Some Mistakes Can’t Be Fixed

Was the decision my grandparents made to leave their home during the Great Depression unique to their time or did history repeat itself during the Great Recession? With the help of my good friend Mr. Google, I learned that Americans did leave for jobs abroad. A Newsweek article from 2009 stated that “many of the nation’s top business schools report an increase in the number of students who are interested in working overseas in emerging markets such as India, China, Russia, and Brazil.”

This happened to my friend, Jerry, whose father went to work in the Soviet Union for Dutch Boy Paint—formerly known as National Lead. Henry Ford set up a plant to build cars there as well, so families like my dad’s left our country to relocate because of the promises of jobs. Some went with the support of big companies like Ford Motor. Others, like my grandfather, went based upon the trust of articles in local newspapers like “The Daily Worker” and “The New Republic.” I never learned what kind of work he did in Leningrad.

When these Americans moved with their children, there were English-language schools near the factories. My father’s school was called “Anglo-American School Number 7,” so the classes were in English.

Leningrad School

My grandparents left a sleepy little town in New Jersey where they owned a three bedroom home to live in a shared apartment in a Soviet city. My grandmother had to stand in lines to buy meat, and within a few years, they were living under widespread surveillance and political oppression. That says to me that they must have been at the end of their rope to make such a life-altering decision.

Were my father and his five siblings aware that the decision to move was a terrible mistake?  When they left New Jersey, the children ranged in age between ten and seventeen, so they were old enough to see what was happening. My dad always spoke well of the schools, but he never told me how they all felt about life outside of school. On the other hand, I never asked. That was my big mistake.

It took years of research which lead to my book. Still, there are many unanswered questions.


About kjw616

I am a genealogy detective. I have already written one book about my Irish family's journey from 19th century Ireland to the United States- a family history sprinkled with personal anecdotes. My second book was intended to be a similar story about my Russian ancestors. Instead, it turned into a tale of just my father's immediate family. It is the tale of what happens when 6 children from New Jersey are moved to the Soviet Union by their Russian-born parents during the Great Depression. It details who lives, who dies, and who is able to return to NJ during a time when leaving the USSR was not an easy endeavor, particularly during World War II and the Cold War. It is my hope that those interested in history during this time period will find this story fascinating as well as those fellow amateur family historians who will learn some of the tools such as, visits to the National Archives, and local libraries I used to uncover this story.
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One Response to Some Mistakes Can’t Be Fixed

  1. With our comfortable and privileged lives it’s so hard to appreciate the pressures that lead to someone making the decision to start somewhere new and, they no doubt hope, somewhere better. It’s a brave choice to us but I wonder if to them it was no choice at all? It also makes you wonder what we would do when faced by such a situation. For writers it is a consistently fascinating topic. Thanks for a thought provoking post.

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