Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom and the American Dream

4th of July 2011

Freedom and the American Dream

Today I want to honor the many courageous immigrants who began new lives in this country.  They came clutching their belongings: trunks, baskets, and bags, children tagging along beside them. They came pledging their loyalty to America.
The forces that drove many to leave their country were famine, war, religious persecution, political upheaval, fear of military conscription, and unhappy family situations.  Some sought adventure, but most wanted a better life for themselves and their families. 
Some newcomers had to make the journey to America under arduous conditions.  Many were steerage passengers who did not enjoy the elegant dinners and luxurious quarters that first and second class travelers had.  Instead they suffered from lack of food and poor ventilation, traveling in the jam-packed quarters. 
Fred Schwartz, a family friend told me, “When we came over from Russia we slept above the cattle.  It must have cost more to ship the cattle then us because they treated them better.  We slept head to head, foot to foot.  Mom was sick all the time.”
I asked Fred more about when his family came to America and he told me something interesting.  “In 1912, we took the train to Berlin and then Antwerp.  The smell from the toilets was fowl.  We boarded the ship, a freighter called Mount Temple", Fred said.  “And now here’s another thing.  When the ship experienced problems, the Titanic was called to the rescue.” 
At Ellis Island, the immigrants were divided into groups according to how they were listed on the ship’s manifest.  When they entered the building, they lined up in long rows and doctors sized up each newcomer.  If the doctor had suspicions that anything was wrong, they had to be examined.  My maternal great-grandfather, Adam Kreutzer, wife Anna, and two daughters Anna and Marie came to Ellis Island in 1913, but were rejected because Adam had an eye disease.  I am not sure if it was conjunctivitis or trachoma, but years later he became blind.  After being turned away at Ellis Island, the family traveled on to Quebec, Canada and was allowed entrance.  My paternal grandparents were refused because they did not have sponsors.  They also went to Canada.

1907, the year my mother and father were born, was the peak year of immigration to this country.  Not all who came got to stay.  Because of disease, failed inspections, and lack of sponsorship, 13,064 of the 1,285,349 were sent back to their country.   

My family is blessed to live in this country where we enjoy freedom and prosperity.  They never regretted leaving Russia and coming to the United States of America.  They were farmers and craftsmen, factory workers, housemaids, and construction workers. They came from the villages of Hussenback, and Brunnental to America full of hope and a willingness to work.  If a family needed money, everyone had to work, young children included.  Many times kids as young as five were farmed out to work for other people. 

Below is the Certificate of Naturalization that my grandfather John Elenberger received in 1942.  He pledged his loyalty to this country.  They had sons, grandsons, and great grandsons who served in our military.  What I remember most as a child is the gratitude my parents had for their freedom.

Today, let us continue to be a country that embraces newcomers who want to live a life of freedom and enjoy the privilege’s we all enjoy.

Happy 4th of July and God Bless America!     

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