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Translation of Mary Antin's Yiddish letter (Precursor to from plotzk to Boston).


The following translation of Mary Antin's 1894 Yiddish letter to her maternal uncle, Moshe H. ayyim Weltman, was produced from the manuscript housed in the Boston Public Library (Ms. Am. 178q). The letter in that collection was bound in 1914 by Antin's brother-in-law, John E Grabau, and then deposited in the BPL. The letter was accompanied by a short, handwritten introduction in English by Antin, entitled, "History of the Manuscript" (Mar. 2, 1914), which I have transcribed below. In it, Antin describes how the manuscript of the Yiddish letter came to be preserved. According to Antin, the first draft of her letter was ruined after a lamp was overturned. She subsequently made a copy of the letter and sent that copy along to her uncle in her hometown of Polotsk (now located in Belarus). After translating the letter into English, to be published in 1899 as From Plotzk to Boston, Antin tore up the original letter from which she had made the second copy. She retrieved the copy that had been sent overseas while on a trip to the Polotsk region in 19zo. During the journey, she found the letter in Vilnius (now located in Lithuania) in the possession of another uncle, Berl Weltman.

In the translation below, I have endeavored to render Antin's letter literally so that the interested reader may toggle comfortably between the Yiddish and English. However, to help the general flow of the English translation, I have added punctuation marks where they do not exist in the original. Note that I have allowed Antin's multiple shifts in tenses to remain and have followed her paragraph breaks. Antin also frequently shifts the narration of her text from the first to the third person and back again. I chose not to smooth out these changes so as to preserve Antin's rather informal if sometimes choppy style. For the most part, I also did not modernize those Yiddish or antiquated idioms that Antin employs, so as to give readers a sense of the language and terms at Antin's disposal.

I have also chosen to render the place-names that Antin identifies according to her Yiddish pronunciation. However, I have included a footnote at the first mention of each place-name to indicate the current location of the city and the name by which it is known today. I have also transliterated several Yiddish phrases and Jewish ritual terms that Antin uses according to the standards accepted by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, except where an accepted English spelling exists (e.g., matzah, rather than matse).

My larger project has been to compare the Yiddish letter with its subsequent publication in English, From Plotzk to Boston (1899). In the footnotes accompanying the translation, I have noted many, but by no means all, differences that exist between this translation and From Plotzk to Boston. I have elaborated on several of these shifts in the accompanying essay in this issue.

I have used brackets throughout to indicate the page number of the manuscript to which the following English translation corresponds. Note that the manuscript jumps directly from page 55 to 60, apparently due to mis-numbering. Finally, there were several terms and phrases in the Yiddish letter that I was unable to decipher, and I have noted them accordingly.


In the accompanying transcription of Mary Antin's Yiddish letter to her maternal uncle, Moshe Hayyim Weltman, of 1894, I have attempted to record Antin's orthography accurately. Accordingly, I have not standardized her text to accord to the system of transcription of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Antin's Yiddish reader will also find that her orthography corresponds to what is now known as Lithuanian or Northeastern Yiddish. Antin also spells words of Hebrew origin phonetically and inconsistently. For a description of both features, please see the accompanying essay in this issue. Note also that Antin uses punctuation inconsistently, frequently attaches the definite or indefinite article to the corresponding noun, and inconsistently separates prefixes from their corresponding verbs or infinitives. Finally, I have italicized the final line of the manuscript following Antin's signature to indicate that these words were written by someone other than Antin, presumably her uncle or another family member.

As noted above, Antin attached a brief English introduction to the Yiddish manuscript when the letter was deposited in the Boston Public Library in 1914. I have transcribed that introduction, entitled "History of the Manuscript," and appended it to the beginning of the translation included here.

[Mary Antin's Original Letter]
    This is the original
    "From Plotzk to Boston"
    Written and sent to Russia
    in 1894
    Brought back to America
    in 1910
    Put between covers for
    in 1914
    brother John E Grabau (1)

[I] History of this Manuscript.

During my first summer in America (1894), I wrote a detailed account, in Yiddish, of the journey from Polotzk to Boston, in a letter to my Uncle, Moshe Hayyim Weltman, in Polotzk. When this long letter was almost finished, my lamp was overturned as I was writing one evening, soaking the pile of letter sheets in kerosene, (2)

My father obliged me [II] to make a fair copy to be sent to Polotzk, and the stained original he preserved. About two years later, he and Miss Dillingham between them persuaded me to translate the letter into English, and in 1899 the English version was published as a pamphlet under the title "From Plotzk to Boston." (3)

[The name of my native town appeared in this erroneous form because the gentleman who edited my manuscript had never heard of Polotzk, but was familiar with the name [III] Plotzk; and my corrections in the proofs were ignored].

By the time I got to the English translation, I was tired of the whole thing, and I found my chief satisfaction in tearing up the oil-stained (Yiddish) original, a sheet at a time, as I was done with it. But the fair copy I had made so reluctantly turned up again, at a time when I was better able to appreciate it as a document. (4)

At the end of 1910, nearly seventeen years after it was written, I found it in the possession of [IV] my uncle, Berl Weltman, in Wilna, (5) where I spent a few days on my way to revisit Polotzk. The letter had circulated widely in Polotzk, had been sent around to various branches of the family in different parts of Russia, finally winding up in Wilna. There it had been miraculously preserved during the revolutionary period of 1905, when everybody made it a point to destroy useless papers of every description, so as to have the fewer questions to answer when IV] the police came to make domiciliary searches.

This letter is now put between protecting covers, to be preserved as a family document, and as a souvenir of the 20th anniversary of our landing in Boston, celebrated in Boston on May 8th, 1914. (6)

Mary Antin

Scarsdale, N.Y.

March 2, 1914.

[S. Y.: Translation begins here]

[I] Dearest Uncle and dearest Aunt with your dearest children: May you always be joyful! (7)

Dearest Uncle! You have asked me quite a few times to describe to you our journey from Polotsk (8) to America. Yet you need to know that I'm not in the position to describe such a long journey. I'm not in the position to describe the regions we traveled through, and I'm especially not in the position to portray the sea. A person would need an artistic pen at hand to describe all of this, and I don't have one. So I will use all of my strength to describe our journey to the best of my abilities. And so this is how it was:

I don't remember the month or date, but I know that we left Polotsk on a Monday. And six days later, early Sunday morning, we left Vilna.9

We didn't sleep the whole night. To pass the time, Fenye (10) and I [2] played cards and watched the clock. Maybe it was time to go? The moment we had long awaited finally came, and the clock showed that it was time to go to the train. Fenye and I began to wake up Mother and Uncle Berl, (11) who, along with Ida and Harry, (12) had fallen asleep, leaning on basket[s] or box[es] that stood packed and ready. And in just a few minutes, they--with the help of the screeching alarm clock--were sitting up, and rubbing their eyes, and yawning frequently.

Quickly, my uncle stood up and got dressed. Five minutes later, he left and soon returned with the news that two carriages (13) were waiting for us, and that we were ready for the journey.

We went outside and noticed that we weren't the only ones sleeping. Everyone was sleeping and nature was sleeping too.

"The sky was covered with dark gray clouds. A cold, wet rain dripped slowly and the coarse, early morning fog covered our path. No sound or movement could be heard from any direction, from any street. [3] A deadly silence hovered over everything, as sweet, early-morning sleep spread its soft wings over everything and made everyone forget his troubles, suffering, or joy. Simply put, it (sleep) made each person forget the whole world. Drowsily, we said good-bye to my aunt and got into the carriages that left soon after. "Hospitalnaya Street" disappeared from our view.

Ten minutes later, we were standing in the train station waiting for the train. We were very bored during the half hour we had to wait. We felt like we were in a prison. I don't have to tell you that it's always a happy occasion when a person gets to the train station in Polotsk when a train is set to arrive [and it should be a no less happy occasion in Vilna]. (14) Here, though, there were no more than 20 or 30 people, and it was clear from their faces that none of them was too happy.

Suddenly, the long, sad whistle of the train was heard. The train soon came to a stop by the station, The passengers got out and hired coaches, which led them away down various streets.

[4] When we had tickets and had taken care of our baggage, we entered a compartment in the women's section and waited impatiently for the train to depart. Finally, someone gave the signal and after another two whistles and another long one, the train moved. At first it moved slowly and then it moved so quickly that even I could not have chased it down.

After we had slept and eaten a little something, we noticed a man and a young lady sitting by a window not far from us. I immediately recognized that they were father and daughter, based on their similarity to each other and their conversation. They also appeared to be decent people.

