Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Share Your Story: Stories of Immigration

Recipes   |   Family Traditions   |   Stories of Immigration

A Yankee and a Greenhorn

My great grandmother, Sadie Shlomowitz came to this country as a young Polish immigrant in the early 1900's speaking no English. She was soon hired bu the famous Yiddish actor Jacob Adler to work as a maid in his home. Sadie had no education but was very bright and Jacob's children Luther and Stella Adler liked to play school. They had a willing pupil in Sadie and that was how she learned to read and write in English. She soon met a strapping 6'2' young man named Max Miller and they fell in love. Max was a third generation "Yankee" and he was also only 16 years old. She told him that she was only 20 and he said that he was 19. They raised three daughters in the Bronx and each girl spoke only Yiddish until going to school.

My mother made a 90th birthday party for Grandma Miller and was told that she "wasn't really 90." My mother didn't pay much attention until her grandmother finally confessed that she had lied for the last 68 years and she was really 92. Grandma Miller stood 4'9" and her husband Max always had a cigar in his mouth. As a child I always wondered how the cigar ash didn't hit Grandma in the head. She died when I was a senior in high school and he only lived 6 months without her.

I learned a lot about hardship and love from their 68 year marriage.

Cheryl, Columbus, OH


 

Holocaust Survivors

My parents lost their respective families to the Nazis during the occupation of their respective homelands. My father was from Poland; my mother, from Hungary.

My father deserted the Polish Army to avoid serving for Hitler. Consequently, he was a prisoner of war in Russia after the war. The Russians had two reasons to abuse him. We hear very little of the conditions of the Russian prisoner of war camps. They "won". There were no reparations to those Jews.

My mother, a young woman when the war broke out, was captured with her ailing parents and placed on a train to concentration camps. She was separated from him and never saw him again. She was eventually imprisoned in Auschweitz and was rescued by the Allies in 1945. She made her way home to the border of Hungary and Rumania and found her younger brother. Their oldest brother had emigrated to the US before the war and was studying to be an engineer at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Somehow, they were able to locate their brother in Detroit. I have a post card that was written to their brother postmarked September, 1945. They had been unable to communicate with him until then. His first contact from anyone in his family to learn of its fate reads, "We are home. We can't find momy and daddy. Please send medicines".

My mother met my father in a relocation center in Germany. Their parents were exterminated. They had little in common but their Jewish heritage. They had a child, my brother, shortly after their marriage. They came to the US in 1949 and, for a short period of time, lived with my mother's brother. My father became a carpenter and they were able to move into their first flat. I was born in 1951.

Our first language was Yiddish. And, all of their friends were, likewise, refugees -- "Greenehs" as my parents characterized themselves. They proudly became US Citizens in about 1956. "Only in America" was not a cliche but a statement that the streets were truly paved with figurative gold in the form of unique opportunity. And, although neither my parents or their friends had formal education, they all stressed that for their children. Future doctors, lawyers, accountants, businessmen.

I think that I was an adult before I met a Jewish person with grey hair that didn't have an accent. I thought that to be Jewish, ones parents must have spoken with the color of a Polish, or Russian, or Hungarian or Lithuanian accent. I learned of people like Chaim Salomon in school. But, I didn't know anyone like him. My knowledge of Jews was from our neighborhood, "the Old neighborhood".

The survivors yielded a singularly successful group of children. But, as children of survivors we are different, in many ways. We were raised by parents who had been deprived of their youth. They were learning to parent in a strange land. As their children, we look at the world, to some extent, as our parents did: with a certain mistrust; but with optimism that we can succeed. It is often difficult to leave behind what one learns in the home. But we try not to inflict the cynicism upon our own children. Just as we, the children of Holocaust survivors have been given opportunities that our parents were deprived of, we try to do the same for our children.

Tony, Detroit, MI


 

Life Lessons


Gradually, my grandfather's family - first my great-grandfather followed by my great-grandmother and their 5 kids - came to America when my grandfather was a little boy. They (Harry, Mary, Louis, Freida, Reuben, and Rose) lived on the near West Side of Chicago where there would soon be a sixth child and they would attend Harrison High School - along with one Irving 'Irv' Kupcinet of local print and television media reknown.

Times were tough: a great-aunt (Rose) relates a story when both my grandfather and his father needed a new winter coat and there was solely enough money for one. My great-grandfather had decided that since my grandfather (Reuben) was commuting to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he would need the coat more. Later, when he was asked to speak with a School official about why he was not taking as many courses as before - again due to a lack of money - he was offered the opportunity to join a student janitorial corps that would prep studios and classrooms early each morning. This was before cooperative education as we know it and at a time when the Art Institute and similar organizations were not necessarily overly friendly or helpful toward Jews. Although he completed his art studies, he was not able to complete his degree due to familial financial issues.

