Family history

Grandpa Alex is on the right, dapper as always.

This is the story of my grandfather. My 10 year old nephew, Jason, wrote this for school with my mother’s help. It is a story of courage, heartbreak, and gumption. Much like the story of Jewish history.

I never got to meet my grandfather.


Alexander Olenikoff, my maternal great-grandfather, is the person I chose to write about.  When he was sixteen, the Pogram started in Russia.  A Pogrom is an organized persecution or killing off of an ethnic group.  I wish he and his family managed to get out safely but only Alex escaped, which meant two things: he was sixteen, and he was alone.  Alex journeyed onto America by boat and his lonely trip took weeks. How was he able to leave Russia when his family was not, you might ask?  Well, because his parents were wealthy they were able to travel from Russia before the Pogrom began.   While his mother was pregnant with him, they were visiting family in America and presto!  Alex was born an American citizen.   Because he had American birth papers, he was the only family member allowed to leave his country.

So, at sixteen years old, he escaped, alone, sad and scared to the country he was born in, not understanding English and not really knowing the family he was going to live with.  Also, the Russian Government closed off their country.  No mail was going in or out.  Alex was not able to ever, ever contact his family again.  He lived his life not knowing if his family was alive or dead and they knew nothing of his travels.

He came to Detroit, Michigan to live with cousins and he worked as a tailor to earn money.   He and his cousin opened a clothing store, Blocks Clothes, and the family changed their name to Olen because they didn’t want to sound too Jewish.  He eventually married and had my grandmother. He died at 53 on the way to his clothing shop of a heart attack. My Grandparents named my Mom after her Grandfather that she never met.  Alex Olen: Andrea Lynn, A.L.  Thank you for listening to the story of my migrating, maternal great-grandfather, Alexander Olenikoff.

6 responses to “Family history

  1. Thank you so much for posting Jason’s work! 🙂 I’m going to show him when he gets home from school. He loved hearing about Grandpa Al – he was enthralled (as much as a 10-yr old can be enthralled without the help of a video game controller).

  2. Wow. Wow. That is an amazing story of survival. Thanks for posting. Touches a heartstring.

  3. A 10-yr-old wrote this?? Nice! Has anyone in your family done and geneology research to find out about the family left behind in Russia?

    • No one has done any kind of research. One family member interviewed my grandfather’s cousin who was still alive but that was years ago. Unfortunately, it is handwritten and hard to read. Would know where to begin with geneology since the family was likely killed. Have you done it?

  4. WOW!! That is an AMAZING story and VERY well written…..
    Very Interesting!! What a neat person to be related, too

  5. Thanks so much for posting this. We can forget in the modern age with its digital conveniences and instant everything how our immigrant ancestors struggled to get a foothold in the States. My great-grandfather, Sigmund Sebestyen, and his wife arrived from Hungary with nothing. He had no skills and could not speak English. He found work in a metal foundry and raised 5 kids, one of whom was my paternal grandmother, Anna. Thanks again for sharing Alex’s story.