Friday 30 September 2016

Palestinian Immigrant Gertrude Liebman

"Gertrude would save the apricot pits because she had heard if she rubbed them she could make chewing gum.  Disappointed that her experiment failed, she buried the pits in the backyard.  It was long before an apricot tree grew there." (Gertrude Liebman)

Gertrude Liebman was born in Montefiore outside of the old city of Jerusalem.  Her father, not wanting to be drafted into the army during the First World War, hid in an attic for two months, then immigrated to America.  Gertrude's strongest memory of her father was at a seder, after which they read the Hagadah and sang all of the Passover songs.  Her father showered the young five year old with compliments.

Gertrude's mother had to eke out a living for her four children during the next three years.  She was very resourceful.  Gertrude's mother baked bread which she sold in the neighbouring Arab village.  Soldiers who deserted the army would stop at their house for a short stay.  They would leave their army blankets which Gertrude's mother would make into coats and sell them.  Gertrude's mother woul dpick apricots from neighbourhood trees and make jam.  Gertrude would save the apricot pits because she had heard if she rubbed them she could make chewing gum.  Disappointed that her experiment failed, she buried the pits in the backyard.  It was long before an apricot tree grew there.

The family wanted to join their father in America and planned their trip.  The first thing they packed was their periner (featherbed) which came in handy later on when there were no berths available on the ship that took them across the Mediterranean.  They sailed to America aboard the Ryndam which departed from Cherbourg, France.  They were detained at Ellis Island; authorities suspected that Gertrude's older brother had trachoma.  

They settled in an apartment in Manhattan where Gertrude had to get to know her father all over again.  In the three years he had been in the United States, he had become Americanized.  He taught himself how to read and write English.  He found a job as a chicken slaughterer.  Gertrude found a new school on Lexington Avenue.  Their new life had begun.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Syrian Immigrant James Habjian

"I saw men lined up against the wall and shot point blank." (James Habjian) 

Armenian civilians escorted by Ottoman soldiers to prison circa April 1915 courtesy

James Habjian was born in New York City.  At the age of 3, his parents decided to move to Bulgaria where his dad would make Oriental rugs.  His grandparents, on the other hand, chose to remain in the United States.  After three years of rug making his father tired of the business, and decided to return to America.  However, first he wanted to visit his sister in Turkey.  

Shortly after the family arrived in 1915, the Armenian Massacre occurred.  Turkish policemen came to their door and insisted that everyone get out.  They took James father with them.  James mother dressed him up as little girl so that they wouldn't take him, too.  James saw men lined up against the wall and shot point blank.  He saw women raped before his very eyes, too young to comprehend what was happening.  

James father was killed by the Turkish police.  James found out later that he had saved the lives of 30 Armenians.  His mother met a doctor and remarried.  The family travelled to Beirut where they stayed in an Armenian refugee camp for four months, waiting to secure visas.  From there, they travelled to Le Havre France where they boarded the S. S. Niagara.  

The ship arrived shortly before Christmas and anchored off of Brooklyn.  They took a small boat to Ellis Island.  "I remember they had a big Christmas tree there in the big building.  I didn't know what Christmas was.  I didn't know what a Christmas tree was.  They had a gathering, a lot of people and they sang Christmas songs."

When James told the immigration inspector that he was American, the inspector replied:  "You're crazy.  Get out of here!"  James grandfather, relieved to see his grandson, wrapped his arms around him.  James settled with his parents in a five story apartment building in New York City.  

Little immigrants in front of the Ellis Island Christmas tree circa 1920 courtesy

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Turkish Immigrant Osla Esen

"During the trip we had a very big storm.  The boat was rocking and big fishes, sharks, they used to jump almost on the boat.  People were afraid.  They [the Jewish people] started to pray and throw the matzo in the ocean to calm the sea.  It calmed down very well and thank God, we arrived at Ellis Island three weeks later." (Osla Esen)

Ankara, Turkey directorate building courtesy

During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were driven out of Spain.  Some, like Osla Esen's ancestors, settled in Turkey, which welcomed them.  Osla grew up in Ankara, Turkey in a modest home.  She and her siblings slept on a Turkish carpet in the kitchen.

When Osla's father met her mother, he said:  "She is the prettiest girl in town."  However, at ten years younger, she was not ready to marry.  Osla's mother made some delicious dishes:  borek (pastries stuffed with feta cheese and spinach), doner (thinly sliced lamb similar to the Greek gyro), manta (dumplings stuffed with chopped meat served in a garlic and yogurt sauce) and patlican (pureed eggplant).

Osla's father worked as a tinsmith soldering lamps.  He and Osla's mother owned a business in Ankara.  With great people skills, he worked well with the customers while with great math skills, she handled the books.

At home Osla and her family spoke Ladino, the Spanish spoken in Spain.  However, on the street they spoke Turkish.  At school, they learned a third language, French.

Osla's parents wanted a better opportunity for their children and decided to immigrate to America.  Osla's father made the trans-Atlantic passage in 1912.  The following year, Osla's mother, Osla and her siblings made the voyage.  They travelled in steerage on the Argentina.  Osla was seasick:  all she could keep down was bread and garlic.

"During the trip we had a very big storm.  The boat was rocking and big fishes, sharks, they used to jump almost on the boat.  People were afraid.  They [the Jewish people] started to pray and throw the matzo in the ocean to calm the sea.  It calmed down very well and thank God, we arrived at Ellis Island three weeks later."