A great uncle (Louis) ran a grocery store and my great aunt Rose (who related the above story) worked for I Magnin and then Barney's store on Oak Street after Magnin's closed and her husband was a furniture salesman for his entire life.

Another great aunt (Freida) chose not to marry her boyfriend because he was not Jewish and remained unmarried for the rest of her life.

Eventually, the family spread out with a great Uncle (Louis) that moved to Miami where his two sons eventually became doctors via the University of Miami.

Harry worked with the relatively well-known Zollie 'Z' Frank who helped expand the idea of leasing vehicles.

In short, my grandfather's family exemplified the true American dream: Immigrants with little who utilized the resources in their neighborhoods (public schools, opportunities at institutions of higher learning, and of course family) to eventually have, support,and maintain their own families.

There are certainly many similar stories - which rarely get told - of people who pursue this dream via large families, public school, and espousing education and humility.

However, equal to or greater than some of the (material) accomplishments were the life lessons:

Read, read, read vociferously.
Know when to utilize the advice or counsel of others be it family, financial/insurance advisors, and friends instead of going forth on one's own.
Support the agencies and organizations that helped you and that help others (The Art Institute, the Jewish Federation).
Don't assume that you will always have the material or other resources (work) you will need to live well.
Don't spend your last dollar, don't live beyond what you have, and don't spend what you don't yet have.
Initiate and work hard at maintaining strong friendships (most of his being life-long).

My grandfather was not what many would consider one who actively practiced his faith, however his mother was a pillar of their congregation. Yet, the above life-lessons can be seen as similar to the teachings of Judaism or any mainstream faith.

Marc, Grayslake, Illinois


 

Cormans Come To America

My maternal grandparents, Avram (a.k.a., Chaim Alter) Korman and Zipe Raisel (a.k.a., Rose, nee, Garber) came to the United States through Ellis Island in three waves; one in 1907, and two, in 1910.

My great grandfather came to Detroit through New York with his brother in 1907. He sent for his young wife and their four children, and they were escorted to the port of Libau by her brother, who lived in nearby Turov.

Her only son at the time, my great Uncle Lou, came down with an eye ailment, so they all had to turn back. Fearing none of them would be able to leave, Rose sent her eldest daughters, my great aunts, Basse, a.k.a., Bessie, and Elke, a.k.a., Anna, ahead, and they arrived, and were detained for health reasons on August 30, 1910. Bessie was about 18, and Anna was about 5 years old.

When my uncle recovered, the rest of the family, which included my young great Aunt Sarrell, arrived in New York on September 25, 1910.

I have often wondered what became of my great grandmother's brother, and feel so very fortunate my great grandmother's gamble paid off, as my dear grandfather was born the next year, on June 24, 1911: Abe Corman, who lived to be 91, and was adored by all who had the honor of his acquaintance.

Stephanie, Farmington Hills, MI


 

Descended From a Leopold Getz

Although I'm not of the Jewish faith, my great, great grandfather was. I'm descended from a Leopold Getz. Leopold was listed as a "peddler" in the 1860 US census - in Philadelphia (your program finally gave me an idea of what a peddler really was). It really made me think about my origins and the difficulty my ancestors must have endured.

The census also indicated that Leopold was born in Germany and his young wife (20 years younger!) Henrietta was born in Prussia. They were the "early" German Jewish immigrants. Their youngest daughter, Florence Getz married my great grandfather, James Kelly. I believe she converted to Catholicism (I'm sure her mother was turning in her grave!). She had a number of brothers and sisters (Max, Meyer and Simon come to mind), however, I'm told they didn't keep in touch with them - perhaps because she had married a gentile.

As my family's "genealogist", I would love to locate some of those other Getz descendents. I'm told that many of the Getz's stayed in the Philadelphia or South Jersey area. Should anyone who sees this posting have any relevant genealogical information, please feel free to send me an email. (charlesdbruce"at"kelly-mcgovern.us.).

