My Polish and Russian ancestry

I grew up thinking that my ethnic ancestry was all Polish. I knew, of course, that no one is 100 percent of any ethnicity, and everyone has a diverse genealogical tree if you go back in time far enough. But no one in my family seemed to know of any specific nationality in our tree beyond Polish. All I knew about my ancestry was where my grandparents came from. Both of my maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Poland during the 1910s, with my maternal grandmother coming from the region of the Carpathian Mountains in southern Poland. (I sometimes fantasize that I might be related to Dracula on my mother’s side, because Transylvania is also in the Carpathian Mountains, in Romania.) I don’t know exactly where in Poland that my maternal grandfather was from.

My paternal grandfather immigrated to the U.S. in 1913, with his brother, from the Polish village of Kowalewo, near the city of Poznan in west-central Poland. Sometime before that, my paternal grandmother was born on the boat on the way from Poland to the U.S. 


My grandfather

My mom’s parents died when she was young, before she was married, so I never knew them. My dad’s mother died when I was 14, and I never spoke to her about her background. During the 1980s, I asked my remaining grandfather (my dad’s dad), whose name was Joseph Smuskiewicz, about his background. He told me that his father, named Thomas, was a farmer. He had no information about his grandparents. Joseph was born in 1896 and made wheels for wagons when he was a boy. When he was 17, he and his brother, Andrew, walked to France to catch the boat to the United States. That’s what he told me!

After Joseph arrived in America, the first place he settled was California, but he didn’t stay there long, because it was too expensive and he couldn’t find a job. He next went to Texas, where he served in the U.S. Army along the Mexican border. In early 1917, he was in the U.S. Cavalry under General John “Black Jack” Pershing, serving in the unit that was trying to capture the trouble-making Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. They never caught him. My grandfather said that the American and Mexican soldiers, stationed on opposite sides of the Rio Grande River, used to pass bottles of tequila back and forth on some kind of line they had rigged up. That’s my family connection to the Old Wild West.


grandpa Texas


By mid-1917, Pershing was commanding U.S. forces on the Western Front in Europe in World War I. Joseph was never sent to fight in Europe, though his brother Andrew served there for a while. After Joseph’s stint with the Army ended in Texas, he moved to Chicago for work. And that’s where my dad was born in 1930 and I was born in 1960.

During my conversations with my grandfather in the 1980s, he hinted that his family might have had some Russian connections, and he tried to spell out the name Smuskiewicz in the Cyrillic script of the Russian alphabet. He only got as far as Сму… He said that he had learned some Russian as a child, but he couldn’t remember any more of the Cyrillic spelling, and, as I previously mentioned, he seemed to know nothing about his ancestry beyond his own parents.

I was kind of curious about a possible Russian family connection, but no one else in my family knew anything about it. Then in the early 1990s, I was working at a company with a Jewish woman from Russia. After she learned that my last name was Smuskiewicz, she had a little talk with me and she told me that my last name, spelled in the Russian alphabet, would be Смушкевич. I recalled that this spelling matched what my grandfather was trying to spell out. She further told me that this name revealed that my ancestors had been Russian and Jewish. You can tell a lot about family background from a name, if you know what it means. In fact, she even said that the spelling indicated that some of my ancestors had been Russian Jewish pipe makers—the kind of pipes that you smoke. That is indicated by the Smus part of the name.


Альфред Джозеф Смушкевич

I was fascinated by this information about my family heritage. But I didn’t pursue the matter again until recently. After Russia began its military operation in Ukraine in early 2022, I became disgusted by the anti-Russia mass hysteria being promoted by the American and Western media, governments, and corporations. I am always disgusted by emotional, irrational hysteria of any kind, because such hysteria is always based on lies. And there has been a helluva lot of that crap in the past few years—hysteria about COVID, hysteria about Trump, hysteria about race, hysteria about every f----g thing. When I hear that kind of insanity, I investigate matters for myself to find out the truth that the hysteria-mongers don’t want you to know.

During my investigations into the Ukraine matter—which revealed that the Russian military action had been totally provoked by hostile acts committed by Ukraine, the U.S., and NATO—I decided to also look into the supposed Russian origin of my last name.

