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Immigrating to the USA by Catherine Grosskopf

Having lived in Germany for several years, my dad wanted to emigrate to the United States. He never again wanted to experience a war like World War II and he felt that America would offer more opportunities to begin a new life. His brother, Mike offered to be our sponsor. He had immigrated in the late twenties in the last century.We were de-Nazified and each questioned by U.S. officials several times. This was done regularly before immigration to U. S. was allowed after WWII in Germany. Hanau was a larger city near Steinheim where we lived and where there was a huge U.S. army camp nearby.

After applying for the Immigration papers we had to wait for about a year to be accepted. A willing sponsor had to be there to take on the responsibility of newcomers. Immigration for refugees (the Danube Swabians) and displaced persons from Eastern Europe was made possible by the "American Aid Society of German Descendants." In 1944 a group of earlier Danube Swabian immigrants

in Chicago, organized their fellow countrymen through their ethnic clubs and established the organization headed by Nick Pesh, a tailor who was a fellow compatriot. He came from Jahrmarkt, Banat. In New York it was Peter Max Wagner, from Batschka, and in Los Angeles it was Father Mathias Lani from Jugoslawia who worked tirelessly to help their countrymen who were in desperate need. Eventually all of the clubs throughout the U.S. banded together and the "American Aid Society of German Descendants" was adopted nationally with headquarters in Chicago. . At that time the immigration law was not favorable to those wishing to start a new life in the U.S.A.

John Meiszner, a business man and a Chicago politician used his influence and worked behind the scenes for the refugees. His ancestors too were Danube Swavians. Officials were made aware of the emergency situation by Nick Pesch,, the Chicago tailor. He had visited the camps in Austria , at his own expense to see for himself. What he saw was his Landsleute (fellow countrymen) suffering from lack of food, clothing and shelter. They lived cramped together in barracks in Austria, an area occupied by the Americans. He was determined to help.

The refugee situation in Europe became also know to Americans by relatives serving in the U.S. armed forces. They wrote letters home telling their families of seeing their aunts, uncles, cousins or grandparents on trains or just trekking across Europe.

Through the efforts of the national office of the American Aid Society, a law that prohibited immigration, was changed. Through the efforts of Senators Everett Dirksen, and Lange and Congressmen Sheehan and Stratten of Illinois, a special law was passed. Support was also given by the National Catholic Welfare Conference and the Quakers helping with food and other assistance .

The American Aid Society sponsored for people who had no sponsor. Under this new law 17,000 refugees were given the opportunity to come to the U.S.A. Many volunteers put great effort into their commitment to help. Like a private sponsor, they were responsible for food, shelter, job location and health insurance. There were no free lunches for the immigrants. No one of the refugee immigrants became a burden to the state. The first group arriving in New York in December, 1950 was greeted by Monsignor Swanstrom of the NCWC and Sam Bauman, a representative of the Aid Society. About 10,000 refugees came to the U.S. because of that law, my family was among them.

Additionally, the law of "Displaced Persons" was passed in 1953 and by 1956 the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. was given to 300,000 German refugees from south eastern Europe.

Once we had our Visa, were were on our way to Bremerhaven. There we waited for ten days in a transition camp for the arrival of a Liberty Ship. General Stewart Heintzelman, a U.S. army ship that brought U.S. soldiers to Germany took emigrants back to the U.S. Embarkation to sail for our family was on September 25, 1951. The official crew of the ship was ten to fifteen U.S. military men. Everyone was assigned a job. There was kitchen duty, cleanup duty, laundry and a kindergarten so that parents of young children could work to run the ship. I was assigned kindergarten duty, watching and playing games with the children. Women and children were separated from the men and all slept on bunks.

At some point, most of the passengers had to deal with seasickness and so did I. Everyone seemed to get sick at one time or another, except the children. They kept active and running around. We were supposed to sail for nine days to get to New York harbor but because of a bad storm , the voyage took eleven days. Some passengers swore, never to go on a ship again because of sea sickness. They may have changed their mind if they had today's luxury liners.

