Published in the Journal of the American Historical Society of Germans From Russia,
Vol. 12, No. 1 – Spring 1989, pp. 19-26
Posted with permission of the AHSGR and of the author, April 3, 1996
Revised April 14, 1996
Translated into German and published as “Deutschböhmische Pioniere in den Städten Amerikas,” in Bori, Karlsberg und andere deutchböhmische Siedlungen in der Bukowina, ed. by Rudolf Wagner (Munich, 1982), pp. 41-59; reprinted in Der Südostdeutsche (Munich), Apr. 15, 1982, pp. 3, 7 and May 15, 1982, pp. 3,5.
The New World has acted as a magnet, attracting Europeans since the time of its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. People abandoned the Old World for many reasons, among them to escape religious and political oppression, to seek adventure, and most importantly, to improve their economic status. Until the mid-nineteenth century the British Isles, the German states, and Scandinavia provided the majority of America’s newcomers. But with the political and economic upheavals in southern and eastern Europe in the last decades of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the focus of immigration shifted to Italy, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, with 2,145,266 coming between 1901 and 1910 from the latter country alone.
Impoverished, unskilled, and functionally illiterate, most of these so-called New Immigrants arrived after the closing of the frontier in 1890, that is, after the free land available under the Homestead Act had already been settled. Too poor to buy land, they congregated in America’s cities, creating ethnic ghettos the existence of which gave established Americans the impression that these last newcomers were truly inassimilable and should be barred from entry into the country. Subjected to bigotry, discrimination, and economic exploitation, it has been estimated that a full third of the New Immigrants eventually returned to their homeland.
Among this latter group we find the first Bukovina Germans, whose total number — included in the overall statistics for Austria-Hungary — cannot be determined with any degree of accuracy. This essay attempts to describe the three waves of emigration from Bukovina, the conditions they encountered, and their response to their new environment. The author, the daughter of Bukovina Germans who came to America in 1923, has had first-hand acquaintance with several hundred Landsleute (compatriots) and their descendants over the past five decades. With few exceptions this narrative is limited to the men and women from the villages of Bori, Gurahumora, and Paltinossa — people within the author’s range of contact — and in no way claims to be an exhaustive or definitive study of the subject.
Bukovina-German immigration can be divided into three periods: 1860-1914, 1920-1924, and 1947-1957, coinciding with historic events of global significance. During the first period, immigration to the United States was unrestricted except to those of Chinese ancestry and those deemed criminals, derelicts, and prostitutes, who had been excluded by congressional legislation as early as 1882. All others who could afford the passage could freely enter the country where, indeed, they were welcomed as a source of cheap labor. In New York Harbor newcomers passed the world-famous Statue of Liberty which offered its own special welcome in the form of an inscription on its base:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me;
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
After a superficial medical examination at Ellis Island, the immigrants were set ashore on the streets of New York to fend for themselves. But once inside the golden door, difficult conditions awaited them, especially if they had no friends or relatives to receive them. After leaving Ellis Island they wandered through the streets of New York hoping to find someone who could speak their language, and more often than not, they spent their first few nights sleeping out-of-doors. Sometimes potential employers met ships at the docks and offered the immigrants jobs and temporary shelter.
