Thursday, 5 February 2015

A small taste of an immigrant’s welcome

The cataloguing of the cemetery and writing up of the website work is still ticking over. Every story that I have researched has given me yet another perspective; not only into historical events, but also into the way we treat each other and life in general.

I spent a fascinating morning recently with a friend, gathering information for a story about her father who is buried at the cemetery. It is now posted onto the website and you can read it here.

There are two things in this story that I’d like to talk about. The first is the way that non-English speaking immigrants were treated in the early 1900s. It could be that immigrants are still treated the same way today. I don't know. My friend said that her family was convinced that the immigration officers gave out a generic name for all Jewish immigrants if they couldn’t understand the Yiddish speakers. In their case, all the families were given the name Goldberg. I accept that this is not an act of cruelty, but it is a dehumanizing approach to people who are already displaced and escaping persecution.

My second point is the photograph. Do visit the web page and have a look at the two men. Don’t you just love those Victorian male bathing costumes? I think they’re fabulous!


22 comments:

  1. I wonder if Goldberg even sounded right, or if it truly was the only Jewish name the immigration officers knew.
    I know various branches of our family were spelled in different ways according to who registered the births. (It's a perfectly ordinary, English surname but there are variants.) If we had that much trouble I can only imagine what problems people whose first language wasn't English must have had.

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    1. Goldberg sounded nothing like their original name which was Chait! Spellings of names sounds as if it deserves a whole post of its own.

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    2. That really is awful then. As an almost typical WASP I've never been victimised for my race or colour and I find it hard to relate to how dreadful it must be. (I've been picked on for other things that I've discussed in my blog sometimes but that's individual - it's not a whole people.) I just can't imagine what it's like to live with that.

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  2. My father and his brother had different surnames. It never seemed to bother them, though.

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    1. Did they ever wonder why or was it just accepted that it was the immigration process, assuming it was that in your family's case?

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  3. My mother's maiden name was Goldberg but they always said that they weren't called Goldberg before they came to the UK, so maybe that's the answer.

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    1. That's interesting. I wonder how many more Goldbergs the officers created!

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  4. So many immigrants were not treated well. It's better in our area now, but we find many of our new immigrants in our schools choose "Canadian" first names despite our requests for them to keep their own.

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    1. A few decades ago a lot of Indian immigrants gave their children English versions of their names for school even though we, the teachers, said it wasn't necessary. I don't think that happens any more.

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  5. My internet connection is too wobbly to chase your links, but you know my views on being kind to each other!!

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  6. great photos and yes, it's a shame about immigrant name changes. That is brought home very clearly at the Ellis Island museum in NYC. Wow - lots of confusion and names were truncated, misspelled, changed, etc. Folks became a whole new family after processing. Interesting post and link

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    1. It certainly is an eye-opener that so many people know of similar experiences.

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  7. Having your name changed arbitarily must be shocking, but the Chaits seem to have flourished, so they weren't badly treated by England. Attitudes were different then, and isn't it odd that when they changed back they spelled it like a French name?

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    1. It all happened over 100 years ago but I wonder if they were affected by it at the time.

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  8. I think a lot of immigrants faced various degrees of discrimination, no matter what country they came from, or which country they entered. Many of the folks coming into Ellis Island were given incorrect names, but it was easier for the newcomers to accept the new names rather than make waves.

    Oh, and those bathing suits? At least, they're better than Speedos!

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    1. Immigrants can't risk making waves...even when wearing those bathing costumes! (Sorry, couldn't resist that!)

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  9. My family came to the British Isles in 1900. Luckily the surname was kept. It was however altered by themselves
    to be more Anglicised and also by the registrar of Aliens registration. Some of my extended family had their names altered as described by Rosalind but changed them back themselves at a future date. Sad to remember that the British government was the first to restrict immigration with The Aliens Act of 1905, mainly to restrict east European Jews-as worried the country would be "swamped"!!! Things do not change much.

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    1. My parents Anglicised their surname too. It was something done by a lot of people here after the war, especially if they were in business. Any Germanic sounding name was seen as 'bad for trade'.

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  10. I think that non English speaking immigrants are generally still treated the same way in the U.K. However, where I live which is very multi ethnic and diverse there is little discrimination. Lots of help is given by the local council and voluntary groups to help people to assimilate.and learn the language.A family member visited me a while ago and said. "Look at that" I said "what. It is just a group of teenagers having fun" She lives in a small village and had never seen a group of 4/5 people of different ethnicities having fun, holding hands etc. This shows how far our society has come. Petra.

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    1. I can well understand how your relative felt. Whenever I visit my daughter I'm very aware of the lack of ethnic diversity in her town as compared to Leicester.

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  11. I'm not sure what I think about it, I can see how upsetting it might be to have your name changed, but maybe some saw it as a a new beginning in a new land? I'm trying to be kind and look at it from both sides, it is heartbreaking when you can't communicate with someone. Whether that be language, or a health issue.

    Those swimsuits made me smile. :-)

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