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< Echoes of Memory

On Becoming an American


by Harry Markowicz

One bright spring day in 1956, my parents and I nervously faced a federal judge sitting in his private office in downtown Seattle, Washington. We were seated across from him at his desk. During the previous several months, the three of us had spent many hours studying a booklet in preparation for this day. The booklet contained questions and answers about the Constitution of the United States, the structure of the federal government, and some of the major historical events of this country. After asking us each several questions, easier ones for my parents, harder ones for me, the judge informed us with a very large smile that we had passed the test; he was ready to swear us in as naturalized citizens of the United States of America.

I was delighted at the prospect of becoming an American. I was born stateless and had remained without a country for my first 18 years. This was an important day in my life; I had been looking forward to it since we arrived in America as immigrants five years earlier. I don’t remember every detail about the swearing-in ceremony, but I do recall that the judge asked my parents to renounce allegiance to Poland, where they were born. They did. Then, turning toward me, he asked me to do the same with my so-called allegiance to Germany.

It had been only a little more than a decade since the Allies had liberated Belgium from the occupying German troops. That was too short a time to even consider that I might have had any loyalty toward Germany—the country that had deprived me of my civil rights even before I was born in Berlin in 1937, then forced me to emigrate with my family by age one, and during the occupation of Belgium caused me to live with strangers under an assumed identity (while separated from my parents and siblings, from age five to age seven).

With only the briefest hesitation, I renounced my allegiance to Germany, a country to which I didn’t feel the least commitment or loyalty.

I kept my thoughts to myself and became an American citizen.

©2017, Harry Markowicz. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 10harry markowicz

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