Experiences written by
(Published in the "Die Gartenlaube" in 1912)
Contributed by Brigitte Wolf
Rosina T. Schmidt
In the editorial of "Die Gartenlaube" of last summer the conversation popped up
how a well educated German might fare today (in the year of 1911) if he
immigrated to the USA without any resources since the circumstances have changed
so much. In the past decade emigration from Germany waned extraordinarily and
reached only about 20,000 people a year, while before three to four or even ten
times as many Germans emigrated to America each year.
Is America for a large part of
our people no longer the land of dreams, where one can become rich overnight? Or
has a German under normal circumstances no longer a hope to become the rich uncle
so admired back home by nieces and nephews who hope to inherit the fruit of his
The conversation went back and
forth in those lines until the proposal came to undertake a practical experiment. The
magazine publisher came up with the idea to send a penniless but academically well
educated German who was very knowledgeable in the Greek and Latin languages but
not in the English, who excelled in the humanist ideas but had no practical
know-how, not even how to clean his own shoes.
My editors believed to have
found in me the right subject for their plans. There were no English lessons, not
even optional at the high school I visited and the editorial stuff were not
deceived in my person as an unpractical "green horn" since I quite happily accepted
such a plan.
So the “Gartenlaube” publisher
pressed into my hand a coupon for a ticket for the steerage sailing to New York
and also US $25.00 (equal to 100 Marks), without which America will not let anyone
step on its shores, and gave me additional 20 Marks. Out of it I had to pay for
the fourth class trip from Berlin to Bremen, the accommodation there, as the
steerage passenger had to be in Bremen two days ahead of the departure and
therefore had to stay overnight. From the change of the 20 Marks I could buy
on the ship from time to time a glass of beer or such or save it for America,
because the meals during the journey are included in the price of the ticket.
The cost of the voyage was 180
Marks. If we include the 25 dollars (100 Marks) and the 20 Marks, therefore the
total cost was only 300 Marks. Eight days or eight weeks after my arrival when I
wrote or cabled from America asking for money it was the end of my expedition. The
agreement was that when in America I was not to look for an intellectual
occupation but only for manual labour of which I understood until that time
Under those conditions I sailed
off last summer and will now describe how a well-educated visitor to America fared
who was without any means and no practical experience.
On steerage during
a stormy sea
All the steerage passengers,
who travel via Berlin to Bremen, usually take the night train, which leaves the
train station at Lehrt at 11.46 PM. The train consists mostly of fourth-class
carriages and it arrives in Bremen in the brightness of the day, therefore saves
one night of accommodation.
I also took this train. Most of
the fellow passengers were from Poland, Slovakia, and Jews from Galicia, who
made themselves comfortable on the benches and on the floor, smoked, spitted,
sniffed and smelled heavily after garlic and onion. Babies screamed and were put
to sleep with brandy. Toddlers were noisy and scratched themselves all over, or they
were searched for the cause of the itching by their relatives, until finally all
fell into a leaden sleep from which one was yanked off repeatedly teeth clattering
as the night was freezing cold.
At the beginning I had the
opportunity to see much of the vermin but nothing more happened. As it was cold
they crept deep into the clothes, towels, boxes and crates. I must admit that at
our last switching station at Stendal I was ready to break off the trip.
At Bremen the train station
police, the emigrant agents and the Lloyd company employees awaited the hordes and
steered them pack wise into the emigration halls and inns. I slipped out and slept
in a small hotel to recover from the last night’s spook. It became only moderately
successful after a few glasses of wine in the Ratskeller, the glass for 30
At noon I swapped my coupon
with the ticket and had to report at the Lloyds baggage hall with a medical card
for the medical examination at 3 P.M. Assembled were already entire flocks of men,
women and children: southern Slavs and Poles, the women in colorful head scarves
and red skirts; from Hungary with some of their women in high boots; from Russia
in long skirts and thick caps; Galician Jews in shabby caftans and also about a
dozen of Germans.
Two by two we were escorted
before the doctors who were clad in white gowns and white aprons and looked
somewhat like butchers, bared our left arm to be vaccinated, and had our eyelids
yanked apart until they filled with tears. America does not let anyone step on
their shores that has not been vaccinated or had been through all the illnesses
It was a pleasure to see how
patient and polite all the employees were. Only the doctors were grumpy and short to the
point. The hordes were escorted back to their quarters and only a few Germans
stood around for a while, looking suspiciously at each other and withdrew one by
morning at six thirty we assembled again at the baggage hall and were loaded onto a special
train to Bremerhaven. The first and second class cabin passenger traveled later
with two other special trains. First on board were the Eastern countries folk
while the Germans were handled more humanly, which was a sensible process that
unfortunately was not implemented by all the shipping companies, as I have been
reported by my comrades later. Not only humane and sensible, because even the
least educated German towers high above the Eastern folks when it comes down to
tolerable manners and cleanliness. It is the fruit of labor of the elementary
schools and the compulsory draft.
The first acquaintances were
made on the train. “Are you traveling to America? Going there for the first time?”
Thus one was introduced and entertained. I met one older couple with four children
in their teens. He farmed for 20 years in America and wanted to invest his savings
in a co-op farm in West Prussia. However, the many rules and regulations involved
were not to his liking, and his children wanted under no circumstances to settle
down in Germany’s backwoods. After ten days stay in Germany they quickly resolved
to return immediately back to America, purchase a farm in the West and to send the
older children to the city to work.
About one hour later we stopped
directly in front of our giant steamer. The ship’s band played merry melodies,
which did not fit well with my somber mood, and in no time the Eastern folks with
bag and pack filled in the whole between-decks steerage, the low-lying area
between the elevated deck of the back and the head of the ship, and the elevated
deck of the first cabin in the middle of the ship, all except the Jews who like
the Germans stood back.
It was a turbulent jumble of
400 men, women and children, into which the agents and the sailors brought some
order only a long time later.
Once again the Eastern folks
were placed first, then the Jews and finally the Germans. Included among the
‘Germans’ are the Austrians and Hungarians as long as they could speak broken
German, and some Croats, who used the same broken language. Some of them were
later sent to their fellow landsmen. But some hackers stayed with us.
At the front of our ship -whose
name I shall not mention to be able to freely express myself, the same reason I
will not mention the departure day- below the Back are two narrow and dimly lit
corridors. The long one leads to the ladies washroom. The other goes to the
washroom for the men. Between those two aisles is the kitchen for the steerage
and some square holes, fenced off by iron chains to prevent one disappearing in a
bottomless pit. Through these holes one reaches the stairs leading to the lower
floor and the sleeping quarters for single men and quarters for families. Below
the first cabin on the same level are the quarters for single women and another
family quarter area. A floor deeper, two floors below the back, similar rooms are
located, which here were used as eating area by some of the passengers.
