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The story of an immigrant child’s journey to Ellis Island


Premieres nationwide Friday, June 29 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) in honor of Immigrant Heritage Month

In this excerpt, Camryn Manheim performs the words of 10-year-old Russian immigrant Katherine Beychok, who traveled to America in 1910 and wrote about her experience seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time.


Hunger was a guest in everybody's home.

By our standards, they had nothing.

The majority of the people were hungry all the time.

The only time there was a relief from that poverty was on the Sabbath.

Then the men came home, whatever they were doing, whether they were studying or working and making a living, and put on whatever better clothes that they had to get ready for the Sabbath.

And went to shul, to synagogue and came home, and that was the time there was a decent meal in the house.

All week long it was hunger.

My father, he left for America when I was two years old.

I didn't see my father until I came here.

We couldn't get passports to get out then.

We were Jews.

It was all illegal.

We traveled all night, and before it got light we stopped to hide out in somebody's house.

We made it to the border, and then we took a train.

We were going to Holland, to Rotterdam.

They had to carry me screaming onto the ship.

That's how afraid I was.

We traveled for eighteen days in steerage.

I was so sick all the time.

I don't know why, but I was one of the sickest.

It was a horrible trip.

As soon as we hit the harbor in New York it was like rejuvenation.

The water, it was blue, the sky, it was a beautiful day.

Everybody was laughing and crying that they were here; they're in America.

It was such jubilance that it just carried itself over even to me.

A number of friends were there.

Then I saw this man coming forward and he was beautiful.

I didn't know he was my father.

He was tall, slender, and he had brown wavy hair and to me he looked beautiful.

He looked very familiar to me.

And later on I realized why he looked that familiar to me.

He looked exactly like I did.

And I fell in love with him right away, and he with me.

And, of course, the first thing I had seen was that lady, the Statue of Liberty.

It was a thing I can never forget to this very day, because when I think of her, when I think of the Statue of Liberty, I feel so wonderful and so good.

I don't think there is anything under the sun that can make me feel better.

It seemed that she was a vision from heaven, and it's been with me ever since.

All the wonderful words that were written on it by Emma Lazarus...


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