The family settled in a Jewish neighbourhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  About a month or two after their arrival, Osla's father took them to see the Statue of Liberty.  Osla said:  "I remember staring out through her eyes to Manhattan in the distance."

Boy peeks through the crown of the Statue of Liberty courtesy

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Finnish Immigrants Murray, Isaac & Adelle Youman

"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)

A group of soldiers with snowsuits and skies lies on the snow, guns pointing to the right.

Finnish ski troops in Northern Finland circa 1940

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

Monday 26 September 2016

Swedish Immigrant Caren Lundgren

"There was a lot of immigration [to America] when I was a child.  We used to go down to the train and watch the train.  There was a train station where I lived in Mattmar.  The people leaving had wreaths of flowers around their necks because that was the end.  They would never see them again, you see?  So those were funeral flowers practically around their necks." (Caren Lundgren)

Swedish train station circa 1920 courtesy 

Caren Lundgren was born in raised in Mattmar, Sweden, a settlement which consisted mainly of farmers.  Her father worked in the local mill.  She and her three younger brothers grew up in a modest house where they slept in the kitchen in the summer and the pantry in the winter.  They existed on fish as red meat was scarce.  

Caren finished school at 12 years of age.  She wanted to train to be a teacher, but had to wait until she was 16.  Her parents sent her to her grandparents house where she worked as a maid.  Her stingy grandfather, however, refused to pay her.  Caren longed to get out of the situation.  Her grandmother recommended:  "If I was a young girl, I would go to America."

That's exactly what Caren did.  "There was a lot of immigration [to America] when I was a child.  We used to go down to the train and watch the train.  There was a train station where I lived in Mattmar.  The people leaving had wreaths of flowers around their necks because that was the end.  They would never see them again, you see?  So those were funeral flowers practically around their necks."

In 1921, borrowing the passage money from her stingy grandfather, she packed her belongings in a square wooden box with a padlock, painted blue (perhaps for Sweden's flag).  Settled in steerage, Caren sailed on the M. S. Stockholm for America.  Arriving in New York Harbor, she waited three days until the immigration officials let the passengers disembark.  

Caren stayed for a few weeks at the Swedish Seaman's Home in New York City.  She secured a job as a kitchen maid in Long Island making $50 a week.  She worked with a Swedish cook who was insecure and took out her frustrations on Caren, calling her stupid every day.  Caren believed her.  She would wake up the next morning, her pillow soaked from the tears she had shed.

Caren was homesick for her family, but determined to stick it out.  "When I wrote home, I had to be so careful about getting tears on the paper.  I thought, 'I can't go back and admit i's so stupid.'  You know?  I was saving my money to pay back my grandfather and I did.  He couldn't understand how I could make that kind of money in such a short time."

Mercifully, Caren found another kitchen job and worked with a wonderful cook.  She saved enough money to visit her family twice, in 1926 and 1930.  They didn't have to wear the wreaths at the train station after all.

Villa Blue, a Long Island estate owned by Mr. Carter, circa 1910 courtesy

Sunday 25 September 2016

Portuguese Immigrant Roberta Estobar

"I certainly feel like I'm very much a part of the American dream." (Roberta Estobar)

Alto Douro wine region of Portugal courtesy

Roberta Estobar was born and raised in Portugal where her father ran a rubber plantation.  Her mother taught school to the children of the plantation workers in a building with a dirt floor and tin roof.  Living in a subtropical country, they constantly battled mosquitoes.  Roberta contracted malaria and was treated with quinine.  Feverish, she alternated between hot flashes and cold sweats, on the verge of a coma.  The doctor recommended that she, along with her father who had also contracted the disease, leave the country.

Roberta's mother nursed her and her father on the boat ride to Portugal.  They settled in a suburb of Porto,  Once Roberta and her father's health returned, they used to dance in the kitchen to the church chimes.   Roberta played with her pet rabbits that she kept on their property.  The countryside surrounding Porto had lots of vineyards.  They would wash down the men's feet and legs and then the men would climb into giant vats and crush the grapes.

Wine treaders in Alto Douro region of Portugal courtesy 

Roberta's father commuted two hours to work in the bank in the city.  After three years, he realized there was no future in Portugal.  His brother in law kept urging him to come to America.  The family booked a cabin on the S. S. Olympic in 1925.  At Ellis Island, they gave Roberta biscuits and milk.  After a few months, her father found work at a New York City factory.  That day, he played the violin, an instrument he had first learned when he was seven years old.  Her mother was hired at the Ansonia Clock Factory.  The family settled in Brooklyn.

While they did live in an immigrant neighbourhood, Roberta's mother shopped at English speaking stores in order to learn the language.  Roberta quickly picked up English once she started school.  Mrs. Osley would look after Roberta when her parents were at work.  Mrs. Osley was the first one to pull Roberta in a sled; it was the native Brazilian's first snowfall.

At 21, Roberta voted for the first time, giving her father's citizenship number.  However, after hearing about a woman from Cuba denied the vote because she had been born in another country, she decided to pursue American citizenship.  "I certainly feel like I'm very  much a part of the American dream," explained Roberta.

Ansonia Clock made at the Brooklyn Factory which operated from 1851 to 2006 courtesy

Saturday 24 September 2016

Scottish Immigrant Marge Glasgow

"The nurse was still taking care of me.  She took me outside to sit and see all the boats go by.  I sat there and I wondered, 'Will they let me into the United States, or will they send me back?'  I so much wanted to live here in the United States." (Marge Glasgow)

Motherwell, Scotland circa early 1900's courtesy

Marge Glasgow was born and raised in Motherwell, Scotland to a Catholic family.  In her hometown, the Catholics and Protestants were always fighting.  Her father worked as a puddler at the local steel furnace.  On Friday nights, he would head from work straight to the pub.  Several hours later, he would sing as he stumbled down the street to home.  "Of course, my mother was ready to beat him over the head with something," explained Marge.