It appeared that they also hadn't noticed us until now. They started speaking with my mother and asked: "Where are you traveling? To whom are you traveling? What's the reason you're traveling?" etc.

I should tell you what they said word for word, but it's too much to say if not to hear. So I'll relate only what is necessary:

The Jew--I forget his name--was traveling to Vierzbolovo (15) My mother told him that [5] she would have to retrieve [our] baggage in order to take out our tickets for Idtkunyen, (16) which was over the border. And because the train would not be staying long in Vierzbolovo, she was afraid that there wouldn't be enough time to get everything done.

"Don't worry about it," he calmed her down. "I'll help you arrange [it all] quickly." And he kept his word. Around 11:30, the train came to a halt. The conductors yelled out in their typical tone, "Vierzbolova, 15 minutes!"

There, I saw a lively world. Crowds were milling about like ants. (17) Some passengers got off [the train]. Some ran to the cashiers to buy tickets. Some retrieved or sent along their luggage. Well-dressed men and women were seated at all food counters, eating, drinking, and enjoying themselves. Some were reading newspapers. The counter women served their guests.

We didn't sit still either. My mother went to the food counter and bought--tea. Our [fellow] Jewish traveler retrieved our baggage and [we] took out our tickets for Idtkunyen. Fenye, Harry, Ida, and I happily looked around the well-kept [6] train station and the large crowd. (18)

Finally, it was time for the train [to leave]. We said good-bye to our friendly travelers. They wished us a happy journey (we'll soon see whether we had or didn't have such a trip), and we traveled on.

We were all hungry. Not wasting time, we prepared [some] eggs to eat and tea to drink--a meal suitable for nobility traveling to America with official passports. (19) As soon as we finished eating, we started to ask each other where the border was. [Then] the train came to a stop. Frightened, we saw several men in blue uniforms with gold buttons. They wore brass hats that glittered like gold. Belted holsters were attached to the sides of their brown belts and [something] like a revolver was visible there. And each [gendarme] had a small book with black tables.

I can't convey to you what a terrifying impression these people--they were German gendarmes--made on us when we [7] saw them for the first time. (20) But, knowing that the train wouldn't stay there long, we didn't think too much of these gendarmes. We began to collect our scattered belongings to prepare to disembark. But before we had collected everything, a gendarme entered and ordered us to stay in the train car. When my mother asked him why we were supposed to remain where we were, he didn't answer and walked out. Soon after he had left, a second gendarme entered along with a doctor.

"Are you all healthy?" the doctor turned to us. And when he received an answer, he went on to ask:

"Are you Jews, Germans, or Christians? (21) And when his question had been answered, he left the train car.

Now, the gendarme turned to my mother and asked:

"Where are you traveling to? Do you have a passport? Do you have ship tickets? How much money do you have? To whom are you traveling? And where are you traveling from?" And when he had written all the answers in his little book, he [8] lifted his head with the brass cap, looked sharply and slowly into my mother's eyes--he probably wanted to see what impression his speech would make on my mother--[and said:]

"With your third class tickets, you cannot travel to America because it is now strictly forbidden to allow those passengers traveling to America by third class tickets into Germany. (22) Since that is the case, you must go back to Russia.

If you have enough money, you can pay the cashier [the difference] and they will exchange your tickets for those in the second class." He calculated that we would need another 200 rubles [for us] to continue on our way. He also added that the passport[s we had were] invalid because the necessary tab had been torn out.

His short simple speech hit us over the heads like a hammer. We stood like marble statues. I hadn't understood what he was saying from the start. I thought that maybe he was just kidding. But I was soon convinced that he was speaking very seriously, [9] because this was no small matter, and he would not have had the audacity to joke about it.

Shocked, I couldn't move a single muscle as I realized what a [terrible] situation we had found ourselves in. I couldn't calm my thoughts to think of something, to come up with something. My mother began to cry, to beg, to explain, but the gendarme curtly told her that no crying and no begging would help here. Because neither her words nor her tears would count for money. "But," [he said,] "I can give you a piece of advice:

"You will now be sent to Kibart, (23) several versts (24) from Vierzbolovo. In Kibart there is a well-regarded man by the name of Shidorsky. You should go to this Shidorsky and tell him your situation. He has a brother in Idtkunyen, who is also well regarded and who has helped passengers like you cross the border more than once. It's possible that he might also be able to help you."

A ray of hope flashed across our frightened faces--the hope that, maybe, the good and kind Shidorsky would help us [10] cross the border. This joyous hope gave us the strength and power to bear the terrible blow.

We were soon, thank God, in Kibart. A porter carried our baggage into the train station. We also entered the train station and sat down on a brightly colored bench. It was very bright [in the station] because of the glass roof and we had to shade our eyes, which had begun to ache from crying.

Finally, after my mother regained her strength, she went up to two Jews who were sitting in the middle of the room. "Do you perhaps know where Herr Shidorsky lives?" she asked them.

The Jews, the "sons of mercy," turned and snorted, "We don't know!" My mother thought they wanted something to drink and offered a bit of money. But this made them answer angrily, "We told you, we don't know!" (25)

My mother circled the room a few times and approached a Christian woman to ask after Shidorsky. (26) The Christian woman immediately showed her the way to Shidorsky's. And when [my mother] arrived, she [II] asked the servant:

"Can I please speak to Herr Shidorsky now?"

"He's sleeping. Come [back] later," the servant answered.

She came back to the train station and to her great surprise she bumped into our former [fellow] traveler, and he too did not understand why we were there.

"How did you come to be here?" he asked my mother, thoroughly confused and shocked. "What turn of events brought you here?"

My mother told him how we had come to Kibart and how she had gone to Shidorsky's and had found him sleeping.

He listened attentively to my mother until she had finished. After she became quiet, he said, as if to himself:

"I just don't understand. What can they have [against] your family? You're traveling with an official passport, with ship tickets and with a bit of money--with everything that you need--and they don't let you through! This is just a scam. They just want you to buy ship tickets from them so they make a poor family suffer. [12] This is so unjust, I'm going to let the whole world know! I'm going to write about this in the newspapers!" He was incensed. And when he spoke, it was easy to see the hate in eyes for such pointless hardships. "You should not stay silent," he turned to my mother. "Go to Shidorsky and tell him, beg him to do everything possible for you. It's such a shame that I'm not from here," he continued. "If I weren't a stranger here, I would have already found [a way] for you to cross the border. It is such a waste that I [don't have any connections] here." (27)

When the friendly Jew realized that he couldn't be of use to us, he left. And right after he left, my mother went to Shidorsky's.

This time, she came upon him having tea, and when she entered [the house], she told him everything you know up to this point, and she finished with the words:

"Herr Shidorsky! You cannot understand how utterly sad my situation is, coming to a strange country, where no one knows me and I know no one. I've [13] turned to a man I don't know for help. Put yourself in my position and have mercy on a miserable, helpless family. And please do what you can to help me."

She wanted to continue speaking and begging but the good Shidorsky interrupted with the [following] words:

"Please, I don't need [such] a lengthy request. You've only just begun to explain your situation, but I will already do everything possible for you." And with these words, he put on his coat and left the room [saying:]

"I'm going. And I will send an express messenger to my brother with a letter about you."

My mother thanked him and also wanted to leave, but Fraulein Shidorsky, who is no less gentle and good-hearted than her father, would not let her. She treated her to tea and asked that she stay until Shidorsky came back. And when she saw that my mother was very agitated and restless, she comforted her[,saying] that her father would do everything possible for her. "You're not the first, nor will you be the last, who has come to us with the same request. And no one, up to this point, has left our house without [14] my father and uncle helping them."

About a half hour passed in such conversation, and [then] Shidorsky returned with the news that he hoped the man he had sent to his brother would return with good news.

Knowing that we were waiting impatiently for news from Shidorsky, my mother came to the train station to tell us what she had done. When the time came that she was to have received an answer, she returned to Shidorsky's. When she asked if he had received an answer from his brother, he (Shidorsky) answered compassionately:

"I have no definitive news for you now. My brother has neither promised nor refused anything. He has started to work on this, but tonight you must spend the night here and in the morning, at 11:30, you may be able to continue on your way, and if not in the morning, then perhaps in the evening. (28) But have no doubts. Hope that all will be well." He comforted her, for he had seen that her face had grown sad as a result of the "perhaps." She stayed at Shidorsky's awhile. When she came [back] to the train station, she retrieved our checked packages at the [15] baggage counter--the luggage check--and we all went to look for lodging for the night. After wandering for some time, we found lodging with a Jew, for which we paid 1 ruble. (29)

Although we all were tired from the day and sleep-deprived from the previous night, we couldn't fall asleep, as when we lay down on the hard boards that our hostess had prepared for us. We couldn't sleep, The thought of our predicament deeply disturbed us and wouldn't let us rest. However, several hours later, when sleep had spread its wings over us, all of our thoughts were driven away and we had several undisturbed hours. In the arms of sleep, we gathered together new strength to get through our predicament.

