In the century spanning the years 1820 through 1924, an increasingly steady flow of Jews made their way to America, culminating in a massive surge of immigrants towards the beginning of the twentieth century. Impelled by economic hardship, persecution, and the great social and political upheavals of the nineteenth century--industrialization, overpopulation, and urbanization--millions of Europe's Jews left their towns and villages and embarked on the arduous journey to the "Golden Land" of America.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, Jewish immigrants came mostly, though not exclusively, from Central Europe. In addition to settling in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, groups of German-speaking Jews made their way to Cincinnati, Albany, Cleveland, Louisville, Minneapolis, St. Louis, New Orleans, San Francisco, and dozens of small towns across the United States. During this period there was an almost hundred-fold increase in America's Jewish population from some 3,000 in 1820 to as many as 300,000 in 1880.
Between 1881 and 1924, the migration shifted from Central Europe eastward, with over two-and- one-half million East European Jews propelled from their native lands by persecution and the lack of economic opportunity. Most of those who arrived as part of this huge influx settled in cities where they clustered in districts close to downtowns, joined the working class, spoke Yiddish, and built strong networks of cultural, spiritual, voluntary, and social organizations. This period of immigration came to an end with the passage of restrictive laws in 1921 and 1924. Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe to the United States never again reached the levels that it did before 1920.
Prayer Book for Travelers to America
This miniature daily prayer book was printed in Germany in 1842, "especially for travelers by sea to the nation of America." It is the first of three editions of this tiny prayer book published between 1840 and 1860--a period when Jews from German lands immigrated to this country in the tens-of-thousands. Between 1840 and 1860 the Jewish population of this country ballooned from 15,000 to 150,000. Political unrest and economic hardship were primary motivating factors for this migration.
"Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor…"
Emma Lazarus, who had worked with East European immigrants through her association with the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society, composed "The New Colossus" in 1883 as part of a fundraising campaign for erecting the Statue of Liberty. In 1903, a tablet with her words--"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"--was affixed to the statue's base. These words remain the quintessential expression of America's vision of itself as a haven for those denied freedom and opportunity in their native lands. Shown here is a copy of the sonnet in the author's own hand.
Deed to the Statue of Liberty
This deed, dated July 4, 1884, marks the presentation of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi's colossal statue, "Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World" to the people of the United States from the "people of the Republic of France . . . attesting to their abiding friendship." In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was erected on its pedestal at Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor. At the inauguration ceremony on October 28, President Grover Cleveland accepted the statue on behalf of the American people, promising, "we will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected."
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Deed of Gift for the Statue of Liberty. Document with watercolor, July 4, 1884. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (44)
Invitation to the inauguration of the Statue of Liberty by the President (Grover Cleveland), Oct 28, 1886. Printed invitation engraved with gold seal and lithograph of statue. William Maxwell Evarts Papers. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (45)
Long Live the Land of the Free
Patriotic songs in Yiddish expressing the immigrants' love for America and loyalty to the "Land of the Free," were popular among the new arrivals. This song opens with: "To express loyalty with every/fibre of one's being, to/this Land of Freedom, is the/sacred duty of every Jew." Featured on the cover of "Leben zol Amerika"[Long Live America] are three favored icons of American Jewish immigrant sensibility: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the Statue of Liberty.
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Solomon Smulewitz (1868-1943) and J.M. Rumshisky (1879-1956). "Zei gebensht Du Freie Land" [Long Live the Land of the Free]. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1911. Sheet music cover. Music Division, Library of Congress (50)
Leo Rosenberg (1879-1963) and M. Rubinstein. "Leben Zol Amerika" [Long Live America]. New York: A. Tores, n.d. Sheet music cover. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (51)
Irving Berlin's Miss Liberty
Set in 1885, Irving Berlin's Broadway musical Miss Liberty centers on the dedication ceremonies of the Statue of Liberty and the hero's search for the model that posed for Bertholdi's statue. Berlin, himself an immigrant from Russia, set music to Emma Lazarus's iconic poem, "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor." It is the only song in the Irving Berlin canon for which he used someone else's words.
Next Year in America!