Marge excelled at Highland dancing for which she received many medals.  By 15, she was already working, but she felt like there were many more opportunities in America.  Marge's neighbour's girls were working at a factory in New Jersey and sending money home to their parents.  Marge thought she could do the same.

In 1922, after much convincing, Marge convince her parents to let her make the trip to America.  The voyage took ten days during which Marge helped a sick mother care for her baby.  Marge was apprehensive when she reached Ellis Island remembering her mother's warnings about how they checked your hair for bugs.  "I remember the Great Hall, and at the desks there with men.  I don't know if they were doctors, judges or what, questioning the people..."

A list of codes and their corresponding medical diseases/issues used at Ellis Island courtesy

All alone, Marge started to cry hysterically.  An official explained to her that they were simply checking her eyes to determine if she had the disease trachoma.  Marge stayed in the Ellis Island hospital for ten days.  "The nurse was still taking care of me.  She took me outside to sit and see all the boats go by.  I sat there and I wondered, 'Will they let me into the United States, or will they send me back?'  I so much wanted to live here in the United States."

When Marge reached the mainland, she discovered that at 15, she was too young to work in a factory.  She was hired as a domestic for a family in Newark, New Jersey.  Sticking to her promise, she saved up enough money to bring her father and mother over.  Marge married a German electrician.  She owned two successful dress boutiques which put her six children through college.  In 1997, she was 101 years old and living in rural New Jersey.

Dresses circa 1940 courtesy

Friday 23 September 2016

Welsh Immigrant Randall Peat

"God gave me every inch of the United States of America to live in.  And I have lived here now eighty two years.  I wouldn't want to live no place else." (Randall Peat)

Postcard of Colwyn Bay where wealthy English tourists used to vacation circa 1900 courtesy

Born and raised in Colwyn Bay, Wales on the Irish Sea, Randall Peat was the son of a miner.  When he was only one year old, his father was crushed to death in an avalanche of limestones in the mine. His mother became a live in maid at one of the mansions in town.  Little Randall was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather worked on a farm where he raised cows, pigs and horses and grew barley and wheat.  "[He] didn't live to make money; [he] lived to exist."

Randall's grandfather rented the land at one English pound per acre.  The area in which he lived had originally been owned by the farmers; however, the British government later took it and gave it to the wealthy who in turn rented it out to the same farmers.  Surprisingly, no bitterness existed between the tenants and the landowners according to Randall.  The latter knew that they depended on the former for a livelihood.  "That's why I'm in the United States...'with Liberty and justice for all,' explained Randall, referring to Britain's class system.

Randall worked on the farm sowing seeds by hand and pulling a team of horses to bury the seed.  Often, he and his siblings would eat bread crusts doused in pig's fat for flavour or an egg with tea for supper.  Randall would wear his brother's hand me down shirts which his grandmother patched up  At school, Welsh was forbidden; only English was spoken.  If you misspelled a word, you were flogged with a big stick.  "Despite this, we only had one one to live and that was happy."

To Randall, three things were important;  home, work and church.  The English only recognized one church, the Episcopalian or Anglican Church.  The Welsh in the area belonged to the Baptist church which was taxed heavily by the English.  "The practice of it was very hushed up, secretive."  Marriages in the Baptist church were not recognized by the English.  

It was at church that Randall first got the idea to immigrate to America.  He met a teenage boy who had just returned from New York where he had earned good money as a stable hand.  With only twenty pounds to his name, Randall didn't think he had enough money for his passage but the other boy said yes.  He recommended second rather than third class (steerage) ticket so that at Ellis Island, they would be questioned on board the ship rather than in the immigration station.  "It's worth the extra five pounds," he explained.

In 1914, Randall and his new friend, Dave, took a train from Colwyn Bay to Liverpool where they boarded the S.S. Baltic.  They were joined by immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Germany.  Overcome by seasickness, Randall just wanted to jump into the water.  Dave recommended a dose of whisky which seemed to do the trick.  At Ellis Island, officials boarded the ship and inquired if Randall and Dave had money in their pockets once they reached the mainland:  "You're not going to live on no relief."

Randall and Dave arrived in New York City where they took the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad to Utica, New York.  Randall rode in an automobile for the first time when Dave's uncle picked them up at the train station.  Randall was hired immediately to work at Borden's Condensery in Waterville where he shovelled coal.  Later he was promoted to the milk plant where he capped bottles.

Randall's boss gave him Sunday off so he could attend church, informing him about a Welsh congregation nearby.  When Randall arrived at the church, a friendly man introduced himself.  The minister was absent that Sunday and before Randall knew it, he was up at the front leading the congregation in a hymn.  Urged to continue, he read a chapter of Pilgrim's Progress to the congregation in Welsh.  Afterwards, people rushed up to shake his hand.  

A young girl from Colwyn Bay followed Randall to America.  Within six months they were married. They had a daughter and lived together for sixty two years.  To this day, Randall gets called upon to deliver a sermon once in a while.  He often recites the 23rd Psalm at funerals.  "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want..."

