Thursday, April 28, 2011


Day 1 : April, 12th 1892

A Jewish immigrant
Dear Journal,

                 My name is Deborah Attman and I am thirteen years old. I live in the city of Kovno, in the northwest of Russia … and I am a Jew. It is now a part of my identity. In the street, this question became a habit: “Are you Jewish?” because people know that we are no longer safe here. The Jewish community is persecuted in southwestern Russia; people are killed – especially children. Their homes, businesses and religious centers are destroyed. We call these “Pogroms”, but I call it genocide… We are scared; if it started in the south, it will surely ‘come’ in the north. Our only solution is to leave, but we don’t have enough money. A lot of Jews are going to America. My mother thinks that we would be safe, and have a better life there, but it is too far. My father says that it will be okay, and that we’ll find a way. I hope so …

Day 2 : May 25th 1892
A steam boat
 Dear journal,

 It has been almost a month, a month of travel in this boat, and it has been more than a month that I didn’t write in my journal, but I didn’t have time to. The moving took us a lot of time and everything went so fast...
Our Orthodox rabbi lent us money so that we would have enough for living in New York. It was really hard to say goodbye to all my friends and my family because I don’t know if I will ever see them again.
We first took a horse car to the train station, and then we took the train to Marseille, in France. It took us almost six days to arrive there because of some connection problems I guess. I didn’t really understand what they were saying though. I was exhausted when we arrived in Marseille, but the travel in the train was really fun. I spent the whole time playing board games with my father. When we finally arrived, we didn’t have time to rest. Marcel, a friend that my dad met while he was working in France, drove us to the port where we were supposed to take our boat. He is very nice, and he has this really weird accent when he is speaking English. But since none of us knows how to speak French! We spent a night there and we took our boat the next day at 7; because it was getting dark, and no one could see us. What we were doing was technically illegal.
There are a lot of people in the boat, from all over the world. The beginning of the trip was great, but it is starting to get boring. The only children that are on the boat are babies.
My 18-month-old little brother, Jacob, caught cholera, like a lot of the passengers. He can not stop throwing up and he has a fever. A lady told my dad that it was because of the conditions of the trip. We only have one cabin for four people. There are two beds of medium size.  I am sharing mine with my brother which is very annoying because he wakes up really early.
We are also not eating really well because my parents said that we had to keep money for when we will be in New York, and the captain makes us pay for two meals a day. I heard some people saying that it is because we were Jews …
I have to go, Mom is calling me. I will probably be back later.

Day 3 : June 19th 1892

View of Ellis Island
 Dear journal,

 We finally arrived at Ellis Island after a really long trip that took us about 49 days. I am very excited but upset at the same time. Jacob didn’t survive cholera. It makes me sad when I think that he won’t get the chance to have a better life, here, in New York.
But the worst is yet to come: the fear of being denied entry to the country after the passage at the immigration depot. 
The officers first called our names, and we were hundreds of thousand of immigrants. We had to wait more than two hours, since a lot of them didn’t know how to pronounce Jewish, Italian names or wherever we were from. Then, they moved us to the “Temporary Detention Room”. The room was very small. We were all stacked one on top of the other and it smelled really bad. We waited for a really long time but I don’t know how long exactly. Later, they called my parents. They asked them some questions about the life that we had in Kovno and a bunch of other stuff. Because they said that they didn’t want us to become a public charge, but to take care of ourselves. My father told us that we were going to stay here almost two days. The time that the officers, or whoever they are, need to see everyone and to “decide of our future”. Hopefully, their answers would be satisfacting for us to stay in the city.

Day 4 : June 22nd 1892 

Great hall
 Dear journal,

            It has been almost two days since we arrived at Ellis Island and apparently they might drop us in the Lower East Side tomorrow morning. We spent the night in this big enclosed room with all the other immigrants. I didn’t sleep really well; we used benches and clothes as beding. Today we are supposed to be inspected by the doctor to make sure we weren’t sick, contagious or that we wouldn’t transmit disease in New York. The doctor who inspected me was wearing this uniform that makes me remember of the Russian one. The doctors inspected our eyesight, our health, our skin, and our heart rate. They tested our ears and they also took our temperature. The peoples who were sick or weak were supposed to return in their departure country. Hopefully anyone in my family had to go back to Russia.
             After the inspection we were interviewed again and this time they asked us question like “what’s two and two?” and “Can you read?”
For lunch we were all in this huge cafeteria with hundreds of peoples, we had fish and milk with bread. It was the best meal since our departure from Russia. While we waited in this room after our nourishing meal the inspectors announced us about our departure from Ellis Island to the Lower East Side. We would be boarding in the ferry tomorrow morning at 7AM.     
Day 5 : June 25th 1892
Street view in the Lower East Side
  Dear journal,

          This morning a steamboat dropped us off in a port on the Lower East Side. We were finally in New York. I was so excited and so tired at the same time. We took our stuff and we walked for hours searching for an apartment to rent. We only took one small bag and one big bag with us. It was 9 o’clock when we arrived. There was already a lot of activity on the Lower East Side. We crossed Seward Park, a park near Canal Street. It was beautiful. The trees were all green and there were flowers everywhere. A few minutes later a group of white children started staring at us like we were from a different planet. I didn’t know why they looked at us with this weird expression on their faces. But later, I discovered it was because we were Jewish. We walked past a school and I was able to tell by the children’s faces and by there language that there were a lot of different nationalities on the Lower East Side. There were Italian, Irish and a lot of Jews like us. I was happy to know that we weren’t the only Jews in town. I learnt that there were about 5 millions that moved to the Lower East Side just like us.

