Packing up Your Past

My daughter is an elementary school teacher who loves meeting authors at local book signings. Her most recent meet-and-greet was with Jamie Lee Curtis, whose children’s books sit on the shelf of her classroom bookcase.

Ms. Curtis’ most recent publication, This is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From, is of particular interest to me since it asks children what personal treasures they would bring if they were faced with moving to a faraway land. I have thought about this topic many times as I wrote my father’s story, Do Svidanya Dad.

His was a family of six children ranging in age from ten to seventeen. When faced with their parents’ decision to move them to Russia, what were they permitted to bring? Like the children in Ms. Curtis’ book, did they pack a favorite necklace, book, toy, or a camera?

I am guessing that my grandparents’ suitcases were stuffed cash, because they knew the advantages of possessing foreign currency in the Soviet Union. Perhaps some of this money was from the sale of the contents of their home.

Dad’s sister Anna brought a diary to record the events of her journey when she left New Jersey with their uncle six months before the rest of the family. Anna later sent that same diary home so that her sisters could write of their similar trip later that year.


The photograph album which sits on my desk is evidence that they packed some treasured pictures of their lives in New Jersey, and those pictures traveled home with my father ten years later across the Soviet Union, then onward to Japan, Honolulu, San Francisco, New Jersey, and finally, eighty-five years later, to my home in South Carolina.

Dads family Marty Wardamasky-Rockaway,NJ







Was their room for any other mementos of their past? If there were, most were likely abandoned when they were forced to flee once the German invasion began and they spent the next five months on the run.

As we sit in our heated and air-conditioned homes, complaining when we lose power during a storm or get annoyed by a noisy neighborhood dog or traffic on the way to work, it all seems so trivial. We have no real reason to complain.

I bought this book about immigrant children moving to another land today. My motives were selfish, since I hope that by reading it to my grandchildren now, it will spark an interest in them to someday read my book and learn about what their great grandfather and his family brought with them when they emigrated from the United States.

Thank you Jamie Lee Curtis!


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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2 Responses to Packing up Your Past

  1. Jamie (the other one) says:

    Nice post. I really think this is one of her best books as it really puts into perspective to children how little a lot of people could bring over. I would be curious to see what Bryce would take!

  2. Pingback: Who Have You Met – Mommysmeanderings

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