May 28, 2013
Immigrant Stories – Semester Project
Oral History: Interview
Margot Wexler: Hi Nana, it’s Margot.
Nana: Hi Margot.
Margot Wexler: Okay, are you ready for the interview?
1. Margot Wexler: What is your name and what is your relationship to me?
Nana: My name is Annette Wexler and I’m your grandmother.
2. Margot Wexler: Who was the first family member to come to America and when did s/he come?
Nana: The first family member to come to America was my father. His original name was Schmuel Markovsky. He came here in 1908.
3. Margot Wexler: What country did they come from?
Nana: Both my parents came from Russia. My mother was only five years old when she came to America. There were 16 children in her family.
4. Margot Wexler: What town did they come from?
Nana: My father came from Bialystok and my mother came from Minsk.
5. Margot Wexler: What was life like in their hometown/home country?
Nana: My father lived in a small village. He told me stories about wolves roaming the woods near the house he lived in with his family.
6. Margot Wexler: What kind of work did they do and what was it like?
Nana: My father was a student in Russia and he was also a tailor. He loved to read and to write stories. He also loved classical music.
7. Why did they leave their home country?
Nana: They left Russia because of people called the Cossacks, who raided the towns where Jewish people lived, burned their houses and killed the people.
8. Margot Wexler: How did they feel about leaving?
Nana: I’m sure they were sad about leaving, but naturally they were relieved to get away.
9. Margot Wexler: Why did they choose to come to America?
Nana: Many people, including my father, had been told that the streets in America were paved in gold.
10. Margot Wexler: What were their hopes, fears, and dreams about coming to America?
Nana: They hoped to find a better life and looked forward to being happy and free from fear.
11. Margot Wexler: How did they travel here?
Nana: They travelled by boat under very poor conditions.
12. Margot Wexler: How long did the journey take?
Nana: I don’t know, but the journey must have taken more than a few weeks.
RESEARCHED INFORMATION: Most Jewish Immigrants from Russia took a boat from Germany and the average length of the boat ride was 6-10 days.
13. Margot Wexler: Where did they first arrive in America?
Nana: They arrived in Ellis Island.
14. Margot Wexler: What kinds of problems and challenges did they face when they first arrived?
Nana: My father came to America with his brother, Schmerel Markovsky. The immigrants who came here had to pass a physical exam. If they failed the exam, they were shipped back to their old country.
15. Margot Wexler: How was life in America different from life in their hometown?
Nana: They didn’t live in a small town anymore. They lived in New York City.
16. Margot Wexler: How was the work that they did in America different from the work they did in their hometown?
Nana: My father worked as a tailor, just as he did in his hometown.
17. Margot Wexler: Where do they live now?
Nana: My father died in 1949.
18. Margot Wexler: Do they think it was a good decision to come to America?
Nana: He loved America. He went to school to study English, discussed politics, and he made many friends here. He read newspapers and books and listened to music, just as he had done in Russia.
19. Margot Wexler: What do they miss most about being away from their home country?
Nana: He missed family members who were still in Russia and he missed country living.
20. Margot Wexler: What do they NOT miss about their home country?
Nana: He did NOT miss the Cossacks.
21. Margot Wexler: What do they like least about living in America?
Nana: I don’t remember hearing either of my parents complain about living in America.
22. Margot Wexler: What do they like most about living in America?
Nana: Freedom and new challenges and adventures.
23. Margot Wexler: What is the most interesting or important story you know about our family’s history that you haven’t already addressed in this interview?
Nana: I mentioned that my father’s name was Schmuel Markovsky and his brother’s name was Schmerel Markovsky. When they arrived at Ellis Island, they were given new names. Both Schmuel and Schmerel became Samuel and the name Markovsky was changed to Levine. Thus, both brothers had the same name for the rest of their lives: Samuel Levine.
24. Margot Wexler: Was anybody in our family famous?
Nana: Some of my father’s cousins’ names were changed from Markovsky to Marx. Cousin Louis Marx founded the largest toy company in the United States. My father always told us about a child’s hat that Louis manufactured. The hat was topped with a little propeller.
25. Margot Wexler: Was anyone in our family killed in the Holocaust?
Nana: I don’t know.
Margot Wexler: Did anyone in our family live in Europe at the time of the Holocaust?
Nana: Not that I know of.
26. Margot Wexler: Was your first name changed when you came to America?
Nana: No, my first name was never changed, but my parents spelled it incorrectly on my birth certificate (Anette, instead of Annette).
27. Margot Wexler: Was anyone in our family ever in the army?
Nana: Several of my cousins served in the U.S. Army and my cousin, Helen Freeman, was an Army nurse.
29. Margot Wexler: Did anyone else in our family ever live in California besides us?
Nana: Helen Freeman lived in California with her husband and children. She passed away several years ago, but her children live in Los Angeles.
Margot Wexler: Okay, that’s all. Thank you so much!
Nana: I hope this helps. If you have any questions, please call me.
Margot Wexler: Love you too. Bye. (Photo with Margot and Jake, July 2010)
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