Under the Imperial Russian coat of arms, traditionally dressed Russian Jews, packs in hand, line Europe's shore as they gaze across the ocean. Waiting for them under an American eagle holding a banner with the legend "Shelter me in the shadow of your wings" (Psalms 17:8), are their Americanized relatives, whose outstretched arms simultaneously beckon and welcome them to their new home.
Food Will Win the War!
This World War I poster, published by the United States Food Administration, appeals in Yiddish to the patriotic spirit and gratitude of the new arrivals to America. Its message reads, "Food Will Win the War! You came here seeking freedom, now you must help to preserve it. We must provide the Allies with wheat. Let Nothing Go To Waste!" Versions of this poster were issued in English and Italian as well.
Lady America Opens the Gates
On this journal cover, published by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Lady Liberty, wearing a cap bearing the legend "America" in Yiddish, holds a key in one hand and opens a gate to waiting immigrants with the other. Two verses from the Hebrew scriptures flank the open gate. On the right, the verse reads: "Open the gates of righteousness for me" (Psalms 118:19) and on the left, "Open the gates and let a righteous nation enter" (Isaiah 26:2).
Boston's Jewish Quarter
This drawing by William Allen Rogers depicts the shops, street peddlers, and bustling street life of Boston's Jewish quarter at the turn of the twentieth century. The drawing illustrated an article by Sylvester Baxter entitled "Boston at Century's End," which appeared in Harper's Magazine.
Waiting for the “Forwards”
This photograph of newsboys Waiting for the "Forwards," was taken by Lewis Hine at 1:15 a.m. on the steps of the building where the Jewish daily the Forward was produced on New York's Lower East Side. According to Hine, the group included a number of boys as young as ten years-old. The newsboy in the first row is holding copies of Wahrheit [Truth], a Yiddish daily newspaper that stressed Jewish national aspirations.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire
Jewish women made up the majority of workers in the garment industry, especially in the dress and shirtwaist trade. Poor working conditions, low wages, and frequent layoffs propelled many into the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union. On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York's Greenwich Village. Many were trapped inside because the escape exits had been locked to keep the girls in and the union organizers out. The fire was one of New York's worst industrial accidents and was covered by newspapers across the nation, including the Oklahoma State Capital, which is displayed here.
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“148 Perished in Fire,” Oklahoma State Capital (March 26, 1911). Newspaper front page. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress (61)
The Fire Victims
Yiddish American popular song was rooted in Eastern European Jewish minstrelsy, which had long addressed current social, economic, and political themes. "Die Fire Korbunes" [The Fire Victims] is an elegy to the 146 victims, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women, who perished in the March 25, 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory, a New York City garment sweatshop
The Triangle Waist Company
A salivating demonic figure, labeled the Triangle Waist Company, draws a long line of women into his factory. There they are consumed by the fire's raging inferno and drift upward towards heaven in the smoky aftermath of the fire. Public sympathy and outrage over the tragedy led to the establishment of a Factory Investigating Commission that was instrumental in drafting new legislation that mandated improved working conditions.
New York's Lower East Side
Shown here is a street scene from New York's Lower East Side, which was the center of Jewish immigrant life in the early twentieth century. Congested and bursting with activity and commerce, the crowded streets of the Lower East Side accommodated both a bustling pushcart trade as well as various retail occupations, such as kosher butcher shops, bakeries, and restaurants, which catered to Jewish tastes. The artist, Albert Potter, was born in Russia and grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, where he attended the Rhode Island School of Design.
A variety of publications were issued to help Americanize the new immigrants. Bi-lingual Yiddish-English versions of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were published for the new Americans, as were phrase books in Yiddish, English, and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish)--all intended to help the immigrants function in their new environment. Alexander Harkavy's English-Yiddish letter writing guides were especially popular, selling thousands of copies in multiple editions. Shown here is Harkavy's American Letter Writer, opened to a sample letter "From a Lady to a Gentleman, Complaining of Faithlossness (sic)."