Thursday 22 September 2016

Romanian Immigrant Carl Bellapp

"Everybody got to one side of the ship to see the Statue of Liberty.  There were howls and screams and "America, I love you."  Everybody in his own language.  It was a celebration." (Carl Bellapp)

Bucharest, Romania circa 1930 courtesy 

Carl Bellapp was born and raised in Romania, the son of a barber and homemaker.  His father's barbershop had three mirrors.  His mother, a "saint", used to feed people who didn't have enough to eat.  Carl's house did not have indoor plumbing; walking to the outhouse in the wintertime was chilling.  

Carl's father and older brother immigrated to America in 1927.  Carl was left to act as the family's chief breadwinner.  Later, his father sent money for Carl and his sister to immigrate.  They took a train to Bucharest and caught a second train which travelled through Yugoslavia.  In Italy, they boarded an Italian ship called the Conte Grande.  They passed nine days in steerage, during which Carl's sister was seasick.  

In New York Harbor:  "Everybody got to one side of the ship to see the Statue of Liberty.  There were howls and screams and 'America, I love you.'  Everybody in his own language."  Language became a stumbling block on Ellis Island, each immigrant was given a tag. Carl's said E.I.  "Am I considered a criminal?" he wondered.  But E.I. simply stood for Ellis Island.

Carl and his sister settled in their father's apartment in New York City.  Their father had found work as a barber in the Big Apple.  The highlight of the new place was the indoor toilet.  "It was heaven."

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Czech Immigrant Estelle Zeller

"And there were two thousand of us, all young women.  They used us to unload brick from ships.  We would make a human chain and pass the brick one to the other all day long until the tips of our fingers bled." (Estelle Zeller)

Estelle Zeller grew up in a Jewish family in Ushorod, Czechoslovakia.  Her father operated a bakery in town.  On the night of November 10, 1938, her father was searching for the midwife to tend to her mother who was in labour.  At the same time, his bakery was being vandalized, part of Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass (
Occupied by the Germans, all of the Jewish bakeries in Ushorod were either denied licences or denied their flour allocations.  Estelle's father was drafted into the military.

In 1943, with Jews being rounded up across Europe by the Nazis, Estelle's mother suggested she go into hiding with a Christian family.  However, Estelle watned to remain with her family.  Soon, all of the jews in Ushorod were rounded up and put into a ghetto.  Later, they were stuffed in cattle cars and taken to the infamous Auschwitz where Estelle was separated from her parents and siblings.  

While many of the Jews were sent directly to the gas chambers, Estelle was sent to Germany to work as a slave labourer.  "And there were two thousand of us, all young women.  They used us to unload brick from ships.  We would make a human chain and pass the brick one to the other all day long until the tips of our fingers bled."  While the days were draining, the nights were equally difficult:  bombs were flying overhead.  

Later, Estelle was one of 500 young women to be transported to Essen to work in a munitions factory.  They had a long walk to the factory.  In winter time, they used to wear wooden shoes and the snow would stick to the soles of their shoes.  The German soldiers would use their bayonets to scrape the snow off.  

Towards the end of the war, Estelle was transferred to another concentration camp, this time Bergen Belsen.  "People were dying like flies" as a result of malnutrition and disease.  On April 15, 1945, the guards suddently disappeared.  They were liberated.  

Sweden welcomed some of the Jewish refugees.  That is where Estelle ended up in the years after the war.  Estelle's father returned to his hometown only to find that his family was not there.  He escaped Czechoslovakia before the Communists had a chance to take over, and fled to Germany where he stayed in a displaced persons camp for three years, then joined Estelle in Sweden.

Estelle had the opportunity to immigrate to America in 1952.  She sailed across the Atlantic on the Gripsholm.  "It was New Years Eve.  I was wearing a beautiful dress.  There was a great party on the ship and I was dancing and having a great time.  Suddenly, I had terrible stomach pains and went back to my cabin.  I ha an attack of appendicitis."  Because medical bills were high in the United States, Estelle had the ship's doctor perform an appendectomy on board the Swedish ship.  

Estelle said that her greatest shock occurred once she reached Ellis Island.  "It was a scary experience, because when I arrived at Ellis Island, I saw the same guard stands with guards I remembered at Bergen Belsen  It brought back terrible memories and I really didn't know what the outcome of my stay would be.'

Estelle's father and stepmother followed her to America and the three of them rented an apartment in Brooklyn behind a butcher shop.  Her father was hired at Ebbinger's Bakery in Brooklyn and her stepmother as a seamstress.  Estelle met her husband that June and married in September.  The couple raised two daughters.  

After more than three decades, Estelle returned to her hometown in 1986 for a visit.  She met an old lady there who talked about remembering her father returning after the war.  Estelle, overcome with emotion, broke down in tears.  Upon returning to the United States, she had a nervous breakdown.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake, served at Ebbinger's Bakery, was famous courtesy

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Dutch Immigrant Doris Fagendam

"People used to do all their travelling on ice.  They had horses and sleighs.  Merchandise would go by sleigh, by canals.  And they had tens all along the way, where they sold hot chocolate." 
(Doris Fagendam)

File:Leeuwarden DeWaag.JPG

Doris Fagendam was born in raised in Friesland, a province of Holland.  She and her many siblings grew up in a brick row house.  Their father was a dairy farmer, their mother a homemaker.  She used to make a delicious soup with buttermilk and barley.  In winter time, Doris and her siblings used to skate on the frozen canal.  When they came home, their mother would have a piece of cake waiting for each of them.  Peddlers used to come up the side streets from the canals peddling their wares.  The Dutch, known for their cleanliness, used to scrub the streets, each neighbour taking a section.

