Nine biographical essays, chosen from over 200 entries for a contest conducted by YIVO in 1942, make up this engrossing book. The topic was “Why I left Europe and what I have accomplished in America.” The writers were men and women who arrived in America from the 1890’s to the 1920’s.
In vivid detail, yet with a matter-of-fact tone, the stories describe the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and hardships endured by immigrants both in Europe and in America. We read about home schooling, cheder, and matchmaking in Eastern Europe; about the circumstances that prompted the exodus to America; about the planning and the actual voyage. We learn about immigrant life in New York City, Providence, Baltimore, Denver, Pittsburgh and Montréal; about sweatshops and unions, trades and businesses, courtship and marriage, assimilation and Jewish community. Nearly all the writers end their essays with fears and hopes for the families they have left behind in Europe.
The plain-spoken language makes it easy to identify with the authors. I found myself thinking I could be reading the stories of my own grandparents.