There were only 420 of us in
the between-decks, even though the ship could carry 800. Therefore we had
considerable more space than the springtime sailings on between-decks, when the
With other Germans I climbed to
our room for unmarried men, quickly took the upper berth directly at the entrance
and hurried outdoors, because the air down there took my breath away. In the
meanwhile upstairs in the open air and the actual ‘steerage’ area the Eastern folks
made themselves comfortable with ‘kid and bowling pins’ being as loud and exited
as the sparrows. I climbed on one of the two 'chicken' ladders on the Back, where
between the anchor chains, ropes and things like that there was still some free
“Are you sailing the first time
to America?” asked an older, stocky man with glasses. I answered affirmatively and
soon learned from him, a Silesian, that he only had visited his daughter in
Germany. By trade a carpenter, he put small automobile machine parts together in a
factory in Albany, N. Y.
Us joined a hefty West
Prussian, who due to an inheritance had to go abroad. For the last twelve years
he worked as a foreman in a Milwaukee, Wis., factory. Both of them wanted to
travel in the second cabin, but it was all booked out. This assertion has been
told to me so often, that I assumed it was just a pretension.
Close by stood a cross-eyed,
redheaded man. The West Prussian while looking at the man said that he had a
friend ‘outside’, who recently was about to slaughter a pig and asked his neighbor
to hold the animal. As the friend lifted the hatchet to attack, the neighbor
called alarmingly, “if you hit where you are looking at, you will kill me and not
the pig”. The West Prussian shook himself with laughter, but we became friends
with the cross-eye's soon also. He was a Palatinate farmer, who for the second
time around hoped to find at his friend’s factory in New York State his luck in
All of whom I have mentioned
were over their thirties, were familiar with America and had a trade and were
better off than I was, including the journeyman tanner from Torun, who was already
American citizen and worked in a tannery in Wisconsin.
All the other ‘Germans’ were young people, some of them who were able to postpone
their draft obligations for two years. But not one of them went over the Big Pond
without a goal. Each one had a trade, was a barber, cook, farmer, factory worker
or the like. And each one had friends or relatives there, who will take them under
their wings and steer them on their way. Each one had more money with them than I
did. The next poor beggar after me was a journeyman baker from Styria (Austria).
He owned $30.00 and a train ticket to Chicago where he was expected.
the ship was to be set in motion, a kind of cowbell called us between-decks for
dinner below. In our sleeping hall stood along the long wall in a double row 32
narrow iron bunk beds each equipped with a stroh mattress, which was somewhat thicker
at one end to indicate a cushion.
On top of the stroh sack was a woolen blanket.
Between the cushion and the iron bed bars stood a pitcher in the shape of a
milk jug, a tin spoon and a fork. Below it lay the life jacket for just in case.
On the room's outside long wall stood a narrow wooden table, which looked like an
large ironing board. Another such table stood in the middle of the room. The tables were
full with tin plates and in between them huge tin kettles. One was full of soup,
another with potatoes, bread with the third, the fourth with meat. Like the others
I too picked up from under the pillow the spoon and the fork, and by the time the
Silesian with the glasses was eagerly eating, I too began to eat. The food was
strong and good, but at this first mid-day dinner I ate not much but hastened back
on the deck. It takes time to get used to all those tin plates, the smell of food
Meanwhile I made new acquaintances: an
eighteen-year-old from Baden, who learned the trade of cooking, a hairdresser from
Vienna, who stood cheerfully in his parrot-green slippers until the seasickness
blew him down, a silent young man from Hanover, who headed to Nebraska to work on
his friend’s farm as farmer’s helper, a pushy Croat, who spoke German wonderfully.
He made leather bags in a leather factory, as he
said, and already after only a few hours flirted shamelessly with a girl from
Vienna, who had a falling out with her parents and now traveled with a girlfriend
to Chicago. We all knew about each other in no time. Only my person caused some
headaches. I was not traveling in a worker’s clothes or such, than after a while
no one would believed me if I would have been in a disguise. I left Berlin just as I was. Not exactly in a
best suit. In my earlier, somewhat adventurous excursions I learned that one does
best not to pretend to be more than one is. Otherwise the new circle will be
immediately suspicious, because sooner or later one does betray itself. My hands
would betray me immediately, which never did any handyman’s work. It is much more
helpful if the exterior represents approximately that what a person really is, and
then tries to act in the new role the new comrades assigned to one. I soon realized
that I was taken for a schoolmaster who must have committed a transgression,
because he talked hardly anything about himself and had to go to America. It was
fine with me, as my ‘misconduct’ was not taken as a serious matter.
As long as I could I stayed on the deck. Since the
few benches were more than occupied and the Slavic women with their children made
themselves comfortable on the floor, one could only make a few steps and stood
most of the time on the same spot. Not only did I feel it strenuous, because many
others could bear it only till seven in the evening, stood up and disappeared to
the sleeping hall. I held out until ten o’clock but had to flee the flooding
water, which gushed over the deck in order to clean it.
Two dimly lit electrical bulbs lighted the ‘unmerried
men room’, to which I belonged. One was next to my bed. In the bed below me the
Silesian with the glasses snored already. There was no question about washing
before bed. Handbags and suitcases were stored at the bed’s foot end. Most likely
so nothing would be stolen during the night. I did the same. Some went to bed with
boots and clothes on; the others, most often the Germans, rolled their clothes
under the “pillow”. The others bound their clothes around the top of the bed’s
iron rods. I did alike, and I lay soon in my bed. So tight and uncomfortable could
only be a coffin for someone who committed a suicide. My bed neighbor sat up and
observed me closely. I did the same. Each hoped to read from the other’s face if
he were a con man.
Since this is not so readily written on the human
face, we watched each other cautiously and with forcefulness for quite a while,
while the jackets and pants started tumbling on the ceiling. The windows were open
and a soft breeze caressed my face. My berth was well chosen. Nevertheless my
stomach was unsettled, as the air was thick like smoke. Specifically the sweetish
garlic smell filled the room more and more. It came mainly from the adjoining room
where the Galician Jews had their quarters. Came? The smell quelled out of all the
crevices. I had chosen my bed badly.