It was 8 o'clock in the morning when we awoke. We got dressed and washed up and went to the train station a third time, where Mother left us and went to Shidorsky's [16] to see if he had received an answer from his brother.

Shidorsky answered her that, as of that the moment, he had not received any definite answer. Therefore, he suggested that she go to [one of the] officials [of the train station] and ask him if he would return the necessary tab when we were able to travel and also to request a pass to Idtkunyen from him so that [my mother could] personally ask Herr Shidorsky there for help.

My mother went to the official and, as he was a good person, he refused neither request.

"I'll return the tab to you as soon as I hear from you that you are able to travel," he said. "And here is a pass to go to Idtkunyen." Having said that, he wrote down a few words on a piece of paper. My mother thanked him for his kindheartedness and went with the pass to Idtkunyen, where she asked Herr Shidorsky for help. And he answered just like his brother had: She did not need to ask [for help,] for [17] he already knew of the problem and he would not rest until he had helped us with our situation.

We realized that we did not need to trouble them with our requests, that they were trying their hardest for us. We were therefore left with one thing: hope. So we had to hope and wait until the happy news to come that we were allowed to continue on our way.

We spent that day in Kibart, and we had no news from Idtkunyen. And in the evening as my mother wanted to look for lodging, Shidorsky's daughter suggested that we stay in [the Shidorsky's] garden room, (30) which was then empty.

We accepted her offer gratefully and went off to the garden room. Soon thereafter Fraulein Shidorsky came to see us. When she saw that we were cold, she ordered that the oven be heated and sent us tea.

Among the friendly Shidorsky family, we didn't feel as pressured as we had the day before. And when we finished eating supper, my mother went [18] to pass the time at Shidorsky's. And when she returned, we lay down in 2 beds. (31) When we got up the next morning, the maid brought us a samovar and we ate breakfast. And after breakfast, my mother went to Shidorsky to ask if he had received any news from Idtkunyen.

"As soon as we have any news," he answered her, "you must understand that we'll have no time to waste, and we're just as interested as you in the announcement."

My mother was thoroughly unsettled, for there had not been any news for a long time. And for no reason, she went to the station. Something pulled her there.

While she was away, we sat and waited. Maybe someone would bring us some news. Suddenly, we saw a very happy Harry running from Shidorsky's. (32) When he came into the room, he said, without catching his breath:

[19] "We've received news from Shidorsky that we must go. So get your things together and come to the station. Our mother already knows the news and is preparing for the journey."

As soon as he finished, Fraulein Shidorsky ran in with the maid, and they helped us put everything together and hurried us out of the room.

Without catching our breath, we ran out. We didn't even have enough time to thank the unbelievably kind people for their friendliness. (33) Because if we were to have missed the train, all the efforts of the Shidorsky brothers on our behalf would have been lost and you know what a terrible situation we would have been left in.

When we arrived at the station, the train was ready to leave, and we hurried all the packages into the train car, and we all got in.

As we entered the compartment, we asked my mother if she had received the necessary tab from the official, and she told us that a gendarme would [20] bring us the tab. And at the 3rd bell, a gendarme actually brought us the tab, and we were very happy.

After the 3rd bell, the train left and soon came to a stop one more time, in Idtkunyen.

We already knew that we shouldn't disembark without the permission of a gendarme so we remained in the train compartment. But one gendarme who did not want to make us wait long on his round came to us and asked my mother the question we had been waiting for:

"Where are you traveling?"

"To Shidorsky's," she answered, watching to see if the answer would suffice.

"Show [me] your passport," he requested.

The passport was given to him, and when he had looked through it, he ordered us to disembark.

We grabbed our packages and entered the train station, where boxes, baskets and other packages had been thrown. Around all of it, there were many gendarmes at work.

We stood for quite some time and waited for them to [21] order us to go on. Finally, a gendarme came to us and asked that we show him all of our packages. And as he put everything together in one place, except for the food, he said:

"All of this must be disinfected. [But it will] not [be done] before evening. You will be called and the disinfection will be done. The earliest that you will be able to leave is 9 at night. (34) So go into the waiting room. You may spend the day there."

We entered the waiting room. It was a large square room. Brightly colored benches, chairs, and small tables stood next to the smooth walls. On one side there was a long, narrow table with a bright-white tablecloth. On the table were tall cones, filled with oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, and cake. In the glass carafes were all types of drinks. Next to the table on a chair stood a large metal samovar that was always ready to serve anyone hot, boiled water--for money.

On the other side was a bookshelf where books could be borrowed. Across from the bookshelf was a room. (35) On a table in the room there hung a sign that said:

[22] "Men's restroom." It was only for men who worked in the train station. (36)

We approached one of the small tables and sat down on a bench. My mother went out onto the platform.

Soon after we entered the waiting room, a young woman with 5 children entered, They sat down near us. And as we talked with Frau Gittelman, that was her name, we learned that we were going in the same direction, but by different routes--they were traveling through Bremye (17) and we were traveling through Hamburg.

Now we had someone to spend the day with. The 17-year-old Gittelman [son] took books out from his travel bag and gave them to us to read. We read them all together, recounted our journey up to that point and spoke of other things. As soon as my mother returned and had become acquainted with the Gittleman family, we all ate together and drank and continued talking.

After eating, we went to survey the large station. And we spent the day going from one platform to the next and couldn't wait for night to fall. When the train that we needed to take [arrived], we left the waiting room [23] and entered one of the 4th class compartments, where we sat down on one of the 4 narrow benches.

When the train departed, the bench was filled with passengers and everyone spoke of various things.

As we passed each station, the car became more and more crowded, because new passengers boarded at every station. And after a few hours journey from Idtkunyen, the car had become so full that people were sitting on each other.

It took a great effort for us to get through the sleepless night. We spent time with Frau Gittlemen and her son, who treated us to chocolate and other sweets. And when we parted from them in Berlin, he gave Fenye a small book as a souvenir. (38)

In the early morning, the train entered a station where nearly half of the passengers exited. The train car [appeared] larger, as [there] was [now room] to walk around.

Around 4 o'clock, we entered the great German city: Berlin. I don't remember [24] how many stations we went through or how many trains we saw. I only remember that my head was spinning [and] everything looked as if it were jumping out in front of me. And it's no wonder, for any person who has been born (and raised) in a small, poor shtetl like Polotsk would become dizzy [from] looking at so many rushing trains and stations one after the other.

I think that you will forgive me, dear Uncle, for offending the city where you were raised and have spent many years. I think that it suits you, and first, I don't want to insult you. I [only] wish, dear [Uncle], to put down my feelings on paper for you, and that's why I'm writing this. And, second, you yourself would say the same thing without having seen: Berlin! Berlin Stations! (39)

And [after] traveling through too many stations to count, we came to a field located behind the city, where there was only one house with a large yard surrounding it. We remained stopped near the house, and a conductor screamed with a commanding tone:


[25] We all raced to the door. Ever since we had entered Berlin, we all had been waiting for them to tell us to exit [the train]. And when the conductor fulfilled everyone's wish, we all celebrated although we were surprised. For rather than getting out at one of the noisy stations, we disembarked onto an uninhabited field. We finally managed to get out of the train and when we were all on the platform, the conductor ordered everyone to enter the single large room of the house where there were only a few flee benches and tables. There was an area off to the side, like [in] a tavern, with a cashier at the counter.

Everyone entered and remained standing. But the conductor did not let [us] stay standing for long. He ordered us to go into the yard, and when we came into the yard, we saw several men and women dressed in white linen clothes waiting for something. And, as we later understood, they were waiting for the passengers.

A woman approached us and ordered us to go to the doctor. And when we approached him, he didn't [26] pay any attention. He simply commanded: "Go to the baths--women and men separately."

No one expected the bath or the doctor or all of the unnecessary formalities. But every [order] had to be obeyed, for we were in some type of prison. We all remained standing in the yard, but now women were standing in one group and men in another. 2 of the women clad in white approached the group of women and showed them to the baths, where they too entered.

The bath consisted of 2 rooms. In the first room were 2 benches. To one side was a large kettle of boiling water on an iron stove. In the 2nd room were 4 showers set into the ceiling. There was no floor here but an iron grate.

As we entered the first room, the two women ordered us to take off our clothes and then ordered us frequently: "Quickly! Quickly!"

They took everyone's clothes and placed them together in sacks and carried them to be disinfected.

