Coming to America

August 10, 2018

Here's a little history as told to me by my mother and her sister Dorothy. You may hear other versions from other relatives, but this is the story as I remember it:

 

Rachel Klein came to America in 1901 when she was 16 years old to stay with her sister Jenny. Her intention was to remain in America, so in order to support herself, she bought a Singer sewing machine with hope of becoming a seamstress. However, she got word from her father, Harry, that her mother, Esther, was dying of cancer and she should come home as soon as possible. She took her bags and her new sewing machine and sailed back to Poland. The boat trip was too long and by the time Rachel arrived, her mother had already died. Although she wanted to return to America, her father convinced her to stay. She vowed that someday she would return. Eventually she met and married Joseph Welfeld, a young man from Tarnow. Together they would bring 8 children into the world. Rachel actually conceived 10 times. She lost 2 at childbirth and their son Isaac died when he was 3 years old due to a doctor's tragic error.

 

Soon after, Rachel persisted and finally convinced her husband to go ahead to America, remain there for five years, and then send for his family. In the mid-1920s, if an immigrant stayed in America for five years, he would become a citizen and would be allowed to send for his family. In 1927, Joseph reluctantly and tearfully left Poland and journeyed to New York, where he stayed with his friend Jacob Brandt and his family. Jacob, who was Joseph's friend back in Poland, owned and operated a kosher barbershop on Pitt Street in New York. In addition to cutting hair, he manufactured and sold the sulfur powder used to shave Orthodox men. Jacob helped Joseph set up a kosher barbershop in Williamsburg, where he remained until his death in 1947. Eventually, Joseph would learn how to make his own sulfur powder.

 

Meanwhile, in Poland, Rachel gave birth to Maxie. One day, before Passover, as a tradition, the Welfeld children were making matzos at a neighbor's home. Two neighbors on the block were fighting. The argument led to a fire that spread to all the homes on the block. Those homes, as well as the Welfelds' house, were burned to the ground. Now homeless, Rachel and her seven children were forced to move into a small apartment. In desperation, Rachel sought out one of the prominent rabbis for advice. She asked him how she should rebuild her life. The rabbi said, "A woman should not rebuild her life." She told the rabbi that she and her children must remain in Poland for five years before they would be allowed to join her husband in America. The rabbi predicted that she and her family would be in America in two years.

 

Back in America, the law was changed from five years to two years. Joseph received a document called "First Papers," which allowed him to send for his family two years later. On March 21, 1929, the Welfeld family received their visas in Warsaw. On May 17, 1929, Rachel, her seven children, and her Singer sewing machine set sail on the Estonia of the Baltic America Line and arrived in New York at 8-10 Bridge Street on May 27, 1929. Since Joseph was a citizen, the youngsters (Lillian, Dorothy, Jack, and Maxie) became automatic citizens as well. Rachel, Morris, Esther, and Minnie had to become citizens on their own.

 

Thanks to Rachel's persistence, the Welfeld family survived the horrible Holocaust. If not for her, we would not exist.

 

 

Share your "ancestory:" commonthreads@jewishphilanthropyct.org.

 

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