HT: "My father was born on the border between Russia and Poland, but he was under Russian rule. Well, you know what they did to Jewish boys was not so nice. But he was going be 18 years old, and he knew he would have to go into the army. And he knew that being in the army for a Jewish boy was very bad. So he said goodbye to his family and ran away.
"He worked his way across Europe to London. He lived in London for two years. Well, he was a real ‘English dandy.’ A good-looking man, you know, and then he came over to the United States. But he was an apprentice to a tailor when he lived at home in Europe. So that's how he became a tailor."
GM: Did he tell you stories about how he got his way into London? HT: I don't remember him ever telling us how he actually got into London…"
Her son, Steve, talked then about the story of leaving Russia. He gave more details in a separate interview later. ST: "I had always heard that my grandfather was escaping the Russian army with several other Jewish boys. Being in the Russian army was a very profound shift. You were in for 20 or 30 years. It would be the end of a life, certainly a religious life and was an utter loss of community. So I had heard that these boys were trying to escape that by going across western Russia or Poland. They were fleeing the Russian soldiers that were trying to capture them. The soldiers were very close behind when they came across a shtetle. They headed right for the synagogue. Without saying a word, they sat down in the pews, put on a yarmalka and talis, and started to pray. The Russian soldiers came in and asked if they had seen any strangers in the village. The rabbi said that no, he had seen no one new. The Russian soldiers left. After a reasonable amount of time, the boys realized they had escaped the soldiers, so they continued on.
"From there, their journey was easier. It seemed they weren’t in much danger after that. I’m not sure how they lived or how they ate. They must have gone from shtetle to shtetle to get out of Russia. I assume they then went through Germany since he and most likely the others spoke Yiddish, but I’m not sure. But I have all these questions. How did they make it from Russia to England? It’s a huge area to do on foot. My assumption is that they must have had enough money for a train ticket to a coastal city. It seems to me that if they truly had walked that whole way, we would have heard more about the story. It would have been a bigger story. The story that was told was focused on being protected in the one synagogue. I wish I had asked more details of my grandfather. I have all kinds of questions now about how they did it. Did they have papers? Were they stopped? How did they get across the channel? Did they know anyone in England? Were the boys related in some way? There are so many questions I wish I would have asked."
GM: Who told you the story? ST: Actually, I think it was my mother. I don’t actually remember my grandfather speaking the story, but I’m pretty sure he was in the room. This was a story that was said out loud several times, and my grandfather never contradicted it. I think it’s a place where people didn’t see the drama of their lives. It’s a story that captures a profound moment of drama in the family, so it’s one of the few stories passed along. But it’s sad to me that they didn’t see the drama all around them in their lives. My mother didn’t understand the "story" that was in so many other aspects of their lives. Like the move to Arizona. [See the story about Lena Freundlich.] My grandfather gave up a lucrative business in Manhattan and moved with a sizable extended family to a ranch in Arizona. That’s dramatic, but they never saw the drama of it.
"There were very few stories that my mother passed down. When my grandfather had the tailor shop and making a lot of money, they used to tell the story about how every Sunday morning the kids would get in bed with the parents. My grandfather would bring home all the money he had made for the week in a paper bag, and they would all count it and sort it.
"One major theme of the few stories I did hear had to do with what might have been. A group of men were going to buy the whole block that my grandfather’s tailor shop was on. They wanted my grandfather to buy into it. He had the money, but he didn’t understand the financial arrangements, so he didn’t go in with the deal. So from my mom’s perspective, it’s a lost opportunity where my mother would have been wealthy. They would have owned major property in Manhattan."
Continuing with the interview with Harriet, she talked about what happened after her father arrived in New York: "…His mother and father came over [to New York] eventually. I must have been about eight years old when they came over. She was a sick woman. She had asthma. And she did nothing because she's a sick woman. So my grandfather used to do everything for her. Was he a doll? Was he a wonderful person? He was uneducated but a very, very lovely man. I loved him. I couldn't stand my grandmother, but I did love him. He went before her. The sick woman, she lived on after he passed away."
GM: Did others in the family come over? HT: "I know that they all came over and the only one that couldn't get into the United States was Nat, the youngest brother. He came in through Canada. He came in as an illegal, and they came looking for him. The family hid him. They denied everything.
"But I remember there was a knock on the door. We lived in an apartment house in the Bronx and there was a knock on the door, and I answered it, and there was this man standing there, and he couldn't speak any English, and he asked for my father. So I ran to my mother, and I said, ‘There's a man asking for poppa outside.’ She went to the door. She didn't know who he was either until he introduced himself."
GM: So did he ever become a legal citizen? HT: "Yea. I guess laws were passed, forgiving them, you know, and then he became a citizen."
GM: Do you know why he couldn't come over legally? HT: "I don't know. They never discussed it because they didn't want the children to even know that he was here illegally."
GM: Is there anything more about the story you remember? HT: "I’ve heard two different stories about my father’s last name. I heard that his last name was really Itchkovich, but that when he was at Ellis Island, he didn’t speak English. He could tell that the man in front of him was being approved. So when the man answered ‘Itchkovich’ to the first question, which I assume was ‘What is your last name?,’ my father was so eager to be accepted to America that he also answered ‘Itchkovich’ to the first question.
"The other story I heard was that they told him to Americanize it, so he went from Itchkovich to Markowitz. (Laughter.) Who knows whether either story is true!"
Some later research by a family member has led some to believe that Markowitz may or may not have been his correct last name, but that Harry was probably a name he picked up in England and not his given name.