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This 3-part series of posts uses my cousin’s interview in 1985 with the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Part 1 tells the story of Ludwig and Mary Schultz, who came to America in 1912 and temporarily left their five children with Mary’s parents. In Part 2, their daughter, Louise, discusses  living with her grandparents and the eventual journey across the ocean to join their parents.  In today’s post, Part 3 will tell more about what happened after their arrival, how the family left behind fared in Poland after they left, and how everyone’s life eventually turned out.

The Family Left Behind

Before discussing the Schultz family’s life in America, one interesting question asked by the interviewer in 1985 was: “Do you have any idea of what would have happened to you if you stayed in Poland, if you hadn’t come here?”

Louise responded: “Pretty awful, because we came in 1913 and in 1914 the first World War broke out.” What happened to the grandparents, uncles, and aunts they left behind?

The children’s grandfather and Alfred’s father, Jan Miller, died just three weeks after they left Poland. He passed away on 25 August 1913, leaving Elżbieta a widow with three children still at home: Paweł, Ludwik, and Zofie.

When the war began, Żyrardów was on the front line. Hundreds of workers were drafted into the army. Because of the decrease in workers and the lack of raw materials, the factory began to reduce production. Food prices increased. As German troops made their way through Russian Poland, martial law was declared.

In early 1915, goods, raw materials, and machines were removed from the factory. The town was deserted due to forced digging of trenches, general displacement, and epidemics of infectious diseases. The worst came after the collapse of the front line of Płock-Bzura-Rawka. On the night of July 16, 1915, the retreating Russian army blew up the main factory buildings. By the end of 1915, the town was under German occupation. During that time, charity committees were abolished and strict food regulation was imposed.

In an article in The New York Times on October 26, 1915 (originally printed in The Chicago Tribune on September 24), reporter James O’Donnell Bennett writes about crossing “Russian Poland” which at that time in the war was in German or Austrian control. He writes:

Often in the last five days I have made the experiment of looking out over the wide landscape to see if I could find an unscathed tract of country. Always the experiment is a failure. Always a shattered church tower notches itself against the sky or a battered village lies crumpled at the edge of fields.

The reporter mentions several towns his party traveled through, including Żyrardów. He describes the whole country as “flyblown and sodden and a ‘nobody cares’ atmosphere envelops it…It is all waste and wreckage, wreckage and waste, a land of grime and ruin and sour smells, of silent fields and slatternly women, of weary sentries…”

Louise said her aunt eventually told her what it was like during the war and “how awful it was when the German army went through the town.” Louise realized that she and her siblings “just missed the horror of a war. They used to hide in cellars and had no food. My grandmother went from one farm to another to beg for a piece of bread.”

Ludwik Miller

I am not certain exactly what happened to Paweł Miller. According to Louise, her aunt Zofie said he was part of the Soviet roundups in Żyrardów that sent residents to Siberia. He did not return from the exile and presumably died there. Their sister, Karolina Miller Razer, may have suffered the same fate; Zofie said she died “in prison”.

Ludwik Miller, a young teenager, either joined or was conscripted into the Russian Army sometime during the Great War. He survived the experience and lived a long life. Ludwik did not immigrate to America. He married twice and had no children, and owned a footwear store in Żyrardów. He died there sometime after 1977.

Elizabeth Smetana Miller with great-granddaughter, Lucille (Louise’s daughter). Long Island, NY, 1925.

The oldest brother, Emil Miller, who was the first of the family to immigrate to America, actually returned to Poland in 1913 after the death of his father. He brought his wife and their children, two of whom were born in America, but after the war began there was no way to leave. Emil and one of his daughters died in Poland during the war. Emil’s wife, Zofja, and American-born son Edward could finally return to America in 1927 (Edward) and 1929 (Zofja). Another daughter stayed behind in Żyrardów.

Widowed Elżbieta and her youngest child, Zofie, would eventually immigrate to America themselves. They sailed aboard the Megantic from Liverpool and arrived in Portland, Maine on 10 December 1920.  Elżbieta, or Elizabeth as she was called in America, lived for a time with Alfred in New York, then with Mary in New Jersey.  She died on 08 November 1944.