We find anywhere from one to seven or eight members of the following families arriving from southern Bukovina before the First World War: Belina, Boca, Brandl, Braun, Croiter, Czicek, Davidowitsch, Ducke, Dunika, Erbert, Fuchs, Gall, Haas, Habatsch, Hartl, Hellinger, Hilgarth, Hoffmann, Horn, Joachimsthaler, Kisslinger, Klostermann, Kraus, Kuczyncki, Lakota, Lang, Lohmer, Loy, Marczan, Moritz, Neumayer, Nowecki, Pelczar, Reichhardt, Sawilia, Schaffhauser, Schindelar, Schmidt, Seidl, Spitzschuhe, Stranacher, Sturza, Swoboda, Vollmuth, Wamsiedler, Winzinger, Wlodkowski, Zigelli, and Zimmermann. Drawn to America by economic need, most were either unmarried men and women in their late teens or early twenties or married men who had left their families behind until they became established. Aside from their inability to speak English, their job skills found little application in the urban economies of New York, Detroit, or Chicago. Coming from an agrarian, pre-capitalistic society, most had been farmers with a side profession such as forestry, blacksmithing, shoemaking, barrel binding, or carpentry. Bukovina’s women were even less prepared vocationally than its men. With none but domestic skills, they took employment as housekeepers, seamstresses, cooks, waitresses, or factory workers, sharing the lowest ranks of the American labor market with thousands of other immigrants of their generation. They were poor, but they did not know it. Josefa Braun of Gurahumora, now ninety-two years of age, recalled that in 1912 she earned three dollars per week, of which one dollar went for rent, the second for food, and the third she spent as she saw fit, for which she considered herself the most fortunate of women. Josefa Kraus, writing to her mother shortly after her arrival and working as a counter girl in her brother-in-law’s bakery commented, “Mother, you can’t believe how good things are here. In Paltinossa we had Krapfen (doughnuts) only twice a year; here I can eat them every day.”
Before the First World War, no social services for the sick or the indigent existed. If one wanted to eat, one had to work. America’s laissez-faire philosophy held that poverty was an evil of one’s own making, so one had best see to one’s own needs. But work was nothing new to the Bukovina Germans, most of whom willingly accepted any available employment, often with German-speaking entrepreneurs who had arrived earlier and were already established. They had to learn new trades and crafts, with some becoming bakers, stone masons, machinists, seamen, butchers, and tailors. Twelve hours per day, six or seven days per week, at $12 per week were typical working conditions at the turn of the century. At this time beef sold for 10 cents a pound, chicken for 7 cents a pound, sausage for 12 1/2 cents a pound. One could get bread for 2 cents a pound and a quart of milk for 5 cents, a pair of children’s shoes for 50 cents and adult shoes for twice that amount.
About one-fourth of one’s monthly income had to be set aside for housing. For $4 per week one might rent two small rooms. In some cases four to five families had to share a common toilet and sink in the hall of the building. As relatives joined family members already here, they moved in with them, adding to further overcrowding. Landsleute usually congregated in similar sections of the city, sometimes in the same building, sharing their rooms with newcomers as needed.
Saving a little from their salaries, many sent money to their relatives in Bukovina, awaiting the time when they had sufficient funds to return to their homeland to buy that extra acreage. The influx of money back home served as a motivation for others to immigrate to America. In addition, letters — typical of travel literature throughout the ages — often exaggerated the conveniences and glamorized the lifestyle, so some who came in response to rags-to-riches stories faced considerable disappointment. The author is reminded of Stefanie C. who arrived in America as a young woman of seventeen years. Shortly after disembarking in New York, she asked her relatives for a rake. When asked why she thought she needed a rake in the city, she answered candidly, “Why to rake up the dollars from the street.” Instead of a rake she settled for a mop and worked for the next forty years as a cleaning woman in a large insurance company.
While economic conditions gradually improved, social adjustments still remained difficult. Coming from small villages in which everyone knew and cared for one another, where a high degree of intermarriage and familiar interrelationship existed, and where people readily became involved in other people’s business, the immigrants now found themselves in an impersonal city where one could live for years without speaking to or even knowing the names of one’s neighbors. Some returned to Bukovina either to escape exploitative labor conditions in a cheerless city or because they had saved enough money, or simply because of homesickness. Rosina Kisslinger departed the United States on three different occasions, each time disposing of all her possessions and intending to stay in Gurahumora. But it was not the same as she had remembered it. Used to urban conveniences, she would strike a match and walk to the stove, looking for the gas jet, and then realize that before making a fire, she first had to go outdoors to chop wood. Another time she took a drinking glass and started looking around for a faucet, forgetting that water had to be drawn from the neighbor’s well. These people became true displaced persons, no longer comfortable in their native villages and not at home in the New World.
