"If you ever want to see Hell, take a boat in the middle of a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic. I was so sick that they had to tie me outside of the ship to keep me from going overboard. I was watching waves that looked over a hundred feet high, the boat looked one quarter of its size." (Murray Youman)
Finnish ski troops in Northern Finland circa 1940 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_War#/media/File:Finn_ski_troops.jpg.
Isaac and Adelle Youman were born and raised in Helsinki, Finland. Their brother, Murray, was born in Warsaw, Poland. When their father, Herman, first set eyes on their mother, Greta, he said: "She was the prettiest girl in town." However, he was ten years older than her and she wasn't ready to marry.
Herman was already working as a tailor at the age of fourteen; his employees were married men. Later, Greta worked with him at their men's clothing factory. The family lived in an upper middle class apartment with their parents, grandmother and uncle, along with two maids. Isaac points out that, with their parents working all the time, they were brought up by the maids. "We were a noisy Jewish family that spoke Yiddish as a primary language in Finland," explained Adelle.
While the family follolwed their Jewish religion, they also recognized the Christian traditions celebrated by their fellow Finns who were 99% Christian (Lutheran). The siblings would go to the Helsinki synagogue to pray, three of only 2000 Jews in the city, but at home they would eat whatever they wanted.
Murray remembers dodging bombs during the Finnish-Russian War. (also called the Winter War because it was fought on skis). He saw his father dash into a burning building to save someone, only to have it blow up as soon as he emerged. "Living next to a country which could swallow you up in no time at all was scary." When Murray returned years later to get his birth certificate, he found that the hospital in which he had been born was destroyed during the war. Adelle pointed out that it was the war that precipitated their immigration Otherwise, they would not have left a country that had treated them so well for 12 years. While they did not know English, America was safe: free of pogroms, free of wars.
Herman and Greta only attended school for a few years. As adults, they both signed up for night school. While Herman quit shortly thereafter Greta stuck it out and received her high school diploma. Adelle said that she was very bright, very gifted mathematically. While Herman was had a knack for handling their customers, Adelle was the brains behind the business. She took care of the books.
In 1940, the family decided to immigrate. They took a train to Stockholm, Sweden, stopping every time their was an air raid, the passengers diving into the snow. They took a second train to Oslo, NOrway where they boarded to the S. S. Bergensfjord. The war was already underway and the trans-Atlantic crossing could have been a dangerous one. The captain kept changing the flag on the ship to fool the submarines.
To top it all off, the family experienced a hurricane. "If you ever want to see Hell, take a boat in the middle of a hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic," explained Murray. "I was so sick that they had to tie me outside of the ship to keep me from going overboard. I was watching waves that looked over a hundred feet high, the boat looked one quarter of its size."
The boat reached America safely. Murray reminisced: "When I first saw it [the Statue of Liberty] I had tears in my eyes." Because the family's papers were not in order, they were detained at Ellis Island for six weeks. Segregated, Isaac and Adelle stayed with their mother while Murray stayed with their father. Isaac remembers the Orientals being separated from the Causcasians, the officials fearful that the former would be bringing in infectious diseases. In 1986, when the renovation started on the immigration station, Adelle asked her mother if she would like to visit. "I'll never set foot there [Ellis Island] again."
Settling in Brooklyn, it was the first time that the siblings had lived alongside Blacks. Murray found it strange the divide between Blacks and Whites. Across the street was a park filled with Black children playing. Herman grabbed his kids, placed them right in the middle of the Black kids, and snapped a photo.
It was quite an adjustment for the family which was privileged enough to send their children to private schools back in Finland, and now they attended public schools. While they lived as part of the upper middle class back home, they lived in a ghetto neighbourhood in Brooklyn. Isaac remembers being made fun of for his heavy accent. However, they persevered. Today, all three siblings are professionals, happy to live in America.
Children playing hopskotch on a Brooklyn street circa 1950 courtesy http://iconsofnewyork.com/.