On Jewish Migration (from Europe to Norh America)

by Leo Goldhammer - 2011-12-30

Bohemia and Moravia: Professor Gido Kisch in his work "The Czechoslovakian Jews in America" [Historia Judaica, Vol. VI, 1943-44, pp. 123-128] laments that the emigration of Czech Jews to the United States has not been at all investigated, neither the facts nor the political and sociological background; it is worth recalling, though, that in fact all the principal proponents and opponents of emigration in the 1840's, such as Ignaz Kuranda, Leopold Kompert, Isidor Busch, David Mendel, Dr. Mannheimer and Dr. Schmidt were born in Bohemia and spent at least their youth there. An announcement in "Central-Organ" [July 22, 1848] of Prague describes with enthusiasm that "six young people, all of the Jewish faith, have set off for America. All are in their first youth, and all from the merchant class. They have gone to seek their freedom in a place where their religion will be no barrier to their happiness. We send them heartfelt wishes for their success. May they find that which they seek, may their thirst for freedom be quenched at the springs of Mississippi. [Possibly this group was headed for St. Louis – see below. – RC] If encouraging letters should arrive from them, a second group of emigrants will be ready to set out." This bit of news impelled the young poet Zigmund Hertzl [Not related to Theodor Hertzl – RC] once again to turn his poetical diction loose upon the wanderers to America:


[There follows a lengthy and wordy polemic, including: "I don't know if we shall stay here longer without human rights and whether the Christian religion will in the end continue to be a barrier that will separate us from the blessings and beauty of the world."]


A correspondence from Prague in August ,1848, tells how news of a group of Jews having emigrated evoked a strong desire among others to follow them. It says that the list of those who had already left or wanted to leave Prague to seek a better life in North America would fill a whole page. Among them were entire families, from many callings: two print setters, a soap maker, a number of jewelers and doctors, all people of good name. A number were well off, others had barely enough for the trip. Some were calling them cowardly, others, shameful. The correspondent related further that a committee had been formed in Prague to support emigrants without means.


A certain I. F. from Horvitz, a shtetl in Bohemia, wrote that "Two letters have arrived from our three young emigrants that in June of this year took ship from Bremen. They say that after overcoming a number of dangers they have finally reached their goal. They warn those who want to emigrate not to have anything to do with ship agents who offer passages on ships that are a danger to life. They were horribly swindled. They were promised passage on a passenger ship, but instead they were put onto a freighter, together with over 200 other passengers. They were packed in like herrings and they endured that situation for nearly 40 days. They received very bad food the whole time. They warn people to travel only on steam ships, on which there is no fear of having to endure such discomfort."


The establishment of a society to support emigrants in Prague caused special satisfaction because it gave the prospective emigrant the opportunity to learn a craft and to have the benefit of language classes. A correspondent from "Orient" [Nov. 1848] relates as follows:


"The Israelites of Prague have been captivated by an obstinate desire to emigrate right before the emancipation [takes effect]. That can be justified to the extent that one can expect that once the emigration movement begins it will not be limited just to this summer. There have already been individual cases and now there are scores of families leaving for America. There is one problem: the wealthy are leaving and the poor are remaining behind. Jews have begun, however, to organize emigration, meaning that not only is the charity-box intensively active but an emigration organization has been organized which anyone can belong to for a few kreuzer a week. The society has decided to teach various trades to the younger members, and above all – the English language, and thus in coming years there can be established planned and regular emigration to North America. If the Prague ghetto still existed, it would certainly have more air."


The parts of Austria [Lower Austria, Hungary, Galicia] that we have spoken of earlier had provided the major part of the emigration, amounting to many hundred people. But the number of Bohemian emigrants in 1848 in America as a whole, and especially in New York, was so large that at the end of the year a special congregation "Anschei Chesed," which conducted prayers in the Bohemian manner, was established; it also had its own cemetery. The religious leader of the congregation was Rabbi Falkman Tebrich and its President, Ignaz Stein. The families Welle(?) and Brandeis-Dembitzer, which came to the United States at the beginning of 1849, joined this congregation. Both families later took prominent roles in the textile industry and in community affairs. The family of Gottlieb and Elanor Welle embarked ship at Hamburg on April 8th, 1849. The party consisted of 26 people: the couple, their twelve children, a governess, Gottlieb's two brothers, one a young boy, the other with his wife Friderike (who later married Adolph Brandeis) a grandson, a cousin Feni, Gottlieb's sister Amalia Avnt(?), Friderike's father and brother, Dr. Louis Dembitz, Adolf Brandeis, his brother Sam Brandeis (the father of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis) and others. A number of Bohemian emigrants went to Milwaukee. There the congregation "Emanuel," consisting of Germans, Galicians and Poles, already existed. The newly arrived Bohemian Jews combined with a group of Galician Jews who had left congregation "Emanuel" and created a new congregation. Emigrants from Prague also settled in St. Louis where they enrolled in congregation "Bnai Brit."  When Isidor Busch arrived in that city this congregation had already united with the "German" congregation "Emanuel." In addition, a number of emigrants settled in Philadelphia. Among them was Solomon Teller from Prague, later Vice-President of the synagogue society "Rodef Shalom." He was the father of Benjamin and David Teller. Benjamin Abels, who came here in 1849, became president of the second synagogue society, "Beth Israel," founded in the same year. Among the immigrants, the following also deserve mention: Dr. Zigmund Zebulun Dembitz, the first husband of Friderike Welle, Leopold Levi and his wife, Wilhelmina (from the Fischer family) from Steinowitz, near Pilsen; Joseph Hirschman and his wife Katerina (from the Orbach family) from Prague; Hermann Rozenwatter, and his wife Rosalie, (from the Kohn family) and their two sons (Andrew and Edward. Dr. Bernhard Illovay and his wife Katerina (from the Schiff family). Dr. Illovay came from a famous Rabbinical family in Moravia; he was a pupil of the Hatam-Sofer in Pressburg, graduated from Budapest University and received his doctorate in the teacher-seminar in Padua. In Bohemia, he had taken part in the revolution of 1848 and was forced to emigrate to Germany, from whence he proceeded to Baltimore. And among the emigrants was also Emanuel Wuditsch of Utica, well known from the massacre of emigrants by the Mormons at Mount Meadow, Utah. [It is not clear why Goldhammer says that Wuditsch was well known in this connection; he is not mentioned as either a victim or a perpetrator in the currently accepted lists. – RC]


That the emigration was not incidental but rather the direct result of the activities of the  emigration societies is attested by two pieces of correspondence from Prague. One, dated 19th April, 1848, says: "The desire to emigrate has not cooled off in Prague. Several societies are helping people emigrate. Among them deserves special mention the society founded by wealthy men, who have opened a free school for less well-off emigrants to learn English. This religious institution gives poor traders no-interest loans which they will repay at the rate of 20 kreuzers a week." The second, from August 1849, says as follows: "The emigration from Bohemia continues to increase. One feels sorry for the poor people who must remain."




Note (RC): Transcription of names from Yiddish to English orthography is often uncertain.