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Konstitushon fun di Fereynigte Shtaten und Deklereyshon of Indipendens [Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence]. New York: Sarasohn and Son, Pub., 1892. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (72)
Hirsh Vand (b.1847). Der Englisher Tolmatsh. Warsaw: Gebruder Shuldberg, 1891. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (73)
Alexander Harkavy (1863-1939). Harkavy's Amerikanisher Briefenshteler [Harkavy's American Letter Writer]. New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1902. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (74)
Moise S.Gadol (1874-1941). Libro de Embezar, The Book to Learn How to Speak, Read and Write from Spanish-Jewish Language in English and Yiddish. New York: 1937. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (75A)
Many Peoples, One Language
These posters announce two initiatives, separated by about two decades but both drawing on a multi-generational approach to teach immigrants the English language. The 1917 poster to the left includes a call to "Invite your parents, brothers and sisters to attend free public school evenings," to encourage the immigrant parents of children in public schools to attend night classes and learn English. The WPA Adult Education program of the 1930s and 40s teamed with New York City's Board of Education to sponsor free English classes to help parents "learn to speak, read, and write the language of your children." In addition, naturalization classes and "special classes for educated foreign born" are advertised on this Yiddish and English poster.
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J.H. Donahey (1875-1949) Cleveland, Many Peoples, One language ["Invite your parents, brothers and sisters to attend free public evening schools"]. Color poster 1917. Courtesy of the HUC Skirball Cultural Center Museum Collection, Los Angeles (77)
Free classes in English!: Learn to Speak, Read & Write the Language of our Children. New York City: Federal Art Project, 1936-1941. Silkscreen poster. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (84)
A Boychik Up-to-date
The subject of this sheet music's title page is a garishly dressed boychick, or dandy, who has become so Americanized that his Jewishness is not outwardly apparent. The song is critical of this boychik and, through him, the American milieu that created him.
A Russian Jewish Colony in Cotopaxi, Colorado
In his report to the board of the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society, which sponsored the colonization activities of a small group of Russian Jewish settlers in Cotopaxi, Colorado, Julius Schwarz wrote: "It is with much satisfaction and justifiable pride that I pronounce the agricultural colony of the Rocky Mountains a full and complete success and the question whether Jews are fit to be farmers, solved and answered in the affirmative."
A Wimpel from Colorado
Beginning in southern Germany in the seventeenth century, the custom developed of transforming the linen swaddling cloth used to wrap the eight-day-old baby boy at his circumcision ceremony into a Torah binder. Called a "wimpel," from the German word for binding, the cloth was cut into strips and sewn together to form a long band which was embroidered or painted, usually by the mother or grandmother, with the child's name, birthdate, and the prayer recited at the circumcision ceremony that the child be blessed to grow to study the Torah, to be married, and to do good deeds. The folk art tradition made its way west with German immigrants in the second half of the nineteenth century as seen in this example from Trinidad, Colorado.
A Little Letter to Father
Pictured on this sheet music cover are two scenes: a father and son parting in the Old World, and the same pair meeting at Ellis Island. Solomon Smulewitz's lyrics recount a familiar tale of woe: "Mother has died in loneliness and poverty. Write a letter to father and send money for him to come to America. Alas, father is too ill to be admitted here. He is permitted to see his son at the gate of Ellis Island, and then will be sent back to Europe."
What Every Woman Should Know about Citizenship
The Immigration Assistance Section of the National Council of Jewish Women issued this citizenship guide for women in both English and Yiddish. Founded in 1893, the Council focused on helping unmarried women immigrants learn English, secure citizenship, and find employment.
First Yiddish American Cookbook
Written in Yiddish, the language understood by the majority of newly arriving Jewish immigrants, this cookbook served as an introduction to American as well as traditional Jewish cuisine. The recipes, which are based on Hinde Amchanitzki's forty-five years of experience in European and American kitchens, include traditional Jewish dishes as well as American fare. In her introduction, the author promises that using her recipes will prevent stomach aches and other food-related maladies in children. This first American Yiddish cookbook pictures the author on the cover. Displayed on the accompanying page are recipes in Yiddish for two desserts, "Snowballs" and "Rhubarb Pie."
Awake and Sing!