They ordered us to go into the 2nd room. We placed ourselves under the showers. The women [27] gave everyone green soap and ordered us to wash our necks and ears. And when we were sufficiently soapy, they turned on the 2 showers, and we were all doused, as if in a summer rain. (40)

Then we went back into the first room and we wrapped ourselves in large flannel blankets and had to sit on the benches.

5 minutes later, the doctor came in and looked at everyone's neck and ears, and without saying anything or asking anything, he left.

Soon they brought the sacks with our clothes. When they put them down, the room grew dark from the steam. "Now get dressed and quickly!" the women ordered.

Each of us began to pick out his clothes and dress hurriedly. And before everyone was completely dressed, the 2 women pushed everyone through the narrow door, saying:

"Your bags are in the yard, just as you left them. Take them and go as quickly as possible into the waiting room (the room described earlier was a waiting room)." You should have heard how the people were singing, for the train [would] soon be arriving.

[28] We went into the courtyard, where everyone's packages were. We took our packages and went into the waiting room, where a large circle of Polish men and women were singing so loudly it could have deafened you.

At the register stood a man with a red face. He called every passenger by name. Then he (the cashier) approached [the passenger], and took 2 marks from him. Even though the passengers didn't know why they had to pay, they had to pay anyway.

Finally, our turn came. "Esther Antin!," cried the ruddy man.

My mother went to the cashier.

"You are traveling with 5 people [all together], so you must pay 10 marks for the bath," he said.

She gave him 10 marks and returned to her place. A half hour later, the train arrived and the door, which had been locked up to now, was opened. All of the passengers threw themselves at the door, like the thirsty to cold water. Every person wanted to escape this jail as quickly as possible, [a place] with what was allegedly a bath, [a place] that pulled the wool over passengers' eyes so they [29] could be robbed. Everyone wanted to breathe freely.

Soon, the conductor arrived and asked all the people what direction they were traveling: through Hamburg, Lubave, (41) etc. When he received an answer, he showed [us] which train car to sit in.

We entered a train car with all the other passengers traveling to Hamburg. There were also two Jews who were traveling to London. (42) When all the passengers had settled down and fallen asleep, I looked around and listened, and I began to recall everything we had suffered through that evening. And I shuddered at the memory of how everyone had been treated (in the bath):

The harsh faces of all the people whom we had seen in the Berlin baths--or better said, prison--with their white clothes. They made a terrible impression on everyone. Their orders, their rushing and yelling made everyone shudder. I don't believe that a bath like that would have been built or a doctor present because of a fear that a person would transmit disease to America. How could their water and green soap protect against disease? I can't help thinking that it was just a way to trick passengers in order to rob them. But I can't give a good explanation, so [30] I'll shorten my discussion of the Berlin baths.

I was thinking for so long that I fell asleep. I only awoke when we were near Hamburg.

It was 8 o'clock in the morning when we arrived in Hamburg. When we left [the train], a gendarme approached us and asked, "Where are you traveling?" And when he heard "America" he told us to show him the ship tickets.

Everyone showed either ship tickets or money, and we also showed the address of S. Kahan. (43)

The gendarme checked everything over and told us to go out to the street, where a tall wagon stood harnessed to two horses. "Everyone sit down in the wagon. The man will drive you where you need," he said pointing to the man who was seated on the wagon.

"But I'm not going to any office," my mother said, turning to the gendarme.

"It doesn't matter where you are going. The man will take you where you need [to go]," the gendarme said a second time.

"We're all going in different directions," we thought to ourselves, "and here we're being driven all together in such a terrible wagon." But we had gotten used to following [31] this gendarme or that conductor during the course of our journey, so we didn't make a fuss and sat down in the wagon, which soon left the train station.

The 2 horses ran quickly through busy streets that were unfamiliar to us. There were many people walking, running, and traveling along. We went past large, beautiful stores and tall buildings. We saw a lot and understood little. Everything was unfamiliar to us.

And so we went through streets and alleys, and there was no end to it. The entire time, I thought about various things. And, when I had thought it all over, it suddenly occurred to me to take a look at the wagon that we had been traveling in for such a long [time] in this unfamiliar place.

I looked at the wagon, how big it was, and my body shuddered. Then I remembered a story I had once read, where thieves or robbers had taken people along in a wagon that resembled the wagon that was taking us along [right] us now.

"What could this mean?," I wondered. "They're taking everyone all together. We've been traveling for a long time and now [we are] in even quieter streets, next to the sea. The driver says that he knows where to go, but how can that be? Is he really taking us where we [32] need to go or not? ... But why would he bring us somewhere else? ... Have we committed a crime? Unless it's a crime in Germany when you aren't rich enough? I just can't understand what's happening to us."

The horses ran as they had done earlier, without stopping, and the farther we went, the quieter the streets became. We went over train tracks next to the sea. The wind blew strongly off [the water]. The water [m.s. blurry] and pounded the wheels, [which] banged the [cobble]stones loudly. We felt dejected. Everyone sat quietly, without speaking to anyone, listening to the whistling of the wind and the noise of the water. People's sad thoughts were visible on their faces. Several people had fallen asleep out of sadness.

(Now, describing our journey from the train station on the wagon, I sit here immobilized by sadness. That dreadful image, which may be worth a lot of money, will perhaps not be believed. Maybe you won't believe me because I am not exactly in the position to describe it).

Finally, finally, after our long journey, we saw a brick building in the distance. It was the only [thing] in the [large], wide streets that we could see, besides the trees and poles of the [33] streetlamps and the trams passing us by. (44)

We traveled toward the brick building and the horses stopped. The man who had been driving us got down from the wagon and ordered everyone to go into the front room of the brick building.

Everyone entered the front room.

On the left was a small room where a man was sitting at a large desk strewn with papers. And he was writing. And while we remained standing in the front room, he placed all of the papers to the side and called one of the passengers who was standing closer to the desk.

"What is your name?" he turned to the approaching man and wrote down his name in a large book.

"Do you have a ship ticket?" the man inquired. And he also wrote down his answer. Then he told him to pay 3 marks. I mark was for the wagon [ride] by which he had arrived. And 2 marks, [the cost of] sleeping and eating [there] until a ship were to depart for his destination. The man paid him 3 marks and went where the clerk told him. It went like that for everyone, and when the clerk [34] called my mother, he ordered her to pay 14 marks. (45) "I have no more than 12 marks," she answered him.

"This is not a place to bargain. Give me 14 marks."

"It's not my intention to bargain. I really don't have 14 marks."

"There's no point in what you're doing. You're wasting my time. Give what you are being told to give," he said impatiently.

"But I only have 12 marks and you are asking for 14," my mother said, no less impatiently.

The clerk signaled with his hands and called in a woman wearing a white linen apron and a red cross on her right hand.

"Take the woman and her children to be searched," the clerk ordered the Christian woman while pointing to us. (46)

The Christian woman took us into the courtyard and locked the door, which had "Women's Bathroom" written on it in German and Yiddish. (47) We went into the bathroom. The Christian women blocked the door and checked each of us. But her efforts were pointless. She only found 12 marks. [35] She returned to the cashier with us and gave her report of the search. Now the clerk was satisfied with the (12) marks and ordered the woman to take us to the doctor.

We went to the doctor. But he didn't let us in because he was busy with other passengers.

The woman told us to stay there until the doctor called.

The room we were now in was a large square. The only window out onto the street was so high that it was impossible to look through it and see anything. In the middle of the room, there stood 2 long plain tables and 4 benches. On one side was the doctor's room and opposite that a counter where those passengers who still had a few pfennigs could buy things.

We sat down on one of the benches. I surveyed the room and everything in my view. I was very curious to learn where we were, and I soon understood that we were not at S. Kahan's. But [we] were also not where I thought we were when we had been on the wagon. I just could not figure out where we were.

As I was thinking this over, the door [36(a)] (48) to the doctor's room opened. A young man of medium height with a round beard and blue glasses on his nose stood in the doorway. This was the doctor.

He called us and, after examining our heads, told us to go in NS.

We went into the large courtyard, where there were printed signs with numbers on them, and we looked for Number 5.

Finally, we found it. We entered and before we had time to look around, we heard a familiar female voice crying out in surprise:

"Oy, Esther! How did you come to be in this jail?"

We looked and in front of us stood Dushka. (49)

"Look--Dushka!" we yelled all at once, no less surprised.

"First, come with me. I will show you your quarters," Dushka said. "And then we'll talk."