The Schultz Family in America

Finally in America after a long, scary journey, Louise said, “My first impression was pretty awful! Because [in Poland] we lived surrounded by trees and orchards and little houses by themselves.” In America, they lived in downtown Manhattan “on 16th Street, that’s where we moved first. The place looked dirty to me, crowded dirty.”  But the family adjusted. Louise was particularly good at learning the new language and communicating on behalf of her parents who, according to her, did not make as much of an effort in assimilating.

The Schultz Family in America, circa 1923. Top row from left: Louise, Mary, Ludwig, Edward. Bottom row from left: Walter, Julia, Henry.

The Schultz family enjoyed their new lives in America. They lived in Brooklyn, then in New Jersey’s Somerset county. Eventually they moved to Metuchen in Middlesex county, New Jersey. Ludwig died in 1950 at the age of 77, and Mary in 1969 at the age of 85.

Henry, who never married, was the first of the Schultz children to die in 1954 at only 46 years old. Edward married and had three children; he died in 1984 at the age of 75. Walter, a decorated U.S. Army Air Corps veteran, died in 1986 at the age of 78. Louise, the source of this wonderful story, married twice and had two daughters; she died in 1990 at the age of 87. The youngest, Julia, married and moved to California where she had two children; she died in 2003 at the age of 93.

I should also note what happened to Alfred Miller, the brave teenaged uncle who brought his nieces and nephews to America! Alfred lived with the Schultz family for some time. In 1921, he got married. The couple had a daughter in 1922 and a son in 1926. Alfred died in 1969, two months after his sister Mary, in Piscataway, NJ.

The only Miller sibling that I did not provide an update on was Elizabeth, my great-grandmother. See her story and a photograph of her with her brother Alfred, sister Mary, and some of the Schultz children here.

Louise Schultz Nagy

When Louise was 82 years old, she was interviewed about the journey she took as a young girl for the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Thanks to that transcript, I was able to learn not only about traveling by ship to America, but also a little about her family, what life was like in Poland before and after she left, and her impressions about life in America. Thank you, cousin Louise, for sharing your journey with all of us!

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This 3-part series of posts uses my cousin’s interview in 1985 with the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Part 1 tells the story of Ludwig and Mary Schultz, who came to America in 1912 and temporarily left their five children with Mary’s parents. In today’s post, Part 2, their daughter, Louise, discusses  living with her grandparents and the eventual journey across the ocean to join their parents.

Crossing the Border

When Ludwig and Mary finally earned enough money to reunite with their children, their young Uncle Alfred was to be their guardian throughout the journey. Louise explains,

“My uncle, he was the ‘main cheese’ in the whole thing. He was like our father, mother, the whole thing – everything rolled into one. And he spoke for us, to whomever he had to speak, for everything.”

Uncle Alfred was seventeen years old! His older sister, my great-grandmother, immigrated alone four years earlier at the age of 18. Somehow I think her trip was much easier.

Louise explains that they all needed passports to travel, and they were expensive. They were purchased on what she calls “the black market” and “the underground” in order to get across the border from Poland to Germany, “because we had to get to Hamburg to get the ship.” They left after midnight, “in the black of night.”  Louise remembered crossing a “narrow little bridge” over water. Even though she was the oldest at 10 years old, she became afraid. Uncle Alfred carried the children over one by one, depositing them on the other side, in order to get them all across.

Louise describes having very little with them:

“You didn’t have matching luggage or anything like that. You just took a sheet or something, a rag, and you folded your belongings and you tied it in the four corners.”

Their most important belongings went into a wicker basket. However, as the family was crossing the border, Alfred was told to leave the meager baggage with someone who would take it to the port where they could pick it up. When Alfred went to retrieve it with a claim ticket, but their baggage was not there. Louise remembers that he “went two or three times, then he gave up, very down-hearted.” The unscrupulous man had stolen their belongings! “It didn’t only happen to us,” she said, “it happened to many families.”

What made this situation more difficult is that the youngest, Julia, was only 3 and still needed diapers. Louise had primarily responsibility for her little sister while Alfred cared for the three boys, and it was difficult to care for her without a change of clothes.

Journey by Ship

Louise’s (Ludwika Kazimira) Inspection Card

The party of six managed to travel to the port of Hamburg, over 500 miles away, and  boarded the S.S. Amerika on 06 August 1913.