I jumped up
because I realized that I had a piece of soap in my suitcase. I took it out and
laid it under my nose. My bed neighbor sat upright and observed me closely. Then
we both laid down again. “Mr. Neighbor!” I turned to him. He pointed to the
ceiling on which small and dark things swiftly hurried back and forth. “Those are
called Swabians” he said. I nodded gratefully and drilled my nose back into the
soap. Again I jumped up. What was that for a suspicious noise? It was just our
room cleaner, sprinkling the sand throughout the room to sweep it.
commanding voice called from above: “Close the windows, make the Scots tight!” The
keeper closed the shutters and made the bulkhead, to which we belonged tight. The
whole of ship’s inside is divided in compartments, which can be closed
individually, so that in a collision or emergency only one or the other of the
‘Scots’ would flood, while the ship, as a whole still remained somewhat
maneuverable. The clothes at the ceiling began to move more meaningfully. The ship
rocked from right to left. No one snored any more. Like myself more were awake.
About half-hour passed and I heard snoring again. Then I too fell asleep on my soap.
unpleasant and completely new sensation woke me up. It was as if under the blanket my body was pulled like an accordion to soon fall
back on the stroh mattress, no, to be
pressed into the stroh mattress again. A cunning ordeal. Here and there some of my
sleeping comrades began to whimper and groan. Now one felt like one’s brain was
pulled and then squashed back again. The ship no longer rocked but it began to
stamp. It went against the wind and the waves and its bow went high up from the
water to hit after a while the sea again. It was repeated for hours on end. The
sailors called it an ‘Unrully Sea’. We called it a storm. I also fought a
Of the 32 passengers in our room
only three remained spared of seasickness that night. The others sacrificed
themselves. At least the Germans made an effort to practice their manners; the
“Easterners” knew no regard for their fellow bedmates, the beds or the ship.
Specifically the Poles and the Slovaks! And their wives even more so! There are
no words of describing it and in the interest of the reader the effort will not be
undertaken. However it must be reported how tirelessly and with much effort the
maintenance crew and the sailors kept the rooms and the deck clean to be fit for
a human being.
to me that such a steerage voyage was for America a good preschool to an
uneducated traveler. Through it he saves on education fees ‘inside’ (‘outside’ is
Europe). If he does not survive this ‘preschool’ he might as well go straight back
again. If he does not survive this temptation of fire on the stomach, the nerves
and the drainage of energy, then he will succumb soon to what is awaiting him
morning we thought to have the worst behind us, because the sea was calm again.
Weak and miserable most laid around and swore, had they known they would never
have sailed to America, and if there was any chance now to step out, they would
immediately return back to Germany. There was no such an opportunity. For my
comrades the seasickness was the worst experience on this trip. If I would have
became seasick, at the end I also would not feel otherwise. Alas, I was to learn
much worse. Of that I shall write in my next letter.
previous letter we heard how us steerage passenger arrived on board and about our
first night at the unruly sea. The letter ended with mentioning that there would
be worse things for the scribe than the seasickness. It can be briefly summarized
in the words:
In the fog on
After that night forty-to-fifty
of our seasick remained in bed and did not budge for three or four nights and
days. Did one get used a little bit to the sleeping and eating quarters one could
say that actually it was not much different than in a mess hall of a military
barrack. But there was one major difference. We were passengers and not soldiers,
whom one can order to leave the stroh mattress. If a friendly persuasion failed,
then one had to leave the people just where they were.
In our room were three
Hungarian and one Croatian youth of such kind, who had in their suitcases even
brandy, ham, salami and crisp bread. It was hot down there where they were, and
neither the people nor the food did get any better by staying there. None of the
others stayed any longer below than it was an absolute must. There was also a
smoke room down there, but it was fully occupied by the Poles and the Slovaks who
were spitting everywhere, that one went out of
the way to avoid it. The longer the trip lasted, the more were we solely dependent
to stay on the deck and the stern.
The Eastern women and children
made themselves comfortable on the Between-Deck. If they sill could eat, they ate
oranges, apples, cakes and the onions, which they brought with them, throwing the
peals around themselves. The male youth of those folks did the same, but spat with
no end as well.
Two sailors, who alternated
their shift every four hours, did nothing else all day but removed the garbage.
They fulfilled their duty with unshakable steadiness day in day out. It looked not
as bad at aft but it was too windy to stay there too long.
Already by four in the morning
I left my uncomfortable sleeping spot to be among the first to wash, as at that
time the washroom was still in a somewhat tidy condition. Thereafter one stood on
the deck or in the narrow corridors almost without a break until eight or nine in
the evening between the spitting, chewing, garlic and onion smelling Eastern
ladies and gentlemen. One dared only to sit on the benches for a few minutes due
to the vermin. All the Germans shared this fear. Actually I was less fearful in
this regard, since I already experienced similar traveling conditions; and it was
almost a wonder that us Germans were spared having lice in our clothes, made only
possible through the captain’s insistence that his cleaning crew kept sweeping and
washing the between-deck around the clock. From time to time one could stretch
one’s legs if a passage opened between the masses of people. Otherwise out of
twenty-four hours of the day at least fourteen were spent just standing around. It
was a most unpleasant feeling and hard to bear in the long run, even worse than
The body and soul became
mindless and dull and without the ‘Kukai’ it would have been a nightmare. A young
Hungarian received this nickname, because when the first school for dolphins was
spotted far out in the ocean following the ship like a herd of pigs jumping in and
out of the water, he kept repeatedly calling full of childlike enthusiasm and
bewilderment “kukai, ribbi, ribbi!” (Look, fish, fish!). The ‘Kukai’ was our
joker, interested in everything and being everywhere at the same time. He
represented the pure unadulterated culture, finding even the smallest kind of joy
on between-deck if there was any joy to be found at all, which was only noticeable
with the Slavs.
There was a serious side on him
also. Some of the American women in the first cabin observed us on the
between-deck like a kind of wild animal circus, and could not keep their eyes
away. One of them even threw a pair of old gloves down to us. Just as one would
threw a worthless item into a friendly bear cage, to irritate the beast. As
nothing happened, because except for me nobody paid any attention to it, she took
an old stocking and threw it after the gloves. ‘Kukai’ saw it, rolled the items
into a ball and threw them the lady in the face. She never came back again. Most
likely she never saw a face as hot with rage as the face of our ‘Kukai’ at that
moment. Good for you ‘Kukai’! Wish you well in Chicago!
In the evenings some sailors danced at our place
accompanied by an accordion and a drum. From time to time some young girls and
young men were singing together, the Swabians, whose parents settled in Hungary.
The young people were no longer happy with their second home. Now they were
looking in America for their third. They sang: “Am Brunnen vor dem Tore, da
steht ein Lindenbaum” (In front of the gates a linden tree stands at the
fountain). And in the evening of our last night on board even a band played for
us. We felt very honoured. They played classical pieces, as they were accustomed
to play in the first cabins. We would have liked a waltz or a cheeky march
better. These are a few lighter points of our gray-in-gray boredom and
increasing fatigue. But mostly we just stood around and counted the hours.
