Monday 27 May 2013

The Memory Coat

The six-second medical exam courtesy 

Little Rachel, a member of a Jewish family, fled the persecution of the Cossacks in late 19th century Russia.  Along with her cousin Grisha, who had become an orphan, Rachel and her family boarded a boat to America. After a long, exhausting voyage across the Atlantic, Rachel's family was relieved to arrive in New York Harbor, gazing in awe at the Statue of Liberty as they sailed past.

At Ellis Island, they disembarked and entered the immigration station building.  In the Great Hall, with a 60-foot vaulted ceiling, Rachel's family stood in a long line, waiting to be inspected by an immigration official.  Families huddled in groups, anxious looks on their faces.  Finally, it was Rachel's turn to pass the six-second medical exam.  She did so with flying colours.  Then it was her cousin Grisha's turn.  The official pointed to his eye, which had a small cut and then marked the boy's coat with a giant X.

Fearful that Grisha would be detained at Ellis Island, or worse yet, sent back to Russia, Rachel racked her brain for a solution to the problem.  She pulled Grisha's ragged woolen coat off his shoulders, turned it inside out so the X would be invisible, and then put it back on her cousin.

THe Russian family members held their breath as they passed through the rest of the inspection.  Twenty-nine questions were posed to Rachel's parents.  Where was their home?  What was their occupation?  How much money did they bring with them?  The list was endless.

After a gruelling 3 to 4 hours, they had their answer:  yes, they would be staying in America!  The new immigrants breathed a sigh of relief.  And it was all thanks to the quick thinking of little Rachel.

Note:  For more information about Ellis Island, read my blog post "The Ghosts of Ellis Island" dated August 10, 2012.

The Memory Coat by Elvira Woodruff courtesy

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