The S.S. Amerika on the Hamburg-American Line

Once aboard the ship, the journey was even more difficult. They all suffered from “sea sickness, constantly.”  She describes the ship’s steerage compartment as being “one big floor of everybody. There was men, women, children; all languages, all nationalities.” Cups were given out, one per person. “But they didn’t give us enough. So in the nighttime, my brother would creep under somebody’s bunk and get extra cups.”

Louise said that every morning a man would yell, “Rouse, rouse, rouse” and they would have to quickly get out. “Everybody was like soldiers in the army. You had to get out that time and just go up on deck.” She thinks they would clean or sanitize the steerage floor at this time to prevent an outbreak of disease among the passengers.

Breakfast was served. “In the morning you got coffee. There was no such thing as children getting something different, that’s all you got. It was coffee, and Russian black bread or some kind of rolls.” At dinner, “we sat at these long tables, everybody together. We got a herring thrown on the plate and boiled potatoes.”

Arrival at Ellis Island

They finally arrived in New York City on 17 August. Louise remembers taking a ferry from the ship to Ellis Island. She explained,

“My parents came to pick us up the same day the ship landed. However, our name was Schultz, and my uncle’s name was Miller. I think we went under his name because he was the adult. When my parents came to pick us up, my father told the names. They said there’s no Schultz, he couldn’t find it. And my father didn’t believe them. He argued back and forth, but they couldn’t help him out. So they went home and they came back the next day. That means we had to spend a whole night there [at Ellis Island] and it was very scary to me.”

The family’s names listed on the passenger arrival record

Before they realized they were to be detained, they were processed through and had medical examinations. Louise remembered,

“They would examine your eyes, your chest, and your body in general, to see if you were healthy enough to come here if you didn’t have any contagious diseases. Consumption was a horror word, and I remember one man in particular – he must have been found consumptive and I remember him crying because he had to go back and couldn’t come into this country.”

In the Great Hall, “there were very few seats. It was so packed that you were almost standing close together. And I remember it was in August; it was very hot.” The hall “had such a resonance, the sound, the acoustics.” Several times a day a man would go up on a platform and call out names, which mean that someone was there to pick you up and you were allowed to leave. “And we waited and waited, we went each time they were calling the names.”

The Great Hall at Ellis Island – taken by the author on August 7, 2010

They continued to wait for their parents. After names were called, “everybody dispersed, just sat around or walked around waiting for the next call. And then it was night time and there were long tables for eating a little supper. I don’t remember the meals too much; the only thing I remember is that it was the very first time in our lives that we had slices of white bread. In Russia it was black bread!”

The doctors performing the examinations wore “white coats” but the other officials at Ellis Island wore uniforms. Louise thought they looked “like conductors on the street cars with peaked hats” and navy blue uniforms. They were “very abrupt, very short” and wanted everyone to “move, move, go, go, come.”

On 18 August, a presumably anxious Ludwig and Mary returned to collect their children. Louise said her father “went home very upset” that first day and “he didn’t know what to make of it.” The next morning, he returned and “made the official let him look at the book.” The official let him see the list, and he quickly found the names for his brother-in-law, Alfred Miller, and the five Schultz children. Louise remembers that they had to go outside, and a chain-linked fence separated the new immigrants from the family members that came to pick them up. “We had to identify each other,” Louise remembered,

“Now, I was the oldest, and the younger children did not know my parents. My mother had gotten stouter; she was a slim lady when she left us. And my father changed. So I had a rough time, but I had to say ‘Yes, that’s my father and that’s my mother’ and we finally went through the gates. That was it, we were finally in this country!”

In Part 3, we will learn more about what life was like for the family in America — and what life was like for the family they left behind in Poland.

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In the early days of my genealogical research (early 1990s), I was at an archive or a library and I stumbled upon a database to search for interviews in the Ellis Island Oral History Project. [Note: You can now search the project online, but not all of the interviews are available online. The story I am about to tell is not.]  I ran some of my great-grandparents’ surnames through, but did not get any hits. Then I tried the name of the town from which my mother’s paternal grandparents came: Żyrardów.  The search resulted in one hit – an interview with Louise Nagy. The name meant nothing to me. Even if it was indexed with her maiden name, Schultz, it still would have meant nothing. Żyrardów was a large town, and she was one of many residents who immigrated to America.

