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* The Lebamoff Family Home Page*

Updated February 27, 2007


On July 4, 1907, a 15-year-old orphan boy arrived at Ellis Island from Macedonia. Unable to read or speak a word of English, he did not know that this date had any special meaning for the clerks, translators, doctors and nurses who would decide his fate - and that of all the many others around him, crowding off the ship and into the Great Hall of Judgment. He only knew that America offered hope for a new way of life, a fresh start, symbolized by Miss Liberty, the great statue in the harbor holding the torch. Argire Lebamoff, who would someday become a well-respected father and grandfather in Indiana, had made the long journey alone, with its bittersweet mixture of hope for a new life, happiness that he might soon see his older brother Thomas, and great sadness at the memory of that terrible day in 1903 when the Macedonian insurrection against the Turks tore through his village of Visheni. As my father later told the story, Tom was away near Istanbul fighting for Macedonian freedom when one hot, humid summer day Turkish troops came into their small village in the Kostursko region of Macedonia. The Turks stopped at the public drinking fountain in front of Argire's home, where some of the villagers confronted the soldiers. The Turks opened fire, and in the ensuing blood bath, my grandfather George was killed and my grandmother Maria died of gunshot wounds in the arms of her 11-year-old son Argire. Many others died that day, too, including Tipo Tsuleff, my wife's grandfather. The Turks also set fire to many houses and destroyed much of the villagers' livestock. After the deaths, young Argire moved in with relatives, and Tom, who was 11 years older than Argire, went ahead to America, settling in Fort Wayne and sending for my father the following year. It took several months to get all the arrangements made. The family home was mortgaged to a Jewish merchant in Kostur, and because Macedonia was under Turkish rule, my father came to America on a Turkish passport, Argir Vassil. At Ellis Island, Argire arrived in the peak year of the greatest wave of immigration this nation of immigrants had experienced. As I heard about the 10-second medical evaluation, I imagined young Argire clutching his Turkish passport as he waited in that long line on that July day facing the obstacle course to gain admission to this new land. At least he had a passport, so he would not be labeled "WOP" (without passport), which was already becoming a slang term for poor immigrants. For the exam, a person was asked to run up a flight of stairs. At the top was a nurse on the left and a doctor on the right, marking code letters for conditions that might disqualify you for entry, like eye disease, heart conditions, mental retardation or insanity; for example, someone who was gasping for breath, pale and sweating might be labeled "H" for heart disease and sent back. Next, the new arrival would step up to the clerk's desk to answer several questions through a translator. What is your name? Who paid for your passage? How much money do you have? Do you have a job in America? Are you an anarchist? The list of questions grew over the years, and by 1917, there were 30 reasons why people could be refused entrance to the U.S. After my father passed the tests of Ellis Island, he and his brother worked briefly in an ice cream factory in Philadelphia to raise the money for their tickets back to Fort Wayne. In time, he founded the Liberty Grocery at the corner of Packard and Clinton streets, and raised a family on his values of hard work and helping our community. I feel a great deal of pride in our parents coming to America. They did not ask for a handout. There was no welfare, no unemployment insurance, no Social Security, no sick leave, no disability insurance and no bread lines for them. They became successful Americans without any government participation, but through their own determination and hard work. Written by George Lebamoff of Fort Wayne, IN.

***

Tom Lebamoff

, NY United States
tlebamoff@yahoo.com


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