Christmas was celebrated on December 6, St. Nicholas Day.  Doris remembers going to church where they had little footstool warmers, "a square box with hot coal in it."  Her mother used to give her and her siblings peppermints to keep them quiet during the church service.

Doris's family was not poor.  They had food in their tummies and a roof over their heads.  However, her father saw more opportunities in the New World.  Her left for America when Doris was five years old.  

Doris and her family joined her father in 1908, sailing overseas on the Rotterdam.  The journey only took nine days, a quick trip for those days.  While Doris doesn't remember seeing the Statue of Liberty she does remember her experience at Ellis Island.  They were detained because her sister, who suffered from polio, wore leg braces.  Even though her mother made her dress a little longer, the officials still took notice.  However, Doris father was able to convince the immigration officials that she would not be a "burden".  Shortly after settling into their new home, a nurse came to their house and arranged an operation for Doris' sister.  She never wore braces again.

Doris thought that the best part of coming to America was seeing her father again.  He explained:  "Compared to America were sort of a slow nation.  You can't dawdle her.  You have to step on it a little bit."  The family settled in Briarcliff Manor, New York where the father worked at a dairy.  What a treat for Doris, who was used to the flatness of Holland, to be treated to a view of the mountains!  While Doris arrived in America wearing wooden shoes, she soon became accustomed to American fashion.  When she started school, she spoke only Friesian but it was not long before she "conquered the English language beautifully."  She would speak English at school and Friesian at home, her mother never having mastered a second language.  Doris considered herself very fortunate to have come to America.

Boat arrives at Ellis Island courtesy

Monday 19 September 2016

Greek Immigrant Theodore Spako

"He came to America from a small Greek fishing village with twenty-five dollars in his pocket.  He settled in New Jersey.  Now 102 years old, he lives with his wife of seventy one years in upstate New York.  They have two daughters, four grandchildren and religious faith.  'Even now,' he says, 'I never miss a Sunday.'" 

Dancing in a Greek village circa 1920's courtesy

Theodore Spako grew up in a small Greek fishing village which had "good schools" and "outstanding churches".  When at 16, Theodore announced that he wanted to immigrate to America, his mother, having lost one son already, pleaded with him not to go.  Theodore was determined to go.  His father had tears in his eyes when he said goodbye to his son.  

In 1911, Theodore travelled in third class on the trans-Atlantic trip.  Aboard the Patris, he met a man named Gus and his father.  After 21 days at sea, the ship sailed into New York Harbor.  "What's the statue?" asked Gus.  His father answered:  "That's Christopher Columbus."  Theodore responded:  "Listen, this don't look like Christopher Columbus.  That's a lady there."

At Ellis Island, Theodore, Gus and his father joined the long queue of immigrants.  After their medical exam, Theodore noticed that both Gus and his father had an X marked on their backs in chalk.  Theodore asked if he also had an X on his back, but they said no.  He thought:  Somebody is going back to Greece; it's either Gus and his father or me.  "I just thank God....that I was admitted to the United States, that they didn't put a chalk mark on my back.'

Sunday 18 September 2016

Hungarian Immigrant Bela Legosi

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula circa 1931 courtesy 

My husband laughs so hard the tears stream down his cheeks every time he watches Bela Legosi in the cheesy flick Bride of the Monster.  But that is not where Legosi got his start.  He is famous for playing the original Count Dracula in the 1931 film.

Born and raised in Hungary, Bela Blasko served in the Austro Hungarian Army in the First World War.  He fled the country after the failed Hungarian Communist Revolution in 1919.  In the Weimar Republic of Germany, Bela made several films.  Bela sailed to America as a sea merchant in 1920, entering the country at New Orleans.  Three months later he was processed at Ellis Island.  In 1927, Bela played Count Dracula in the Broadway adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel.

In the 1930's, paired with actor Boris Karloff, Bela, now Bela Lugosi after his hometown of Lugos, Hungary, starred in The Black Cat, The Raven and Son of Frankenstein.  Bela tried to break stereotype by auditioning for the role of Rasputin; he lost out to Lionel Barrymore.  In the meantime, Bela became addicted to morphine to treat his sciatic neuritis, which hampered his career even more.  One of the few parts he got by the 1950's was in the low budget Ed Wood film Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Never able to overcome his morphine addiction, Lugosi's health rapidly deteriorated.  He died of a heart attack in 1956 and was buried in his Dracula cape.

The poor special effects of Plan 9 From Outer Space courtesy

Saturday 17 September 2016

Polish Immigrant Clara Rudder

"If you hate, you lose yourself.  There's nothing left in this world after hate.  I can't hate.  I have never been taught to hate.  Even after pogroms, after all that happened in our town, my father tried to explain...I was ten years old.  I asked the question:  Why?  There was no answer to it  There still isn't." (Clara Rudder)

Demonstration of Polish students demanding implementation of ghetto benches at Lwow Polytechnic circa 1937 courtesy

Clara Rudder grew up in a devout Jewish family in the Carpathia Mountains in Poland.  Her father owned a store which sold pots and pans.  Her mother raised her and her siblings along with a niece.  The Rudders hailed from Spain where they had lived for four hundred years.  The Polish king encouraged Jews to come to his country in order to build commerce.  

