Nicholas Kristof remembers his father, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1952, in his column published Wednesday, Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving.
From the New York Times Opinion section:
One of the things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving is the warm welcome that America extended to a man born 100 years ago in what is now Ukraine.
Wladyslaw Krzysztofowicz was born into an Armenian family in a dangerous region; you might think of it as the Honduras of its day. During World War II, some family members were murdered by the Nazis; afterward, some survivors were killed by the Soviet “liberators.”
Wladyslaw escaped by swimming across the Danube River from Romania to Yugoslavia, was almost executed, made his way to France — and began to dream of coming to America.
My father, for that’s who he was, explored illegal options, including a fake marriage with a U.S. citizen, but in the end the First Presbyterian Church in Portland, Ore., sponsored him — even though he was Catholic, spoke no English and originated in a Communist country that was then our enemy.
There were many reasons not to take him: The sponsors had to pay his transportation to America, cover his expenses and find him a job that didn’t require English (he initially worked as a logger). They did all this with tremendous generosity; I’m still trying to pay it forward.
So in 1952, my father was on the deck of the ship Marseille as it approached New York Harbor. A white-haired Boston woman tried to chat with him, but my dad couldn’t understand her.
The woman took out a piece of paper and wrote down the famous lines on the Statue of Liberty in front of them: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. …”
“Keep this as a souvenir, young man,” she told him. Then she corrected herself: “Young American.”