Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The letter , coming to America

Example of an tenement Apartment
" An opening for a job and housing in the United States is available for you. Your job will be an unskilled worker. You must start to learn and speak English now. Your destination in the U.S.A. will be 257 East 10th Street, New York. This opportunity has been made possible to you by the combined efforts of the Protestant and Orthodox Church in America." A letter written to my parents from the Church World Service on June 5,1951. At the time my parents received this letter we were living in a DP camp Larger Kurhessen Kaserne in Hann Munden Germany. From here we were sent to Camp Wentorf , a regional Resettlement Processing Center and the last camp we lived in before we came to America.

WW II in Europe had come to an end in 1945 and an estimated 7 to 11 million displaced persons were still living in Europe. President Harry S. Truman called upon Congress to enact legislation that would allow some of the wartime refugees to enter the United States, thus became the Displaced Persons Act. The Act stipulated that only applicants who have been in resettlement camps would be eligible for American visas. The Act also insisted that all applicants must present guarantees by sponsors that housing and jobs would be waiting for them. Refugees admitted to the United States were also aided by voluntary social service agencies, accredited by the Displaced Person Commission. Most of these agencies were created by religious and ethnic groups. Among some of the relief organizations was the Church World Service , who sponsored my parents. By the end of 1952 more than 400,000 displaced persons were admitted to America. More than 70% were refugees from Eastern Europe. Many arrived on the shores of America with hope in their hearts and determination to make a better life for themselves and their children.

My parents had a hard time as newcomers to America, it's not easy to start a new life in an unfamiliar country. Most immigrants had to learn a new language and a new way of life. Jobs were often hard and mostly unskilled labor with low wages. Many moved into their own poor neighborhoods where they lived in crowded tenements.  My family , father, mother, three brothers and I came to America on November 11, 1951 . I don't remember the trip over since I was only two and half years old,  my older  brother has a good memory of the day we arrived. What I do remember is our first home in America  on East 10th Street on the  lower East side of New York.  The apartment was a  small four room railroad flat on the second floor. It had a small kitchen with a bathtub , one toilet with a overhead wooden tank and a pull chain to flush the toilet , a so call living room and two small bedrooms. We had very little furniture, a couple of beds, a crib, and a sofa. My parents life long possessions was one trunk that they brought over from Germany.We had a icebox that required blocks of ice to keep it chilled. I loved when the ice man would show up , he always gave me a chip of ice ,  I pretented it was ice cream. My mother washed the clothes in the bathtub by hand using a wash board  and hung the clothes out the kitchen window on a clothes line. To invite someone over you had to be creative, because of little money, food was scarce and lack of appiliances. The children played on the paved streets and people hung out on front stoops or fire escapes. The neighborhood  felt safe, parents really did not  worry about their children playing on the streets, there was always an adult keeping an eye on them. I was one of those kids, it gave me street sense and grew up faster than most pampered kids. You were lucky if you lived on the lower floors , they were walkups and no elevators. I remember going to the basement and watching my mother shoveling coal into the furnace of the building in order to  get a discount on the rent.

For over 150 years the Lower East Side of New York has been a haven for immigrants seeking a better life. Later many families improved the living conditions by moving from the Lower East Side to other areas. My parents moved to Greenpoint Brooklyn, a Polish community that still exsits today. There is now a museum on Orchard Street,  New York, called the Tenement Muesum, the lower East Side of New York will always be known for it's historical immagration.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. I remember several of the families that came to Colorado. A few stayed with us for a while. The kids became my friends.