The Federal Theater Project produced a Yiddish language version of Clifford Odets's groundbreaking depiction of a Jewish family living in the Bronx during the Depression years. Burdened with financial difficulties, the family struggles to survive. In the play's climax, the socialist grandfather delivers the central message of the play, calling his family to action and urging them to "Go out and fight so life shouldn't be printed on dollar bills." The title is from Isaiah (26:19): "Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust."
Europe Stopped with Him
In Patrimony, A True Story, Philip Roth's award-winning memoir of his father's last years, Roth summed up his father's life's work--as well as the work of a whole generation of Jews--in the following moving passage: "I drive him around or I sit with him or I eat with him and I am thinking that the real work, the invisible, huge job that he did all his life, that his whole generation of Jews did, was making themselves American. Europe stopped with him." Displayed here are two pages from a typed draft of the manuscript, with emendations in the author's hand.
Houdini: from Budapest to Appleton
The great magician and escape artist, Harry Houdini (originally Eric Weiss), was born in Budapest, Hungary, and was taken to the U. S. when his father became the religious leader of a Jewish congregation in Appleton, Wisconsin. Displayed here is the inside cover of a Bible belonging to his father, Rabbi Samuel Weiss. The two photographs displayed here show Houdini with his "two sweethearts,"--wife Beatrice and mother Cecilia Steiner Weiss--and, in the other, planting a kiss on his mother's cheek.
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Fly-leaf and First Page of the Bible of Rabbi Samuel Weiss (1829-1892), father of Harry Houdini (1874-1926) Die Bible oder Die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments. New York: Amerikanische Bibel-Gesellschaft, 1892. McManus-Young Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (96)
Harry Houdini (1874-1926). Passport application, no.13451, July 25, 1913. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (95)
"My Two Sweethearts" [Houdini with his wife and mother] Gelatin silver print, ca. 1907 McManus-Young Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (97A)
Harry Houdini with his mother Cecilia Steiner Weiss (d. 1913), Rochester, New York Gelatin silver print, ca. 1907. McManus-Young Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (97)
Albert Einstein: from Berlin to Princeton
In 1933, after Adolf Hitler came to power, Albert Einstein renounced his German citizenship and immigrated to the United States, where he accepted an appointment as Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton. In 1936, he completed a "Declaration of Intention" form to become an American citizen, and, in 1940, he received his certificate of American citizenship from federal Judge Phillip Forman in a ceremony held in Trenton, New Jersey.
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Robert Kastor. Albert Einstein, January 21, 1922. Pen and ink on paper. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (98)
Al Aumuller. America Gains a Famous Citizen (Albert Einstein), October 1, 1940. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (100)
Albert Einstein (1879-1955). “Declaration of Intention” to become a U.S. citizen, January 15, 1936. Typescript document and passport photograph. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration Northeast Region, New York (99)
Einstein's Theory of Relativity
Displayed here is the first page of a holograph copy of "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Korper," which Einstein described as his first paper concerning the theory of relativity. He had discarded the original manuscript after it had been published in Annalen der Physic in 1905. In November 1943, Einstein rewrote this paper so that it might be presented to the Library of Congress to help promote the sale of U.S. War Bonds.
Hannah Arendt: from Berlin to Paris to New York
Author, educator, and political philosopher Hannah Arendt was born into a German Jewish family in Königsberg, now Russian "Kaliningrad." After being arrested in 1933, Arendt fled her homeland, moving from Prague to Geneva then to Paris, and finally to the United States in 1941. In 1946, she wrote that she understood that "the infinitely complex red-tape existence of stateless persons" inhibits freedom of movement. This denial of the right of citizenship led Arendt on an exploration of the origins of totalitarianism that would dominate her intellectual life.
In 1949 Arendt used this well-worn affidavit of identity "in lieu of a passport, which I, a stateless person, cannot obtain at present." Also seen here is Arendt's draft of the introduction to the third edition of Origins Of Totalitarianism, her most famous book.
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Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). Affidavit of Identity in Lieu of Passport, January 18, 1949. Page 2 Typescript with stamps, emendations, and photo. Hannah Arendt Papers. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (103)
Hannah Arendt. “Introduction to the Third Edition” [Corrected draft of The Origins of Totalitarianism], 1966. Typescript with author's alterations. Hannah Arendt Papers. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (104)