Charles, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


 

Out of the Holocaust chaos

I was born in a resettlement camp in Frankfurt, W. Germany, on Aug. 28, 1948. My parents.. Mendel and Pola, Polish Jews were the only members of their families to survive the concentration camps. My mother was born in Dec., 1923, my father in June, 1924, so they were both teenagers when Poland was invaded in 1939. We took the boat to America in Dec., 1949 at the time my mother was pregnant with my brother David, who ironically, was born on July 4, 1950 ... the first member of our family to be born on U.S. soil.
In the early 50s, we lived in the south Bronx while my father worked as a baker in Jersey City, NJ. It would take him approximately 2 hours to get to work and 2 hours to get home every day but he did what he had to do.
They became citizens in 1953. In the late 50s my father had saved enough money to buy a candy store on the upper West Side of Manhattan. We moved to Manhattan a year later. He opened the store at around 5 a.m. every day, seven days a week, and closed it after midnight. They closed the store in the early 1970s.
My father collapsed and died on the streets of New York in Nov. 1990. My mother is still alive, is 84, and has lived in the same apartment we grew up in for about 45 years.

Abe, Overland Park, KS


 

Understanding!

As a gentile, now I understand my Jewish uncle´s background...from Eastern Europe to Canada to Duluth, Mn. From an Orthodox background to a non-practicing...most of them married out-side of their faith...even married Finnish-American girls. I visited just before he died couple of years back and I tried to find more info about his own background and he wasn´t willing to talk too much except how hard it was in the 20s and 30s. My memories of him are fond.

From Finland, david.

David, Heinola, finland.


 

The River of My Life - An Autobiography

My River of Life began in 1936. I was born in the Land of The Dragon (Shanghai) with a Siberian heritage (grandparents,fleeing Pogroms, settled in Shanghai on their way to America when paternal grandfather died in a cholera epidemic) and, as a result of a divorce when I was two, raised in a non-traditional manner by my paternal grandmother while my sister was raised by our maternal grandparents. I spoke English with my contemporaries, Russian with the older generation, and went to a French school until I left Shanghai in 1946 ( on the SS General Meigs) heading first to SF and then by train to Washington DC to live with an uncle. I had an interesting childhood in Shanghai during WWII but, after seeing some Hollywood movies as a 9-10 year old after the war ended, decided I wanted to go to America-the Land of Opportunity - and join the US Navy. My sister and maternal grandparents fled to Brazil in 1948 slightly ahead of the Communists takeover of Shanghai and many other of my relatives went to Israel at that time.

Since coming to the States, I have been very fortunate in the River of My Life, from a family standpoint ( married 49 years to a wonderful woman, two great off-springs, three loving grandchildren); having many wonderful relatives and friends; an exciting 37 year career with Boeing Company including playing a key role in the formation of the Russian- Boeing Space Cooperation Program; and a very fulfiling retirement including founding HERO House, a Clubhouse for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, that is helping persons recovering from serious mental illness regain Hope, Empowerment, Relationships, and Opportunites.

Abraham (abe) Kriger, Redmond, Washington


 

Retired

After surviving the Holocaust as a teenager,then completing my secondary education In Belgium, I emigrated alone borrowing the money to the USat the age of 19. I arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey on March 3, 1952. For the first three hours I was alone on the pier with the longshiremen. The HIAs was supposed to greet me but did not show up!

A year later, i volunteered for the US Army. I became a citizen at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in November 1953 while in the 82nd Airborne Division. Then occupied as an US soldier Germany which I had escaped to Belgium almost 16 years earlier on October 1, 1938. The people who reared were Holocaust victims as I would have been to if i had remained there.

I survived WWII in hiding in the area now know as the "Batttle of the Bulge area." Upon discharge from the US Army in l955, I went to the University of Maryland. In my Junior Year there I was selected by the US Department of State to represent the US at the US pavilion at the Brussels World's Fair in March 1958 till october 1958.

I escorted the VIPs visiting the Pavilion, including late first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, former Democrat candidate Adlai Stevenson, actress Sophia Loren, actress Brigitte Bardot, Va Cardinal Benjamin of Spain, actress Susan Strassberg, Orson Welles, Errol Flynn, President of the then UASSR Vorochilov and Minister Anastas Mikoyan, etc, etc.

In l960, I was nominated and then selected as a Woodrow Wilson National Fellow. After the BA with Honors from the U. of Maryland in l960, I obtained a masters of arts degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. In l963 I taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., a required course in history.

Afterwards, I was recruited by the US Federal Government Executive Branch when President Johnson started the War on poverty. Eventually I had a very succesful career as a senior polical economist under 6 Presidential Administrations in Washington DC.
I was elected to the National Council of the American Society for Public Administration, Board of Editors of the Public Administration Review, and the Board of Directors of the Society of Government Economists.

