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June 13, 1986 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-06-13

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16 Friday, June 13, 1986

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

*LIBERTY'S PROMISE*

The Voices
of Liberty

C

Four Detroit area residents' reminisce
about their journey to America
and their first glimpse
of the Statue.

• VICTORIA DIAZ

Special to The Jewish News

en Press remembers
his fear that he
would not pass the
physical examination.
Lillian Lichtenstein
remembers being
stranded by a forgetful relative. Gretl .
Frank remembers the empty,
cavernous rooms. Apd Ida Quen
remembers the man with the
chewing gum.
For these immigrants from Europe
during the1920s and 1930s who
eventually settled in Detroit,
memories are still strong of their
hours or days on Ellis Island or of
the often harrowing trips they had
taken to get there. In each case, they
had set out on their journey to
escape the persecution of the Jews in
Europe, and to find here what one of
them describes as "a second chance
at life."
Ben Press, along with his mother,
brother, and sister, came to America
from a village near Chernobyl, the
site of the recent nuclear disaster. His
father had managed to leave the
Ukraine some years earlier. In June
1921, he sent for his family.
It was not a matter, however, of
the little family simply getting to the
nearest port and setting sail for
America.
"To get into Poland (where an
agent sent by my father was waiting
for us), we had to steal across the
border," recalls Ben's brother, Harry,
who was about 14 at the time.
On their first try, they were

apprehended by border police and
placed under guard. They escaped
and crossed the border by bribing
police with jewelry they had brought
along to help pay their way.
"Once in Poland, we walked to
Rovne where we stayed for about a
week, then proceeded to Warsaw
where we got our passports, took a
train to Antwerp, and finally boarded
the Lapland," says Harry, 79, who
still has the carefully-preserved
embarkation cards stamped
"Antwerp-America."
After two weeks at sea, the family
first came in sight of New York
harbor and the Statue of Liberty on
November 29, 1921. But, as the
Lapland pulled into Ellis Island,
18-year-old Ben felt sick with fear.
He knew of the physical ex-
aminations conducted at the
processing center on Ellis Island,
where the process of "marking"
immigrants in questionable health
was often done. He also knew that
immigrants with health problems
could be turned back.
"Just before we left, I had some
kind of eye problem," says Ben, now
82, a retired tailor who lives in
Southfield. "The doctor had given
me some eye drops for it and it had
cleared up, we thought. But we also
knew that the doctor here, of course,
made the final decision. I can tell
you, I was scared to death. And so
was my mother."
But Press' story had a happy
ending. Later that day, the tired but

reputation for impatience with
immigrants: "They treated us _royal."
When it became apparent that their
cousin was not going to show, she
remembers the officials helped her
and her father buy train tickets
to Albany.
The cousin?
"He was there all the time,"
Lichtenstein says, laughing heartily
about an incident which didn't seem
especially amusing to her then. "He
had come all the way from Albany to
pick us up. But when he got there, '
he couldn't remember what our
names were!"
At first, Mrs. Lichtenstein's family
lived in Albany, then moved to
Chicago when her father found a job
there. In Chicago, she met David
Lichtenstein, a Detroit native. The
two soon married and moved to
Detroit, where David worked for the
Detroit Times for '
38 years.

Most immigrants. spent hours at
Ellis Island before they were finally
allowed to embark on ferries for the
mainland.
The sokoloff family — five
orphaned children whose escape
from Cossack-led perseCution in their

happy family was on their way to
New York City and a new life.
Later, they would move to Detroit,
where their father found a job in a
steam laundry on Hastings St.
"He never worked a Saturday in
his life," says Harry. "He was a very
pious, religious man:"
Lillian Resnick (now Lillian
Lichtenstein), now 80, was 15 years
old on that warm spring evening in
1920 when, standing at the rail of
the Adriatic, she first caught sight of
the Statue of Liberty.
"It was all lit up when we 'first saw
it," she remembers, "because it was
towards evening. And let me tell you,
words can't express that feeling you
get seeing it the first time. It's just
absolutely the most wonderful
feeling . . ."
A little later that night, the pretty
Jewish girl and her father, name tags
affixed to their clothing, disembarked
at Ellis Island. (Other family members
would follow from Glasgow a year
later.) They stood in line for hours
with hundreds of other immigrants to
take tests, fill out papers and
complete "processing."
Finally, the two of them found a
seat on a New York wooden bench
and settled down to wait for a cousin
from Albany, whom they had never
seen, but who had promised to meet
them.
The cousin never appeared.
Says Lichtenstein of the often-
maligned Ellis Island officials who
gained, over the years, a notorious

Harry and Sam Press

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