The American immigrant experience proved to be a sobering one in other ways as well, Those whose families had been more affluent in Bukovina or who had attended Volkschule (elementary school) for an extra year or two initially thought of themselves as a bit superior to their less fortunate Landsleute. But what one’s family owned in the old country did one little good in America. All started on a reasonably equal basis and moved ahead by their wits and by the sweat of their brow. Moreover, the American social structure, considerably freer and less rigid than that of Europe, provided daily lessons in equality. When a young immigrant from Bori saw a Catholic priest kicking a football around with some boys on the street and later recognized his daughter’s fourth-grade teacher working with a pick and shovel on a highway construction job during his summer vacation, he experienced a culture shock which remained with him all his life.
Another area of adjustment concerned religious life. Some New York churches, including Most Holy Redeemer at 131 East Third Street and St. Nicholas Church at Second Street and Avenue A, under the care of the beloved Father John Nageleisen, offered religious services in German until the late 1920s. But the American Catholic Church, dominated by an entrenched Irish hierarchy, by and large seemed insensitive to the needs of the immigrants and often seemed overly concerned with financial issues. In Bukovina the state subsidized the clergy whereas in the United States a constitutional separation of church and state forced the former to be entirely self-supporting. Johann W. of Gurahumora learned this on his very first Sunday in New York when he was turned away from the church door for lack of a 10-cent admissions charge. The commercialization of Christmas and Easter, the de-emphasis on processions and on devotion to the Blessed Mother, and the non-observance of saints’ days and of fasting changed at least the external aspects of the religion which traditionally had given the Bukovina Germans spiritual strength. Not surprisingly, this led to a degree of alienation and in some cases to a total break with the church.
The funeral cortege of Wenzel Kraus in Paltinossa, Bukovina (1937), the Reverend Sigmund Mück officiating. Almost the entire ethnic community turned out for occasions such as funerals. On the day of interment, the funeral party proceeded on foot from the home, where the deceased had been waked, to the church for a final religious service, and finally to the place of burial. Standard bearers with church flags and crucifixes led the way.
Before World War I New York had a thriving German district on the Lower East Side with restaurants, shops, newspapers, a theater, and later a movie house. But long hours of work left little time for recreation. By far the favorite pastime became spending a day at the beach at Pelham Bay, accessible for only a 5-cent subway fare. Sunday after Sunday our Landsleute met at Pelham Bay for swimming, football, picnicking — often their only relief from the factories and sweatshops.
Not used to the high level of consumerism in a capitalistic system, the Bukovina Germans invariably commented on the wastefulness of American society. Perfectly good clothing, furniture, and appliances were simply discarded, daily, generating tons of garbage per city block. Occasionally our Landsleute sifted through what others had thrown away and took what they considered functional. Moreover, they often found it impossible to part with their own worn-out items, even long after they ceased being serviceable. The author recalls one gentleman who throughout his fifty-seven years’ residence in America owned only two overcoats. But frugality, thrift, and self-denial brought results. In time the immigrants became established, bought their own homes, and provided their children with a better education than they themselves had acquired. Many a long-established American wondered how these newcomers managed to get ahead, considering they usually held low-paying jobs and had only marginal command of the state language.
The children of Bukovina Germans born in the United States or coming with their parents as infants quickly learned English by exposure to America’s many institutions for assimilation, especially its schools. By their tenth or eleventh year, they usually had lost their fluency in German. When parents spoke German, children responded in English; in time the parents shifted to English also. Causes for the rapid loss of German identity are several: first, parents, often bordering on illiteracy and speaking a dialect laced with Romanian idioms, lacked the educational background to give their children an in-depth linguistic experience; secondly, the anti-Germanism unleashed by the world wars made it desirable to avoid drawing attention to oneself by speaking the language of America’s foe; in addition, if the children were to succeed, they needed a good command of English; and finally, as a small dispersed minority in a sea of English-language speakers, assimilation at best remained only a matter of time.