Finally, the Secretary of Labor awarded me the Distinguised Career Service Award, the highest US public service award./

I was appointed by the Governor of Maryland in 2006 to the Maryland State Task force to implement Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights, and Tolerance education in the University System of Maryland.

I manage the worldwide Yahoo! group Remember_The_Holocaust which is a listserv and forum to promote tolerance education and human rights in memory of the Holocaust victims. I am a member of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, in Maryland. Further, I belong to the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, the Foreign War Veterans, and the American Legion.
I am retired now 15 years living in comfort in my home owned now many years with my wife of 44 years, in an affluent suburb of Maryland outside Washington D.C.

Not bad for a young man who arrived to the US owning his fare! Only in America!

Fred, Berhesda, Maryland


 

Abram's Son

One of my two Jewish grandparents had a parent who came to America by way of Canada. He only knew two words in English- "Abram" and "son". When the immigration official asked for his name, he said "Abram's son". The official put down "Abramson", and that became his name.

Taylor, Ashburn, Virginia


 

At the begining of the 20th century there was a pogrom in the Odessa area of then Russia, now the Ukraine. This led my grandfather and grandmother to decide to get away from Russia and to try and get to the United States. Their idea however, was a bit different. They believed that if they traveled East to Vladivostok , they would be able to get passage to the United States. Unfortunately, by the time they got to Vladivostok the Russo-Japanese war had broken out and they had to filter into Northern China, to the city of then Tiensin now Tanjin to get out of the way. My grandmother opened a Russian restaurant in the French Concession and my father and his two brothers were born in Tiensin.

At some point in the 1920's my grandmother moved the family to Shanghai. The Jewish community there was larger and the opportunities greater. Before the Japanese occupation of China my father worked for one of the private bus companies in Shanghai owned by the Sasoons. I'm not sure what he did during the occupation and during WWII, but after the war he worked for the American Navy which was then the administrating agency for the Port of Shanghai. I was born in Shanghai on Auguet 9, 1941.

With Mao some sixty miles from Shanghai in early 1949, we left on the last ship carrying civilians out of Shanghai. The ship was an old U.S. troop transport named the SS General Gordon and my father was one of the leaders of about 570 Jews of Russian origin, but stateless.Our destination was Israel, the only place that would take us. To get there however, we had to sail to Japan, Hawaii, and San Francisco. We then took a 7 day journey on a sealed train to New York and spent a few days locked up on Ellis Island until a ship arrived to take us to a " Displaced Persons " camp outside Naples, Italy.

We were in the camp for about three weeks before getting passage to Israel. Once in Israel, we were put in a tent camp until we could show we could support ourselves. When we got out of the tent camp we lived first in a small apartment in Haifa and then in a small house outside Haifa in Kiryat Amal. My father got a job with the American Consulate in Haifa and with their help got " numbers " to come to the United States.

It was always his dream to come to the United States and we left Israel in 1951. Our intention was to go to the West Coast where a number of friends had settled, but first we stopped in Madison, Wisconsin to visit with our sponsor to the United States. He had been a Naval Ensign in China and was now at the University of Wisconsin completing his doctorate. My father got a job in Madison and we decided to stay there and sink some roots.

I graduated from high school, undergraduate work and graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. In a sense I had become the quintessential " townie " with the exception of a stint in the army from late 1960 to early 1964. I got married in 1966, joined the Ford Foundation in 1971, and retired from Ford at the end of September, 2006. Each phase of this story has episodes connected to it about how a family adapts to macro events to secure a safe future for itself. My daughter and I hope to retrace this journey and produce a documentary film about the experience.

Barry, ,


 

My Zayde from Transylvania

My Grandfather, Emil Luger was born to a large family in a tiny shtetl in Marmures county, Transylvania, called Kretchenif (in Yiddish, Craciunesti in Romanian). Apprenticed to a cabinetmaker at age 10, he ran away to Paris at 15, honed his craft, saw Lindburgh land, and followed his brothers to Panama. In demand as a furniture maker due to his Parisian skills, he also entered the banana business and exported fruit to the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. Discouraged by the heat and malaria in Panama he settled in the Bronx, worked as a carpenter, and was one of the thousands who were construction workers in New York City post WWII. In the 50's, he started his own contracting business based in the South Bronx where his Spanish skills helped a lot; although it was a rough neighborhood he had good relations on the block and his neighbors referred to him as "Don Emilio" . Emil Luger passed away in 1993, but his great-grandson, named after him, was born in 2005 in the Bronx, where Emil set down roots for his family in 1932.

David, Bronx, NY


 

« prev | Page 1 of 2 | next »