True Immigrant Stories: Her Father and his “Palace”

[This is another true story from my oral histories collection of immigrants who came through Ellis Island as part of my research for my historical novel,Guardians of the Gate. Elzbieta came from Russia in 1923 at age 15.]

The closer we came to the United States, the better we felt after being so dizzy and nauseous.  The trip took us ten days and we landed in Ellis Island.  We saw a big, big building.  It was like an armory and, yes, we went through inspection.  Before we went on the boat, we went through inspection and the physical, and when we came to Ellis Island, it was the same thing.  They inspected all the clothing of ours and the physical too.  Everything was all right with us.  Some people didn’t pass the inspection, and they had to go back, with their health, and all.

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“All the immigrants were holding their bundles, the baggage, by them.  Also, we ate by huge tables and most of the food they served was herring.  There were some young immigrant boys and they played the mandolin and I was dancing and I didn’t think about anything. We were laughing and dancing.  I didn’t understand what they were saying but we had a lot of fun.  We stayed in Ellis Island three days because we came in on a Friday and on the weekend they didn’t let anyone out.  So we stayed there three days.

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When my father came in—they told me it’s my father, of course, but I didn’t know him because I hadn’t seen him in ten years—I was thrilled to see him. And, of course, as a young girl, I was very happy and I was giggling a lot and that worried my father because he heard a lot of girls came here in this country and they got in trouble.  He asked me, ‘My dear daughter, why are you giggling so much?’ I didn’t have an answer for him then.  I never saw my father and yet I saw him worry for me and giving me orders what to do, what not to do.  It was very strange for me, but we were all very happy to see him and finally he took us on a subway.  The subway was very new to me.  This I didn’t see in Europe.’

[Elzbieta will soon drop out of school to work in a silk mill to help the family and went to night school to learn English and complete her high school education.]

“Now I see it wasn’t such a big palace my father took us in.  It was four rooms but everything looked so nice.  It was a piece of carpet on the floor with a victrola with the letters, chairs, and a little sofa, and I thought we came into a palace and I used to correspond with my girlfriends overseas and I told them what beautiful things we have.  But now, when I look back, it wasn’t really so beautiful.

“It was a nice experience but I wouldn’t like to go through with it again.  I like this country.  I’m very happy that we came to this country.  After I got married, we had two children and we brought them up in a free country and that makes me very happy to this day that we are here.”


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