The world is a fascinating place, and I have enjoyed every bit of it that I’ve seen (which isn’t much!). But what I’m trying to say is, you shouldn’t turn your back on your country and your people without good reason. I see a lot of conflict faced by those who do so — many of my relatives are in the US — because they can’t give up the very different values they’ve grown up with. They do sometimes face discrimination, but they are willing to put up with it because they believe it’s “a better life”. And I see the plight of elderly parents left behind with nothing to cheer their old age. They may be better off, but material comforts aren’t everything. Yes, there are so many things all wrong in my country — I don’t know who has a worse, more dictatorial leader, you or us — but it’s still home and I will try to “be the change”.

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      • You do what you believe you have to do. I don’t believe anybody wants to turn their back on their family, but I do think all people want a chance for a good education, a better job and a less stressful life. That ambition, in itself, may bring even more stress. But, you never know until you try.

        As far as the US’ current leader goes, I’m pretty sure he and his cabal won’t be around very long. He will be legally removed.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing. As a private person myself I can appreciate that you share this personal history, because it is important and especially significant right now.

    I agree, we are all affected by this. It is one word. And we can all do our part in our ways. (Please excuse if there is any misunderstanding with my tone. As English is not my first language)

    Best wishes,
    Takami

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    • Takami, your tone is fine. I spent a long time in Asia and some time in Japan, so I catch your meaning. For me, the post is about immigration and not so much about my grandfather. In the US, we are all immigrants.

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      • Ray,
        Thank you. And immigration is an important issue here too. And contrary to popular belief, Japan is not “homogeneous” and we have a complex history with the native people here.

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    • Thanks, Andy. My writing is limited so I really didn’t make the right point about immigrants. And, I have very little family left. We never knew much about each other. I think there are six living cousins. We really don’t know each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great story Ray, thanks for sharing! These are troubling times, at least as of the time of my reply, there is some comfort in seeing “check & balances” operating as intended in our flawed, but wonderful democracy.

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