In bits and peaces one learned about one’s fellow
traveler’s history. The West Prussian worked in his hometown in the city’s sand
quarry. One time a very frugal civic engineer insisted that the streets could be
paved less extensively and the West Prussian’s working hours were cut. This
motivated him to go to America leaving the wife and children behind to join him
later. His wife works at a laundry, the eldest daughter as a maid, so the family
earned 80-90 dollars per month. Since in America “all were equal, and even on
the trains there are no different classes” besides there are no taxes to be paid
and no expenses for health insurance, retirement and disability contributions,
they could live comfortable and even put nicely something away for their old
days. That pleased him most.
They were all full of praise about America except
the farmer from the Palatine. During his first stay ‘inside’ a new presidential
election was just around the corner. The Democrats particularly made strenuous
efforts to win, but the Republicans, who had more money, closed their factories
for three to four days to re-open them again. The worker earned now only one
third of his former salary. If that was not enough for him, he could leave; no
one prevented him. For the workers it was a time of hunger. As per the Palatine
farmer, the next presidential election was not until 1912 and until then he was
sure to find a good job at a friend’s place. The others thought so also.
Thus the conversation went back and forth until an
old sailor, who traveled between Bremen and New York for the last 30 years
summed it up: “If one is not strong and healthy then for him it is better in
Germany due to the health and other insurances. If one does not consider himself
strong and healthy and he happened to be young, he has it better in America” he
said sighing. All agreed. With this simple sentences the old sailor summarized
the situation correctly, which should give our Socialists food for thought, and
could give our government officials cause for concern.
Our interest for the Croat and the young Vienna
girl became noticeable. There was something amiss. Someone told us that the two
wanted to marry in New York immediately. We smiled not believing it. The girl,
who most of the time was laying seasick on the deck and was cared for by the
Croat, told me that they did get engaged. We shook our heads. I asked if
everyone saw the picture of a lonely young girl, crying pitifully into her
handkerchief, which was hanging on the steerage wall, a warning against the
white slave trade? They nodded but were silent, not liking that I have made this
comparison. One had his thoughts about those two but did not want to get
Thus the hours crept slowly, one stood and stood
making a few steps from time to time and stood on a spot some more. It became
more and more uncomfortable, the limbs sore and the head duller. It rained but
one did not leave the deck. And after the rain dwindled down, the fog came up.
The fog was getting thicker and thicker creeping through all the clothes. Even
so, over 300 people crowded the between-deck, pale, tired, freezing. Then high
above our heads sounded a piercing, earsplitting roar, the foghorn, no longer a
horn but a steam whistle. The children screamed fearfully and had to be rushed
below deck to prevent almost epileptic temper tantrum screams, as the foghorn
was repeated for six seconds of each minute for the next ten hours (I looked at
the watch). And still the fog got denser. Some tried to converse loudly, to be
heard against the nerve-racking steam whistle. They were ordered to absolute
silence immediately. Because on the bridge all ears had to be fully open to hear
if in the fog another steamer replied.
Mute and motionless stood, sat, crouched the three
hundred steerage passenger in the narrow space, and if you tried to make a
whispering remark the steam whistle blew the words apart. Thus passed an hour.
Some of the women disappeared below, because they could no longer endure the
roar of the foghorn. Others wept and jumped startled every minute. The others
stared blankly ahead of them, the fingers firmly pressed into heir ears. Some
young girls suddenly laughed out hysterically. A few Polish women began to pray
their rosaries. Nobody paid any attention to any one else. A panic mood
prevailed. Any suspicious noise, a call not understood, and the panic aroused.
Punctually and monotonous blew the foghorn. Minute by minute. The brain vibrated
in tandem. Minute for minute. The time between the roar seemed to be longer. One
started to hope, but as the next howl came around we all were startled just the
It became dark. Many could stand it no longer and
went to bed. When I came down, only our four dirt-finches were asleep, whom no
power in the world could motivate to cleanliness. Some sat fully clothed on
their beds. Others stood around and whispered. The shrill of the foghorn sounded
subdued here, but one can hear it all right and because of it the air was full
of nervous tension, even the strongest among us felt it so. We surrounded the
room cleaner, who whispered good-end stories about ship collisions. What most of
us heard from the horror stories was only the collision, and not about the
rescue that the old man wanted us to hear. He soon noticed that his stories told
to calm us had the opposite effect. Realizing his mistake, he used a different
tack by working at his evening duty as if there was nothing-special happening.
The sand box stood in the corner. Taking some sand
out he strewed the sand on the floor, the same way he did the work every
evening. With the broom he swept the sand into the shovel taking it upstairs to
empty it. The more timid among us followed quietly behind. After it was repeated
often enough, annoyingly the old man said: “Have no fear. I will not disappear.
I will stay here. You do not need to follow me like sheep. Better go to bed.”
However those who were fearful ran the old man for a long time after, until they
were too tired that they also crept into bed.
The foghorn shrilled minute for minute. The sea
was only moderately turbulent but the iron bars seemed to creak in all their
joints. The wooden planks sounded like they rubbed and whet together. One felt
as if the ship would fall apart in all its joins like a thin box of cigars
pressed together. The steam whistle continued to shrill, the ship moaned and
Our quarters were at the bow. If an accident would
happen, we would be the first to feel the blow. My neighbor hastily grabbed his
life jacket. “Let it be, Landsman, we are not there yet!” hollered at him the
old sailor. But others followed his example.
Next door the Jews got up and started praying.
From other rooms one heard the children screaming and crying. The panic
Up to this fogy hour no one felt that on this huge
steam ship danger might be lurking. The fear spread embracing every soul. One
could not see this danger eye to eye. There was something unfathomable, an
unknown lurking to each one of us. One can fight with every enemy, even if only
with the fists. But what was a weapon against this for us still unknown enemy,
which announced itself insistently in shrilling of the foghorn, the ship’s
moaning and groaning and the panicky nerves? What would happen if this enemy
really broke all the wooden boards, which moaned and groaned so loudly? Each of
us would use a different way to save themselves and at the same time because of
it be the obstacle to each other. It would not be a big deal to destroy us all
in such circumstances.
The Germans and the Jews felt it more or less
clearly, because they were more restless than the Eastern folks, whose
intelligence was not sufficiently educated and developed. Was it lacking on
courage or apathy that the panic did not break out with the Germans and the
Jews? In my opinion it was the fear that the others would see one as a coward.
I sat up. The others as well. Was it a mistake?
Did the steam-whistle stop to roar? We strained our ears listening. No it was no
mistake, the shrilling had ceased. Our mood lifted; the paralyzing tension was
over. As good as in the few hours until morning all of us have probably not
slept for a long time.
