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, September 18, 2012

A Millennium of Germans in Transylvania

This post was originally published on my blog on February 1, 2011

Evangelische (Lutheran) Kirche Neppendorf (near Sibiu)
Historically, the Gärtz family church

Church as History

On the second day of our 2007 roots-finding trip in Romania, my brother, Bill, and I met up with Renate, church secretary of the Evangelische Kirche Neppendorf, (the Gärtz family church). Her impressive knowledge of the church's, Siebenbürgen, and Gärtz family history opened our eyes to the role Germans had played for nearly 1,000 years Transylvania.

Built in the 14th Century, the Evangelische Kirche was originally Catholic, but as the Reformation swept across Europe (Martin Luther's nailing the ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenburg in 1517 launched the fight between Protestants and Catholics full force), the residents of Neppendorf, like most Siebenbürgen Germans, chose to become Lutherans.

Pastors of the Church from its
Catholic roots in 1330
That history is on display the moment one steps into the church. Posted at the entrance is this list of pastors (Pfarrer). The first began his tenure about 1330. Further down, it's noted that under Pastor Michael Binder, #13, (serving from 1536-1548), this church of ethnic Germans became protestant.

How the Germans came to Transylvania

How was it the Germans first came to Transylvania, eventually numbering as many as 800,000?  After centuries of invasions by various migrating peoples, Transylvania came under the rule of the  Hungarian crown in the 13th century. The Hungarian king at the time, King Geza II, persuaded Germans, primarily from Luxembourg and the Moselle region (near Alsace) to immigrate to Transylvania. He wanted them to defend the southeastern border of the kingdom from regular and brutal invasions by the Tartars. He also knew that the Germans' industrious nature, mining expertise, and farming know-how could help pump up the economy of his kingdom.

The Germans built cities and churches surrounded by thick walls, behind which locals fled to escape invaders. Hence the region’s German name, Siebenbürgen (Seven Fortresses seems the best translation). The area also became known as “Saxon Land” for its large German population, and is listed so today in tourist guides.

But Renate had more for us than the broad history of the Germans in Transylvania. She presented us with a two-page document of our family's history in the town of Neppendorf, researched by a previous pastor. It was filled with insights into 18th-19th Century Transylvanian life as filtered through the Gärtz family experience. Next up on "Travel Tuesday.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Landing the Dream

This post was originally published on Jan. 11, 2011, and the the references to the 100th anniversary are based on that date

Today is the 100th anniversary of Josef Gärtz, my paternal grandfather, arriving in America, losing the umlaut over the "ä" and becoming Gartz. My guess is that he didn’t record his first impressions because he was too excited and overwhelmed upon landing to be scribbling in his diary. So without his words to guide me, I’m going to try to briefly reconstruct what he, and all of our European ancestors who entered through Ellis Island, probably endured as initiation into this new land.

Let’s join Josef as he disembarks from his ship, Friedrich der Grosse on January 11, 1911, and get just a little flavor of our ancestors’ arrivals. 

Passengers disembarking from barge at Ellis Island ~1910
From Library of Congress collection
After passing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, steerage passengers (undoubtedly how Josef traveled--the cheapest) are loaded onto barges, transferring them to Ellis Island, where they will undergo a number of inspections before being admitted to the United States.

In many ways, Josef is typical of the immigrants arriving at this time. Like Josef, most of them (68-90%) fall between the ages of 14 - 44. He is 21. About half of the men in this age group are single, like Josef. But his skills aren’t typical: about one fourth of the immigrants, the largest percentage, are “common laborers,” while about 15% are “skilled laborers.” As a master carpenter, Josef belongs to the latter group. That probably bodes well for finding decent work. The others are primarily farm laborers or servants. Only one percent describe themselves as “professionals.”

Eye Inspection at Ellis Island 1913
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
"Doctor's inspection of suspects for skin diseases, etc."
Ellis Island 1902
After all the health inspections, inoculations, and eye examinations, Josef has already endured before arriving in America, he, and everyone else, is once again subjected to prodding, peering, and poking, and all are further questioned as to their ability to support themselves. Failing these tests ends the dream.

Great Hall - Ellis Island
In the twenty years from 1892-1912, 169,312 aliens were refused entry, overwhelmingly for three main reasons: likelihood of becoming a public charge, affliction with “loathsome or dangerous contagious diseases,” or due to being “contract” laborers (why this last one kept out almost 13% of immigrants in 1910, I haven’t a clue.)

It has to be nerve-wracking to wait in these endless lines, to wonder if some small oversight will send you back across the ocean. But all goes well. Josef overcomes the final hurdle and enters the United States of America. I can only imagine the elation and anticipation. (I'd love to hear from any of you, Dear Readers, who has a note, a diary or a memorable story passed down as to what  an ancestor's first emotions were upon realizing he/she was actually starting a new life in America.)
Next stop: Cleveland, Ohio, where a “Landsman” (another Siebenbürgen/Transylvanian German, from his home town of Neppendorf) will welcome him into his home, help him get on his feet, and teach him the ropes. 

So it was with so many who sought out friends and relatives from the “Old Country” who could ease their way into the “New Country.”

In the near future, I’ll be posting some of the missives that went back and forth between Cleveland and Romania, and how Josef pulled out all the stops to get his Lisi to join him. 

But before we get to those letters and postcards, I want to get back to what I promised to write about in my last post: how I got my German mojo back which allowed me to tackle these letters that allow us to peer into the minds of two young immigrants a century ago.

Note, except where noted othewise, the Ellis Island facts and photos included here come from this site: Gjenvik-Gjønvik ArchivesThe site provides footnotes at the end of its pages.