On the Sabbath, someone came to the Rudder's house to warn them that their town was about to undergo a pogrom.  Clara's father warned the congregation at their synagogue to escape, taking their silver menorahs with them.  The Rudder's fled to a Gentile's house where he hid them in his barn. When they returned the following day, all the doors had been broken, all the windows shattered and sacs of flour, which were too heavy to carry, were doused with petrol.  

The only structure left untouched was the Rudder's store, perhaps because Mr. Rudder was such an honest businessman, or perhaps simply because the invaders didn't need any pots and pans.  Mrs. Rudder took the biggest pot they owned and made meals for the community.  Little Clara said they did not sleep for four weeks.

Yet, when Clara returned to school, the children shouted at her:  "Get out of here!"  Vowing never to raise her own children in Poland, Clara planned that day to immigrate when she grew up.  At 20, she suggested Palestine as a destination to her mom, to which she replied:  "You're going to split rocks in Palestine.  I did not bring up a child of mine to go and split rocks."

Clara's brother and sister moved to Antwerp, Belgium and she suggested that she immigrate there.  She encouraged her parents to join her, but they felt like having been born and raised in rural Poland, that's where they should stay.  Clara dated a young Jewish man who studied in Prague, Czechoslovakia.  Only three percent of Jewish Poles were accepted at university, forcing the remainder to study elsewhere.  After Clara and her boyfriend got engaged, she invited him to join her in Belgium and he agreed to continued his studies there.  However, her fiance, rejected at the Brussels university chose to return to Poland rather than immigrate.  Clara returned the ring to him.

After moving to Belgium, Clara met a diamond dealer named Paul.  They married and had a son.  In the meantime, Hitler's panzers started rolling over Europe, forcing the couple to move to France.  When the Nazis reached France, the couple was driven back to Belgium.  Clara was more determined than every to get out of Nazi occupied Europe.  

In 1940, a Paraguay attache offered to drive the couple across France to Spain and then Portugal.  Clara's sister, who had taken the trip first, wrote her a letter:  'Everything is fine, we are across the border.  Take two valises and come..."  Closing up their apartment, the couple took some diamonds and $12,000 in cash for the journey.  Stopping in Perpignan, France to secure visas, the Paraguay attache explained that he could not take them any further as his car had broken down.  The couple, planning to continue their journey by train, realized they had only $1,000 left in their possession.  Their driver had absconded with the bulk of their savings.  

German soldiers march down the Champs Elysees circa June 1940 courtesy

Reaching Lisbon, Clara and her family booked passage to America on a Greek ship.  However, Germany invaded Greece in the meantime and the ship never sailed.  It took three months for her to find another boat, this time a cattle boat.  On the twelve day voyage Clara, nervous about the mine infested waters, barely ate.  

When the boat finally reached Ellis Island, Clara was asked what she wanted.  "I want a good glass of milk...The milk tasted like cream.  It was delicious."  However, Clara was disappointed with Ellis Island.  She said that the authorities would not let them off the island.  She felt like she was in jail.  What made matters worse, was that Clara could not speak English.  The big room where the immigrates were processed was filled with 300 to 400 people.  "I couldn't breathe," explained Clara.

After seven weeks at Ellis Island, the mystery as to why Clara and her family wasn't released was cleared up.  Clara's brother in law, had given the money for their trans-Atlantic passage to a lawyer.  The lawyer had taken the money and then wrote the ship company a cheque which had bounced.  The family was being detained for the passage money.

After the Second World War, Clara discovered that her parents, her cousins, the entire town had been murdered, gassed in the ovens at Auschwitz.

Inmates forced to carry rocks at Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria courtesy

Note:  For more information about Jews fleeing the Nazis, during the Second World War, part of the largest motorized evacuation in history, read "The Journey that Saved Curious George" at

Friday 16 September 2016

Hungarian Immigrant Harriet Kovak

"I almost fainted, because in Europe at that time the reputation of Ellis Island was terrible; that it's a dungeon and they beat people up." (Harriet Kovak)

Image result for budapest, hungary history

In 1947, with a visa in hand, Harriet headed to Paris to meet her sister for a two week vacation to the United States.  However, upon reaching Paris, her sister told her that she and her husband were not going after all.  Since the visa was still good for a year, Harriet chose to go to America the following year.  Harriet sailed from Le Havre aboard the luxury ship the Normandie.  

When she reached Ellis Island, the officials detained her, saying she had no affidavit.  In order to continue, she would have to pay $1000.  "I almost fainted, because in Europe at that time the reputation of Ellis Island was terrible; that it's a dungeon and they beat people up."

Things started to look up when a woman in a white robe with a big bunch of keys approached her and asked "Are you hungry?  The cafeteria is closed but I can get you something."  While Harriet did not have to pay the $1000 affidavit she did have to pay $500 bail.  

Harriet had a pleasant surprise waiting for her in New York City:  she fell in love.  The following year she returned to America and married him.  Harriet got pregnant right away and was not able to return to Hungary.  Therefore, the immigrant officials refused to return her $500.  Her husband, a lawyer, filed a lawsuit to get her money back.  While she never was reimbursed, she did enjoy a long happy life with her husband and children.

Dining room at Ellis Island courtesy

Thursday 15 September 2016

Russian Immigrant Betty Garoff

"When the soldiers came to look for us, we were hidden in a closet.  She fed them food and drinks until they were intoxicated." (Betty Garoff)

Shoemakers making army boots circa 1903 to 1905 courtesy

In 1913, Betty's Garoff's father immigrated to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Russian Army during the First World War.  Her mother, still pregnant with Betty, sold salt illegally to put food on the table.  At the age of four or five, Betty and her brother were separated from their mother when their town was invaded by the enemy.  The children slept during the day in barns and travelled by night.  Eventually, a couple who knew Betty's grandfather, took them in and raised them as their own grandchildren.  "When the soldiers came to look for us, we were hidden in a closet.  She fed them food and drinks until they were intoxicated.