A party atmosphere reigned the next day and
towards evening even our dirt-finches crept out of the bed trying to tidy
themselves a bit, as tomorrow we should be arriving in New York.
The party atmosphere did not last for too long to
the steerage passengers who were not thoughtless like the sparrows. In front of
us stood Ellis Island, the “Island of Tears”, as it was called in the American
newspapers, the island, where the steerage passengers were investigated and
drilled by the inquisitors before they were allowed ashore.
We were told of shuddering things about the
treatment to which the immigrants were here exposed. The fear of Ellis Island
grew, the closer we came to America.
We were getting closer to New York after the long and unpleasant hours in the
fog, of which I wrote in my last letter, but now a new nightmare stood ahead of
The fear of Ellis Island
Already in the early morning of our last day at the sea all of us donned our
very best cloths on. The boots were polished and quite a few colorful
headscarves were exchanged with a stylish feather hat. Only the poorest of the
Hungarian ladies had their conspicuous folk dresses with the high boots still
on. We crowded on the bow and impatiently peered for the shore. On the port side
a long, narrow strip of the land was soon observed A little while later one
could see individual buildings, then whole villages. Long, dirty-yellow strips
danced on the waves, a sure sign that the people’s settlements were not too
distant away. A breathless waiting and observing while the boats rolled past,
the steamships popped up, which took the same route as us or passed us at the
high sea going to Europe, from where we sailed from.
On land before us gentle hills with green grass and trees appeared, which
touched us tenderly as for the last seven days we did see nothing but water and
the sky. The excitement grew. Where was the “Statue of Liberty”, the symbol of
so many hopes and desires? Our eyes were sore searching for her. Finally, she
came into our view. All eyes were glued on her. Not a word was spoken. All of a
sudden an ecstatic, passionate voice hollered in the festive quietness:
“America, I kiss your soil!” from a Jew overflowing with passion. It went right
through our hearts.
As the ship would soon be anchored we had to go back down from the bow. We stood
crowded on the between-deck, from where we could only see a bit on both sides.
Above us, at the first-class deck the men and women gathered and crowded almost
as much as us at the steerage. They waved flags and handkerchiefs and the
gentlemen waved their hats. All of a sudden a strange noise rose up, as if a
swarm of twittering birds did settled down close by. What could it be? The ship
slowly made a turn in order to come closer to the pier. Now we could see that
the chirping sound came from the hundreds of people who waved, called and
swung small flags at the pier.
The calls from the first-class became noisier, the hats were swung livelier. We
at the steerage remained silent. None waited at us here, no friend, no
relatives; we still had to overcome the Ellis Island, the island with its many
hospitals, on which we sailed past a few minutes ago.
As the first and second-class passenger went ashore, the between-deck was
covered in no time with crates and boxes, with wraps and bed-blanket bundles,
which threatened to burst in their seams trying to hold together the abundance
of clothing and household items of all kinds, the ‘hand-luggage’ of the steerage
passenger, who also wanted to go on shore.
This desire was for naught. The crates and the boxes had to be carried back
below the deck, as it was questionable, if we were to disembark today at all.
While it was not yet one o’clock in the afternoon, it solely depended on the
whim of the Ellis Island American civil service workers whether they still
wanted to start with our examination this afternoon or not. We waited for almost
an hour for this decision, so for us the American ‘freedom’ started on the
For tomorrow also many more immigrants loads were expected, that the agents
preferred to finish with us still today. So back on the deck with our boxes and
crates and out of the ship into a huge hall, where the custom revision was
ongoing. We lined up in long rows, our belongings in front us; and now us
steerage passengers had it better than the other ship’s passengers. A short
investigative touch into the crates and boxes and the revision was accomplished.
What treasures could us poor beggars have to try to sneak through the customs
anyhow? A small American steamer was to bring us together with our bundles and
bags to the Ellis Island. It took a solid hour, until we were all brought over,
while the fear of Ellis Island grew. If we managed to pass the Horror Island by
the skin of our teeth, all of us Germans wanted to get together for a farewell
drink before we scatter in all four winds. It turned out differently, though.
We landed on the investigation island shortly after three o’clock in the
afternoon. Two by two we lined up in endless rows, men, women, children, crates
and bundles under one arm, the medical card in the other hand, and it went
through a garden, which must have looked huge to all of us, and into a giant
hall. I cursed now my hand suitcase, which contained only two suites and as much
underwear as it could hold. All the others dragged so much more with them. Poor
women with small children! It would have been so easy to arrange one small room
where the steerage passenger could have deposited their hand luggage until the
investigation was completed, but no, the between-deck passenger should know
right at the beginning that to the American authority he is of no interest at
At the entrance of the hall, which was decorated with huge stripes and stars
shouted a gentleman in a stiff hat: “Hats off!” So one took the hat in the hand,
which held the medical card and wondered about this brusque command in a country
where all the people were equal and everybody else and everywhere one keeps cool
its head. In order to meet the harsh command, one had to put first the bundles
and boxes down. But the same gentleman shouted immediately: "Keep the luggage in
the hand!" If one did not obey immediately or the order was not understood, he
received a dig in the ribs by the other gentleman, who seemed to be standing
around only for this very purpose.
With bag and sack, kid and ‘bowling pin’ in one arm and in the other the medical
card and the hat, sweat on the forehead and indignation in the heart we climbed
up a never ending staircase. Poor women, poor children! Is the American not
known to be very considerate to women, even to the least of them? Therefore the
Ellis Island does not belong to America.
At the end of the stairs each
one was ordered into a crammed narrow line-up and if one did not find the right
line immediately, one quickly received again a strong dig in the ribs. By the
end of the line one was to expose the arm to be vaccinated, without putting the
luggage down. Impossibility. Nevertheless one received from all sides’
cheering-up pushes and shoves. Now one stood before the doctor. He only glanced
at my vaccinated arm, and then tore apart my eyelids that my eyes were an hour
later still full of water. In comparison the doctors in Bremen were gentle
One received another push
into the direction of new pen, divided with iron bars. There were about a dozen
of them and at the end of each stood a gentleman behind a desk. One was rid of
the medical card, but the luggage one still had to drag around and woe those,
who tried to put it down for a moment. There was pushing and shoving of a
special kind. Such brutality I have never encountered yet. I craved to spit into
the face of the brutal fellow, because I had no free hand. I forced myself not
to act, because then my American trip would have ended right there and then.
When I came to the desk, I
had to tell my name. For different reasons I travelled under a different name.
‘What are you?’ I was asked.
‘Nothing!’ was the answer.
The gentleman seemed not to
understand, because he now asked about my ‘profession’.
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Where are you going to?”
“To New York!”
“What do you want to do in
“In what a profession?”
