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Immigrants Made America Great Mr. Trump: My Grandfather’s Story

My grandfather working in his store in Detroit – just as I remembered it

Published in ChicagoNow, June 30, 2016

In June of 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor. Twenty-eight years later, my grandfather was welcomed to this country by Lady Liberty, a gift from France, funded by the French people, to commemorate the friendship between our countries. The statue was located on Liberty Island for two reasons. The first was that the island was the property of the United States government, so it belonged to all Americans. The second was to welcome boats full of immigrants passing it on their way to Ellis Island.

Most of us have stories of how our ancestors arrived here as immigrants. Even Donald Trump has some to share. Like me, he had grandparents who emigrated here from Europe. His paternal grandparents, Friedrich and Elisabeth Drumpf, came from Germany. Trump’s mother, Mary Ann MacLeod, was born in Scotland and met his father during a vacation trip to New York. So perhaps he will enjoy my story about my maternal grandfather, Philip Krut.

My grandfather’s date of birth is listed in several sources as between 1890-92 in Nova Alexandria, Lithuania. We know only a few facts about his childhood, all of them sad. His mother died when he was young, leaving his father with four small children. When his father remarried and started a second family, they were too poor to keep all of the children from the first marriage. So at age ten, Philip was sent away from his home to be apprenticed to an uncle in Riga as a tailor.

Philip came to America through Ellis Island between 1912-13 to escape serving in the Russian army. As a Jew, being drafted was a 25-year sentence filled with danger and discrimination. He met my grandmother in Cleveland, where he had family that had already immigrated, and they eventually settled in Detroit. They had three children, eight grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and, as of this writing, 26 great-great grandchildren and counting.

My grandfather was a sweet man who loved his family and this country. He always joked about how big a family he had created “from just two little people.” He loved baseball and wrestling. He became a citizen in 1931 and was a hard working part of the American fabric (literally). You see, he was a master tailor who owned a small shop in downtown Detroit.

I have vivid memories of visiting his store, and I often helped him write out his invoices for his customers. I’m pretty sure all of his grandchildren assisted him with this task at some point. We giggled as he dictated, “Two cuffs, one collar, and one crotch – two dollars.” I also remember walking to the drug store with him on Sundays to buy bubblegum.

Donald Trump would expect my grandfather to have assimilated, but it really took two generations to complete the process. For all of the years my grandfather was an American citizen, until his death in 1972, he preferred speaking Yiddish and socializing with his “landsmen,” his fellow shtetl Jews who emigrated from the same geographic region of Russia. He worked hard, paid his taxes, raised a family, and followed the law. He just preferred to live and socialize with people who were like him.

While his children were completely Americanized, they also preferred to stick with their own kind. It was my generation that assimilated, most of us moving out of the predominately Jewish neighborhoods our parents favored and identifying first as Americans. By our children’s generation, intermarriage (both religious and ethnic) had completed the process of blending into the American melting pot.

So you see, Mr. Trump, immigrants contribute much to the fabric of America. But it may take a couple of generations for them to become fully assimilated. To ban them because of their religion or ethnicity is actually un-American.

Emma Lazarus, the poet who wrote the sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, was a Sephardic Jew whose parents immigrated to the United States from Portugal. She was well educated and published poetry in the mid-nineteenth century. Ralph Waldo Emerson became her friend and mentor. She witnessed earlier waves of refugees who, like my grandfather some 20 years later, were trying to escape Russian pogroms and discrimination. Lazarus composed The New Colossus to highlight the plight of immigrants coming to America. After her death, her poem was inscribed on a plaque at the base of the statue:

The New Colossus

Written by Emma Lazarus (1849 – 1887) in 1883 and inscribed in 1903

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “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-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lady Liberty, Mother of Exiles, once held power comparable to the Mother of Dragons on Game of Thrones. Generations of immigrants worshipped what she represented and worked hard to make this country great. How sad that Mr. Trump wants to shut the “golden door” to people like my grandfather who happen to be Muslim or Mexican.


by Laurie Levy
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