With the outbreak of World War I, immigration from Bukovina temporarily ceased, not to resume again until 1920. By the terms of the Treaty of St. Germain, signed September 10, 1919, Bukovina became an integral province of the Kingdom of Romania, with its German population acquiring the status of an ethnic minority. Subjected to Romanization, to discrimination in land reform programs, employment and education, and with its young men facing twenty-one months of compulsory military service under what they viewed as barbarous conditions, a second wave of Bukovina Germans left for the New World in search of a better life. But economic motives no doubt outweighed political considerations in opting for emigration. A population explosion, begun in the late nineteenth century and continuing into the first decades of the twentieth, threatened to proletarianize the peasantry. Families with less than a half-dozen children were the exception. Unable to assure the livelihood of their many offspring by further subdividing their already meager land holdings, parents urged their more adventurous progeny to seek their fortunes in America. So, for example, we find immigrating to the New World ten of the twelve children of Marie and Wenzel Neumayer (Gurahumora); five of the ten children of Theresia and Josef Braun (Gurahumora); three of the seven children of Marie and Leon Loy (Paltinossa); three of the seven children of Theresia and Wenzel Kraus (Paltinossa); five of the eight children of Marie and Ignatz Schaffhauser (Bori); and seven of the nine children of Karolina and Wenzel Hilgarth (Bori).
Daughters for whom dowries had to be provided and who upon marriage joined the extended family of their husband were often the ones encouraged to leave. Asked why she immigrated to the United States, Anna B. quite frankly replied: “I was superfluous at home.” Theresia Kraus considered her four daughters as “stones around her neck,” while Susanna Loy noted:
Since we were considered better off than most, the community expected my mother to provide me with a substantial dowry; but as a recent widow with five young sons, she felt it would take all her resources to see that they learned a trade and had sufficient land to eke out a living. In order to insure that my brothers got my share of our father’s legacy, she suggested I go to America.
Between 1920 and 1924 we find the arrival of younger members of families already here as well as some new ones: Balog, Bedner, Brandl, Braun, Burkowski, Czicek, Ducke, Dumka, Gall, Haas, Habatsch, Hassl, Hilgarth, Horn, Kisslinger, Kraus, Lang, Loy, Miller, Moldowan, Neumayer, Niedzielski, Nowecki, Pelczar, Pilsner, Schafarczek, Schaffhauser, Schindelar, Stauber, Tanda, Tomaschefski, Turczany, Winzinger, and Welisch. As with the earlier immigration, most came as unmarried young men and women, poorly skilled for urban pursuits, but ambitious and willing to learn. Although impoverished, usually coming with a small wicker suitcase, the clothes on their back, and indebted for their travel expenses to some relative already in the States, no Bukovina German, to the author’s knowledge, ever turned to criminal activities or to vagrancy. On the contrary, within a short time they found suitable employment, sometimes even acquiring a small business of their own (bakery, barber shop, dress factory, grocery store, cement block factory), bought homes, and settled down-n as stable taxpayers and law-abiding citizens.
An exception to the Bukovina Germans’ usual compliance with the law and respect for authority came with their response to the Volstead Act (1919). This federal legislation made provisions for the enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting the sale of intoxicating beverages of more than 0.5 percent of alcohol per volume. Prohibition had long been a political issue, and with the First World War the movement gained rapid momentum. Wartime conservation policies necessitated limiting liquor output in addition to which the closing of the breweries, owned and operated by Germans (Schlitz, Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser, Pabst) became a patriotic duty. Our Landsleute responded by frequenting “speakeasies,” that is, places where intoxicating beverages were sold without a license, or by distilling their own alcohol. Josefa Schaffhauser, a great-grandmother of seventy-seven years, points with pride to a still her husband used during Prohibition to make whiskey from plums, grapes, or cherries. Nor has the still had time to accumulate rust since the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. Son Karl makes frequent use of it, Tante Josefa explained as she handed the author a jigger of 100 proof Kirschbranntwein (cherry brandy) to sample. In the Detroit area some Bukovina Germans indulged in isolated instances of “bootlegging” alcohol across the Canadian border; this involved great risk to life and limb, not so much from the intervention of the law as from organized crime.
