Throwback Thursday: The story of ‘Our Three Russians’ reveals cultural disparities


Brett Donohoe

With the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, it is easy to forget how inaccessible Russian culture and society once was to the U.S. — and to UT students.

In a Nov. 30, 1912, article published in The Texan, three Russian students were profiled for their achievements in the engineering department. The men, labeled as “our three Russians,” became “bona fide Varsity Engineers” in their time at UT. While the October Revolution had not yet taken place at the time of publication, the article nevertheless approaches Russia as an enigma.

“Each man has known the bitings [sic] of poverty, and each has gone through intellectual civic fire,” the article reads. “Each has worked his own way in the world against great odds, and when we contrast their condition ten [sic] years ago in Russia with their prospects today, their lives read like romances.”

While no relevant information is given on their lives in Russia specifically, the article supposes that merely having been born in Russia deprived the students of their full career potential, which they then overcame through immigration. “They are no longer Russians, except by birth,” the article said. “They are now full-blooded Americans, patriotic, appreciative, and thoroughly conversant with their new country’s ideals and history.”

In agreement with their supposed cultural realignment, the names of the three men — Solomon Lifshitz, Samuel Robinson and Louis Moses Chokla — reveal their Americanization, in that none of their names are Russian or even Russian-sounding.

According to the article, Lifshitz “arrived in our country a lonesome, almost helpless Russian boy, who could not speak a word of our language.”

At the time, these three men were the only Russian immigrants on the UT campus. In fall 2013, there were approximately 20 students born in Russia studying at UT, with the amount staying close to that number during each of the past four years, according to the Office of Information Management and Analysis. Additionally, the University opened the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies in 1984, which is housed in the College of Liberal Arts.

The Sochi Olympics, which open Feb. 7, have brought Russian culture to the forefront of many media publications, but the societal misrepresentations and conflict date back to long before the 2014 Olympics were even a thought.

“Read their stories,” the article says. “It is as they come from their own hearts, and realize what possibilities open up before a poor boy in Texas and her University.”