While we were approaching our quarters, I had time to observe Number 5--Two-level iron beds with mats, stuffed sacs, were placed all around the walls of the room. The three windows were high and the window frames were lined with nails, so that you could not escape through them. [37a] In the middle of the ceiling hung two gas lamps. The floor was stone, and there was also a table and bench. The room with the furniture looked like a quarantine ward or a hospital, or something else of that kind. The look of our new residence shocked us. Dushka led us to one of the two-level beds and said:

"This is where you'll live. The room is for all the Jewish women, and the beds function as everything: parlors, bedrooms, dining rooms, dressing rooms and offices. But why are you still standing?" She said, as she saw how surprised and bewildered we were. "Sit down and tell me about your trip and how you got here."

My mother told her about our trip and it soon was 12 o'clock. A young woman, who had been in the courtyard until then, entered the room with the news that it was time to go and eat lunch. Then, the overseer arrived.

Everyone then hurried to that side of the courtyard, where a long table covered with a white cloth and 2 rows of benches stood.

Along with Dushka, we sat by the table and waited for lunch. All the passengers, except the [36b] Christians, (50) looked impatiently at the door, where the words "Kosher Kitchen" were written in large white letters. Everyone waited for lunch.

Finally, the tall, thin [kitchen] supervisor with his pointed Jewish beard left the kitchen. He carried a large tin tub that was full of black bread cut into half-pound pieces.

"The supervisor of the kosher kitchen gave everyone a piece of bread and then, in a yellow tub, brought out soup with meat. He gave everyone a big bowl of soup with a small piece of meat. Everyone bit into the bread with a hearty appetite and slurped down the hot, black water that was called soup.

We didn't eat anything. We were astonished to see how everyone ate lunch with such a [hearty] appetite. Only when we no longer had any food left from Vilna did we understand why everyone ate that black lunch with such appetites.

After eating, we all went to our beds or into the courtyard. there was nowhere else to go. Can a person leave a prison whenever he wants? The only door was always locked. It was only opened when passengers came or left. The laths [37b] were high and lined with nails. Where should one go today? There were only two places: the beds or to the courtyard.

After lunch, we went to Number 5, where we talked until evening.

At 6 o'clock, the clerk came with the doctor and ordered everyone to gather together. And when everyone had gathered together, they called each person by name and gave him a red slip, with which he entered the kitchen and received 2 plain rolls and a large mug of poorly sweetened tea.

That was the supper with which we broke our fast following our meager lunch. That's how we spent the first day in the prison. Gradually, we became accustomed to the prison and we no longer felt as constricted as [we] had that first day. (51)

We spent eight days in Hamburg, somewhat unsettled. But on the eighth day, there was communal unrest. The reason was that there was only one day until Passover. Everyone was afraid that they, God forbid, would be forced to desecrate the holiday. But the following [38] calmed everyone:

After lunch, we all went into the courtyard to walk around. A carriage arrived and a man got out. He was clearly a Jew, and no less, a rabbi. It really was a rabiner. (52)

The rabiner came to make sure that all the utensils would be made kosher for Passover. And when he saw that everything had been made kosher and scoured, he determined that it was kosher enough so as not to desecrate

Passover. When he was leaving, he assured everyone that tomorrow matzah would be sent along with the other Passover foods. Now everyone realized that they were safe from desecrating the holiday and that they would not go hungry either, God forbid.

Now there only remained I task demanded by Passover: to get rid of the khomets (53) from all of the beds, boxes, and baskets. Everyone took to the work with great industriousness. And a few hours after the rabiner's visit, it was hard to find a single crumb of khomets in the two numbered [rooms] where the Jews were.

The next day toward evening, everyone gathered together in one of the two empty rooms [39] to celebrate the seder. There were z long tables covered with new tablecloths in honor of Passover. On each side of the table stood benches, on top of which were placed pillows covered with a white sheet. 2 gas lamps burned brightly and a maternal glow lit up the room. Everyone sat down on the benches, eager to start serving the food. Everyone was very hungry. At lunch, neither matzah nor bread had been given out. The cook finally came out of the kitchen and placed glasses on the table, which she filled with sour wine. After that, she gave each person burned matzah and a small piece of burned meat. And that is all we had for the seder.

In a half hour, the seder was already over and everyone threw themselves at the bitter matzah and the sour wine. (54) And after eating, everyone went to bed hungry, sighing and agitated that we could not enjoy the holiday. But we weren't too sad. On the contrary, we were happy, for a pleasant thought had kept up company since we had [checked] (55) our baggage at the office. Tomorrow we would be leaving! Is that such a small thing? It was [40] always a Simkhes Tayr (56) for [those who would be] traveling and a Yom Kippur for those who had been waiting for weeks and who would have to continue to wait. For us, it was Friday, the eve of Simkhes Tayre. The thought that we would be traveling tomorrow so surprised us and made us so happy that we couldn't fall asleep when we lay down. We spent the night half sleeping, half thinking.

At 8 [o'clock], we were all already up and had gone into the Passover room to eat breakfast, The cook gave out matzah again along with a mug of tea.

After breakfast, we went to Number 5 and laid out all the extra things that we had not [checked]. And when we were ready for the journey, we began to count down the minutes until we would [be] called.

It was a cold and cloudy day. The sun was not shining as it usually did at that hour. From time to time, it began to rain. Afterward, the day appeared even more beautiful than all the other sunny days. We felt happy that day, which seemed to others [such a] cloudy and gloomy day. The thought that we would soon be [41] released from [m.s. blurry] and our only wish fulfilled--this made us so happy that we didn't even look around to see if the day was nice or not, [which was something] we always did. We were happy enough with the fact that we would finally be leaving after having waited impatiently for such a long time.

After breakfast, after a few hours, it began to look like [all the other] days and it was soon time to eat lunch. Everyone gathered again where they had in the morning and looked at the thin soup that was impossible to eat, even at the cost of [our] health. But we were satisfied that we were not forced to eat the miserable lunch.

We did not expect to leave until 4 o'clock. But before I, we were told to collect our belongings and leave as fast as we could. We had been ready for the journey for some time. We went into Number 5, gathered our belongings, and together with the other travelers, went to the office where we were given back our ship tickets and accompanied by rushing, yelling: "Go already! Run! The ship will not wait for you!"

Then, with only a few minutes before we were to have missed [42] the ship, we all remembered that we had not prepared matzah for the trip. And slowly, everyone stopped and tried to figure out how we could procure some matzah. But when our escort saw that we had stopped, he rushed toward the crowd and began to push us along, yelling: "Go already! The ship will not stay a single extra minute. You had enough time up to now to arrange for matzah. Now it's too late!" All of us were frightened by his anger and his doubt that we would make it, so we began to run. (57) But before we reached the shore, the washerwoman ran out of the courtyard with 4 five-pound packs of matzah in her hands and gave them out to the 4 Jewish families. Everyone was only partially happy to pick up the tiny gift and continued along with the escort, who yelled, "Forget about your matzah and go so that you won't miss the boat. I don't think you would be too pleased to have to wait a few more months on account of your matzah. So go as fast as you can!"

When we reached the shore, our escort ordered us to get into a small boat, and [43] he came with us.

The little boat was so small and its whistle was so loud that we all had to hold on to something so that we would not fall out from fear. I was scared to imagine the size of the large ship. I thought that when that [large] ship whistled, everyone would be thrown right from his spot. But I had no time to think. The little boat was soon next to a large, 4-story brick building where there were many people walking around, standing, and sitting. Here, we got out and gave our belongings over to [be placed on the] second, much larger ship. We looked into the large depot and sat down on chairs, waiting to be ordered to leave.

There was a crowd of people next to a door on one side of the room. A gendarme was standing there, and people were entering the room one by one as the gendarme called out the name of a ship. Among the different names, he called: "Polynesia."

Then we tried to push our way to the door and when we got to the [m.s. blurry], he ordered us to show [him] [44] our ship tickets. And when he saw them, he ordered us to go into a second room. There, a man exchanged our ship tickets for 5 single ones and ordered us to keep moving. Another man stamped them. A third man ripped something from the stamps and ordered us to go out a 2nd door that led onto a street.

When we got out onto the street, they ordered us to go to the ship. Before we went up the steps, another man ripped a piece off the stamps. And then, after the procedure with the tickets was finished, we entered the ship and sat down.

We were seated for a short time when a sailor entered and ordered us to go onto the deck. And his command was quickly followed. We all went onto the deck and stood on the deck for a short time while the ship remained steady. We saw the large, mighty structure that would take us across the mighty sea. Several sailors let down steps from the [45] large ship to the small boat. Everyone began to enter the ship. We held hands so as not to lose each other in the commotion and boarded the ship.