Bakery of Karl Schaffhauser (extreme right) in Brooklyn, NY, ca. 1923. Karl immigrated to the United States from Bori, Bukovina, in 1912. By the eve of the First World War, his economic circumstances were so strained that he was on the verge of borrowing money to return to his homeland. Yet by the 1920s he was not only an experienced baker but also owned and operated his own bakery with adjacent restaurant. Typical of small entrepreneurs of the period, Karl hired members of his own family to assist him in his business. With the onset of the Great Depression, he was forced to declare bankruptcy and died shortly thereafter at the age of 39.
With America’s return to isolationism after World War I and in response to nativist pressure groups, the United States government moved to curtail immigration. In 1921 Congress introduced a quota system, restricting immigration to 3 percent of those of a particular ethnic group here in 1910, for an overall total of 357,803 annually. Considering this number still too generous, Congress in 1924 further reduced immigration to 2 percent of those nationalities living in the United States in 1890. This legislation favored populations from northern and western Europe and drastically limited those from the south and east. Immigration from Bukovina, included in the Romanian quota of 377 per year, came to a virtual standstill overnight. But Canada, with extensive uninhabited lands, still welcomed settlers. Some Bukovina Germans opted for immigration to Canada after 1924, later entering the United States illegally somewhere along its poorly patrolled 3000-mile border. Those who had become American citizens and had returned to Bukovina after the war could reimmigrate freely and without difficulty at any time.
The second wave of settlers found life in America considerably better than did the first, primarily because the status of the working classes had improved. Although labor enjoyed higher wages, shorter hours, and better job conditions during the prosperous 1920s, this all ended abruptly with the Wall Street stock market crash in 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. A number of Landsleute lost heavily through speculation in stocks and bonds, while others who had opened small shops and businesses, faced bankruptcy. The great majority experienced unemployment or underemployment during the entire decade of the 1930s, and in several extreme cases, individuals lacked sufficient food for their daily needs. Zita Panas, whose mother had emigrated from Gurahumora in 1922, recalls that in the spring of 1933, as a child of four, she subsisted on Sulz (jellied meat) several weeks; her father was among the nation’s fifteen million unemployed. in the absence of a male wage earner, the wife often sought temporary employment in order to provide the family’s basic necessities. One common occupation, making passementerie (trimmings of braids, cords, beads, and the like), could be pursued in the home while still keeping an eye on the children. Paid on a unit or piecework basis, a fast operator might earn as much as $2.50 in an 8-hour day. Elisabeth Neumayer, a very exacting, meticulous but slow worker, averaged $.25 per day, enough for four roll, a quart of milk, and a half pound of Wurst (sausage) with a little left over for rent. The Salvation Army, a private philanthropic organization, opened “soup kitchens” to provide free meals for the indigent, but pride prevented the Bukovina Germans from availing themselves of this service. Better to go hungry than to take charity!
The effects of the Depression were slightly eased by the New Deal legislation of the Roosevelt administration: labor unions won the right of collective bargaining in 1935, and later that year the Social Security System, guaranteeing old age and disability pensions, came into being. But not until its entry into World War II did the United States experience full economic recovery. The return to prosperity in the 1940s brought with it swifter and easier upward mobility, with immigrant children now able to get a better education, often finishing high school.
