Jan 2019: I have been working on my family tree for a while and it has been a wonderful experience! My family tree is available on MyHeritage.com. I plan to present my family history in the form of a series of chapters or stories which I will post here as they become available. My ancestors’ family names include (so far):
Welcome 2019! 2018 was the end of the “anything is possible” era: Man to Mars, hyperloops, Trump lies, the stock market can grow forever, etc. This notion that anything goes is about to meet reality. The World has limits, the Earth has limits, we, as humans, have limits. We know it, but most of us behave like we don’t.
2019 will bring reality back into the mix: The manned mission to Mars will be infinitely delayed, the hyperloop will remain empty, climate change will bite us where it hurts. Trump will still lie but it will no longer matter… Happy new year! There is work to do!
My cousin Dominique Debora Markowicz was born July 17, 1958 in Liège, Belgium, sixty years ago today. She was three years younger than me. On December 15, 1973, at the age of 15, Dominique very sadly passed away in a traffic accident in Brussels. I did not know Dominique well, I met her a few times when I was young, but everyone who knew her was and remains deeply affected by her amazing lust for life.
I am quoting from a book of remembrances that was put together for her memorial service:
“The problem was her laughter… no way to stop it! In ancient Greek class, we invented all sorts of games to try to get her to laugh in class…”
“One day, Dominique and her dad are called in to school to see her physics professor. Your daughter is too boisterous in class, he said, too loud. Behind her dad’s back, Dominique silently puts her index finger on her lips, telling the professor to stop and remain quiet. Her professor stopped talking and smiled…”
“I knew Dominique since 1968 when she joined our school in the 5th grade. I can see her in sixth grade, at a swimming competition. I can still hear her laugh when I congratulated her for helping us win that day”
“I saw her in classes occasionally as I was walking through the school. She was always active, asking questions, responding, and paying attention to her professor, to the lesson and to her friends in class”
“I can see her at school were our path crossed a million times, and each time, there was a smile. Dominique’s smile was everything. Her love of life was everything. And this is how we will see her forever.
Athénée Royal de Woluwe-Saint-Lambert
« Fifteen years. Fate is so cruel, Dominique.
We miss your smile and your kindness so dearly.
In class, your seat is open, but it is taken in our hearts.”
C. Meurant, Physics Professor
“One day, we came to school together. We sat on the steps, outside. It was windy. I like the wind, Dominique said, and then we chatted. I felt like I discovered you for the first time that day, even though we knew each other’s for years… I have loved you since that day and you will always be my best friend”
This is my yahrzeit candle to you, Dominique. Your memory is a blessing.
Please leave a comment if you knew her or wished you had.
I was privileged to attend the March for Our Lives in DC yesterday. My daughter was working and could not accompany me. Much has been written about the event already but I wanted to relay a few personal observations.
Logistics: Only in America!
The event was extremely well organized from a logistics point of view. Lots of volunteers were guiding participants from Metro stations to the site of the march. Many streets around the Mall were blocked off. T-shirt and other vendors had badges authorizing them to be there. There were lots of portable toilets and water stations around. Military trucks were blocking streets a few blocks North, I guess to protect against a Nice-style attack. Small ambulances were there to reach into the crowd if needed. Some Metro stations were closed to prevent overcrowding in escalators and tracks. There were large screens and impressive sound systems to broadcast speeches and entertainment. Bottom line, the local governments, Metro and the event organizers worked together flawlessly to help crowds move smoothly and create a safe environment. To me, this is an exceptional example of democracy at work, and of the commitment to freedom of expression.
Can you see me?
The program of speakers, singers and short videos also demonstrated a level of sophistication that is only found in the United States. We know that celebrities contributed significant money to the organization of the event and it showed. The program included about 20 speakers, all high-schoolers or younger. Entertainers included Jennifer Hudson, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Common, Vic Mensa, Andra Day, Miley Cyrus, Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt. I can’t say that I recognized them all but the younger crowd definitely did. Many younger marchers knew the songs and were singing along. I am sure there is a marketing angle to this, as there is to everything in this country. Still, I enjoyed these talented artists and the live music.
The train is coming…
Some short “high production value” videos were presented between speeches and entertainment, all narrated by high-schoolers. Cogent, smart, well made! The speakers included young folks from Florida but also from Chicago and other cities affected by gun violence. Smart! Naomi Wadler, an eleven year old girl from Alexandria, Virginia spoke on behalf of African-American women who were victims of gun violence whose stories aren’t told. I am sure that professionals were behind the student but it did not take anything away from them, it channeled their energy and made it better and more effective.