While I was walking, I didn't look around at the passengers who were in a state of wonder. I didn't look at the small children who were crying because their wishes were not being met--as usual. I didn't look at the sailors who were loading packages from that ship onto this one and putting everything in order. I didn't look around at the ship's crew who were pointing to where everything should go. In other words, I didn't look at a single thing because I was overwhelmed by everything we had heard and seen over the past few hours. Read this through a 2nd time from page 41 and keep in mind what has been written up to now. (58) Then you'll understand how overwhelmed I was when we boarded the ship, where we saw so many rushed scenes.

We went along with the large crowd of passengers that had been separated to various sides. [46] And when we approached one of the ships' crewmen, he asked my mother:

"Are you a family?"

With all the tumult, my mother could barely remember to answer "Yes." And the ship's crewman told us to go through the door marked "For Families."

We entered where he had told us to and we saw that passengers were picking [their beds] from among two-tiered berths, which were made of wood and painted white. We chose the top berths near the door, and we sat down and laid out our belongings.

The commotion and noise lasted a long time. Then, it became quieter and when it was completely calm, the ship set off on its long journey, risking so many lives and so much money. (59)

No one noticed when the ship set off. Suddenly we just heard the rotors banging. They had been stationary up to that point. It's no wonder that no one noticed the difference between the ship standing still and moving. The ship didn't move or rock, as the water was so still.

[47] It barely moved, just like [it was] in a well. The water was wonderfully calm then. It only rippled where the ship went through it. Such calm waters are seldom seen. (I cannot forget it even now). The water's calm appearance left its calm impression on us. And everyone wished that the entire trip on the ship would be this quiet. (Looking at the water, we all imagined that it was possible for the entire trip to be that way.)

A half hour after the ship had left, a soldier entered and called out:

"Get [your] utensils!"

Everyone gathered in the small room where the sailor was. Every person received a plate, mug, and spoon. Then, the sailor distributed white bread. Afterward, he brought four large pots of coffee and everyone ate the bread with the coffee. But all of the Jews ate the dried matzah.

After eating, everyone went out onto the deck and spent the rest of the day there until night fell. The entire time, everyone looked at the shore, parting from everything [48] except the water.

When night fell, all [the people] went to their rooms and lay down to sleep. And the tired passengers were soon all quietly sleeping without knowing what awaited them.

It was not yet 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning when all the passengers awoke. "l-he cause for this early wake-up was an unusual breeze that wafted in from the sea. It smelled of the ocean. It was an unusual wind, that had the taste of the sea. The ship rocked slowly, just like a cradle. The water rushed noisily, no quieter than in a mill. We lay quietly. We were afraid to speak up. For a while, we lay quietly while many others were already moaning and vomiting. But our silence did not help. We also began not to feel well, heads spinning, eyes delirious. A heavy mass lay in our chests and got stuck in our throats. And with a great effort, it lodged its way out of our mouths ... (60)

Weak and dejected after vomiting, I lay there like a log. And before I had time to look around, the same thing happened to me again. And I was tortured like that until the morning, when, with great effort, I [49] climbed down from the bed and went out onto the deck. I thought I would feel better if I walked around. But seeing the expansive green-white water that mightily rushed and threw itself around swallowing white foam made it even worse. I barely made it [back] to my bed. I threw myself into it and lay in terrible torment. And no one came to help us out of our situation.

At 7 o'clock in the morning, a sailor came in and distributed milk and porridge to the beybis (61) (small children). Then, he brought coffee and white bread. But because everyone was sick, no one ate breakfast.

After breakfast, a doctor came to us with the steward. The doctor went around and asked each person how he felt. Obviously, each person answered that he was sick. But [the doctor] didn't offer any medicine for seasickness. "You'll be just fine soon," he answered everyone. But he wrote down the names of the really sick people and sent them medicine and special food later on. When the doctor had finished making his rounds, [50] he and the steward chose one passenger for every 13 to 15 people to bring the food from the kitchen at every meal. The person chosen received a red card with which he could pick up the food.

A young German was chosen for our group of 13. This was already his 2nd trip to America, and he was traveling with his mother and sister, with whom we amused ourselves the entire time we were at sea.

The doctor and steward left without easing the situation of the suffering passengers. The [sea]sickness continued. Everyone lay in terrible agony. At 12 o'clock, a sailor entered and yelled out: "Lunch pick up!" All the porters went into the kitchen with large tin pails and bowls in which they brought out: soup, meat, potatoes and cabbage. But all that and more was thrown out because no one ate it.

We lay in the same position more or less the entire day. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a sailor [51] came in again and distributed milk to the children and black bread, and left.

At 6 o'clock, a sailor returned again and distributed porridge to the children. Afterwards, he ordered white bread and coffee to be brought, but that was also thrown out into the ocean. And a bit later, the order for "Supper Pick-Up" went out, and everything was thrown away once more. Except for water, no one [ate] anything while they were sick. We lived on water for 3 days.

The first day was over, but during it we had suffered greatly. Finally, night came, but not even it could bring us any relief. Only a few fell asleep, forgetting their pains for just a few hours. It grew quieter on the ship, sadder. The water knocked all the more hurriedly, slapping the ship frequently. Among those not sleeping, the [sea]sickness worsened. We also did not sleep and during the few minutes when we felt better, we thought:

"Why did we leave our friends!" [52] Was it to suffer such pains? (In such terrible moments, we completely forgot the reason why were on this journey.) Why are we so far from our friends? Why can't we relieve our pain with comforting words? Why is it all like this? And what's the point of such thoughts? Where are they and where are we? We're far from our dear friends, and, oh! With every minute, we're even farther from them. But we were ready to suffer such homesickness, and we had suffered through quite a bit, so we had to be patient and suffer through a little bit more.

These were the thoughts that rocked us to sleep over several hours. But the large waves caused the ship to bend in all directions. And the ship's rocking disturbed our sleep. Standing up, we felt a little better, like yesterday, and we went out onto the deck. Listening to the music that was being played, I looked around: The mighty ocean spread out far, very far. The water rushed powerfully and [53] hurled waves that turned into foam. The waves bent the ship in all directions. But everyone was happy that the sea--the sea that sometimes destroys the lives of 1000's of people along with their large sums of money--this sea, today, appeared in a quiet, charitable pose. (Those who were familiar with the sea's wonder said that the sea had been quiet the entire trip. But for us, even this looked terrible.)

The sky was covered with fresh, thick, dark clouds. Throughout our trip, gloomy black clouds trailed the ship. The sun seldom brought us joy with its delicate cheerful rays.

The sad and lonely look of the desolate space filled my chest with grief. To drive away my sadness, I went around to explore the ship. In the meantime, night fell and everyone went to sleep content that they had brushed off the [sea] sickness for one [more] day. (How could we have known then that we would be [54] sick for another 6 days?)

We made it through another 6 days of pain and suffering. We fasted all 6 days and only on the 4th (sic) day did we end our long, hard fast. We began to walk around again, exploring the whole ship. There was nothing else to look at besides the two firmaments, which we had seen the whole length of our journey-the sky and the water. They appeared now as they had appeared earlier. That's why we spent the whole day exploring the ship. (62)

On the 12th day of our sea voyage, everyone began to speak happily about our arrival in Boston. The captain gave us hope that we would be arriving shortly. After that, each day he postponed our arrival. During the final days, a very thick fog descended and the ship moved very slowly.

Everyone waited very impatiently for that moment when we would see land. Then, we would know for certain that we'd be arriving in 3 days. (This [55] was just a fantasy. But because we believed it, we were concerned that we had not seen even a tiny tree, which would have proven that we didn't have long to travel.)

The captain's assurance that we would surely arrive soon gave us the strength to wait for the joyous day: our arrival in Boston.

Finally, the day everyone had been waiting for arrived. The captain said that we would see land around n o'clock and we would be in Boston around 3 o'clock. The joyful news made everyone very happy. Although no one really believed [it] because we still did not see any land. But the steward, who wanted to show everyone that [the news] was true, ordered a great supper [to be prepared] to convince us that this was to be the last meal. And everyone really believed his conviction.

During the day, we gathered our belongings and organized everything. We finished preparing ourselves to leave the ship. But [our departure] was not up to us. There was nowhere to alight ... So at night, we lay down but it was hard for us [60] (63) to fall asleep. We wanted it to be day already, to see a field already, to see a forest, to see a fresh face, to see something--besides the sea and the sky! Oh, but how long, how long, had we not seen anything except those two things and not heard anything except for the thrashing of the waves and the knocking of the rotors. Oh how indescribably hard it was for us to wait for the next morning when, after such a long, painful time, we would finally see a world: fields, forests, fresh grass, trees in bloom, happy singing birds, fresh faces and at last our dear, beloved father. (64)

I must repeat that the greatest writer, I think, would not have been able to describe how terribly hard it was for us to wait for the morning, the joyous morning!