Fast forward about twenty years. I finally discovered my great-grandmother’s family. Elizabeth Pater’s maiden name was Miller, so it was a difficult search. But I discovered that she had several brothers and sisters. One sister, Mary, married a man named Schultz. They had five children: Louise, Edward, Henry, Walter, and Julia. I made contact with Julia’s daughter, who is my mother’s second cousin. She shared many wonderful photographs and provided me with many names and dates that I had not yet researched.

After corresponding by email for a few weeks, she wrote: “You might find this interview of my Aunt Louise interesting. It’s all about when they came over from Poland and landed in New York.” Attached was the transcript of her interview from the Ellis Island Oral History Project! Yes, her aunt – and my cousin – was the same Louise Nagy I had “found” and passed over so many years ago.

In my rush of research on the Miller and Schultz families in the weeks before that email, I had just located the passenger arrival record of the five Schultz children with their uncle, Alfred Miller. They immigrated in 1913 when Alfred was only 17 years old, and he led his nieces and nephews, aged 10, 9, 6, 5, and 3, on the long journey. That 10-year-old was Louise, who would eventually bear the surname Nagy through her second marriage; she is my great-grandmother’s niece. Now, thanks to an interview that took place in 1985 with the former 10-year-old, I was able to learn not only about the journey to America, but also about life in Żyrardów and living with her Miller grandparents, my great-great grandparents. There was also a tape recording, though not complete, of the interview, so I could actually hear the 82-year-old remember her trip to America from 72 years earlier.

I would like to share Louise’s story in a 3-part series not only because her story is so interesting, but because it is similar to the story of many of our ancestors who immigrated from Poland and other parts of Europe in the early twentieth century.

Before I jump right to the story of the journey by ship to America, I’d like to put the journey in historical context and describe her family’s situation at the time.

[Note: Ludwik is the Polish form of Louis; Ludwig is the German form. Ludwig Schultz used the German form of the name, while his brothers-in-law with the same first name used the Polish form, Ludwik.]

The Szulc / Schultz and Miller Families

Louise’s parents were Ludwig Schultz (Polish spelling: Szulc) and Mary Miller. Ludwig was born in 1873, possibly in Żyrardów like his wife, Mary, who was born there in 1884. Ludwig became a silversmith. According to the interview with Louise, the family used to travel for her father’s work. The Schultz children were all born in Zhytomyr, Volhynia (present day Ukraine). Their children were: Louise (Ludwika Kazmiera), born in 1903; Edward, born in 1904; Henry, born in 1906; Walter (Władysław), born in 1908; and Julianna (Julia), born in 1909.

The Schultz Family and Alfred Miller in 1910

By 1912, the family moved to Żyrardów, which is where Mary Miller Schultz was born and her parents and family still lived.

Mary’s parents were Jan Miller, born in 1849, and Elżbieta Smetana, born in 1858. Both were born in the town of Zelów, a town founded by a community of Protestant Czechs whose ancestors had lived in Poland for over 100 years to escape persecution in their homeland. In the late 1870s, several families from Zelów, including the Miller’s and Smetana’s, moved to Żyrardów for better prospects. Żyrardów was thriving thanks to the town’s linen factory, a major producer of linen for the Russian Empire.

Jan and Elżbieta likely married in Żyrardów around 1880. They had eight children (who survived to adulthood):

  • Emil, born 22 December 1881, married Zofja Jelinek in 1902; immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in 1904; returned to Poland after 1913.
  • Marya (Mary), born 24 March 1884. Mary married Ludwig Szulc; their children are the subject of this series of posts.
  • Karolina, born 12 March 1886, married Julian Razer in 1903; lived in Łódz in 1913.
  • Elżbieta (Elizabeth), born on 19 November 1890, immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in 1909; married Ludwik (Louis) Pater in 1910.
  • Paweł, born 11 December 1893; lived in Żyrardów.
  • Alfred, born 18 April 1896; would immigrate to New York in 1913 with Mary’s children.
  • Ludwik, born in 1900; lived in Żyrardów.
  • Zofia, born 03 April 1903; lived in Żyrardów, immigrated to U.S. in 1920.

When Mary and Ludwig moved back to Żyrardów in 1912, two of Mary’s siblings had already separately immigrated to America (Philadelphia, PA): brother Emil and sister Elżbieta (my great-grandmother). Another sister, Karolina, was married by this time and possibly living in Łódz with her family. The four younger siblings remained in the Miller household: Paweł, Alfred, Ludwik, and Zofia. Their ages at the time were 19, 16, 12, and 9.