In the end, everyone was waiting for Emma Gonzalez’ speech. She was last and she did not disappoint. All these kids (sounds pejorative to say kids, I know) are so articulate but Emma is in a class by herself. I went through Twitter last night and folks were calling for her to run for President! Her bold personality, poise, honesty, sincerity and authenticity gave me goose bumps. After reading the names of the MSD victims, Emma paused and stood still. The crowd went silent too. I have never heard such silence while surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people. Not a sneeze, not a cough, not a murmur. One minute, two minutes… the silence became unbearable but also inescapable… four minutes, five minutes. Then she finished her speech. Six minutes and twenty seconds was the length of the attack on her school in Florida. It felt like an eternity. If you can, click on the link and watch the speech for yourself.
We all know how the United States is struggling with how much access should citizen be given to guns. The underlying basis for granting citizens access to guns is that it will prevent Government tyranny. My thesis here is that this notion is as outdated today as the steam engine is. Government tyranny cannot be prevented by guns in the hands of anyone.
Most countries strongly regulate fire arm ownership. The impact on the number of mass shootings is plain to see in the graph from Vox.com to the left where the US is clearly an outlier. Are these guns a credible antidote against Government tyranny today, which is the stated purpose of the Second Amendment?
In my view, the notion that guns in the hands of a well-regulated Militia could guard against such possible tyranny makes as much sense as traveling from New York to San Francisco by steam train in the age of the Boeing 787…
You’ve Got Mail…
Owning guns may have made sense back then, but today the Government of the United States is vast and decentralized. Perhaps too vast some would say but that is a topic for another post… Would a Militia equipped with firearms be of any practical effect against a Government military that uses helicopter gunships, radar- and laser-guided missiles, satellite photography, artificial intelligence? (see how the US military destroyed a poorly equipped Russian militia in Syria a few days ago.)
Today’s Government is nothing like the Nation’s founding fathers could have imagined. It is far more complex and relies heavily on technology. Government today is made of rules, regulations, procedures and automated systems as much as it is composed of people.
Sadly, we have now seen first hand what attacking a Government is like in the information age. Hacking government information systems and leveraging social media, in fact, are proving far more effective than firearms could ever be, including:
Stealing government official email account passwords
Access via compromised Government employee or contractor
Embed spyware deep inside computers, gaining almost total control of those computers to eavesdrop on most of the world’s computers, even in the face of reboots, operating system re-installs, and commercial anti-virus products,
Concealing spyware in hard drives,
Leveraging social media to spread lies and bend public opinion,
I have always wondered about my family. About their lives back in Poland in the 1700’s and the 1800’s, about their large families, the economic and religious challenges. I started getting interested in genealogy about 17 or 18 years ago when personal computers started to be connected to the internet. Since then, the digital revolution enabled people to access thousands of historical data sources online, thanks to the help of dozens of non-profit and volunteer groups.
Many genealogy sites allow you to connect to folks interested in the same names as you are. Eventually you find people who may be part of your extended family, or sometimes not. My kids and I had a great time spending an afternoon with a new part of our family in Philadelphia a year ago. Ten years ago, we spent a wonderful evening with a newly found part of our family in Brazil and stayed in touch with them since through Facebook.
A few years ago, I had trouble finding information about the Krywin-side of my family, but many more records were made available since. A few weeks ago, I found out that my uncle David, whom I knew well when I was young, was hidden during WWII by a Belgian priest and was actually baptized then. Wow! He is on the right in the photo, I recognized him right-away.
Here is another amazing story: One branch of my Brazilian family are the children of my grandmother’s brother Mihal who moved there in 1940. Timing is everything! One of his daughters shared old documents with me such as this telegram shown on the left. The telegram was sent from Belgium by my mother to Mihal in August 1945. She was 16 years old at the time! The telegram says (words in parentheses are mine):
Bella (my grandma), Adele (my mom) and Leon (a cousin) are doing very well. No news from Cecilia and her husband (they were deported and died in Auschwitz). Poland: Wool clothing and foodstuff needed. Letter will follow.
This, sadly, gives you a glimpse of the emotional roller coasters that WWI survivors and their families around the World went through and what it took to start a normal life again.
An Expanding Tree
As the record of my family tree has expanded, my views on family too have expanded. Ultimately, we are all linked, all connected. A family expands beyond the close-knit core that we talk to every day. We are a mix of our parents and their parents and their sisters and brothers and their uncles and cousins. We end up in all corners of the World, in Latin America, in Australia, in Belgium and France and the Netherlands, in South Africa, the U.S. and Canada. We all do our best to live and raise our families. My family’s immigration records, marriage records, birth records and others tell a universal story.