Happy at the prospect of the upcoming day, we pushed through the night and waited for the morning.

We washed quickly and put on fresh clothes and began to watch the clock to see how long it was until the happy hour of II. [61] It was 8 eight o'clock when the preparations for our upcoming disembarkation began. The first thing the sailors ordered was for those with belongings to go and retrieve them. Afterward, everyone gathered on the deck, where two of the ship's crew gave back the ship tickets. Everyone took the ship tickets and began to wait to see something. By then, it was not long until it o'clock.

Suddenly, 2 small trees sprouted up in front our eyes. Everyone ran out onto the deck with great joy in order to see the 2 trees better, as they were very far from us. They looked so special in the passengers' eyes. These two trees were just the beginning of what would bring us joy that day. When the trees were behind us, we couldn't see anything else. But in a half an hour, to our great joy, we saw several small steamers that were transporting a few men. The men greeted us from afar and went on their way.

[62] When the steamers were a bit of a distance away from us, there appeared an overgrown green field where a few large, beautiful houses stood covered by the shadow of thick trees. Chickens and hens walked around them along with other fowl.

The appearance of fresh grass and the young leaves on the trees and everything else we saw enlivened us. Out of sheer delight, no one dared say a word. Each person just looked around, as if afraid that everything would soon disappear and that nothing but the cruel rushing water and the cloudy sky would remain around us, as it had until now. But, thank God, it didn't disappear. Instead, there appeared even more beautiful scenery every minute. The water became quieter and calmer, the sky shone--clearer and bluer, and the sun looked down on us happily and cheerfully, as if it were congratulating us that we had finally crossed the desolate sea. And it was as if [the sun] were trying to convince us that it was not to blame [63] for not [having appeared] in the ocean sky to delight us. It was not to blame, for the sky had not been created for the sun to illumine. And if it had not been for this reason, [the sun] would have bestowed its gaze on us more often to bring us joy. We had, thankfully, forgiven the sun and thanked it for at least coming out to us now.

Dearest Uncle! I do not have in my hand a pen strong enough to describe how happy we were in those minutes when we saw the world once more. We felt as if we had been revived from the dead. And I don't know if I will ever be as happy again in my life as I was in those minutes. In my short life, I have had other joyful minutes. I have never heard of a person's joy, true joy, that wasn't mixed with a tinge of disrupted joy. And I think that only those who have been traveling for a long time in a desolate space and then see the world [again], only these people in those minutes can value that joy. That is my opinion.

It seems to me that I've come up with this observation about happiness [64] by myself. But, after reading several books whose authors are of the same opinion about happiness as I am, I thankfully agree with them.

I should describe everything else that we saw, but it's a waste of my time, boring, and impossible. It's better for me to continue telling the story without dwelling on the insignificant.

As the passengers walked around the deck, we suddenly saw a large, tall structure. Although no one knew what type of structure it was, we all agreed that it was the dock. And with curious, cheerful glances, we looked at the docks. And before the ship came to a halt, to our great joy, we saw our father and we screamed with happiness: "Oh, there's Father!" We told each other the long-awaited happy news.

Soon the ship came to a stop a few feet away from the docks, and my father, with slow steps and [65] and [sic] a broad (65) happy face came to the shore. But we couldn't embrace him yet and let him know the joy that was bursting out of our lips. We couldn't because it took a long time for a family to get off the boat. And because there were so many people, some of whom had pushed their way through, well we had to stay in our place, waiting until we were finally allowed to leave.

Finally, when there were fewer passengers on the ship, and [only] after many procedures, we got off the ship and our sole wish was finally granted.... (66)

Not waiting long, our father hired a carriage and we said good-bye to our [fellow] travelers. We left and went home.

On the way, we didn't see many wonderful things. (We thought that in coming to America, we would see wonder after wonder, as the Polotsk idlers like to tell, although they, themselves, haven't seen America). [66] But we observed the negroes (67) with wonder. (68) These are tar black people. Others have a shine of blackness. Their noses are short and wide [extending] to their ears. Their lips are unusually thick and can't cover the two rows of large, yellow teeth. And the longer we wondered, we saw that no one paid attention to the negroes and thought of them as ordinary people when, by us, people would pay money just to have one look at these strange creatures.

A half hour later, our carriage stopped by a yard where there were z rows of 4-storied houses. We entered number 4. After my father unlocked the only door in the hallway, we entered our new apartment.

My father immediately went to the groseri shtor (69) to buy something to eat. When he returned, we sat down together and ate, drank, and were happy.

Now that the description of our journey is nearly done, I have only your question left to answer, dear Uncle. How do you like America? I must ask your forgiveness before I say that it was very [67] impractical for you to have asked me the question. For when a person becomes acquainted with someone, he has no right to give his opinion of him until he gets to know him well. And if getting to know a single person takes a bit of time, who can speak of getting to know a country, which has so many millions of residents of different religions. This certainly [demands] lots of time and, the main thing, great understanding. So, I think that you were impractical to ask me my opinion of America. While I have been in America for so short a time, and the most skillful and smartest person cannot give an opinion of her (America), how can we speak of my opinion? Now that I have answered your question, I must turn to you with a small request that would be a great favor for me.

Uncle Shloyme also asked me to send him a description of our journey. (70) And I promised him that I would. But now I am going to skul. (71) I don't have the time to write to him specifically. I also don't have the patience any longer. Therefore you must both be satisfied by one [letter]. That is why I'm asking you, when you have finished reading through [the letter], to [68] send it to Uncle Shloyme. I will ask his forgiveness for not sending him his own [letter] and I hope that he will forgive me.

Stay healthy, dear family, as your niece and cousin, I wish you a joyous, happy year.

Mary Antin

Send to Shloyme right away. (72)


(1.) John F. Grabau was the brother of Antin's husband, Amadeus Grabau.

(2.) For an additional account of the text's inception, see Mary Antin, The Promised Land, ed. Werner Sollors, Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), 134.

(3.) Mary Antin, From Plotzk to Boston (Boston: W. B. Clarke & Co., 1899).

(4.) Antin's choice of words is interesting. In his foreword to From Plotzk to Boston (1899), the British author Israel Zangwill refers to the text as a "'human document' of considerable value." Antin similarly refers to the letter as a document several paragraphs later where she identifies it "as a family document." Israel Zangwill, "Foreword," in From Plotzk to Boston, by Mary Antin (Boston: W. B. Clarke & Co., 1899), 8.

(5.) Antin refers to the city as "Wilna," which would have been pronounced by Yiddish speakers such as Antin as "Vilna." Today, the city is known as Vilnius and is the capital of Lithuania. At the time of Antin's journey in 1894, the city was under Russian control.

(6.) According to the ship's manifest, Antin landed in America on May 9, 1894. For a record of her ship's landing, see "SS Polynesia (Ship Manifest)" (Boston, May 9, 1894), National Archive,

(7.) Antin does not include any salutations to her uncle or his family in From Plotzk to Boston.

(8.) Although Antin refers to the city as "Polotzk" in the "History of the Manuscript," I have chosen to transcribe the name of her hometown according to the transliteration standards of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which renders the name, "Polotsk." During Antin's youth, Polotsk was under the rule of the Russian empire. Today, the town is located in Belarus.

(9.) "[he Yiddish letter does not describe Antin's first impressions of Vilna, which occupy the first two pages of From Plotzk to Boston. In the English text, Antin describes the hustle and bustle at the train station, the confusing circumstances in which a porter is chosen, and Antin's first sighting of a large bookstore 07-19).

(10.) Fenye is Mary's older sister. She is referred to as "Fannie" in From Plotzk to Boston (19), In The Promised Land, she is also referred to as Fetchke (55).

(11.) Uncle Bed is called "Borris" in From Plotzk to Boston (19), He is called "Berl" in The Promised Land (55).

(12.) These are Antin's other siblings, whom she refers to here by their English names. Harry and Ida do not appear by name in From Plotzk to Boston, though Antin does indicate that she immigrated to America with two sisters and one brother (13).

(13.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin refers to these carriages as "droskies." However, in the Yiddish, she refers to them simply as "karetes [carriages]." For further discussion, please see the accompanying article.

(14.) The Yiddish syntax is cumbersome here.

(15.) This spelling reflects the Yiddish transliteration. The city is currently under Lithuanian rule and known as Virbalis. At the time of Antin's journey, the city was under Russian control.

