On Jan. 23, 1943, my uncle, Frank Ebner Gartz, (photo in uniform, above) reported to the draft board in Chicago to start his training for WWII. So began the correspondence between him and family & friends, comprising almost 300 letters going both ways. I’m posting many of these World War II letters, each on or near the 70th anniversary of its writing. To start with his induction, click HERE.

This blog began in Nov., 2010, when I posted a century-old love note from Josef Gärtz, my paternal grandfather, to Lisi (Elisabetha) Ebner, my paternal grandmother, and follows their bold decision to strike out for America.

My mom and dad were writers too, recording their lives in diaries and letters from the 1920s-the 1990s. Historical, sweet, joyful, and sad, all that life promises-- and takes away--are recorded here as it happened. It's an ongoing saga of the 20th century. To start at the very beginning, please click HERE.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Out to Sea

12/30/1910 First page of letter 
from Josef to Lisi on  F. Missler stationery
This post was originally published on Dec. 31, 2010, 100 years to the date that Josef Gärtz boarded the ship for America.

Once Josef arrived in Bremen, and his path to America seemed clear, he wrote to Lisi. Not only had Friedrich Missler,  probably Bremen's most successful ticket agent, given thousands of passengers a brown, canvas wallet like the one in which I found Josef’s diary, he also provided stationery emblazoned with “F. Missler” and the agency's address at 30 Bahnhof Strasse [literally: Train Station Street], proving Missler was a marketing wizard of his day. Many descendants who have these wallets have mistakenly thought "Missler" was the name of the ship pictured and researched in vain to find it.

Here’s the first page of Josef’s letter to Lisi, written on Missler stationery. If you look closely, you can see the date at the start of the letter (the date is first and the month follows in Roman Numerals).
30/XII 1910
December 30, 1910

Dear Lisi,

I want to tell you that I have arrived in Bremen happy and healthy. Now I want to tell you about my nightmare trip.

At this point Josef describes his misadventures and narrow escapes, which have already been shared in previous posts, so I’ll skip over that part and start with Bremen: [If you missed those narrow escapes, see Terror Atop the Train and Threats to the Dream.]

Thank God I am here, and I thank our Lord God again many times for the good thoughts he gave me. But such a trip! I thought it would undo me!

Missler Emigrant Hall, Bremen, 1907
Perhaps this is where Josef sat with his new-found friends
We’re sitting here at F. Missler, and already it’s going a bit easier because each person [fellow travelers he’s met] makes the other happy, and so we are getting along fine.

Tomorrow, December 31, 1910, we’re going to board the ship, as long as we remain healthy. Every day we are checked by a doctor, and up to now, I am completely healthy. Many people, who got sick on the trip, have already been here in Bremen for eight weeks. One woman, who had eye inflammation [probably trachoma--pink eye] has already been waiting here four weeks. She’s finally received authorization to depart for America.

With heartfelt greetings, I end my letter. Please, dear Lisi, tell me in your first letter what you have heard of my colleagues. [To read my recent discovery of what happened to the two friends with whom Josef started his trip, see the end of this post: Threats to the Dream]

With greetings to all, 
Gärtz, Josef, Bremen

We must look to his diary now, to see into the heart and mind of a young man, his written emotions  a reflection of what thousands of others must have felt at this point in their journeys, as he travels the final leg that will transport him to an unknown land and future.

Friedrich der Grosse, ship that brought Josef Gärtz
to America. Thanks to Norway Heritage for image
December 31, 1910 

Early Saturday morning at 4 am, we saw a doctor who looked us in the eyes and inoculated the left hand with four shots. At 7a.m. we took a two-hour train to the ship. We boarded the ship at 10:30 a.m., and at 11:30, it departed directly for America.

Throngs at the Port of Bremen. Not the era of Josef's
departure, but gives a sense of the kind of crowd
 he describes. 
(From the collection of Maggie Land Blanck)
I was moved by sadness, joy, and fear as the mighty colossus pulled us far out over the waves of the great sea. Everyone on land waved after us with their handkerchiefs as they wanted to share with us a last and friendly farewell. They know such a trip deals with life and death, and we’re never certain if we’ll see each other again.

Josef truly rang out the old on New Year’s Eve, 1910, departing from everything familiar -- and hoped to ring in 1911 with a new life in America. But first he had to endure the harsh winter crossing over the frigid, stormy Atlantic seas.

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