From Refugee to Immigrant

 

My grandmother, born Elena Haborskaya, to whom Roads is dedicated. It was her voice I heard, throughout my childhood, bearing witness to the events of the momentous Twentieth Century in Russia: born in Tsarist times, her life encompassed the Revolution, the First World War, the Russian Civil War, the Ukrainian famine, the Second World War, and the Nazi occupation of Crimea.  Stalwart, self-educated, honest to a fault, she approached life with integrity and faith – qualities that enabled her to face the difficulties of her time, to save herself and those she loved, bring them through the hell of war.

In these photographs, I am struck by the evidence of hardship and hunger etched into the lines of her face, only to be smoothed a few years later when living in relative safety and having regular meals became possible. The constant between them is determination and a seriousness of purpose she would manifest to her dying day.

Baba Lena, Germany
Baba Lena, Belgium

Leaving for America

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing

Well, here we are. Brussels, 1956. Trunks and cases already on board, documents in order. Friends and well-wishers gathered to see us off, posing for one last time together before the train takes us to the harbor, where we will board the SS Italia for the transatlantic voyage.

I’m the one in the baggy drawers, clutching, most likely, something to read. My brother is on my left, with my mother behind him; next to him is his best Belgian friend (and my first crush), Alain. Behind Alain is my grandmother. My father is second from the end in the back row.

I don’t remember the girl’s name. But I know I desperately wanted a pair of white knee socks just like hers. The reason I couldn’t have them, whatever it was, is lost to history.