Saturday 10 September 2016

Austrian Immigrant Estelle Miller

"Even the stones in the sidewalk are not kosher." (Estelle Miller's grandfather)

Estelle Miller grew up in a small town in Austria, part of one of 50 Jewish families.  Bilche Zlote had a synagogue and a church.  While the majority of its citizens were Christian, they lived in harmony with the Jews.  Estelle lived on a farm with apple, cherry and plum trees.  Her family owned their own cow and chickens.  Her mother would collect eggs and sell them to the locals.  While they had enough to eat, the Miller's were poor.  Frau Miller worried about providing a dowry for her two daughters when they married.  Her brother, who had immigrated to America, urged her to come.  

A family in Bilche Zlote announced they were immigrating to America and Estelle's sister wanted to go with them.  However, her grandfather, not wishing her to leave Austria, warned:  "Even the stones in the sidewalk are not kosher."  After Estelle's grandfather passed away, her sister sailed to the New World.  Her father followed a short time after.  Eventually, Estelle's mother sold the farm and the animals and planned her passage to America, along with her daughter.  Worried about a china bowl which was a family heirloom, she refused to pack it in her suitcase and gave it to Estelle to carry, all the way to Hamburg, Germany.

In 1909, the mother and daughter made it to America in only six days on the Hamburg-American Line, the first boat to do so.   Estelle's older sister's trip had lasted a month, during which she got sick and almost died. They travelled in steerage, refusing to eat the meat because it was not kosher.  Upon entering New York Harbor, Estelle spotted a giant statue.  No one knew who it was.  "Don't you know?" asked one passenger.  "That's Columbus."  

At the immigration station on Ellis Island, the doctor examined Estelle for glaucoma in a rough manner.  Amidst the screaming babies, all of a sudden a door opened and a black man walked into the room.  Estelle, never having seen a black person before, dropped the china bowl which shattered.  

Austrian farmhouse circa 1900 courtesy

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