I shrugged again with my
shoulder and my inquisitor called a colleague, who understood better
“What kind of profession did
you have in Germany?” asked he. At that time I still had difficulty to lie, so I
remained silent. I was not prepared for this kind of inquisition.
“Do you have friends or
relatives in new York?”
“Do you have an address where
you want to go from here?”
They scrutinized me vary
carefully now, that I became quite uncomfortable, and I heard how the other one
asked if I was indeed a gentleman. The one asked scrutinized my exterior and
affirmed the question.
“How much money have you with
I was prepared to this
question. Actually, I wanted to tell the truth.
But because they were very suspicious already, my 25 dollars would not have made
me less suspicious. I would have been interned and under none or some kind of
pretext simple returned back. That I knew from my comrades, as I later found out
to be truth. So I said annoyed, to let me kindly be, as I had one thousand US
dollars with me and was in a free country and could do as I wish. The one
thousand US dollars had immediately the right effect. So much so, that they
fortunately not even asked to let them show the money.
They directed me to a
different line-up. I turned to it, but was called back. Now it will come out,
thought I ashamed. But I was only to go to a measuring stick, the two wanted to
know how tall I was. Both of the stony faces turned into a slight smile with
goodwill, because I am quite tall and they dismissed me with kindness. I
am mentioning this observation, because the length of my body was often of an
advantage in America.
The new line-up ended at a
staircase that led to a long corridor, which led in two different directions. On
one was written ‘New York’. I took that one, lonely and alone, because none of
the other steerage passengers followed me. It seamed like the ground swallowed
Again I ran into the arms of
a gentleman behind a desk. Once again a long inquisition, which ended by asking
me to sit down until an agent would show up, who would bring me to the ‘German
House’. I would be well looked after there, would not be too easily exploited
and would find a job with no difficulties. A pastor was in charge there. Sitting
on the chair I pondered. Under no circumstances did I want to go to the “German
House”. Especially not because a pastor was leading it, an educated man. I
was in such a desolate condition that I even distrusted myself. If I came into
the hands of educated people, I could not promise that I would not somehow
betray myself; and that I wanted to avoid at all costs. So much energy I
possessed still. To carry out my mission I had to stay in circles that I had
chosen. I could not use an encounter with an educated man now. The temptation
would be too great.
The silent young man from
Hannover appeared at the end of the hall, whom I mentioned in my first letter
and the backer, my bed-neighbor. I waved to them and they came over. I explained
to the official that I would not go to the ‘German House’ but would go with
“Do you know them for a long
“Yes”, I lied.
The agent measured the two
suspiciously and thought it would be better if I would go to the ‘German House’.
Now I became angry and said that no man could force me to it, I would go with
the two and nobody else. Someone arrived who fell my bed-neighbor around his
neck. The brothers had not seen each other for six years and were hugging and
kissing each other. When I was introduced to the brother and said resolutely
that I wanted to join him. The official started to interrogate him and put me
into his hands only after he wrote his address down. Raising his voice the agent
said that I stood under the patronage of the ‘German House’ and the brothers
would not fare well if something happened to me. – “All right!” said the
American bother and finally we departed on the ferry, which leads from Ellis
Island to New York.
As one can see it was made
very difficult for me to escape the “German House”. Later I heard much good
about it but it was nothing for me. A German immigrant is not left on the
streets of New York to fend for himself any more but enjoys the protection of
the institution for German immigrants, as I later found out often enough, by
receiving at any time advise and support. Such an institution for the German
immigrants could not be praised highly enough.
The ferry was full of people,
but none of my ship acquaintances were between them. In Bremen they received the
ticket for the ship and at the same time the railway ticket for their
destination place, and if he was not held back each one left Ellis Island
immediately on the ferry, which led directly to his train. This way no one
stayed useless in New York and could thus also not fall into the New Yorker’s
hands of thieves. I bumped only on the Croat, who was flirting so heavily with
the girl from Vienna. He was furious like a Fuchs, because it turned out that
the girl had a train ticket to Chicago and was sent there immediately, without
setting even a foot on New York. The Croat however, had only a ticket to New
York as it was reveled now and had to get off here. It could not be helped. Just
how much harm may have been prevented with such a simple outcome? The
immigration officials follow strictly those rules and regulations, in order to
minimize the cost of the immigration to fall on the city of New York.
When we arrived at the New
York harbour, I left, despite of all the requests of the two brothers and went
with the lad from Hanover to Hoboken, who was expected there by a friend. Here,
I left him also, despite his requests to go with him to Nebraska. He spoke quite
eloquently, the silent young man. Even the West Prussian, the Silesian, the
Palatine, and the journeyman from Thorn they all wanted to take me with them,
when they discovered that I was not expected by any one in America, and not
until I took their addresses and promised to write to them if I needed help, did
they let me go. All of them are solidly good and dear comrades. Unfortunately I
never did see them again.
The silent young man from
Hanover and I shook our hands firmly in farewell, I took my suitcase again and
walked on. Finally I found a small pub where German was spoken. The boss
(publican) gave me a room for a week for two dollars.
“Write down your name in the
register,” he said.
“What? Even in America
visitors lists are kept?” I asked surprised. Without changing his expression he
replied: “You can write any name you want”.
So I wrote: Fritz Mueller, no
profession, from Berlin, Germany.
After his arrival in
New York Fritz Müller without a profession, from Berlin, Germany, sat for a time
quietly in his narrow chamber in Hoboken, as told in the previous letter. After
eight days for the very first time I was all-alone. An infinite pleasure. The
chamber contained a chair, a huge spittoon, and a chest of drawers with a sink
and an American style bed of giant dimensions. In the following week this was
often my only sanctuary. After a while I wanted to use the sink, but the water
was so dirty and smelled so unpleasantly that I dared not to touch it. To use
such water ‘outside’ it would have been forbidden by the police; in New York I
have never found a better. The cold drinking water was of a similar quality.
Only it did not start smelling before it became warm.
At New York Harbour
darkness fell I again took the subway to New York. For each trip, whether long
or short, you pay in greater New York 5 cents (20 Pfennig). I wanted to look in
New York for work. Every ship compatriot strongly discouraged it. I should go
West as far as possible. But even if I wanted, I would not be able to do so,
because with the scant 25 dollars I would not make it much farther behind
Chicago and would end up there high and dry.
