Karol Markow⁠i⁠cz

January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023

“I grew up with the sense that my life could have been so different. It wasn’t guaranteed that this magical place was going to be where you grew up. In fact, it was unlikely that we were going to end up here, very unlikely. I know it’s not something that was guaranteed.”

“I was born in the Soviet Union. In the late 70s, there was a brief moment when Jews got permission to leave the Soviet Union, so my family jumped at it. They let out my grandmother and her sister first in 1976 – two women all alone in their 50s who didn’t speak the language. But it was the only way to get us all out. They lived in America for a year before my father finally got permission to follow them and then my mother and I followed a year after that, just before my second birthday. So, every year on July 20, my mom and I celebrate our America-versary.”

“My parents had spent their lives thinking about what the world was like. They were both big readers and had read these stories of adventure, but they were just stories. They had no options in the Soviet Union. They wanted to be free.”

“Freedom is not just something people say. It was really hard for them to live in a place where you had to say certain things, think certain things and believe certain things – and if you didn’t, you really risked something. By the late 70s, you were no longer risking being sent to a gulag, but maybe your parents would lose their jobs because of something you said. It was stuff like that that made them really want to get out.”

“In the Soviet Union, Jews were never able to practice their religion or be Jewish in any way, but it was permanently on their passport as their identity. So, you are neither here nor there. It was a really hard place to be.”

“I feel lucky and blessed in the way that I was raised. It was definitely instilled in my brother and I – he was born in America – that we were going to appreciate the fact that we were here. And try to instill it in my own kids. I have three kids born in America who don’t know anything else. They don’t feel the pressure of knowing their life could have been different, because they were always going to be born here. My husband is also an immigrant, and we tell them ‘you are really lucky that you were born here. We weren’t, so you should feel that luck all the time. Because you were born on third base just being born in the US.’”

“They are very knowledgeable about what the Soviet Union was like, what life for my family was like and a lot of my family history. They know to appreciate the military, police and firefighters. They know that they’re lucky and blessed and shouldn’t take any of that for granted. So it’s a big thing in our family to not just think about how things turned out, but to feel how differently things could have gone.”

“People have gotten to where they think being patriotic is cheesy, and it’s not. Loving your country, loving the greatest country, the most free country that has ever existed in the history of the world is not cheesy. Be open about it. The older generations have to take control and really speak their values to their kids and not be embarrassed about it and not shy away from patriotism.”

“So much of it is luck. We are lucky to be here. And to not at all celebrate, that makes no sense to me. You could have been born somewhere else, you could have lived somewhere else, your family could have ended up somewhere else. But you didn’t, you ended up here. And you should embrace that. It’s an amazing thing that happened to you and you should really celebrate it with your whole heart.”

“I celebrate my America-versary and I write about it every year. It’s not always the same story, there will be a theme of what’s going on in the news and how that translates to my story. We’re all Americans. We have this amazing system where we get to pursue so many different things and be who we want to be. Nobody limits you because of your identity, or your religion or any of that. It’s amazing, and it should be spoken of more often.”

Karol Markowicz
South Florida

Born in the Soviet Union and raised in Brooklyn, Karol Markowicz is a freelance journalist.