The third and final immigration of Bukovina Germans occurred between 1947 and 1957. Evacuated en masse to Germany after the Soviet seizure of northern Bukovina in 1940, the Bukovina Germans had become homeless refugees by war’s end. Along with the Germans of eastern Poland (Galicia, Volhynia), Bessarabia, and the Baltic States, most Bukovina Germans had been transferred to the newly acquired Polish territories of Warthegau, West Prussia, and Upper Silesia. Some remained in camps in Austria, while a small number relocated in Lorraine and in the German-controlled Yugoslavian district of Marburg/Drau. By extending the German-language frontier, the Third Reich had hoped to consolidate its hold over these areas as well as to prevent the inevitable assimilation of the scattered German minorities in Eastern Europe.
But these outposts could not be maintained. With the advance of the Soviet armies, the Bukovina Germans shared the lot of millions of refugees who fled westward in treks during January and February 1945. Those without horses set out on foot, their possessions in baby carriages or in wheelbarrows. While the evacuation of the civilian population proceeded in a reasonably organized manner, the harsh winter, the air attacks, plus the long passage through hostile territories reaped a bitter harvest. Twenty percent of the Bukovina Germans perished as a result of the war while the survivors faced an uncertain future as a dispersed, dispossessed Volksgruppe (ethnic group). Between 1945 and 1947 more than twelve million refugees and expellees from the Sudetenland, Yugoslavia, and the German provinces placed under Polish administration poured into war- devastated Germany and Austria.
In response to overwhelming economic need, many Americans sent food and clothing packages to their families and friends overseas and in some cases also forwarded the necessary papers to facilitate their emigration from displaced persons’ camps. In 1947-1948 came those Bukovina Germans who held American citizenship as well as children and parents of those already in the United States. The Bishop’s Resettlement Committee of New York sponsored orphaned children and sought foster homes for them, some of whom came from Bukovina. With the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, which liberalized the quota system, Bukovina Germans again began entering the United States in greater numbers. This time they came in family groups, frequently widows with minor children, including; Brandl, Burisch, Busek, Czicek, Ducke, Dumka, Eisenkolb, Fernath, Hartl, Hellmann, Hellinger, Hollaczek, Hönig, Horn, Karasiewiz, Kirila, Lohmer, Loy, Mirwald, Neumayer, Mövis, Pilsner, Rosenbeiger, Schafarczek, Schaffhauser, Schindelar, Straub, and Tanda.
Taking permanent residence in Canada during the second and third periods of immigration we find: Braun, Czukeinski, Gall, Hellinger, Hellmann, Hilgarth, Horn, Klostermann, Kwasnicki, Loy, Neumayer, Nowecki, Pekar, Pilsner, Sawilla, Schaffhauser, Schefczuk, Seidl, Stauber, Welisch, and Zerfass. To Cuba went Kolb and Schaffhauser.
By the 1950s the United States had become a superpower, the most advanced technocracy in the world, with the highest standard of living yet achieved by man. The newest wave of immigrants benefited from an abundance of well-paying jobs, easy credit, good housing, mass transit systems, supermarkets, and social services programs. Some achieved in one decade what the first settlers had gained in three.
However, behind the facade of abundance and prosperity lurked the specter of human tragedy. Elderly parents, rejoining children whom they had not seen in decades, found themselves isolated and alienated in their new surroundings. Strangers to their children and unable to communicate with their grandchildren or with the outside world, some spent their last years abandoned in nursing homes. Children returning to their parents in America likewise faced a difficult adjustment after a long period of separation.
Misfortune in the form of chronic illness stalked others; a long-term chronic illness can reduce a family to financial ruin in a matter of weeks. Viktor K. of Manisteriska, a suburb of Czemowitz, recounted that after his massive coronary in the early 1950s, only the financial assistance of his children spared him from having to scavenge the garbage cans of his neighbors. America was not a utopia for all. The young, the skilled, the healthy, and the adaptable enjoyed the greatest probability of success. As with the earlier immigrants, some in this last group also became disillusioned and returned to the Old World, no longer to Bukovina this time, but to the Federal Republic of Germany or to Austria. Here they faced yet another fresh start, usually their fifth or sixth since those fateful days in the fall of 1940.