Reunited with her mother, her father had saved enough money to buy the family tickets to America. The family, with just the clothes on their back, made it as far as Amsterdam when Betty's brother developped an infection from a nail, thereby failing to pass the physical exam.  Their original visa had been for a particular ship on a particular day.  Now it was rendered null and void.  Betty's mother took her two children to Poland to apply for another visa.  They stayed with relatives in a Warsaw ghetto apartment.  Betty remembers the curfew that everyone had to observe; no one was permitted to leave or enter the gate after a certain hour.

In December of 1921, the Carmania set sail for America.  Betty and her family, staying in steerage, survived on hard boiled eggs and raw potatoes.  The Russian farm girl was bewildered by the sheer number of people coming and going at Ellis Island.  Betty waited and waited for her father to come and get her; all of her shipmates had already left when he finally arrived.  It was the first time he had laid eyes on her.  Her mother suggested:  "Stand up and show your father how tall you are."  The first time Betty saw New York's lower east side, she spotted immigrants huddled around metal drums filled with fire, warming their hands.

Betty and her family got a furnished apartment with an outdoor toilet in New York City.  Within a year and a half, her father opened a shoe repair business in the Bronx.  Because Betty only knew how to speak Yiddish, and not English, her classmates would help her to converse with the teacher.  Ten years after immigrating, Betty's mother gave birth to another girl, followed five years later by a boy.  Betty married a doctor, moved to Chicago and "lived a wonderful life."

The Bronx circa 1930's courtesy

Wednesday 14 September 2016

English Immigrant Sara Miles

"[My mother] had a box of shredded wheat biscuits, which was quite a treat for us.  And on the back of the box was an advertisement about Niagara Falls.  That was my first knowledge of America.  I had a dream that one day I would visit Niagara Falls." (Sara Miles)

Sara, one of ten children, grew up in England.  Her house, which contained four bedrooms, had no electricity and no telephone.  Sara and her siblings would hover around the fireplace in the winter time.  At night, Sara, the only girl, would keep warm under her father's overcoat.  Stretched for money, the children would wake up at 4:30 in the morning to pick strawberries during the summer to earn enough money to buy school shoes for the fall.  At Christmas time, they did not have  Christmas tree or ornaments, but they did have a "Nice piece of beef" given to them by a local farmer.  During the First World War, Sara's dad sent her and her brothers down to the docks to witness first hand the wounded soldiers returning from the battlefield:  it was a lesson she would never forget.  

"[My mother] had a box of shredded wheat biscuits, which was quite a treat for us.  And on the back of the box was an advertisement about Niagara Falls.  That was my first knowledge of America.  I had a dream that one day I would visit Niagara Falls."  Sara wrote a letter to her two uncles who lived in Fultonville, New York asking them if they would send her money for passage to America.  She promised to work until she earned enough money to pay them back.  Her brother Frank agreed to accompany her to the New World.

Sara's parents borrowed a car to drive her and her brother to Southampton where they boarded the SS Olympic.  The siblings travelled third class and Sara, like many of the passengers, suffered from seasickness.  The first thing Sara saw upon entering New York Harbor was a giant billboard for Lipton's Tea.  "Welcome to America."  

In Fultonville, Sara moved in with one uncle, her brother Frank with the other.  Sara was hired at a stocking and glove factory.  While Frank married his childhood sweetheart and brought her to America to live.  Sara married an American.  She eventually lived her dream when she paid a visit to Niagara Falls.

Olympic and Berengaria at Southampton port courtesy

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Irish Immigrant Martha O'Flanagan

"You have to be Irish to have dark hair.  This notion that Irish people have red hair is not true.  We got the red hair from the Danes when they invaded Ireland in 1014, and they married Irish girls." 
(Martha O'Flanagan)

Irish history

Emerald Isle courtesy 

Martha O'Flanagan grew up in Roscommon Country, Ireland where there is a "colour of green [emerald] that you cannot find in this country or any other country".  Martha grew up on a potato farm in a thatched cottage with stone walls.  One of six children, she had three brothers much older than her.  She and her brothers helped their father plant the potatoes, a task which involved a steeve to make the holes.  For entertainment, Martha attended dances where fiddlers provided the music. Every house in Ireland had a fiddle.  

When she grew up, one of her brothers left for England and one, named Thomas, for America.  Martha longed to follow Thomas, a wish which he made possible when he sent her $200.  Martha rode her bike to Dublin to have her passport stamped, said goodbye to her parents and third brother, and boarded a ship bound for America. 

"One thousand single women looking for a spouse" on the SS Baltic as it arrives at Ellis Island 

In 1925, the ship set sail from County Cork. "The S.S. Baltic was beautiful.  I didn't want to get off," reminisced Martha, referring to the blue waters of the Atlantic.  Many of the Irish passengers embarked to Boston where they had family waiting for them.  However, Martha chose to stay in New York City where she met up with Thomas.  

Martha, who reached the ripe old age of 94, reminisced:  "I remember my first St. Patrick's Day here.  It was the parade, and my cousins gave me a green dress to wear and I said, 'I'm not going to wear that ren.  I'm not going to wear green in the United States.'  They laughed at me."  