Life Under Russian Rule

What was it like living in Żyrardów in 1912? Although it was a multi-cultural town with Poles, Jews, Germans, and Czechs living together, the town was under Russian rule. According to Louise, “It was hard being that it was under.the Czar’s rule. My father got politically mixed-up and he came home shot in the arm once. After a certain hour in the evening, you were afraid to go out at night.”

In Żyrardów, and likely throughout Poland, people talked about America. Louise remembered everyone talking about America:

“You make out good in America. That’s all you heard: gold on the streets of America. You could be anything you want and make a lot of money, even if it was a dollar a day.”

Those thoughts, according to Louise, are what gave her mother, Mary, the “courage to push.”

It was decided that Ludwig would travel to America first since the family could not afford to all travel together. Louise describes her mother as being the driving force behind the family’s move. “She got him out first,” she said. “She sold things [to pay for the journey], and he wasn’t very daring – she was the pusher. That’s my mother; she was an adventurist.”

Ludwig departed from Hamburg, Germany aboard the S.S. Amerika on May 30, 1912 and he arrived in New York City on June 9th. However, Louise said he

“didn’t make much of an effort to learn English fast enough, and he didn’t know how to look at “The World” – the newspaper was the greatest for people finding jobs, but you had to know under which column to look for what you were going to do. And, he didn’t have anyone to help him too much.”

In New York City, Louise remembered that

“everybody lived in little cliques: the Polish, the Ukrainian, the Russian. So they would help each other out. Maybe one knew a few words more than the other. They used to live maybe ten or twelve people in one room, because one was helping the other to get established.”

But “living with other people” wasn’t for Ludwig. Louise said, “Within six months he wrote to my mother not to get ready to come because he’s coming back.” How did Mary respond to his declaration?  According to Louise, she said, “No, you’re not coming back! I’m coming over there.”  Mary sold whatever else she had and left her five children with their grandparents.

Mary immigrated in November aboard the Mauretania departing from Liverpool. She arrived in New York City on November 22, 1912. Louise describes what happened once Mary arrived in America: “She was very fast in finding her type of work [sewing machine operator]. And she made money, and she made a definite decision: ‘I’m going to get all of my children here and we’re staying, no matter how bad it is.'”

Meanwhile, back in Poland…

In hopes of improving all of their lives, Mary made the difficult decision to leave her five young children with her parents. Louise, like most 9-year-olds, thought her grandmother “was old, but actually she was not.” [Note: her grandmother was 55 years old at the time.]

Louise explains that her grandparents still “had a family of four [home]: three sons, and a daughter. And then five of us. My parents were sending money, but, you know, it was just barely for food, because they’re trying to save for six people – five of us children and my mother’s younger brother who was our chaperone.”

The Miller Family in 1913 with the Schultz grandchildren. Left: Ludwik Miller, Zofia Miller, (boy in front) Wladyslaw (Walter) Schultz, Elzbieta Miller, Louise (Ludwika) Schultz, Alfred Miller, (girl in front) Julia Schultz, Jan Miller, Pawel Miller, Henry Schultz, Edward Schultz.

In addition to the added responsibility of caring for five young grandchildren, Elżbieta was the sole supporter of the family. Louise explains, “My grandfather was sick; he was in bed. She was very fast, my grandmother. She worked the looms, one on one side and one on the other so she could make enough money.”

Despite being sick in bed, their grandfather, Jan, taught the children a lesson. He told them, “You’re not going to waste all that time just hanging around the house” so he sent them to a German school to learn German. At nine years old, Louise already spoke Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. When she moved in with her grandparents, they “spoke only Czech” (Czech may have been the language they spoke at home; both were born and raised in Russian-occupied Poland, so it is unlikely that they would not speak those languages as well). Louise learned Czech to speak to them, then German. The reason he wanted them to learn German is that, in Żyrardów, the factory managers were German. Her grandfather’s rationale was that, if you knew German, “you could become a big official someplace; that was important to him.”

Louise was grateful to him “because the German language helped me a lot on the ship traveling, and once I came to this country [America], it made it much easier. Somehow there’s a lot of similarity between German and English.” All of her linguistic experience helped Louise to learn English within “almost three months” after immigrating to America. But, that’s getting ahead of her story.

In Part 2, we will hear about the Schultz children traveling to America with their Uncle Alfred.

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