Day 6 : July 2nd 1892
View of the Lower East Side
Dear journal,

 It has been a long time since we arrived in New York. Right now it’s five pm and I just returned from school. We live in the Lower East Side on Henry Street between Jefferson Street and Clinton Street, in a 3 floor town house that we had to share with two other Jewish families. Our apartment is pretty small; the structure is made with brick which make it look like a prison. On the front of the house there are narrow stairways to escape in case of fire. Inside our apartment it’s really hot because most of the windows are broken and it’s hard to open them. I’m sharing a room with my parents, because we have only three rooms; one bedroom one kitchen and one living room. There is no gas light or electricity in the apartment so we use candles and oil lamp. The bathrooms are in the backyard and we have to share them with our neighbors. There is no water in the apartment so my mom needs to go in the backyard where the water pump is to do laundry, and to wash dishes. My school is a regular school on the Lower East Side near my house. At first my classmates ignore me but then some girls came up to me and ask me my name. Those girls were Irish; Cathleen arrived 2 month ago and Aine arrived 5 month ago. After school I often go to the park with them and with my other classmates.

Day 7 :  July 9th 1892

Street view of the Lower East Side
 Dear journal,

          One week ago, my parents found new work. It’s in a textile industry. They have to make clothes. They only get 8 dollars a week, for 16 hours of work a day… I think it is so unfair, but my father tries to be positive so he always repeats that it is how life is and that we’re already lucky to be here in New York. I know he’s right and I know we’re lucky to be here, but still, I miss my old life in Russia. I miss my friends and my old school and everything.
Here, we are in a regular school near our house. We have friends and we go to the park during our free time when it doesn’t rain outside. I like to go to the park with my friends because it is the only time when we can have a bit of fun and anyways, it’s the only recreation we have. When we’re in the streets to go back home after going to the park or when we come back from school, there are many immigrants just like us, who left their hometown to find safety in New York. But sometimes, there are also people who are anti-semitic and who often insult us in a really mean way.

Day 8 : July 13th 1892
 Dear journal,

           Today was just a regular day like all the others. It was sunny in the afternoon, so, after school, I went to the park with my friends. We played together, ran in the grass and had a good time. It was actually really hot today. We stayed a long time at the square. Then, I went home by the same way I usually take to go home. I saw many familiar faces today in the streets. I think I saw them at the Synagogue. There were also racist people, as usual. Nativists insulted us and screamed at us saying that we were invading their country and other things like this. I am starting to get used to it. It doesn’t shock me as it did when I was new in the neighborhood.
When I arrived home, my parents were not there yet. I ate a snack and I did my homework. This night, when I was done with all my work, I started to write a letter to my friends in Russia. I miss them a lot. I think they will never get my letter, because from New York to Russia is a long distance and I don’t even know if my friends still have the same address as they used to have when I lived in Kovno. I hope they are okay.
Later in the evening, my parents finally came back from work. They were exhausted, like every night. Mom quickly prepared a dinner and then we went to bed. I ran so much today that I fell asleep instantly.  

         Day 9 : December 3rd 1905              

  Dear old journal,

     I am so moved to have recovered you. It has been such a long time… about 13 years. I thought I lost you at the park or something. Oh my God, I’m so happy to be able to read my own memories again! My life did not change that much during those 13 last years… unfortunately.  I still live on the Lower East Side, in the same house as before and the situation has not got any better. It is actually kind of worse. My mother died 3 years ago, because she was always tired. She worked during most of the day and did not sleep during most of the night. I got so depressed when she died. I did not eat and did not talk to anyone for a while. I stayed in my room, alone.  For those last 3 years, I have been alone with my father in our small house.
As I am now 26, I am not going to school anymore. I recently found a good job after university. My father saved money during the last years for me to go to a good university. Thanks to him, now I am a teacher in the school I used to go to and I earn a bit more money for both of us than he used to earn with his old job in the textile industry. I am happy to be with those children who are now in the same conditions as I was. There are children from all over the world. The majority of them are immigrants who had to leave their country. I listen to their story, and then they listen to mine.
I never saw my Russian friends again, and unless if all of those problems in the world finally stop one day, I don’t think I have chances to meet them again. I don’t even have news of them. It is the same story for my grandma, my uncles, aunts, etc. They did not follow us when we left Russia 14 years ago, because they said that God would not do that to them: they believed that the pogroms against Jews would stop in a short while. I’m really upset right now. I miss everybody and especially my family and I curse the ones that were against us, the Jewish people.

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