So I took
at first a little walk around the harbour and came to Broadway, the main road,
which now, shortly after 7 pm was almost deserted and dimly lit. The street was
covered with bits of paper, straw and all kinds of garbage. The footpath was
badly paved. To my own surprise however I liked the skyscrapers instantly. They
are all so neatly streamlined and functional buildings, giving the city its own
some time I went through a side street and arrived at a corner where a large
electrical lamp was burning outside a pub like a round moon on a dark night,
which was full of people. Since I was hungry, I went in but nobody paid me any
attention, so I had the opportunity to take a closer look at this typical
somewhat upscale harbour pub. Everything was exceptionally clean. The floors,
the walls, the ceiling all were covered with bright ceramic tiles. Between them
the brass shone and sparkled. The long narrow room was divided in two by a dark,
wooden bar. Behind the bar two bartenders in white outfits were busy with
bottles of all kinds and shiny beer taps. The guests who crowded in the front of
the bar spat and drank whisky or beer.
other half of the room stood three fully occupied tables and a buffet with a few
leftover dishes. At each end of the buffet table was a glass of cloudy water in
which several forks stood. Watching one or the other guest take a fork out of
the murky water, bring a bite of food to his mouth with it and put the fork back
in the water, caused motions to my stomach.
hall with the ‘café’ connected the pub part; here stood well-occupied twelve
tables, and along the wall a piano, played by a corpulent man who read a
newspaper at the same time. Beside him another musician played the violin. All
of them German songs! It was the West Street, the harbour’s main avenue. In the
narrow passage between the bar and the café stood a huge orchestrion. On the
wall of each table hang an iron rifle. When the pianist stopped reading and
playing a guest threw five cents in a can and the orchestrion belched American
songs. A heathen noise!
Since nobody paid any
attention to me, I stepped to the bar and ordered “one beer”. “Are you already a
long time in America?” asked one of the bartenders, a sturdy, handsome young
fellow. “Since today”. “Oh!” Nothing more. After a while I invited the bartender
to join me for a glass. He used a tiny glass, like out of a dollhouse. Now he
invited me. Of course I accepted, even though I was baffled. It did not take
long and a large circle surrounded me, mostly sailors, soldiers, Germans and
Americans, most of them tipsy already. The American ‘maltreatment’ custom began.
Any newcomer would offer a round of beer for the whole bunch. For the wallet and
health equally fatal habit, but it is in the American’s blood and is accepted by
the Germans. A glass of beer, large or small, costs five cents. Even though I
tried to keep myself in check I soon was out of more than a dollar. I considered
it as a business expense, because what I saw and heard was for me more valuable
than a dollar.
Among the advice, which the
tipsy fellows granted liberally, was at the top most, not to trust any one in
this country. Here everyone just thinks on himself, here each one has only one
friend, the mighty dollar. But at the very next moment almost everyone offered
to help me. It was taken for granted that I would trust that person.
A stocky man with a mighty
mustache joined us and began immediately to make fun over the Germans. All the
Germans had a thick wooden board in front of their heads and the only thing that
was missing, were numbers on the boards. I wanted to jump up but was held back.
Not exactly gently. The fellow was not totally wrong. When the mustachio started
talking about other things I tried to find out who this unusually looking person
was. No one gave me an answer and they just smiled. “Since you just arrived from
Germany, you must be interested who the gentleman is. It is Count du Paffy, who
only recently escaped from a German jail.” My first thought was to immediately
wire to Berlin. My second thought: to contact a German-American newspaper would
be cheaper. My third thought, however: What does Fritz Mueller, a fellow with no
profession, care about the Graf du Paffy, formerly a jailbird? Under no
circumstances was I to fall out of the assigned role. At the moment I was not a
journalist or a detective. Had I betrayed this imposter, I would no longer have
been able to visit this pub because I was the only one, who could be accused of
such a betrayal. As a
greenhorn I realized I needed this pub. Moreover the companions around me looked
quite foolhardy and I could trust them to do all kinds of unpleasant things. So
I stayed Fritz Mueller and listened eagerly to the conversation trying to learn
what there was to learn.
morning in Hoboken after the awful abuse by the bugs and mosquitoes I counted my
liquid assets. I still had $21.00 and 20 Cents. $2.00 of the $25.00 went for the
rent, the rest disappeared in the West Street and driving to and from Hoboken.
Eventually I will write a break-down of my expenses based on my notes, as I
assume, that it might interest the reader what I did with the $25.00.
morning I stayed in my room, found another table and began to write the first of
these letters. At lunchtime at 1 PM I ate for 20 cents at the pub downstairs a
’businessman lunch’, a good vegetable soup, a bloody (rare) stake with two giant
potatoes, which were not quite as good, and one good cup of coffee. This pub was
a lot simpler than the one in the West Street. It had no special “Coffee Shop”
and was mainly frequented by the port workers and the Negroes.
back to New York and bought for 15 cents my first “Correct Guide of New York”
whose text I did not understand, but it had a map with whose help I was able to
orient myself in the city. Following the map I drove for several hours around
the city and never did get lost since.
the evening I returned back to the pub in the West Street. “Hello, Mr. Miller!”
Said the bartender, when I came next to him. He was blinking. “The detectives
were here this morning because of Mr. Krüger but Mr. Krüger was already en route
to Canada for quite some time.” ”Have you told them so?” He was so indignant
that he refused to speak to me. But others welcomed me, who knew me from the
last evening, but whom I did not recognize any more, because all had the same
smooth shaved faces, which I have not managed to keep apart.
soldiers in this acquaintance group all belonged to the same infantry regiment.
Most of them were in civilian cloths and only a few in uniforms, but without a
weapon. It was a handsome dark-blue uniform similar to the Austrian military
model, just not quite so ‘smart’. In the eyes of Germans they had an unusually
comfortable life. Only a few hours of duty daily, very good food - I ate twice
with them in the barracks - clean and spacious accommodation, each cot having a
mosquito net and depending on the rang 19, 25, or 30 dollars a month. For their
uniform they paid $170.00 for the three years. Most of them needed much less on
clothes and boots, so that some were paid back when discharged about 80-100
dollars in cash. For those who decided to continue to serve the pay was
increased. After 30 years of service and corresponding advancements the man
received a pension of 100 dollars monthly, which he could use any way he wanted.
us!” they said. “I am too old”. They laughed at my ignorance, because for one
dollar one could purchase as many papers in the harbour as one wished. There was
nothing to it. But a former Zieten-husar had valid concerns. One had to be
American citizen now; therefore five years living in the county, and one has to
complete an English exam if one wanted to be a soldier. Therefore this career
was not for me.
At 1 AM
the pub was made dark, so it would look like it was closed. The ‘ladies’ had to
leave the ‘Coffee Shop’ where all the lights but one were turned off. Meanwhile
the waiter set on each table a plate with a piece of dry bread. The American law
does not want someone to die of hunger during the night, but it also does not
wish that anyone would get drunk after 1 AM (Saturday and Sunday after 12PM).