Monday 12 September 2016

Italian Immigrant Angelina Palmiero

"They got us kids to take the almonds out of the shells and put them in a burlap bag.  We wanted to get into the bag because they said the bag was going to America." (Angelina Palmiero)

Facciata della Chiesa Madre in San Cataldo, Sicily circa 1940's courtesy

Growing up on an olive and almond ranch, Angelina Palmiero and her siblings had to help out.  "They got us kids to take the almonds out of the shells and put them in a burlap bag.  We wanted to get into the bag because they said the bag was going to America."  Angelina remembers marching around the playground of her school the day that Mussolini took power.  

While Angelina's family held down the fort in Sicily, her father set out for America.  Once employed, he started sending his family money, with the intent of sending for them once he was established.  However, just before Angelina's family set out for America, she received a black eye.  Her mother cried, terrified that they would be rejected due to the injury.  With the eye healed, the Italian family boarded the Giuseppe Verdi, packing all of their belongings in two trunks.  The tickets were free of charge, since Mr. Palmiero had returned to Italy from the United States to serve in the First World War in exchange for free passage for his wife and children.  Angelina was teary eyed when she waved goodbye to her grandfathers and grandmother.

During the thirteen day voyage across the Atlantic, Angelina suffered from swollen glands and a high fever.  Arriving in America on her birthday, "Somebody yelled:  'The Statue of Liberty, the Statue of Liberty!'  We all ran to the railing to see, and everybody was praying and kissing and happy that we were coming up the Hudson."  With Ellis Island crowded, the Giuseppe Verdi weighed anchor and its passengers waited.

Finally, Angelina's father arrived on a tugboat and she set eyes on him for the first time.  A bunch of bananas in his hand, she took one ready to bite into it.  "Don't eat it like that.  Take the skin off first," shouted her father.  

The passengers disembarked on the island where Angelina, separated from her family, convalesced in the hospital for 23 days.  Her parents and sisters travelled to Pennsylvania where her aunt and uncle lived, paying a $250 bond promising that they would return for Angelina.  No one explained to Angelina where her family had gone.  With "two lumps the size of walnuts in her throat", Angelina was given medicine everyday.  At night, she remembers opening a gate and looking up at the Statue of Liberty, all lit up.  

One day, Angelina stood in front of the judge in the big hall at Ellis Island and he declared that she could go.  She recognized her father by his grey hair which belied his 33 years.  On the train from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, her father bought her a Hershey's chocolate bar, her first.  

Her parents now reunited, Angelina's mother started having more babies, on average one a year.  Angelina became like a little mother to her younger siblings.  Her father worked at the Edison Company.  Angelina enrolled in Grade 1.  While a bright student, she struggled at first to learn English.  At 16, she took a trip to visit her aunt but never returned, settling in New York City.

Sunday 11 September 2016

French Immigrant Lara Bisset

"I saw the Statue of Liberty.  It was so impressive, so majestic, so meaningful.  Freedom!  Opportunity!  And most of all, it linked to us, America and France, because we knew that it was given to America by France." (Lara Bisset)

Jews flee the Cossacks circa 1905 courtesy 

In 1990, Lara Bisset visited the newly renovated Ellis Island for the first time since she immigrated to America in 1920.  What struck her was the Odessa, Ukraine Exhibit which explained the murder of hundreds of Jews at the hands of Russian Cossacks in 1905.  Lara's parents, also Odessa Jews, had escaped over the German border with their six month old son.  Trudging through the deep snow, her mother was "frozen up to the waist".  But she refused to go on without her baby, her legs "like two purple sticks".  

The Bisset's wandered around first Germany, then Luxembourg and finally Belgium, but didn't like any of the countries.  However, once they entered France, they knew they were home.  It was there that Lara was born in 1909.  While the Bisset's were poor, they managed to survive thanks to the help of their uncle who owned a dry goods store.  They would buy up dry goods to sell at foires (country fairs) which would help to put food on the table.  

It was a happy time for Lara.  The Bisset's new hometown did not have a synogogue but it did have a Roman Catholic church.  "You have to be exposed to religion," said Mrs. Bisset, who sent them to the Roman Catholic church only a block away.  She remembers picnics in the park where the family would munch on saucisses and peasant bread.  Entertainment came in the form of an accordion.  

After Mr Bisset served in the French Legion during the First World War, Mrs. Bisset begged him to go to America where her three siblings lived.  After much resistance, Mr. Bisset gave in and the family immigrated in 1920.  As the Touraine entered New York Harbor, Lara recalled:  "I saw the Statue of Liberty.  It was so impressive, so majestic, so meaningful.  Freedom!  Opportunity!  And most of all, it linked to us, America and France, because we knew that it was given to America by France." 

While the boat ride was exciting, the immigration process was less pleasant.  Adults and children were immediately segregated, a scary experience for Lara.  The sights and sounds were an assault to the senses.  Lara recalls:  "I remember hordes of people.  There were quite a few children and mothers, walking up those wide steps into the main building.  I remember the darkness, the wooden benches, the poorly lit hall, the babies screaming the children crying, adults crying.  It was awful."

With the tedious paperwork behind them, the Bissett family collected their luggage and took the ferry to the mainland where Lara's uncle picked them up in a Model T at Battery Park.  Language was an immediate barrier as the Bissett's spoke French and their brother spoke English.  Yiddish was their only common language.  

Lara would forge a new identity in New Jersey, retiring to Florida in the 1980's.