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Schwitzgebel 1

David Schwitzgebel
Yeyna
Lit/per. 0
19 September 2016
Origin Story
As my aunt dug through century-old court records from the extensive Dutch Public
Archives, she found confirmation of a story passed along my father’s side of the family for
generations: my great-great grandfather’s harrowing escape to the US.
Following the death of my great-great grandfather’s father, his mother took on a new
partner - who became highly abusive and beat her. In rage, my great-great grandfather killed him,
and was convicted of murder; however, after a year in jail, he (it is ambiguous whether by escape
or parole) stowed away on a steam boat to the US. While on the steam boat, he made an
arrangement with the ship’s captain - they would allow him to stay on the boat for the duration of
the journey; in exchange, he would take up the dangerous task of making repairs to the steam
engine’s stacks. After safely arriving in the US, he used this unconventionally acquired skill to
open a business - the Nooter Corporation, which specialized in the repair and construction of
nautical steam engines. With the help of his business partner (whose daughter his son would
eventually marry), the company became extremely successful. Although my father’s side of the
family has long since diverged from the company - my grandmother refused to be a debutante,
instead choosing to pursue an education at Wellesley and Harvard - it still exists to this day.
Meanwhile, on my mother’s side of the family, we still tell the tales of the hardy Polish
Jews who managed to migrate to New York - missing the Holocaust by decades, but not the
Great Depression and stock market crash. My grandfather was a depression baby - he was raised

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in an environment where the next meal was uncertain, but hunger was inevitable. Despite this, he
managed to graduate with honors from his poor public high school (which he described as being
a constant conflict between poor Italian immigrants and poor Jewish immigrants), and go on to
study at the City University of New York. To pay for graduate school, he spent a brief period of
time working in a non-combat role in the US military; eventually, he went to UC Berkeley to
finish his education. He and his wife then proceeded to raise two daughters in an environment
where the next meal was certain, hunger was rare, and education was valued above all else.
Fast-forward to the twenty-first century. Through my father, the values and mindset of his
side of the family have bled into my life and upbringing. I have learned to value independence,
free thought, and pragmatism - just as his side of the family is descended from an immigrant who
created a life from an unwillingness to break, I have learned to value and utilize what
opportunities the world presents me. Through my mother, I have been imbued with her family’s
hardiness and compassion for suffering - they understand the plight of poverty, and value the
means to escape its cycle. Through both sides of my family, I have learned to value education:
my father’s mother (who split from the family’s vision of the ideal daughter to study at Wellesley
and later Harvard) and my mother’s father (who went from a poor immigrants’ section of New
York to CUNY, then UC Berkeley) - both have passed down this ideal from one century to
another: education and hardiness will carry you to a beautiful life.

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