Therefore it prohibits the sale of alcohol after that time. One does not pay for
the drinks but for the bread, which is on the table even though it will not be
touched. Its that easy to ignore the law, but it is successful only then if the
proprietor pays from time to time the policeman on duty and the police captain
at the police station under the table.
manager joined us. The waiter came closer also, and the bartender, who was on
the night duty, went up and down. Besides them there were three soldiers, who
could only babble ‘happy days’ occasionally, one janitor who came from
Westphalia, one black-eyed and black-haired wild looking person, a Hessian
compatriot whose home was close to mine but whose career I have not been able to
discover yet. He looked like a real bad guy out of a crime novel. Here was also
a white haired farmer who had ‘made’ a few thousand dollars in the far West and
arrived here in order to return tomorrow to his homeland in Hamburg. He sat
there happily smoking his pipe one after the other and drinking a glass of
brandy also one after the other. For forty years he struggled in the Wild West
to reach this goal in his life. Happily smiling he dreamed about Hamburg and
from time to time put a word into the conversation in broken North German
The black haired Hessian sighed, the manager sighed and started talking about
the good old days in this country of twenty years ago. The Hessian lead the
conversation. Those were real democratic times. At those times one caught the
immigrants in the port and dragged them into the pubs. For each person brought
in, one received a dollar, said my compatriot. They were made drunk in the pub
and the money was taken away from them, as much as one could grab. The drunken
person was dragged upstairs and the waiter and the bartender once again
throughout searched through his clothes. After the drunken man finally fell fast
asleep and if he happened to be of strong built, he was brought as a sailor on a
sailing ship, which sailed to Africa or Australia or somewhere else. There he
had enough time to reflect over his experiences. If the man was not sturdy, he
was just dumped on the street. Oh, those were the times! One made plenty of
money, money like hay. But today! – My compatriot cursed, and the manager
farmer waived with his pipe and asked me: “What do you want to do in this land?”
“Working!” I replied. He shook himself laughing. “See, then it will not be much
with the dollars!” “But you worked too!” I replied. The farmer laughed. When he
was still a greenhorn he was also working but not later, then he stopped. The
manager explained that the man had fixed up farms with the help of inexperienced
port labourers so they would look good and then resold them to a greenhorn as
soon as he found one. With the work accustomed ‘outside’ one cannot make cash in
waiter’s opinion was that today the best opportunity would be to open an
ice-cream store on Coney Iceland (the largest amusement park). One can still
make plenty of money there. The Hessian turned to me: “If you have a few hundred
dollars, then you can do that. I will bring you to an old Jew in the Bowery,
where I also did learn how to.” And he described how fruit juice should be made
to make plenty of money. One takes one gallon of water and two pounds of sugar
besides some saccharin. A syrup is to be boiled from it. Adding some coloring.
Oh, the Jew has all kinds of colours, which are added a little and no one can
find the difference to the best of fruit juice; yellow or red, any way one
desires. But one has to be careful with the colours, because they are damned
toxic. Then one could earn with 20 cents 20 dollars.
beware! In a store next door a boy wanted to fill himself up with ice cream and
swallowed four servings. He was found dead in his bed the next morning. Of
course the coroner came to the store and it cost the owner 50 dollars until the
coroner said it had nothing to do with the ice cream. $50! Plenty of money! He
never sold a customer more than two ice creams, because he has learned his
lesson after he had to donate to the coroner $50.
uncomfortable. A few heavily intoxicated drunks entered the dark room,
staggered, pulled out a bundle of dollars from a ragbag and demanded champagne,
which was brought hurriedly. Four and half-dollars they paid for the bottle of
the stuff, and the waiter received two dollars tip. Now I understood why the
restaurant was open over night and stood up to go.
join you," said my compatriot and also rose. The bartender whispered to me: "Be
careful, he is today again..." He pointed to the forehead. It would have looked
cowardly if I rejected his escort. If the scamp did not carry any weapons if it
came to worst-case scenario I hoped to be able to deal with him.
Street I had to go with my escort through the Battery Park to reach the subway
station, which I used. I remembered that I was familiar with the jujitsu grip:
with a quick and powerful stretched out index and middle fingers of one hand to
push the attacker into the eye sockets. “Don’t believe that I am uneducated”,
said all of a sudden my escort, he made it up to fourth year of high school, run
away to Switzerland and learned there the trade of a mechanic. He had it good
there and made plenty of money and married young a pretty girl. He was quite for
a few moments. Then he continued: “We were married three years. A beautiful
women, but she was looking too much at other men, you know… I was away on a
job working on a cable. In the evening I received a telegram: “Return
immediately home!” I took the night train to Zürich and rung the bell of my
apartment. It took a long time, then my wife asked: “Who is there?” – “Its me”,
I said. “One moment please, I will put the light on”, she said. It took a long
time until she opened. “Where are you coming from in the middle of the night?
Why did you not send a cable?” she asked. “Oh” I said, “one drawing has to be
changed, I have to go first thing tomorrow morning to the office”, I replied and
went into the bedroom pulling my coat off. There was nothing amiss. It was all
as it should be. I went down the hall and opened the walk-in closet. There sat
one and shakes like an aspen leaf, one old, skinny guest. I did not have a gun,
pulled the man out and said: “You wait here, do you understand?” I hardly knew
what I was doing. My wife cried. I locked the apartment; we lived on the third
floor, a nice apartment, plenty of furniture and carpets. I went down the street
to a policeman. “Officer” said I, “could you help me? There was a burglary at my
place.” He came immediately. “Look, the man and the woman have to go to the
police station”, said I. “Is that your wife?” he asked. “Well”, said I, “this is
my wife”. And they had to go to see the captain at the police station. The
captain was an educated person. “You have a handsome young husband, how could
you do such a thing?” he asked my wife. My wife cried and begged on her knees I
should take her back. “No”, said I, “not in my house!”
So I was
then divorced. But if I came to a place, in a garden or in a pub or other
places, my wife sits there and laughs, to make me angry. Well, that is why I
left for America to get rid of her. But would you believe I could get rid of
her? I can not get rid of her.” He grinded his teeth.
The story touched me as it
sounded very honest and came from a deep inner wound, which was still very much
hurting. I felt sorry for this wild fellow. Silently we continued on our way.
Then all of a sudden he lifted up his right hand and before I could cutch what
was happening, his knife is stuck in my “Correct Guide of New York”, which I
carried in my left inner pocket. It was life or death. Before he could grasp why
his knife would not penetrate deeper, my index and middle fingers were firmly in
his eye sockets. Firmly all right, then he fell down without moving. I hastened
This was the only time
in the New York’s weeks that someone wanted to get rid of me.
End of Translation
Original German Version: