Friday, February 24, 2017

Immigration – it has a face and a name – this one is Heiss

This is a story Aunt Stacey shared on Facebook that I wanted to be sure my kids got to read. Since they don't have Facebook yet (but do read the blog) Aunt Stacey gave me permission to share it here:

Oma, Opa, and my father on their first Sunday in San Francisco at Lands End,
before the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed.

My grandparents immigrated to this country after World War I from Germany and Austria. My grandfather would regale us with stories of his “charmed” experiences—riding a motorcycle across the country with his friend Albert, causing a scene at the Great Salt Lake in his very modern “Speedo” (indecent in the 1920s and illegal), and so many more. My grandmother, on the other hand, struggled. She was alone in a strange land, didn’t speak the language, was sexually molested by her employer, and was embarrassed by things we take for granted—like knowing how to use a fork and knife. Her family was poor and meals were stews or soups made in one big pot for her large family to share—they only used spoons. But, she was strong; it’s the Saxon blood! She learned to navigate her way through Chicago, met my grandfather (the story is that she set the wedding date before he proposed), weathered the Great Depression, and settled in San Francisco to work hard and create a better life.

My grandfather started his career on the West Coast as a janitor and my grandmother a house cleaner. Times were tough, but the milk prices in California were the lowest (my family knows what that means)! In the early 1940s, my grandfather was hired by the Alameda Navel Yard as a tool and die maker (a trade he learned in Germany before he immigrated). They were not yet naturalized citizens, but had started taking the courses in San Francisco.

Then the world spun! The US entered World War II, and all naturalizations for Germans stopped. Interestingly, my grandfather NEVER lost his job at the navel yard (even though he was not a citizen). He was skilled and helped to repair warships being sent to Europe and Asia. While the US horrendously interred thousands of Japanese-Americans, my grandparents were able to stay in their home under nightly curfews, and the annoyance of having radio equipment and cameras confiscated by the government. All that seems tame, compared to what we face in 2017!

I shudder to think what might have happened if they had lived in TODAY’S America. Our current regime would have most likely deported them. Knowing what could have been in store for them is frightening. My grandfather would have been conscripted into service—like my grandmother’s brother, Herbert, who lost a leg on the Russian front. My grandmother would have been in a city or town facing nightly allied bombings—like her sister, Ellie, who was killed while in the hospital during the bombing of Dresden. After the war ended, they would have faced starvation and systematic rape (over 190,000 Eastern German women of all ages were raped by Russian and American soldiers). My great grandfather died of starvation in Dresden, and while we do not know if my great grandmother was a victim of rape, statistically, it is a possibility (at the very least, she witnessed these horrors).

But that didn’t happen. They lived in an America that was, while not perfect, a haven, paved with opportunities, and one that embraced people trying to make a better life. They, while still waiting for citizenship documents, were able to visit doctors and hospitals, own a home and car, carry insurance, have bank accounts, obtain credit, etc. They became US citizens a few years after the war and lived well into their 90s. They taught their only child and five grandchildren the value of working hard to obtain your dream. They lived comfortably in their retirement and were well respected by the community. These were immigrants—these were my grandparents.

And THIS!!!

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
~ Emma Lazarus 1883

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