Monday, August 18, 2014

The First Ship, But Not the Last

On August 13, 1896, the SS Columbia sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for a direct journey to New York. A photo of this steamship is not available but she is described as a three-masted ship with a single smoke stack. I don't know if anything memorable happened during her voyage but she arrived in New York on August 21, 1896, so there were no substantial delays. This voyage was at its midpoint 118 years ago today.

For the ship's crew and the staff at Ellis Island, this was just another ship carrying immigrants and cargo from Europe to America. For me though, this sailing has special meaning because the first of my direct ancestors was among the passengers. My great-grandfather Abraham Klein appears on line 20 of this manifest:
Unfortunately, prior to 1900, ship manifests were barely more than lists containing very little important information. Abraham, aka Abram, reported his age as 25 but I think he was really only about 18. The officials at Ellis Island might look at a 25 year-old butcher as more likely to be able to earn a living than an 18 year-old kid claiming to be a butcher. Abraham traveled along, his destination is "NY", and he departed "Hamburg." That's it. That's all we can learn from this document. When Abraham married my great-grandmother Sora Mirjam Zejburski almost nine years later, he had officially aged only one year. Sora was fresh of the boat when they married in 1905.
Abraham Klein, 1905
Sarah Klein (nee Sora Mirjam Zejburski) 1905
More would follow, of course. Two of my grandparents, and all eight of my great-grandparents entered the USA through Ellis Island, as did five of my great-great grandparents, and one 3rd great-grandmother. Abraham, of course, is my father's paternal grandfather. The next to step foot on American soil were both of mother's grandfathers, Moshe Sznajder (Morris Schneider) and Jeruchim Bergzon (Ruben Berger). Both would make the journey more than once.
Moshe Sznajder sailed from Hamburg in London in 1903. I can't find any evidence that he continued on to America but my guess is that he did. This was about five years before he married my great-grandmother back in Poland and started a family. Moshe would make the trip to America two more times (assuming he did so in 1903), in 1911 and then staying for good in 1922. My great-grandmother Sheine Sznajder, nee Tokar (Jennie Schneider) came over with all of the children in 1928.
Moshe and Sheine Sznajder, undated circa 1920?
Jeruchim Bergzon first came to America in 1904. He listed his brother Jacob in Brooklyn as the person he was coming to see but I can't find a trace of Jacob in the records. Jeruchim left his wife Dobrusza, my great-grandmother, and their oldest son Zalman Lejb back in Lithuania. When Jeruchim returned to America in 1911, he brought Zalman Lejb, now 16 year-old Louis with him. He brought Louis along to either begin making a foothold in New Jersey where other Schneiders were also settling, or because Louis was now old enough to be conscripted into the Russian army. Jeruchim made his final journey to America in 1921. My grandmother, Peshe, and her older brother David, arrived in 1929, and Dobrusza came over with youngest son Zalman (aka Jerry) in 1931. Dobrusza is the last of my direct ancestors to arrive in America.
Jeruchim Bergzon
Most of my other direct ancestors, including the Lutzkis, Belinkis, and the rest of the Zejburskis arrived between 1904 and 1913. Few ships carrying immigrants made the voyage during WWI. Cousins that I never knew existed until I began my research arrived as early as 1890. A few even came to America after WWII, having survived the war in the hands of the Nazis or the Russians. Other survivors emigrated to Palestine/Israel where their descendants live today. One Lutzki cousin, with his wife and son, couldn't get an American visa in the early 1920s when the US began strict enforcement of immigration quotas, so they settled for the next best thing...Canada.
Too many never left the Old Country. We can look back now and ask why they didn't leave. Life was difficult but they probably thought that since they were able to survive the last war, or the last pogrom, they'd survive the next one. By the time they realized it was too late to leave, it really was too late to leave. To my knowledge, my great-great-grandfather Moshe Hirsz Tokar, is my only direct ancestor to die in the Holocaust. Many other victims were close relatives.
I thank all of my ancestors who decided to make the journey. When they made the decision, they were probably only thinking about themselves, their children, and their grandchildren who would hopefully make the journey with them or follow later. They probably never even considered that any of their descendants would be interested in gathering the few surviving details of their lives. This is my journey.

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