As we sailed into New York harbor most of us were on deck looking for the Statue of Liberty. I remember to this day, how visible she was representing the freedom of the U.S.A. It makes a big impression on newcomers as they arrive in America. It is a moving experience! Reflecting on our past, I realize that we must never take that freedom for granted because it is so precious. There are no guarantees that we will always have it therefore we must honor it and work for it.

I was filled with anticipation as well as skepticism. I wondered what America and its people would be like. Surely the language barrier was the immediate challenge. While waiting for the ship in Bremerhaven we learned a few sentences in English: like please and thank you, where is the bus. I knew that there weren't any dollar bills hanging on trees. I was willing to work for a successful future and a decent life. I vowed to take advantage and explore all possibilities. I believe that all immigrants of that era came with similar intentions. We did not wait for handouts to go forward and earn our way.

After going through customs in New York we took the train to Chicago, our final destination. It was a twelve hour ride. The distnce between the two cities was a lesson in itself. It felt like we were crossing all of Europe during that time.

Uncle Mike, and Aunt Blanche picked us up from the train station in Chicago. A new life was to begin.

They lived in a two flat and we stayed with them for several weeks until we got a basement apartmen of our own and jobs. "Dormeyer" a manufacturer of electrical appliances in Chicago hired a lot of newcomers including my mother and me. The owner was a native of New Beschonowa, Romania, a man who cared and helped his own. We worked on the assembly line. My dad was a cabinet maker and found a job in his field but later he preferred taking a job as janitor.

In the beginning my dad and I were homesick and wanted to go back to Germany. My mother reminded us of going back to where and for what. I signed up for English classes at Lake View High School, soon after our arrival. My parents learned the English language by speaking with the people they worked with. Dad spoke several languages and picked it up fast. Mom carried a dictionary with her most of the time. In school I met people in the same situation and made new friends. Dances, get togethers as well as picnics in the summer were part of the new life and the American way. More importantly, I was finally able to fulfill my dream of becoming a beautician. I needed $300 tuition money for Beauty School and was able to save it in three months. I quit my job in the factory and registered at Selan's Beauty School on Irving Park Road and Milwaukee Ave. I continued the evening classes for English and got a part time job as a shampoo girl in a Beauty Salon on Rush Street. Customers were always ready to correct my English and I was willing to listen. I found that Americans in general are for the most part, very helpful and generous people. I was impressed! This I experienced from my classmates as well as the teachers. Of course misunderstandings occurred on occasion. For example, in beauty school when I was sent on the floor to wait on my first customer, I introduced myself and asked the lady what kind of hairstyle she wanted. her reply was 'curls on top and sides and a swirl in the back.' I didn't understand but somehow 'swirl' sounded familiar. I excused myself and went to the teacher, telling her that my customer wanted a squirrel in the back of her head. She explained the difference but the laughter and teasing lasted for a long time. There are many stories like that. One can laugh about them now but were not funny at the time. In the meantime, I graduated from Lake View High School in 1952. At graduation we marched up alphabetically to receive our diplomas. My last name started with F for Filippi and my partner was Joseph Grosskopf. We had a party at school and went to the Aragon Ballroom afterward. At that time the Aragon Ballroom was a very elegant place. Joe and I began to date while I continued night school in other subjects. I graduated from the beauty school in 1953. After more training in hair styling at the Helena Rubinstein Beauty Salon, I finished the assistanship and had my own chair working as a hair stylist. I left after 9 months because Joe and I got married on September 11, 1954 while he was serving in the U.S. Army. I joined him in Anniston, Alabama, where he was stationed. We had a two room apartment in town and he commuted between the base and home every day. I worked at Goldy's Beauty Salon as a hair stylist. In the summer of 1955 Joe was transferred to Richmond, Virginia. I joined him and stayed until he finished more training.

I became a citizen in 1955 and changed my name from Katharina to Catherine. My mother changed her name from Magdalena to Helen when she became a citizen. Since my my husband served in the US army I did not have to wait five years to apply for my citizenship which was the law, before becoming a citizen. After Joe left for the Arctic Circle I came back to Chicago to live with my parents. After his return from the army, we made our home in Chicago.

Originally Posted by: Josephine on Monday, February 13, 2006 - 02:29 PM (171 Reads)


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