All four of my grandparents emigrated from Poland in the 1880’s.
How does a family decide to leave their homeland? Extended family has probably lived in the same area for generations. Parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts are close enough to visit easily. Their support system is well established and reliable.
Why abandon this seemingly comfortable way of life to endure the indignities of weeks at sea in steerage, and the unknowns of a new home in a strange land?
The answer seems simple in some cases such as the Irish potato famine. It was a matter of survival.
Why did my Polish ancestors come to the US? It’s not surprising that the answer has to do with politics and power. Heads of government who sought to expand their realms and control the populace.
In the 19th century, my families were in Prussian Poland where the government was imposing strict Germanification on its provinces that were once Poland. The Polish language was forbidden. All civic offices and school classes were conducted in the German language. It was forbidden to teach the Polish language even as a foreign language. German emigres to former Polish lands were given priority for jobs and land purchases. Poles were relegated to second-class citizens.
Although Poland did not exist on a map in the 19th century, Poles still considered themselves to be Polish and chafed under Prussian rule.
I would love to know the family conversations that led to the decision to emigrate. It must have been difficult.
I am grateful that they made those decisions. I was born in 1942 in the USA. I cannot imagine being born in 1942 in Poland.
A most heartfelt thank you to my great grandparents who took the risk to come to a new country. Words cannot express my gratitude.