With economic recovery of Germany and Austria, immigration to the New World effectively ceased. Even the Spätaussiedler (those immigrating to Germany from Eastern Europe after 1970) show little interest in relocating to the United States and feel more than satisfied with life in the Federal Republic of Germany.
The Bukovina Germans in the United States are today thoroughly integrated into American society. Yet when they gather, one can still detect the inevitable nostalgia for their homeland, especially among those who romanticize their roots and those who had happier days in Bukovina than in the New World. The American-born generations, with only a very fuzzy notion of Bukovina and of their ethnic origins, are not certain if their forebears were Germanized Romanians or Polonized Austrians, or exactly where and under whose administration Bukovina now finds itself. Nor is this vagueness isolated to those several generations removed from their ancestral homeland. The author recalls the example of Stefanie S. who, although having immigrated to America in 1912, had not become a citizen by the time of the Second World War. Accompanied by her twenty-year-old son, who, she hoped, would help her with any language problems, she proceeded to the immigration office where she had to register as an alien. Here she was asked a series of questions, including the most obvious, “What is your country of origin?” To this she answered, “Paltinossa.” The immigration official wanted to know to which larger political unit Paltinossa belonged, to which she replied, “Kreis (district) Gurahumora.” He told her he knew of no such country, but she steadfastly insisted that she came from Paltinossa. Extensive interrogation by about a half-dozen higher officials elicited no further information. In desperation they began asking, “Do you come from Afghanistan?” “No!” “From Argentina?” “No!” “From Armenia?” “No!” Finally the senior official, no doubt convinced by now that Stefanie S. posed no great threat to the security of the United States, suggested, “Put down she comes from India!” Although the modern, well-traveled reader may find this anecdote amusing, he would do well to consider that before coming to America the first and second waves of immigrants had probably spent their entire lives within a ten-mile radius of their native village.
An Americanization class for immigrants, Fifth Street School, New York (1924). Susanna Loy (from Paltinossa) is standing third from right; Ottilia Hilgarth (from Gurahumora) is seated in front of Susanna Loy.
After the war some Bukovina Germans returned for a visit to their homeland only to find the experience a depressing one, with their ancestral graves leveled, their former homes dilapidated, and the warmth and familiarity of their Heimat (homeland) only a faint memory. Of the more than 75,000 Germans residing in Bukovina in 1930, fewer than 2000 live there today. As the noted American novelist Thomas Wolfe observed, “You can’t go home again.”
What is true of the German Americans applies equally well to the Bukovina Germans: similar in language, customs, values and attitudes to the dominant English group, they have assimilated into the mainstream of American culture. Intermarrying readily and sometimes Anglicizing the pronunciation or spelling of their name (e.g., Pelczar to Pelzar, Schindelar to Schindler), they have become honorary Anglo-Saxons. New York City has been abandoned to more recent arrivals: Blacks from the South, and Hispanics from Puerto Rico and Cuba. Its German section is gone and with it the ethnic newspapers, restaurants, religious services, theater, and movie house. Those few Bukovina Germans who have remained in New York must contend with increasing social alienation and its concomitant crime and drug problems. The elderly no longer feel safe in the streets or subways, and whenever possible, they venture out of their locked, double-bolted apartments in the company of a friend.
Dispersed far and wide throughout the United States, Bukovina Germans and their descendants can today be found in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and as far west as California and Washington. Some of their offspring have moved into managerial positions with large corporations or are pursuing professional careers. As their forebears colonized the virgin fields and forests of Austria-Hungary’s easternmost province almost two centuries ago, developing a flourishing cultural life and contributing to the larger society of which they were a part, so America’s Bukovina Germans have carried on the finest pioneering tradition in the cities and suburbs of the New World.