My online research confirmed what that Russian Jewish woman had told me. The name Smuskiewicz has Russian origins. In the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, which was developed in the 9th century for the first Slavic literary language, it is spelled as Смушкевич. When that name is translated into a spelling using the English alphabet, it is usually rendered as Smushkevich, which looks exactly like the pronunciation that my grandfather used for Smuskiewicz. He used to pronounce his name as Smush-ke-veech. My mom and dad, and most other American-born people in the family, have usually used the pronunciation Smus-ka-witz. The spelling of the name as Smuskiewicz must have been started by the family members who moved to Poland, and the pronunciation as Smus-ka-witz then began in America. However, any remaining relatives in Russia would still use the Cyrillic spelling of Смушкевич, with the English translation of Smushkevich.

My name, Alfred Joseph Smuskiewicz, is, in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, Альфред Джозеф Смушкевич, or Al'fred Dzhozef Smushkevich.

So, apparently, here is what happened: Some ancestors of my paternal grandfather—ancestors who were Jewish—moved from Russia to Poland at some point in the past. After settling in Poland, they or their children or grandchildren (or whoever) must have converted to Catholicism and adapted the spelling of Smuskiewicz (kiewicz is a common Polish name ending, and it typically implies a Russian Jewish heritage). Or maybe the Polish authorities just changed the spelling of the family name—the way U.S. authorities have often changed the spelling of immigrants’ names to Americanize them. Then eventually my grandfather moved to America, and here I am today.

Yes, I know that I might be able to find out more by using one of those genetic analysis or ancestry investigation companies that are always advertising themselves today, but I’m not going to do that. First, I don’t want to pay for it. Second, I don’t want to share my genetic or family information with any large corporation, because it is none of their business. Third, I would not trust the results they would send me anyway.

I conduct my own research and make my own conclusions. Smuskiewicz and Smushkevich are rather rare names, so anytime I come across someone with that name, I figure that they might be some kind of distant relative. (By contrast, my mother’s maiden name, Walczak, is a very common Polish name.)


Yakov Smushkevich

In my online investigations, I came across one rather prominent Russian with the name of Smushkevich. This person was named Yakov Smushkevich, or Яков Смушкевич. He was the commander of the Soviet Air Force during the beginning years of World War II. He was honored with two Hero of the Soviet Union awards (and he was the first Jewish Soviet Hero). Then, during the crazy political purges of Stalin, he was executed for being a traitor. Later, under the reforms of Khrushchev, Smushkevich was posthumously “rehabilitated,” his awards were reinstated, and he is regarded as a hero in Russia today.

Considering the rareness of the name and the fact that Yakov was born in 1902—just six years after my grandfather—I hypothesize that Yakov Smushkevich might have been some degree of distant cousin to my grandfather. He certainly resembled my grandfather in his facial features.


Yakov 1


yako 2


Yakov was quite a guy. He fought in the Red Army during the Polish-Soviet War (which followed World War I), when he was injured in combat and captured during a battle in Belarus. He escaped and became a political instructor with the Soviet police and army. In 1931, he became the commander of an aviation brigade, turning that unit into a role model for the Soviet military.

During the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930s, Smushkevich served as a senior advisor to the Spanish Republican Air Force, living in Spain under the pseudonym of “General Douglas” (his official rank was general-lieutenant). He flew 223 hours of combat missions. In 1937, after returning to the Soviet Union, he received his first Hero of the Soviet Union award, and he was named as the deputy head of the Soviet Air Force.

In 1938, Smushkevich was seriously injured when his aircraft crashed during a practice flight before a parade. He sustained numerous injuries to his head, back, and legs, but he recovered and returned to action. By early 1939, he was commanding the air force portion of the Soviet Army in Mongolia in the Battle of Khalkin Gol, against invading Japanese forces. Later that year, he received his second Hero of the Soviet Union award for gaining air superiority against the Japanese. (Smushkevich also was honored with other prestigious awards, including two Order of Lenin awards, both in 1937.) He was named as the commander-in-chief of the Soviet Air Force in November 1939. In the Soviet-Finnish War of late 1939 and early 1940, he managed the training of a regiment of pilots to fly in inclement weather. He also prepared a report that was critical of the Soviet military’s organization and training. That report likely put him on Stalin’s radar.

