On December 8th, Maciek, in a comment to my blog post, writing from Poland, asked why my family left Suwalki, Poland. Somehow, I failed to see his question, but yesterday, in reviewing the year's posts, I found it. So, Maciek, my apologies, and here is the answer, as I know it. In the nineteenth century, my father's family was named Zarembovitch. They lived in Suwalki, Poland, as I mentioned. Apparently times were very hard, and something close to famine hit the area, so in the 1870's, member of the family left Suwalki and emigrated to Paris, France. There they took up residence mostly in the Jewish section, in the Marais [near rue des Francs Bourgeois], and worked as capmakers, tailors, and so forth. My father's great grandfather was one of those who brought his family to Paris, and one son, Abraham, decided to continue on to America in 1880, shortly after my father's father was born. At Castle Garden in New York [the entry point for immigrants before the more famous Ellis Island was opened], the Immigration Officer asked him for his name. He said, "Abraham Zarembovitch." "Not in America," the official replied. Abraham's brother, Wolf Zarembovitch, had preceded him to America, and had met him at Castle Garden. "What is your name?" the official asked the brother. "Wolf," he replied. "Very well," the official decided, "you are Abraham Wolf." Somehow, an extra "f": got added to the name, and we became the Wolff family. My grandfather, Barnet Wolff, then a baby, grew up to become a leader of the Socialist Party in New York City and the inspiration to me, many years later, for my own political career.
I only learned about the Suwalki roots two years ago when I discovered that I have Parisian relatives -- two retired science professors named Andre and Jacqueline Zarembowich.