On Passover We Are All Refugees

Anna Diamond’s family in Radom, Poland in the 1930’s.
Anna Diamond’s family in Radom, Poland in the 1930’s.

In 1929 my grandmother, Anna (Rutmanowich) Diamond left her home in Radom, Poland. She traveled across Europe with her three small children, Jack, my father, who was only two years old, his sister Frieda and their brother Lou. In 1929 hatred of the Jews in Poland was already apparent; violent attacks and pogroms by Poles and Russians made it all-too-clear that Jews were no longer welcome in Eastern Europe.

She had little help from my grandfather, Charles, who left Poland in 1922. But Anna and her three children made their way, somehow, to the south of England and to the port city of Southhampton. They boarded a passenger ship, the S.S. President Roosevelt in September of 1929, crossing the Atlantic Ocean and arriving in New York about a month later. They came through Ellis island as refugees, and like hundreds of thousands of fellow Jews, settled on New York’s lower east side. Had Anna and her family stayed in Radom their fate would have been the same as Anna’s parents and her five siblings, all murdered by the Nazis at Treblinka.

My father’s family, wandering around the New York of the 1930’s and the depression, impoverished and knowing no English, I’m sure, resembled immigrants and refugees who today flee Syria, Europe, South or Central America. And, like today’s immigrants and refugees they worked exceptionally hard to succeed. My father attended Stuyvesant High School in the 1940’s, at that time a rather elite New York City public school for boys. He became the first one in his family to go to college: attending tuition-free City College in New York.

For my family, then, Passover is not an esoteric history. We share the history of our ancestors, our parents, our grandparents who made long, arduous journeys away from evil and toward freedom. On Passover we are encouraged to tell the story. In 2017 it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that we are all the sons or daughters of refugees.