respect and reverence
‘‘Don’t forget to thank Mrs. Roosevelt, dear.’’ That is what my grandmother’s
friend Marion told me when she learned I was writing a book about Ellis
Island (as I had described the project in shorthand to my grandmother).
Marion wanted me to thank Eleanor Roosevelt for getting her sister out of
Siberia. In the 1920s, Marion told me, when her mother was a widow in
Sanok, Poland, struggling to raise her five children, Marion’s grandmother
emigrated with two of the children to the United States, partly to help ease
her daughter’s burden. She brought the oldest and the middle child, having
determined to take, of the second and third daughters, whichever one suc-
ceeded in getting up early enough to make the journey. Marion herself came
over, after having been rejected three times for a visa, in 1933, by which
time stringent U.S. quota laws put new obstacles before would-be migrants
and she had to pretend to be her grandmother’s daughter in order to get the
papers. The second daughter, however, by then married, stayed in the area
of Sanok. When the Nazi occupation began there in 1939, she was living on
the side of the river that fell under Russian rule when the control of Poland
was split between German and Russian forces. She and her family were sent
to Siberia. After the war ended, Marion said, the Jews in Siberia were for-
gotten deportees, and might be there still had it not been for the efforts of
Eleanor Roosevelt. According to Marion, Roosevelt, as ‘‘ambassador to the
United Nations,’’ worked with ‘‘a friend, a woman diplomat politician from
England,’’ and together they were responsible for having deportees returned
to Poland. The sister left Siberia in 1949 and came to the United States soon
For several reasons, I thought of Marion’s request often when writing this
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