This piece written by executive director Ken Schorr was originally featured in LSSP’s monthly newsletter.
Immigrants are in the news, many escaping unspeakable dangers in their home countries – horrific gang violence in Central America, civil war in Syria, sectarian and authoritarian violence across the world.
The United States has been, in some times, a beacon of safety and a model of compassion for the world. In other parts of our history, we have shut our eyes, our hearts, and the door to those in need only to realize the cost of our indifference long after the fact.
Unless you are a Native American, you are a descendant of immigrants, as am I. This is my family’s story.
My paternal grandparents Gedalia and Tillie Tschernomoritz, immigrated in 1912 from the Jewish village of Telechan, near Pinsk, then in Poland, now Belarus. The winds of war were approaching and times, always difficult for Jews there, promised to get much worse. Tillie’s uncle, who was already in America, bought them steamship passage on credit, and they arrived without money and in debt. They arrived speaking no English, and became Louis and Tillie Schorr, names pared by the steamship company or a harried immigration officer. Still, they were lucky.
Telechan was devastated by the first World War. Many died, but it was rebuilt. Two decades later, on August 2, 1941, the Nazis rounded up and killed everyone who had returned and obliterated the town. A few of the family that remained escaped to Palestine or survived the concentration camps, most did not.
My maternal grandparents Benjamin and Dora Girszowicz, emigrated in 1931 from Snov, in the Baronovich District, also then Poland, now Belarus. Benjamin felt the war coming, facing persecution by both the Poles and the Bolsheviks of Russia, who arrested him for undermining the revolution. He was held for several days, threatened with execution and then released without explanation. But it was after 1923, and the doors to the U.S. were no longer open to refugees from eastern Europe.
They went to Argentina, the only place he could find to go, and were there for 15 years, carving a farm from the wilderness until they could get to the U.S. My mother grew up in Argentina, her family arriving in the U.S. in 1946 (Her memoir, “”Finding a Place in the World,” is available on Amazon.). Only a few of Benjamin and Dora’s relatives managed to leave Poland before the war. Forty-two members of the family were killed by the Nazis in Snov on February 2, 1941, 76 years ago, this month.
The U.S. has been good to my family who managed to make it here, literally to refuge. Many of those who didn’t were murdered. Those memories from their odyssey still resonate for my family here, where we all work to make an America for others what it was for us: a refuge, a place to be free and to prosper, to live in peace with neighbors and friends of many races, nationalities, and religions.
A country that repudiates the tradition and principle of refuge and sends children and families back to violence and despotic governments they fled is not the America I know and love. I hope we can work together to protect ourselves from the real threats that this country faces with balanced and thoughtful policies that do not renounce the fundamental values of this country of immigrants.
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont helps immigrants in Charlotte and across North and South Carolina every day. We are proud to stand with them, pursuing justice for all people in need, regardless of ethnicity, national origin, religion and political beliefs.