Born for the USA

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Now summer is in full bloom, and due to abundant rains, gardening has become a game of catch-up, weeds need pulling, and the mosquitoes are ferocious. Whenever I feel like giving up on a job like that to plop on the couch with a bag of chips, instead I have been inspired to persevere by the autobiography of an amazing woman and true patriot.
Elly Matz immigrated to America more than sixty-five years ago from Ukraine, realizing her childhood dream to come to the land she first heard about on her father’s knee. Her ancestors had gone in the other direction, migrating in the 1760s with many other settlers from Germany to the fertile farmland south of Russia. Born in 1920, three years after the Russian Revolution, Elly saw the demise of her people’s way of life as the farms were being taken by the communists and divided up.
Not long after age 6, when she first stated her intent to move to America when she grew up, life began to get very hard and starvation became a daily threat. The German farmers who were once welcomed in to farm the black soil were now enemies of the communists who starved and imprisoned them. Elly knew no real childhood because, being strong and healthy, she was needed to work when her father grew too weak. Eventually, her father was taken to prison never to be seen again.
She married at 16, and on a visit to her family’s village when she was a young mother about to give birth to her second child, she discovered her Babushka, mother, and little sisters had all been taken to Siberia, along with whole villages of Germans born in Ukraine. She was treated like a stranger in her own land during World War II, not accepted by Russia or Germany, but useful as a translator. She was on her own after her husband was killed at the front, and she determined to leave what she knew would be certain slavery at the hands of the communists to run for her life with her 5-year-old son. (Her second child had died soon after birth.)
Elly’s autobiography It Was Worth It All is a great remedy for the times we live in, when the framers of our Constitution are seen on college campuses as “dead white guys” and the foundational writings they sweated over in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia routinely go under the judicial activist’s knife. If you want to find refreshing and unabashed patriotism, talk to an immigrant who has escaped the Red Army’s (or other despots’) assault on freedom.
Elly survived starvation, disease, beatings, bombings, labor camps, and concentration camps. She even survived her own attempt to take her own life to escape the misery she had known so long during the war and its aftermath. She figures she was destined to make it here to the land of her dreams to tell us how wonderful freedom is and to warn us about what can happen to a nation that forgets God.
Elly died in 2012, so she is no longer traveling and telling her story at schools, churches, and conferences, and to whomever will listen. America has what she and others have longed for – freedom.
I can still hear her words of concern for her beloved America seeing where the Obama administration was headed. Old age slowed down her freedom march but she never stopped thanking God for her miraculous deliverance into her land of promise.
Stories like Elly’s need to be told and retold to generations who take our freedoms for granted. A passionate immigrant and grandmother gave her all because, in her words, she “wants to know what hands this country is gonna be left in.”
Chris Noonan Funnell is a local columnist. Her blog is at Read other columns by her here. An earlier version of this article appeared in the July 4, 2003 edition of The MetroWest Daily News and in the third printing of Elly Matz’s autobiography.