Those Not to Be Forgotten
Our Jewish people has been afflicted by the Holocaust, the unthinkable murder of million of innocent victims. My family is no exception. Seeing members of my family in the records of the U.S. Holocaust Museum or the Caserne Dossin in Belgium (where many of my family members were gathered then deported from) always brings me heartaches. Entire families were sent to their deaths to no fault of their own. Children were robbed of their future. Placing their name in my family tree and learning about them and their fate helps me commemorate their names and bring a small tangible proof of their short passage on Earth.
Etched on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus’ words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed,” resonate with most Americans. We are, after all, an immigrant nation. A majority of Americans only have to look back two or three generations to find a loved one that left their livelihoods behind to escape persecution or pursue greater opportunities, or as the forefathers so eloquently put it: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
For many years I firmly believed that this was what made the United States great.
I was wrong. With each day passing, we show the world we are a hypocritical nation that can talk the talk, but isn’t willing to walk the walk. People are crossing our borders and staying illegally instead of apply for citizenship and refugees fleeing war-torn countries are facing endless application ceilings to prove they are not a threat to the United States. Why? Are the simply not patient enough? Should we be afraid of the people applying? Or, are these just excuses meant to retain the Anglo-Saxon/Christian majority of the past? Do we project the image of acceptance while use the law to enforce our true intentions?
The first immigration procedure enacted in the United States, the Naturalization Act of 1790, placed no restrictions on immigration. However, the openness wasn’t without one glaringly restrictive measure, that non-whites were not permitted to gain citizenship. Essentially, the very first immigration laws in the United States showed an obvious desire to keep certain individuals out of the American dream. Future legislations only acted to make more blatant this goal. The Page Act of 1875 prohibited entry of immigrants deemed “undesirable,” the National Origins Formula of 1924 classified immigrants coming from “quota” and “non-quota” nations (non-quota being nations contiguous to the United States), and the INA Amendments of 1965 set a quota for Western/Eastern Hemisphere immigration. Lastly, the 2002 Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act and 2005 REAL ID Act increased border control, curtailed habeas corpus relief, created more restrictions on political asylum, and require that foreign nationals carry ID’s.
In essence, we are creating a legal, judicial, and physical wall that prevents certain immigrants from coming in and suffocates those already here, out. A nation of immigrants with policies meant to hinder the immigration of those most in need. Ironic. Sad. Not the American dream- but a nightmare with icing on top.
Over five million Syrians refugees are now registered with the United Nations which works with countries to resettle them. To date, 1.8 million ended up in Turkey, over one million in tiny Lebanon and over 600,000 in Jordan. What about the U.S.? It takes an average of 18 to 24 months for refugees to be fully vetted for resettlement in the U.S., and that is after the UN has done its own vetting. The families of refugees have to wait all this time in camps overseas before being allowed in the country. Since 1990, the U.S. has taken in about 73,000 refugees a year but has taken in about 2,500 Syrian refugees since 2011. Our country will take only 10,000 refugees from Syria this year. In the meantime, Germany has taken 100,000 refugees, Sweden 65,000, and Hungary 55,000. 26,000 Syrian refugees have landed in Canada since November 2015.
Bombings in Paris and Brussels have been used as excuses for denying Syrian refugees asylum in the U.S., or making it increasingly long and difficult to get in. The House of Representatives passed the “American Security against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015” on November 19 2015. The Act would would require the secretary of Homeland Security, the head of the FBI and the director of national intelligence to sign off on every individual refugee from Iraq and Syria, affirming he or she is not a threat. This is despite the fact that many safeguards already exist. According to an analysis by the Cato Institute, the risk of a suspected terrorist slipping through this vetting process is virtually nil, making the threat from Syrian refugees “hyperbolically over exaggerated”. According to Jonathan Hafetz, it is far more likely that a future terrorist would either be born in the U.S. or attempt to enter the country on a student or tourist visa.
Fear is the main reason the United States lags far behind many other countries. But fear of what? It only takes a drive in the ethnic neighborhoods of our American cities to understand the economic and cultural vitality that immigrants bring to the U.S. I am one myself. Is this fear a psychological phenomenon like the fear of flying, or the fear of melting nuclear plants, or is there something else at play? The fear of being pushed aside in a country long dominated by a white anglo-saxon majority? If so, will reassurances from our President, longer waits and tougher criteria ever make a difference?