SAVING HISTORY

Over the bridge table Tuesday, my eighty seven year old Jewish friend mentioned she was born in Fremont, Nebraska. “Where is that?” I asked.”Near Omaha,” she answered. “How did your parents come to live there?” I wondered. This is the story she told.

“Many years ago my grandfather lived in Poland with his wife and four children. They had a hard life–people of the land–poor and uneducated. They couldn’t read or write and spoke only Yiddish. In 1890, desperation drove my grandfather to leave his family and make his way to America. He arrived in New York, virtually penniless and unable to speak a word of English.

“Somehow he managed to get himself on a train headed for Omaha. That’s where his wife’s sister-in-law lived–the only person in the United States he knew. But when the train arrived in Omaha, they wouldn’t let him get off. The Omaha Jewish quota was filled, they told him, so he stayed on the train and got off at the next stop: Fremont.

“The Fremont station agent couldn’t understand Yiddish but he thought it sounded a lot like German. Feeling sorry for my grandfather, the agent let him spend the night on a wooden bench in the train station and the next morning he called his friend, a German farmer, and asked him to come see if he could help the poor fellow?

“Between the farmer’s German and my grandfather’s Yiddish, they managed. The farmer hired my grandfather and provided him with a horse and buggy. My grandfather sold eggs and hay and other farm products and over time, made enough money to bring his wife and four children from Poland to Fremont. They had five more children. One of them was my father.

“Though my grandfather made lots of money in various businesses, he never did learn to read or write. The bank in Fremont allowed him to sign his name with an until the first world war. Then the munitions factory opened and many others came to work who also couldn’t write their names. The bank told my grandfather he couldn’t sign his name with an X  anymore but to come to the bank and they’d teach him to write. He learned to make the first letter of his first name and the last letter of his last name. Between them, he scribbled something. With practice, that became his signature–one that nobody could copy,” my friend said, laughing.

Our older generation has amazing stories to tell. Let’s all do what we can not to let those stories get lost.

Addendum: “Fremont gained national attention in 2010 when residents approved a referendum that would ban illegal immigrants from renting and working in the town.”

 

 

5 Responses to SAVING HISTORY

  • Bob says:

    Knowing the Omaha has a sizable Jewish population, I wonder if there was really a “Jewish quota” or the guy at the train station was simply prejudiced? How would you ever keep track at a train station anyway?

    You are so right about collecting the stories people tell. We lose so much when we don’t write them down somewhere. My mother had a million stories of which she may have put twenty or so on paper. I’m trying to remember the ones she told me, plus write the stories of my own life. It’s a daunting task sometimes.

    Beth, are you writing down the stories of your life for posterity? I hope so.

    • Lynn Barnett says:

      I love these stories. They are such a great legacy to the next generations and writing them down is a true gift. Bob, Mom has written down many of her stories and put them in a hard back book for all of us kids. Some of them are stories we grew up with and others were new. We have all learned to do this for our next generations as well, though some are more into it than others. Keep telling the stories Mom. They round out our lives and give us perspective.

    • Beth says:

      I am. I began after my first husband passed away because I thought my children, who were young at the time, would want to know the circumstances of his death. Then I happened upon a little-known Jewish tradition called Ethical Wills. The Hebrew Bible first described them 3000 years ago in Genesis Ch. 49. I thought passing along our family’s history and ethical values would be a special gift to my children and provide them with a sense of who they are and from whence they came. I believe memories are footprints of your time on earth and of great importance to all who follow.

  • The told stories and the untold, they are “Always With Me,” the name of my poetry collection that I am working on. It is amazing how our daily lives continue to connect us to history and to those ancestors and relatives who have gone before us. They remain connected to our souls as we attempt to capture their existence through our writing, creating a strong thread for our children and grandchildren.
    Thanks Beth, Carole

  • Beth says:

    Carol,

    I love your concept of capturing “their existence through our writing.” I guess that is indeed what we are doing though I’d never thought of it in just that manner before. Thanks.

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