(16.) This spelling reflects the transliteration of the Yiddish. Antin refers here to the city now known as Chernyshevskoye, which is now found in the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia. At the time of Antin's journey, the town was under German control and was known as Eydtkuhnen.

(17.) Literally: "Circling like flies."

(18.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin does not mention her siblings by name (22).

(19.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin spends a great deal of time explaining why her family had acquired and chosen to travel with official passports. We may assume that the explanation would not have been necessary for her uncle, who was familiar with tire logistics of their journey (22-23).

(20.) In English, upon seeing the German gendarmes, Antin reflects on the general fear of those like her "who were used to the tyranny of a Russian policeman, who practically ruled the ward or town under his friendly protections, and never hesitated to assert his rights as holder of unlimited authority over his little domain...." In other words, the presence of the German gendarme provides an opportunity for Antin to reflect on the terrible political circumstance of her youth, which are, by extension, contrasted to her current situation in America (24).

(21.) "Ibis sentence is hard to decipher in the Yiddish. An alternate would read: "Are you German Jews or Christians?" The Yiddish (or, here, Antin's Yiddish account of a German question) reads: "Zint ir iden daytshen oder kristen?" This question does not appear in From Plotzk to Boston, in which Antin simply reports that "the doctor asked many question about our health, and of what nationality we were" (25).

(22.) Antin explains in From Plotzk to Boston that this was a result of the cholera epidemic that had broken out in Russia at the time (22).

(23.) The city is now known as Kybarti and is located it, Lithuania. It was then under Russian rule.

(24.) A measurement close to two-thirds of a mile.

(25.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin's mother only approaches one person, and no mention is made of him being drunk (29).

(26.) There is no mention of this Christian woman in From Plotzk to Boston (29-30).

(27.) This second meeting with the fellow traveler does not appear in From Plotzk to Boston. Interestingly, in the English booklet, the Antins meet three Jewish travelers in the same predicament as they and introduce those three travelers to the Shidorsky brothers (30).

(28.) My emphasis.

(29.) In the English, the price is seventy-five kopecks. Also, the English describes Antin's observations of the city at length, such as her discovery of clothespins (30-31).

(30.) Antin clarifies, in From Plotzk to Boston, that they stayed in a small house in the garden (32).

(31.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin uses this time to reflect on how wonderful Shidorsky is and to label him a "a Jew, a true 'Son of Mercy'" (33),

(32.) Again, Harry does not appear in this role in From Plotzk to Boston.

(33.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin uses this as an opportunity to comment on the Shidorskys' heroism and altruistic generosity (34).

(34.) This section is very unclear, due to the fact that Antin seems to be reporting the German exchange in Yiddish. The numeral for the time is also blurry in the manuscript.

(35.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin spends several lines describing the bookshelves at length. She so longs to read the German books that she contents herself with at least counting them (35-36).

(36.) This does not appear in From Plotzk to Boston. Once again, Antin attempts to clean up her narrative and appeal to a genteel reading audience. For example, subsequent descriptions of her seasickness and vomiting episodes are also excised.

(37.) Antin refers here to the city of Bremen, Germany, then and now under German rule.

(38.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin effaces any mention of her sister and places herself on the receiving end of this present (38).

(39.) "Ibis concern for her uncle's feelings does not appear in From Plotzk to Boston. Instead, Antin compares the Polotsk to Berlin as the difference between "total darkness" and "the brilliancy of light" (41).

(40.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin presents a far more harrowing scene. She writes that "the confused passengers [obeyed] all orders like meek children, only questioning now and then what was going to be done with them." She writes that there are "strange looking people driving us about like dumb animals, helpless and unresisting" (42).

(41.) "Ibis may refer to the town Lubawa currently located in Poland. At the time of the letter, the town was under German control and known as Lobau.

(42.) In From Plotzk to Boston, the scene is somewhat comical. In the packed train car, Mary falls asleep only to be awoken by a man eating cheese, bits of which were falling on Antin's face (45).

(43.) This may refer to the New York-based ticket agent S. Kahan. He advertised that passengers could buy tickets o,1 any ship line from him, to and from to and from Hamburg, Bremen, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Lubawa, London, Liverpool, Glasgow and Capetown. See the advertisement, "S. Kahan," Forverts (New York, Nov. 12, 1908).

(44.) In From Plotzk to Boston, the ride becomes an opportunity for Antin to see the city and its modern technology. Specifically, she sees her first electric car, which she first describes as "something like a horse-car ... but without any horses" (47-48).

(45.) In From Plotzk to Boston, the man asks for fifteen marks (50). This would make more sense: three marks/person.

(46.) There is no mention of this exchange in From Plotzk to Boston. The woman, here identified as the "kristen [Christian woman]" is identified in From Plotzk to Boston as the woman "with a red cross on her arm" (50).

(47.) Once again, there is no mention of the bathroom in From Plotzk to Boston. More interestingly, there is no mention of a Yiddish sign. Rather, the search occurs in an unnamed location (51).

(48.) The manuscript has two pages numbered 36 and two pages numbered 37. I've distinguished between them as 36a and 36b, and 37a and 37b.

(49.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin explains that Dushka is an old friend from Polotsk (52). Presumably, such information would already be known by her uncle.

(50.) There is no mention of these Christian residents in From Plotzk to Boston (55).

(51.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin spends more time describing their daily routine. She also mentions the arrival of a young man who had already been to America and the excitement that ensured and the respect he garnered. She also tells of some of the fun several passengers, including herself, had at the expense of an ignorant girl who mistook a resident for a professor on account of his glasses (55-56).

(52.) The term rabiner, refers alternatively to a non-Orthodox or a German rabbi. There is no mention made of any rabbi--Orthodox or not--in From Plotzk to Boston (56-58).

(53.) The term refers to the leavened foodstuffs that ritually observant Jews do not consume on the Passover holiday.

(54.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin describes how a young man led the service, which itself was filled with giggling and bordered on the irreverent (59).

(55.) I am unable to decipher and translate this term, which may read gefordert or gepadert.

(56.) Antin does not use the language of Jewish holidays in From Plotzk to Boston to describe her joy and apprehension as she awaited her departure (60). The holiday, Simkhes Toyre, refers to the annual autumn celebration that marks the completion of the yearly Torah reading schedule.

(57.) In From Plotzk to Boston, the children are the ones who manage to make the group go to the ship at the expense of ritual observance (62).

(58.) This command does not appear in From Plotzk to Boston. However, it is interesting to read Antin's instructions to her uncle on how he should read the letter.

(59.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin takes a moment to introduce her relationship to the sea, which will feature prominently throughout the text. She writes of hearing the voice of nature. "It spoke to the ocean," she writes, "and said, 'I entrust to you this vessel. Take care of it, for it bears my children with it, from one strange shore to another more distant, where loving friends are waiting to embrace them after long partings. Be gentle with your charge'" (65).

(60.) In From Plotzk to Boston, no mention is made of Antin's vomiting.

(61.) Antin transliterates the English term into the Yiddish letter, and I have here rendered a transliteration of her own transliteration. She then translates the term into Yiddish in parenthesis.

(62.) In From Plotzk to Boston, Antin continues with multiple paragraphs describing her affinity for the water and her love of feeling as if she were alone, just with the water. She also, at this point, describes imagining herself as Robinson Crusoe (70-73).

(63.) The manuscript skips from page 55 to page 60. However, I believe this to be an error in numbering rather than the absence of several pages. The text flows directly from page 55 to page 60.

(64.) In From Plotzk to Boston, she directly names this word America. She also does not mention her father but speaks of the general excitement among passengers of the thought of seeing "friends we had not seen for years" (75)

(65.) The Yiddish is unclear.

(66.) From Plotzk to Boston ends with this description of the embrace (80).

(67.) The term used by Antin could be translated as either negroes or its more pejorative double. The difference is a function of the second letter of Antin's term, either a yud or an 'ayin. However, Antin frequently uses these letters interchangeably. Therefore, in spite of the fact that she uses a yud, which might suggest the racial slur, I am unable to say authoritatively which term she is using.

(68.) This entire description of African-Americans has been cut out of the English translation.

(69.) Again, Antin transliterates an English term, grocery store, but does not provide a translation in parenthesis as she did previously for the term babies.

(70.) Antin refers her to this same uncle as "Uncle Solomon" in The Promised Land (H9).

(71.) Antin transliterates the English term school, but does not provide a Yiddish translation in parenthesis as she did previously for the term babies.

(72.) This line, according to the handwriting, was not written by Antin. I surmise that it was written by Antin's uncle, who would have been following Antin's request to send the letter along to her uncle Shloyme/Solomon.
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Author:Yudkoff, Sunny
Publication:Studies in American Jewish Literature
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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