“In the dreadful condition the world finds itself in today, we in America are fortunate enough to be able to lead a normal life, to bring up our children in the principles and traditions handed down to us through many generations, and to watch them enjoy all the many advantages this country has to offer its people.
These, however, are not reserved for Americans alone. All those who seek shelter and peace from the terrible cataclysms that shake other continents, can enjoy them too and find a warm welcome in this country. It is not perfunctory – it comes from the heart. I speak from experience and with an earnest wish in this time of trouble for so many to tell of all the kindness and friendliness with which newcomers are greeted here on their arrival from other countries and of the way they are made to feel at home here.
Like millions of other Russians, uprooted by the Revolution, my husband and I had left our native country to find a new home somewhere in the world and, one day in late June 1928, over twelve years ago, we sighted for the first time the distant shores of America.
We were coming from France, where we had spent most of the time since we left Russia. In the three years of the revolution, through which we had lived, we had witnessed the disintegration of our country under the constant pressure of very clever propaganda and, in spite of the valiant fight put up by those Russians who understood that its honour and its culture, perhaps its very existence, were at stake.”
Sometime in the 1940s, as WWII raged across Europe, my grandmother Olga Woronoff, wrote those words. Several years before she had documented her life in Russia, before and during the Russian Revolution, in her only published book, Upheaval.
It was purely by chance they made the decision to immigrate to America. An American they met in Paris had urged them to make the move, assuring them of a better life and more opportunities. They decided to believe him, and it was the same man who put them up in his own house when they eventually arrived in America. It was a taste of the kindness they were to experience many times over in their new country.
My grandmother’s manuscript ends with these words:
“True poverty there is too, and there is appallingly much of it all over the world, but this condition will probably and unfortunately always exist in a greater or lesser degree. If the spirit of true Americanism however continues to prevail in this country, which it no doubt will, help and serious work toward the betterment of living conditions will be always forthcoming too.
May this spirit, when like a steady, bright flame shines in the darkness that envelops the world at present, be forever a beacon to which the unfortunate everywhere may turn their eyes in hope, in trust and in gratitude.”
For my grandparents America offered hope and healing. I wonder what they would think of America today.
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Thank you for sharing this memoir of your grandmother. The experience comes to life in the reading. I’m an optimist; I think America and its people will get through this recent turbulence all the stronger, in due course. This is not the first time America has had to navigate rough political waters, I’m sure it won’t be the last. In many ways it shows the strength of their democracy. Peter
I hope you are right Peter!