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Essay, Life in the Good Old USA by Henry Schuster, no date



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Life In The Good Old USA By Henry Schuster The first years in the country of milk and honey were not sweet for many of us. This is not my story alone, many immigrant children experienced similar unpleasant times. As a fifteen year old I arrived in New York in 1941 with a children's transport of approximately 100. Since 1939 until May of 1941 we lived in France in refugee children homes in various cities. We were all like a large family and felt that we were all siblings. The hard times of war and hunger were bearable as we had each other. Passing the Statue of Liberty early in the morning was one of the most exciting experiences we had. We all knew the story of the Statue. Upon debarking from the Portugese freighter on Staten Island we were bussed to an orphanage on 137th Street in the city. We all thought that this was to be our home until we all became adults. It was not to be. The organization that rescued us from France decided it would be best for all of us to be placed all over the United States with relatives, distant relatives, foster homes, or orphanages. I had close relatives living in New York and Illinois. My father's brother lived in Bloomington, Illinois and wanted me to come to live with him. This would have been wonderful as I felt my Uncle Moritz was my surrogate father. He so acted after my father died in 1935. I loved him as I'm sure he felt the same towards me. As he had only been in the U.S. for two years, the organization in New York felt that it would be better to live with an American family. Our transport was disbanded almost immediately. I was the last to leave. Through some research, the authorities that sponsored us discovered that a distant relative of mine lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. They had their roots in the United States since 1859. None of them spoke my native language nor did I speak any English. By coincidence the lady of the house was visiting New York from Shreveport. She came to the orphanage to look me over. Prior to my face to face meeting with her I was tutored in my first English words. "Nice to meet you." It so happened that the woman I called Aunt Perle's daughter and son-in-law were on their honeymoon in New York driving their new 1940 Chevrolet convertible. The four of us left New York the following day for Shreveport. This was luxury beyond my belief, but also I had an empty feeling to leave my so called siblings. I had no idea what the future might bring. As I was brought up in an orthodox family and children's homes I had no idea what the various meat dishes were. I did know that we never mixed dairy with meat. To my dismay I was fed funny looking meats and dairy at the same time. I knew this was wrong. To please my host I ate the dairy food and left the rest on my plate. As I din't understand the gibberish conversation between them I felt guilty for my actions. The trip to Shreveport was pleasant, but I had an anxiety about what was come. As soon as the Newlyweds left Shreveport, I had the feeling that I was not wanted. The family consisted of Uncle Sam(actually my father's cousin)was a self made man. He was Chairman of the Board of a multi million dollar corporation. He was a decent man and was good to me. He felt a certain affinity towards me as his father, my grandfather's brother was born in the town of my birth. Sam was born in 1873 in Kentucky. When I came to live with the family, he was 68 years old. The others in the family were Aunt Perle, Julius a 23 year old with Downs Syndrome, and his live-in nurse Sue. For some reason unknown to me her actions towards me were belligerent as she felt threatened by me. I want to say here, after three months there, Sue became my friend. For some reason Julius called me a Nazi even though he had no idea what a Nazi was. Perle's attitude towards me changed drastically. She didn't like me and let me know it in no uncertain terms. By now I spoke and understood English to some degree. Her remark to me at the dinner table was not to sit near her, that I smelled. Maybe I did, as I was not yet used to the American custom of showering every day. As summer was coming to a close they had to decide what to do with me. Perle wanted me to become an apprentice to some tradesman. She felt that I didn't need an education. The principal of the local high school heard about me and called to invite me to attend his school. At the urging of several relatives, Perle agreed to have me attend high school. I did well, in fact I graduated in three years. During my three years living with them, I tried to avoid Perle as much as I could, as her resentment against me increased, many unpleasant episodes between us occurred quite often. Upon my eighteenth birthday, I registered for the draft, and shortly thereafter I was inducted into the Army Air Corp. After I was discharged from the military in 19461 visited Shreveport to express my gratitude to Sam and yes to Perle for having me in their home. Many years later Anita and I visited Perle and she apologized to me for her attitude towards me. After many years when I found several of my former siblings, I became aware of other stories similar to mine. Many had even a harder beginning in the U.S. than I did. Several of the girls living with either relatives or foster parents became maids for their host families. Several boys were treated like house boys. Others were not allowed to go to school and had to work to pay for their room and board to their foster parents. One of my friends was reunited with his mother and her new husband. He and his step-father did not get along. After the mother's unexpected early death the step-father made life very difficult for him. As the situation became intolerable, he left and cared for himself at age sixteen. Another case was when two brothers had not seen their parents since they were very young. Miraculously both parents survived separate concentration camps and were reunited in Germany after the war. They then had two other children. One of the older boys who came with me to the U.S. couldn't cope with this and went into a deep depression from which he never fully recovered. Most of us became adults, got married and had children and grandchildren and are proud of our achievements. All of us are grateful to have had the opportunity to come to the United States and become good citizens of our great country.