|Copy of the original ship’s manifest. Our family is listed at lines ten through fourteen. From Ancestry.com.|
I can’t let this September go without marking an anniversary for my own family. It was exactly one hundred years ago this month that my father, Bill Ackerman, landed in America. My mother would come a few years later, in 1926, and they would meet on the lower East Side of NYC. The rest, as they say, is history.
My Dad was five years old at the time. (In the photo below, taken in Poland, he is the baby sitting on his mother’s lap. On the ship’s manifest above, he is listed on line 14 under his Yiddish name, Meier Zev.) Their ship, the SS Main, left Bremen and landed in New York on September 19, 1912. On their reasons for the trip, see A Love Story from Poland – Sheah and Yetta Akierman.
|Photo taken shortly before leaving Poland, circa 1910. The children Ruchel, Bill (Meier Zev), and Chafa and Feiga are left to right, with Yetta (Yachel) seated in the middle and Abe, the oldest son, standing behind.|
Here’s how my Aunt Rachel (the little girl Ruchel standing on my Dad’s right in the photo above) described the trip many years later in her self-published memoir Horseradish: Jewish Roots. Enjoy-
“In 1912 we were ready to leave for America. From our little town we took a horse and cart to Yanow. From there we took a train to Warsaw.
“In Warsaw I met my father’s mother, who I had never seen before. We stayed overnight with them. My grandmother was straight, tall and very quiet. She kissed us and cried because she was an old woman and knew she would never see us again. Aunt Geitle Vlotover gave us presents from her store to take along with us on the train to Hamburg. In the morning we took the train to Hamburg, Germany, to reach the ship, the Main, that was leaving for America.
“We sailed on the Main for thirteen days. We traveled 3rd class. It was very crowded and we had to stand in line with tin plates like animals to get food. Most of the people got seasick and stood by the rails all day vomiting or rolling on the decks, too ill to get up.
“My mother and Hannah were very, very sick. Fanny, Bill and I were the only ones who were okay. Bill was too young to remember anything.
“While I was on the ship, I missed my friends and thought about the little town that I had left. I remembered how we used to do the wash by a little brook. You had to lift your skirts not to get wet, then kneel by the rocks and wash the clothes with soap and then bang them with the rocks.
|The Main, the ship that brought my family to America in 1912.|
“After a few days on the ocean, many people began to get very, very sick – in addition to the sea sickness. Some of them died and were buried at sea. The waves looked so high to me that they seemed to reach the sky. We were very frightened. My mother and sister Hannah got very sick also. We cried because we were afraid they would die and be thrown overboard like the other dead people we saw. Hannah was delirious and had a high fever. So did my mother.
“On the 12th day out we were on the deck crying and the sailors were talking to us. They told us that, in a couple of hours, we would be in sight of land. They knew this because they could see birds flying.
“While we were standing there a miracle occurred. We saw our mother and Hannah coming to us on the deck from the sick bay. We started to scream and shout in disbelief.
“My mother told us later she had a dream while she had the fever, and Hannah had the same dream at the exact time. They dreamt that my mother’s dead brother, Moses Zies, had come to them. He gave them a piece of veal to eat and even told them to suck on the bones. They dreamt that they did what he told them to do, although in reality they had been throwing up since coming aboard the ship. The dream meat tasted delicious, they said. As they told the story, they vomited one more time, but from that moment on they were well.
“One of the funnier things that happened to us on the ship took place earlier in the voyage. The sailors pointed out to my mother that we were passing London. My mother’s half-brother, Jack Baumiel, lived in London. Although there was no land in sight, my mother made us line up at the rail and wave “hello” to Uncle Yankle.
“I remember the food they gave us was so salty you could hardly eat it. We used to take a walk to the upper decks to see how the 1st and 2nd class passengers lived. There were tables and fancy dining rooms, and we were jealous.
“We landed on a beautiful day in September. We passed the Statue of Liberty and landed at a place called Castle Gardens [the US government immigration station on the lower tip of Manhattan]. We were among the first ones off the ship.
“We got off the ship and all the immigrants were herded into a big building on the water’s edge. The first thing that happened was an eye examination by doctors. Anyone who had a disease was sent right back to Europe.
“As we stood in the line waiting, my mother prayed that they wouldn’t find anything wrong with us. We all passed. After that, we waited less than ten minutes before my father, my aunt Nettie, my sister Helen, and Nettie’s husband the policeman, all appeared to greet us. By now, Helen had gotten married and had a little six month-old girl named Florence.
“They took us to my aunt Nettie’s store where she had rooms in the back. The address was 24 Second Avenue in Manhattan. We couldn’t believe we were on American soil. Everyone talked English at us and we couldn’t make out what they said. I thought they were talking about us. …..”