an apple for the grave

My great grandmother Stephania Pocztarska grew up in Julianowo, in Russian dominated Poland, and left the port of Bremen on the SS Cassel on Nov 22, 1902. She arrived at Ellis Island on December 8, totally alone, at the age of 16 and with $4 to her name. Since she didn’t speak any English she was detained until her sister arrived from New Jersey to accept her. Eventually she met and married Michael Sledz, a saloon and soda shop owner in the Warszawa neighborhood of Slavic Village in Cleveland. After he died she became a shrewd landlord and savvy business woman, while somehow raising five children on her own. Michael’s parents immigrated in 1881, during a time when Poland was part of Prussia, and they helped establish Slavic Village, with Joseph Sledz operating successful businesses. Joseph was also the first elected councilman of the Warszawa neighborhood, and helped construct St. Stanislaus Church in 1886, which still stands today. My father’s side of the family fled Russian and German domination, to send clothes and money back to Poland during more periods of Russian or German domination. They took great risk to be here, and could not return to Poland to visit until living in the United States for 30 years and thus achieving naturalization. Knowing your roots encourages empathy. All land is borrowed or stolen. Families who built something didn’t build the last thing. There are more innovations to be mined by unfamiliar faces. If your gut reaction to refugees from struggling nations seeking new opportunities in Europe or the US is to tell them to go home, consider your own ancestry carefully, and whether your world would even exist if sanctuary had been denied.

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