In August 1940, Smushkevich left his post as commander of the Air Force to become the Air Force’s inspector-general. In December, he was named as the assistant chief of the General Staff of the Air Force. While serving in this post, he wrote a letter to Stalin in which he pointed out continued deficiencies in pilot training for flying in bad weather, as well as a shortage of pilots able to use new equipment. That letter was his big mistake.

In June 1941, Stalin ordered the arrest of Smushkevich, and he was seized by Soviet authorities while recovering in a hospital from leg surgery related to his combat injuries. His arrest was based on fabricated charges of participating in a conspiracy against the Soviet government. He was sent to prison, where he was beaten and tortured after he refused to confess to the phony charges. In October, he was shot and executed without trial, as punishment for pissing off Stalin. His awards were then revoked.

Stalin died in March 1953, and Khrushchev took over as Soviet Communist Party leader in September. Khrushchev gradually consolidated his power in the Soviet Union while condemning Stalin’s cruel excesses and instituting reforms in domestic policies. In 1954, the Soviet government officially rehabilitated Smushkevich (meaning he was considered a good, patriotic guy again), and in 1957, the government officially reinstated Smushkevich’s awards.

So, that is the story of my presumed illustrious Russian hero relative, Yakov Smushkevich. There is an interesting video about him on YouTube, posted by the Victory Memorial Historical Museum, a museum in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, that commemorates the Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War (that’s what the Russians call World War II). This video is at Although the video’s voiceover is in Russian, the images are interesting even if you can’t understand the language.

I find the story of Yakov to be inspirational, as well as particularly suitable for my family. My father was an amateur pilot, and he would have appreciated Yakov’s story and aviation exploits. My dad was very interested in World War II, remembering its headlines from his boyhood. But, unfortunately, I don’t believe he ever knew about Yakov. My dad passed away in 2019, before I had discovered Yakov’s story, and Smushkevich is not usually discussed in WWII history books, because he was removed from the narrative early in the conflict.


Russian pride

I am very happy that I discovered my Russian ancestry and heritage. I understand that many Poles despise Russia, because of the Soviet domination of Poland after WWII and previous Russian invasions of Poland. Not widely known, however, is the fact that Poland invaded Russia and occupied Moscow long before Russia ever invaded Poland. That happened back in the early 1600s—the only time in its history that Poland was a major influential player on the world stage.

Russia has been a nation with amazing artistic, literary, scientific, technological, political, military, and societal accomplishments for more than 1000 years. And it has always had its own very unique culture, consisting of some elements of the East and other elements of the West. Of course, Russia has also made some major mistakes in its past, especially under the Lenin and Stalin regimes. But the country has learned from those mistakes and moved beyond them to become a thoroughly modern and highly productive nation, yet one that still maintains generally conservative and traditional values—in contrast to the glaring societal and institutional decadence of Western nations since about the 1990s. Moreover, in recent years—certainly since 2020—America has seemingly been operating with a more communistic, authoritarian, corrupt political system than Russia.

Today, I believe that Russia may actually represent the best hope for a world that is being oppressed by the stifling globalist communistic conformity and totalitarianism of China (spreading from the East) and the stifling globalist corporatist conformity and cultural decadence of the United States (spreading from the West). From my perspective, Russia appears to be the only large, powerful independent nation that represents relative sanity in today’s increasingly insane wacko sicko world. Russia is fighting in Ukraine to preserve its national independence and cultural autonomy from the ever-expanding wicked globalist forces.

That’s how I see things today. But regardless of global politics, I now know that Russia is in my blood. It is a part of who I am. So, yeah, I—Альфред Джозеф Смушкевич, Al'fred Dzhozef Smushkevich—am indeed proud of my Russian ancestry and heritage!


russia hat



And, by the way, here is my little musical celebration of Russian women: