Rose Lessure Mayers (Lechtzer)
|Birthplace:||Stavyshche, Stavyshchens'kyi district, Kyivs'ka oblast, Ukraine|
|Death:||Died in Cincinnati, Ohio|
Daughter of Eliahu Lessure and Chana Lessure
|Managed by:||Randy Schoenberg|
Historical records matching Rose Lessure Mayers
About Rose Lessure Mayers
My earliest recollection is, as a child of four, being held on my father's shoulder and looking through a piece of glass at the sun. It was a complete eclipse of the sun and everyone was sure it forebode an evil event. The year was 1914. World War I started that year.
I was born in 1910 in a tiny village called Stavisce, in the Province of Kiev. It was nestled in a valley, surrounded by gentle rolling hills where the peasants lived. Picture the "shtetel" of fiddler on the Roof and you see Stavisce. It was a self-imposed ghetto but it was a pleasant life -- at least as I remember it from my childhood. I remember sitting on the doorstep on spring and summer evenings and listening to the singing of the peasants. On Sabbath afternoons I took long walks with my older sisters and brothers into the forest. I can still feel the damp earth and smell the pine cones. But winters were harsh. At times we could not open our door because the snow almost covered the house.
There were no paved streets or sidewalks in Stavisce, only a wide cobblestone road that ran through the middle of the village. So many things stand out in my mind about that road. Tuesday was Market Day! The peasants drove in their cattle and cart after cart laden with produce came down that sashay, as we called it.
With the advent of World War I, Stavisce became a bustling little town. That's when we saw our first automobile and our first plane. When one would appear everyone ran out to see this new wonder. We were never near any battlefronts but occasionally Russian troops would pass through. Sometimes troops were billeted in town for a few days. My mother would take me with here to bring food to the soldiers. They looked so sad and so raggedy. Toward the end of the war, German soldiers arrived. They were very good to us. They were not demanding and paid for everything they tool. They were especially good to the children. Years later, on our way to the United States, we spent six months in Hamburg and then too, the German people treated us with every kindness and respect.
On May 1, 1917, all the school children gathered in the woods for a picnic to celebrate the overthrow of the Czar, Nicholas II. At first we were jubilant. Now we would be able to own land, live anywhere we wanted in Russia and travel anywhere in Russia without a permit. But hard times were ahead. The peasants could not cope with this newfound freedom. They ransacked the palaces of the overlords and we could see them dragging fine upholstered furniture through the muddy streets. One man managed to haul a huge mirror home, but his house was too small to hold it, so he put it in the barn. His cow saw her image and the farmer wound up with a shattered mirror and a bleeding cow. I can still see the rain and the mud and streams of people coming down the road, pulling bedding, drapes, household utensils and anything they could lay their hands on.
I was too young, of course, to understand the collapse of the Czarist government and the forming of the Soviet regime. There was one leader after another trying to take over control of the country. The Bolsheviks seemed closest to gaining power but even they could not stop the peasants from looting the manor houses.
Once this started, it was an easy step toward befalling the Jews. They were beaten and robbed. Their houses were set on fire. We would hear of a band of marauders coming our way and would shut ourselves up tight in our houses, hoping to be spared. One day someone in the house looked out and saw an old man dragging himself towards us, with blood caked on him from top to bottom. He was brought in and tended to, but died a couple days later. Then there was the time when we had to leave altogether. No one knew where we were going and what we would find, but if we stayed, we would certainly be massacred. On the way, we saw a young pregnant woman lying in a ditch -- dead, flies were gathered around the eyes, mouth, and nostrils. It was a painful sight.
Things would quiet down and we'd come back and start all over again. But only for a time because this went on for several years. The last time we left our home I became detached from the family and kept on walking with the rest of the people. It's a wonder to me now that I was not frightened.
When my father noticed that I was gone he sent my brother Hershel, who was then about twenty years old, to look for me. He found me in a city called Belaja Cerkov, with a group who had left Stavisce earlier. The Jewish people of that town arranged for food and housing for everyone, I can remember only the Sabbath candles and my brother and I sitting down with a family at a beautifully set Sabbath table.
The rest of our family claimed us a day later. Where we stayed in Belaja Cerkov from then on, I don't know. But I never say Stavisce again. We heard that the village had been set on fire.
After a time, my father decided to go back to see if he could salvage anything from his property. He had owned two houses, one in which we lived and one that he leased to a neighbor. There was also his warehouse, which no doubt had made a beautiful fire with all the wheat inside. He made his living buying grain from peasants and selling it to flour mills. Many of these peasants were loyal to us and kid us out in their attics when the need arose, sometimes at great risk to them.
Shortly after my father left, a man and his wife came to us and told us that two Americans had arrived in Romania and sent this couple to find several families whom they wanted to bring back to America. We found out later that my two brothers, Morris and Ben, who had left Russia many years before got in touch with other young men, under similar circumstances, and decided to bring their parents out of Russia. Since all forms of communication into Russia at that time had stopped, they picked two out of this group to leave immediately and find the families. Hershel was sent to Stavisce to contact father. He never got there. On the way he came across a band of marauders who were attacking a group of Jews. He tried to stop one of them from shooting a young woman and he himself was shot instead.
My father heard about this tragedy from someone who did make it to Stavisce and came back to Belaja Cerkov. The Romanian couple was eager to get started so we began to make preparations to leave. No one was allowed into Russia or out of Russia at that time. We were to travel as light as possible. My mother baked her jewelry into several loaves of black bread. Our money was sewn into my school uniform, which I was to wear until we got out of the country. My uniform was of brown sateen. It had a band around the neck, a wider band around the waist, and some of the money was also sewn into the hem. I was instructed that if anyone stopped us and asked me where we were gong, I was to say that we were going to the next town.
Several families left. Each family hired an open wagon with a driver. We sat on straw and I was actually enjoying it. We were stopped a number of times and questioned and searched, but nothing of value was found nor taken and we were allowed to go on our way. We were afraid that someone might want one of our breads, but they were so stale and unappetizing that no one wanted them.
After several days, we finally arrived at the Nester River, the border between Russia and Romania. We were divided into two groups, The sturdier in the group were to leave with the male guide when the night was darkest. The rest of us, the older people, the sick, and the children would leave with his wife at the crack of dawn. My sister, Myriam, and her husband, Aaron, left with the first group. My mother and father, my sister, Goldie, and I left with the second group.
It was bitter cold as we walked down the precipice to the river, which was not too wide but filled with chunks of ice. The women made two or three trips rowing us across, a few at a time. Then began the climb up the other side. By that time it was daylight. My brother-in-law, Aaron, was there to meet us and guide us to the house that had taken the advance party in temporarily. I was numb from the cold. I sat down on a rock and begged to be left to freeze to death. I could not take another step. He picked me up and carried me the rest of the way.
The male guide disappeared, before they reached the destination, a small town called Soroco. However, they did manage to reach town and some kind-hearted people took them in, fed them and allowed them to rest. It was not long before the "authorities" arrived and they were put under arrest (the party suspected that they had stumbled into the home of a detective). Perhaps arrest is not the proper word in this instance. Detention describes the situation better. They were to appear in court the next day for disposition.
Our guide had left us when she saw the border patrol coming towards us. But the guard did not stay with us long. Our pace was too slow and it was unbearably cold. Many years have now passed but I still shiver when I think of trudging along on top of that bare mountain with no trees to shield the sharp, cold wind that went through me like a knife.
When we reached the house where the others were staying, we too were treated with the utmost kindness.
I have to dig deep into my mind to recall the trial. I see a small square room with many people crowded into it. It was bare except for a small cubicle where the judge sat. Whoever got there first, was lined up against the "oven wall." The judge made someone give up his place to make room for the trembling ten-year-old. I must have looked pitiful indeed because when asked that I be allowed to go to Kishnev and stay with cousins instead of the detention camp, he agreed without hesitation.
This was after the judge had decided to allow the older people (my parents included) to remain in Romania while the others were to be detained in another city. The "cousins" I was to stay with were, of course, my parents.
We lived fairly comfortable in Kishnev while father visited the detention house, sought out officials, paid many bribes and finally, after several months, we again started our journey across Europe to the "Goldena Midena," Land of Opportunity.
Our destination was Hamburg, Germany. To get there, we had many borders to cross and papers to show. Papa had taken care of the papers, but to get tickets for trains was another matter. There was an incident with a train that plagued me for many years after. The sound of trains going by gave me an eerie feeling that I could not understand until one night when I had just fallen asleep I dreamt that I was sitting on bundles on a depot platform. It was in the middle of the night, lights were glaring down and people were crowding into baggage cars. I woke with a start and heard the tail end of a train passing a few blocks away from my house. That was the end of my eerie feelings. It also brought back memories of our trek through Europe.
There was another time when we stopped in Prague and saw the old synagogue. I was awed by its age and beauty.
Then there was the time when we crossed the border into Germany. It was pitch black and we were on foot. There was barbed wire across our path. Soldiers with big guns stopped us to examine our visas and we were on our way again.
We finally arrived in Hamburg. We were quite comfortable there. At least I have pleasant memories of playing outside, learning German and speaking to our neighbors. There were soldiers stationed near us. They gave me candy and taught me how to read. I still have a book in German that one of them gave me as a farewell gift.
We arrived in Hamburg in 1921. All of us were vaccinated. In those days, there were no preventive shots except for smallpox. Then we waited to hear from my brothers.
We would have problems gaining entry into the United States. My sister, Goldie, had mental or psychological problems and my father, Eli, had an amputated right hand. Morris, with the help of Senator Alfred Cohen, was able to show proof that he would be able to provide sustenance for the family. Goldie, however, could not be accepted under any circumstances. Morris hoped that she would not be found out. He sent us second class instead of steerage tickets on the Beringeria thinking we would get a less stringent examination upon arrival.
Next we went to London where we were again physically examined and got vaccinations. After a week of that we left for Southampton for the sea voyage. It took us seven days to get to New York. I'll never forget how Morris fell on his knees when he saw Mama. He clung to her, kissed her hands and cried.
We were detained, as Morris feared, and sent to Ellis Island for a few days to be reexamined. Goldie was allowed to stay with us for two months only.
Before leaving for Covington, Kentucky, we visited Morris' friend who lived in New York City. The apartment was big and spacious. I was most impressed with their passing around a box of chocolates as if that was always done.
We came to live at 429 Scott Street in Covington, Kentucky where Miriam and Aaron Schilmeister had preceded us in April 1921. They lived on the third floor, we lived on the second floor and Morris and Ben's store was on the ground floor. Morris got an extra two months stay for Goldie, but unfortunately she had to leave. He was able to find a home for her in Berlin, Germany. She lost her life in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
We arrived in Covington in October 1021, and I was immediately enrolled in the first District School, 1st grade because I knew no English. By the end of the school year, I spike English very well and had a wonderful summer playing with the children in the neighborhood. I remember wondering then if I'd ever be as happy again. I finished the 8th grade and started high school, but only went there for one semester. Morris decided that I should go to a business school so I could learn to make a living.
I went to Littleford Business School for twelve months and studied bookkeeping and stenography. I got a job as a bookkeeper at Newman Bros. Mfg. Co. for $12.00 a week.
My mother and father had a small apartment on the third floor of my brother's-in-law house, and few expenses. I had many friends in Covington and Cincinnati. We had get-togethers at each other's houses and life was pleasant.
When Aaron bought a house in the suburbs of Cincinnati, we moved in with them, with this lovely new house. We enjoyed it for several years. Newman Bros. moved to a bigger place and I made a little more money.
Then the Great Depression of 1929 started to set in. Aaron had to rent out the house and we shuttled back and forth between it, a rented apartment and the old house in Covington. When Aaron and his family moved to the apartment in Cincinnati, I went to live with them and my mother and father reluctantly went to live in an old age home.
Papa died there in October 1934. Mama became very depressed so I decided to rent a room in someone's house with her. But it was so ill kept and dirty that we couldn't stand it. We lived there only a couple of weeks and Mama went back to the Home and I went back to live with the Schilmeisters in Covington.
Meanwhile, Newman Bros. had business problems and laid me off along with many others. I found a few days work here and there. Then Newman's opened their business again and re-hired me for $8.00 a week. Life was very grim.
My cousin, Rose Cohen, started writing me to come and live with them in New York. She wrote glowing letters about the well paying job she had and how many dates she had. I hated to leave my family, especially my mother, but she advised me to go. I would look for work and maybe meet someone nice and find happiness.
I left Covington in October or November 1035. I can still see my sister crying and me saying, "why are you crying?" I think she felt worse than I did. The bus finally came and I went off to the Bronx, New York.
It took some time until I found a job. No one either had one available or they didn't hire Jews. One of the places I applied to was a Dictaphone agency. A pretty little Irish girl said to me quite frankly, "I hardly ever get a call that says 'no Jews', but if I do, I make sure to send a Jewish girl." Needless to say I never heard from her. I finally got a job doing various office work. I enjoyed it and the people I worked with. I had a lot of friends, both girls and boys.
Just about a year after I arrived, a friend asked me to triple date with her. She had met a boy at a swimming pool and had asked her to get two friends and he would bring the two friends to go out together. I said OK; not realizing that it was the night Yom Kippur ended. When the evening rolled around, I didn't feel like going out after fasting all day but she didn't have a phone and I couldn't call her to tell her, so I had to go.
When I climbed up the three flights of stairs, there were guys sitting on the couch. I glanced at them and picked out the tallest and best-looking one, unless he was the original date. We talked for a while and the shortest one got up and took my arm. The tall one quickly got up, shoved him aside, took my arm and said, "Let's go." He didn't change in the fifty-one years that we were married.
We went to the Rockefeller Center, but too late to see the Rockettes. But we saw a movie at reduced prices. We went to a restaurant for snacks afterwards and I enjoyed that. My date kept up a lively conversation and I didn't have to wonder what to say next.
We started dating after that. When I told him I was going home for my nephew's Bar Mitzvah, he said he would like to come along. That was OK with me. On the next date he told me that his mother said he couldn't go traveling with a girl unless he was married to her. I don't know what my answer was. Maybe it was "Well - OK!" He suggested that we start a savings account and get married there. When I wrote home to tell them I was getting married to a cab driver, my brother answered "Do you have to marry him?" No, I didn't have to, but I felt very good when I was with him. Somehow I felt comfortable and safe.
Nat's sister, Ann Kane, offered to drive us to Cincinnati. Her little girl and their mother, Sara, whom we called Sonya, also came along.
We arrived in Covington, Kentucky in June 1937 and we all stayed in Miriam and Aaron's house. My girl friends made a bridal shower for me, which I didn't expect. The gifts helped us get started.
At the insistence of my mother, my brother Morris arranged for Rabbi Silver, a well-known and respected rabbi in Cincinnati and elsewhere to marry us in his study. Then the family went for dinner at a caterer's house, given by my brother Ben. After that, we all went to Morris and Yetta's apartment for a reception for family and friends. Every detail was arranged. It was hard to leave.
Nat's mother had arranged an apartment for us to move into when we got back, but for some reason it was unavailable and we stayed with his parents for a short time until we got a one-room kitchenette apartment. It was bright and sparkling clean and it was ours. We loved it. We lived sparingly and bought one piece of furniture at a time. We never bought on credit but made sure that whatever we got was of good quality.
We lived there about two years and then moved to a three-room apartment, also in the Bronx. There we had to get more furniture. We had saved some money and my mother-in-law borrowed some. We got a beautiful bedroom set and some living room furniture. Some of it has lasted us until today. I was still working at my first job, Arnel's and Nat was still a cab driver.
Ellen was born on January 28, 1940. My mother-in-law accompanied Nat when he took me to Bronx Hospital for the delivery. At that time a woman stayed in the hospital for two weeks after giving birth. She came to the hospital with Nat to bring me home and make me comfortable. I am sure she would have stayed with me longer, but she had a sick husband at home to look after. She always managed to find time for me when I needed her. I loved her very much.
When Ellen was about ten months old, she got very ill and started to lose weight. Our doctor, Dr. Penn, couldn't figure out what was wrong with her and we put her in the Bronx Hospital. She went from bad to worse and after a couple of weeks we prevailed on Dr. Penn to enroll her in Children's Hospital in Manhattan. It was very prestigious, very expensive, and very selective about whom they accepted. They had fine doctors, but they couldn't diagnose her illness. By the end of December they told us that it was a matter of time. Then the day after New Year, they asked permission to puncture her eardrum. A young intern had noticed that she kept pulling on her ear and perhaps it was an ear infection. It turned out to be an infected mastoid. Penicillin had just started to be used and that saved her. It was a long process.
We got Ellen back in March and I started getting homesick for my family at home. I wrote Aaron, who was a carpenter contractor and asked him if he thought Nat could get a job as an electrician. His answer was "come home."
We arrived in Cincinnati in June 1941. They had a lovely apartment in Avondale and we stayed with them for a few weeks until Nat got a job. He didn't have much experience, but he winged it and did fine. He had quit school at 16 and wanted to get a job, but his mother told him she registered him in a trade school to become an electrician and he had to go there. When he finished the course it was hard to get work so that was why he was a cab driver.
We got an apartment and Nat asked my mother to come live with us. She was with us a week or two and gently apologized for wanting to go back to the home. She said young people should live by themselves. Perhaps it was more restful at the Home.
After a short time, we moved to another apartment. I can't remember the reason. Nat went from job to job. Money was scarce. We always had enough to eat but certainly no extras. There was a time when Ellen had only one pair of socks, which I washed out every night for the next morning. However, I never despaired. I became pregnant and Janet was born in 1944. We had gotten a bigger apartment, Nat found a better job and things started to look up. We saw daylight.
Howard was born in 1946. When he was three months old we got an eviction notice. The owner of the building died, his son came back from the service and since we were the last tenants to occupy this four-apartment building, he decided to make us move. Apartments were hard to find and if you did find one they didn't want children. I finally found a place in a big one-family house where the landlord lived on the first floor, up a staircase they had a bedroom, I had a big landing, two bedrooms, a kitchen and bath. The stairway led through my landing where I had to put my couch, to the apartment upstairs. I never knew who was going to walk through my place.
As always we knew better times were coming. Nat had lost his job at Wright Aeronautical when the war was over and was now working as a maintenance electrician for the B&O Railroad. His territory covered parts of Ohio and Indiana. He would be away from home a week at a time. He was very unhappy being away from home and with men who drank and he had nothing in common with them. Then one day he came home and when he picked up Howard he didn't want to come to him and started to cry. The next day, Nat gave the B&O two weeks' notice. This was in August 1948. We started our long haul toward making a future for out little family. Mayers Electric Co. was born by a man who felt a great responsibility for his wife and children.
Nat started knocking on doors of small businesses and spreading word among his many friends and acquaintances. I did the bookkeeping and the phone,
By 1954 we were able to buy a house in the suburbs. We still did business from the house but we got an answering service so I didn't have stay home to answer the phone. I resumed having a cleaning woman every Friday.
I never took time to socialize with other women during the day but went to PTA meetings and helped out with Girl Scout Cookie Sales.
It was at that time that I became interested in Zionism. Ellen had asked to join a Labor Zionist Youth Group in the Talmud Torah called Habonim. Through that and through a friend I knew many years before, I joined Pioneer Women, a staunch Zionist group. I was immediately asked to be Recording Secretary and then Treasurer and was Chairwoman twice. I joined other Jewish groups but NA'AMAT (Pioneer Women) is the organization I am still active in. Nat supported me in all my endeavors as I supported him in his.
ELLIS ISLAND DATABASE
Rosa Lechtier Kischenew, Roumania 1921 9
On the ship manifest it says they are going to stay with Morris Losaure (note spelling) Skat St. 429, Covington, KY. She was traveling with
0016. Leuchtier, Elli M 58 M Roumania Kischenew, Roumania
0017. Lechtier, Hanna F 47 M Roumania Kischenew, Roumania
0018. Lechter, Golda F 17 S Roumania Kischenew, Roumania
0019. Lechtier, Rosa F 9y S Roumania Kischenew, Roumania
It also says that Elli had come to the US in 1891 also and resided in "Tonnis" whatever that means (Tennessee?). He lost his right hand? (Never heard that before.) Golda is listed as "crippled" and required mental observation and we know how tragically that turned out. Go to www.ellisisland.org and search for Rosa Lechtier and you will be able to click on a button to see the ship manifest yourself. The ship was the Berengaria, arrived September 18, 1921 and departed from Southampton, England.
EI-383 ROSE LESSURE (LECHZER) MAYERS BIRTH DATE: MAY 24, 1910 INTERVIEW DATE: 8/17/1993 RUNNING TIME: 1:00:30 INTERVIEWER: PAUL E. SIGRIST, JR. RECORDING ENGINEER: KEVIN DALEY INTERVIEW LOCATION: ELLIS ISLAND RECORDING STUDIO TRANSCRIPT PREPARED BY: NANCY VEGA, 10/1994 TRANSCRIPT NOT REVIEWED
RUSSIA, 1921 AGE 11 PASSAGE ON "THE BERENGARIA"
SIGRIST: Good afternoon. This is Paul Sigrist for the National Park Service. Today is Tuesday, August 17, 1993. I'm at the Ellis Island Recording Studio with Rose Mayers. Mrs. Mayers came from Russia in 1921 when she was eleven years old. Anyway, welcome. And let's begin by giving me your birth date.
MAYERS: I was born May the 24th, 1910.
SIGRIST: And what was your maiden name?
MAYERS: My name in Russia was Lechzer.
SIGRIST: Can you spell it, please?
MAYERS: Well. ( she laughs ) I have to think about that. L-E-C-H-T-Z-E-R.
SIGRIST: I see.
MAYERS: Would be the closest.
SIGRIST: And then was that changed in America?
MAYERS: Yes. For some peculiar reason my name was Lessure, the family name is Lessure. L-E-S-S-U-R-E. My father had been in the United States previously, like about 1890 or so. He came by himself without my mother's knowledge, left her with two young sons because she would never have come anyway. So we left, and after he left he wrote to her, or wrote to the family where he was and what he was doing. He was here a couple of years, and he adopted the name of Lessure. I believe he said that a cousin of his had lived in the United States and had changed his name to Lessure, and that's why he used that name. So he came, I don't remember the details, of course. But he had come to Newport, Kentucky where a sister of his lived. Newport is right across the river from Cincinnati. [p. 2]
SIGRIST: Do you know why his sister would have ended up in Kentucky?
MAYERS: I have no idea. But she was already here, with an older sister. Her married name was Klatch, K-L-A-T-C-H.
SIGRIST: Thank you. And this was about 1890, you said?
MAYERS: Somewhere in the 1890's. He lived here for a couple of years. He used to send home mother, money to mother, which her brother took and she never got. But he wanted to have a dream, after a couple of years. His mother came to America in a dream, and said, "You've got to go home to your wife." So he picked up and went home to his wife.
SIGRIST: What was he doing in Kentucky for work?
MAYERS: My guess is that he was a cattler with a pack on his back, going into Kentucky. That's what I think he did, but . . .
SIGRIST: You don't really know.
MAYERS: I don't really know.
SIGRIST: What was your dad's name?
MAYERS: Ellie, Eli.
MAYERS: E-L-I, yes.
SIGRIST: And can you tell me a little bit about his personality?
MAYERS: His personality? Well, ( she laughs ) all I can say is I was born in their later years. My father was forty-six, my mother forty-seven. So I remember them as old people more or less.
SIGRIST: Well, tell me when you were growing up how you saw your dad, what his personality was like when you were growing up. [p. 3]
MAYERS: Well, he was tall, he was strong. My father had an amputated hand at the wrist.
SIGRIST: How did he get that?
MAYERS: He was a young man, somewhere in the early twenties. He was engaged to my mother. Now, he worked at a farm. Now, I don't know whether he had an infection or whether he was hurt by a machine, but it's a very interesting story. He had his hand amputated while he was engaged to my mother, and she decided that she was not going to marry a man like that, because he'd never make a living for her. So she says, "We're Jewish." And these were biblical costumes, I guess. I don't know them, but this is really true, because I remember hearing those stories. She sent back the engagement papers saying that she was not going to marry him. But he wouldn't agree, so he sent them back to her, and she had to marry him. That seems strange to us these days, but . . .
SIGRIST: Now, he was still in Europe at that point.
MAYERS: That was, of course, when they were just engaged. And, of course, he got married. He was a grain merchant when I remember him. He had a little store in Stivishte, the little town where I was born.
SIGRIST: Can you spell that, please?
SIGRIST: Great. Can you describe the town for me a little bit, what it looked like?
MAYERS: A little bit. I was there a couple of years ago, but it's different. It looked all the same. [p. 4]
SIGRIST: What do you remember as a kid when you think back and close your eyes?
MAYERS: Close my eyes. Small little houses, individual houses. They were fairly close together. Mud streets, but there was one big road going through town. A big lake. Mother used to take me with her when she wanted to do the laundry in the lake. She washed in the lake.
SIGRIST: Tell me how you did laundry in those days.
MAYERS: Well, as far as I can remember, don't forget I'm eighty-two years old. This is a long time ago. My mother would just take everything I suppose, in a basket, and I'd go with her. I mean, she'd just wash the clothes with soap in the lake. And then she'd take them home and hang it up in the barn or something.
SIGRIST: Did this lake also supply the water for the town?
MAYERS: Yes. We had water carriers who would come with big barrels in their wagons, with strong horses, you know, big wagons. And they would deliver water, and the people paid for the water.
SIGRIST: Very interesting.
SIGRIST: Tell me some more details about town. Do you remember maybe stores or what the downtown area looked like?
MAYERS: The downtown area. All right, I'll tell you this. We were Jewish, as I said. Most of the town, I think all but very few people were Jewish. And we all lived in this little town. Now, I can't say how many people were there. I don't know. We had a few synagogues. We had a pharmacy with the only telephone in town. What else? Uh, the noble, nobility lived around us, on the outside. It seemed like they were in a circle around us, but I can't say for sure. [p. 5]
SIGRIST: Would they have been Gentile, the nobility?
MAYERS: Yes, yes. Well, no Jews were nobility. I don't know. You must know a little bit of the history. If not, read it up.
SIGRIST: But what were the relationships in those days between . . .
MAYERS: Let me tell you this one thing. I must include this.
MAYERS: I remember distinctly on spring and summer evenings after dinner, we'd sit outside and could hear the peasants around us singing. It was beautiful.
SIGRIST: And I assume the peasants also would be Gentile. Would they be Catholic?
MAYERS: Well, they were Serfs, yeah.
SIGRIST: So they're still, they're still sort of employing a feudal type society.
MAYERS: That's it, that's it. They work for the, what, the nobility.
SIGRIST: The landowners.
MAYERS: The landowners. That was the nobility. The peasants did not own land. They worked for the others.
SIGRIST: How did the Gentiles and the Jews get on?
MAYERS: Very well, very well, until the Revolution, of course.
SIGRIST: Which changed everything.
MAYERS: That changed everything.
SIGRIST: Well, when you were a young child you remember the relationships being good.
MAYERS: Yeah, up until ten years, when I was ten years old is when all Hell broke loose.
SIGRIST: Oh, good, well, we'll talk about that a little bit later. Describe your house for me. [p. 6]
MAYERS: Much as I can remember, you walked down a few stairs. It was one floor.
SIGRIST: Did you say you walked down a few stairs?
MAYERS: Two or three steps. A big room, square room. Earth floor. On one side was a very small room that was used for a bedroom. Straight ahead was the kitchen, great, big oven. And then on top of the oven was finished. I don't, plaster maybe, if they had plaster at that time. Because I know in the wintertime, when it was very cold, I used to go up with my sister and my brother and we'd keep warm on top of the oven.
SIGRIST: What was the oven made out of?
MAYERS: I think brick, but I'm not sure. I'm not sure.
SIGRIST: And that was sort of the central point of the kitchen was the oven.
MAYERS: That was the oven. And it was something like a sink. I can't remember what that looked like, because I know we washed our hands in there. And mother washed the dishes in there, but I cannot remember exactly what it looked like.
SIGRIST: Do you remember the earthen floors in the house, if you needed any kind of special care, or how you took care of the earthen floors?
MAYERS: It seems to me my mother used to sprinkle some kind of powder or something on top of them.
SIGRIST: Was it dusty inside because of the earthen floors?
SIGRIST: It was packed.
MAYERS: No, it was packed. But then there were other rooms. There was another great, big room there, and I don't remember the furniture there at all. And then there was another bedroom. It was a dark bedroom, and that's about all I can remember. [p. 7]
SIGRIST: It's a good-size house.
MAYERS: Yeah, yeah. We had that house. And then next door there was another small house that my father owned, and that was rented to someone, who was a scribe. He knew how to read and write, and whenever anybody got a letter from, well, maybe their children in America, they would take it to him and he would read it for them.
SIGRIST: The town scribe. Tell me, who lived in the house with you? It's you and your mother, and your father.
SIGRIST: And then you mentioned some siblings. Can you list them by name?
MAYERS: Okay, all right. Miriam was my oldest sister, and the youngest child. I had two brothers in the United States.
SIGRIST: Who were much older than you, probably, the two of you.
MAYERS: One brother was about twenty-two or twenty-three years older than I. In the house, Miriam, who was fourteen years older than I. The next one, my brother Herschel. It seems to me he was much, much younger than Miriam. He was about, no. He was about eleven years older than I, yes. And then there was another sister who was eight years older than I.
SIGRIST: And what was her name?
MAYERS: Her name was Golda.
SIGRIST: Now, can you, think back to your early childhood. Tell me something about your relationship with your brothers and sisters. Is there a story that comes out in your mind, or something that you enjoy doing together with them? Anything like that? Maybe you all got in trouble one time? [p. 8]
MAYERS: No, no. No, I can't think of one thing in relation to my, my oldest sister got married when I was seven years old, moved to a journalist's loft in Russia. And she wanted to send me some toys. It was a little set of furniture, doll furniture. I remember that. And I guess I must have written. I didn't know I could write at that time, but I guess I could, because there wasn't anybody else that wrote for me, to tell her that I was a big girl and I was too big for toys. And I got a letter back saying that no, I wasn't. That those were for me to play with.
SIGRIST: ( he laughs ) Were you closest to the sister, what was her name, Golda, who was your . . .
SIGRIST: Because she's the closest to you in age, correct?
MAYERS: She was closer to me in age. She was eight years older.
SIGRIST: So that's still a substantial difference.
MAYERS: As I remember, she was sick, a big problem with Golda. Golda died in the Holocaust. You'll hear about her.
SIGRIST: Yeah, sure. You said she was sick as a child. What was she sick with?
MAYERS: Uh, she lived as they told me as a result of typhoid fever, typhus, typhoid. But also, also mentally there was something wrong, they thought. I don't think there was anything serious.
SIGRIST: She was maybe just simple.
MAYERS: Something simple, but enough to keep her out of the United States with us. [p. 9]
SIGRIST: That's right, because that's an important part of your story later on. But as you remember, as a child in Russia, you just simply remember her being ill, or just . . .
MAYERS: No, just never got along with her. And my other, the others were children.
SIGRIST: Oh, yeah. You really were a true baby in the family.
MAYERS: It was, there was a woman, a young blonde girl who was supposed to take care of me. I remember her name. I remember she took care of me, but I don't remember any close relations with her, whether I liked her or disliked her or anything. And then there was another woman who used to come and help my mother clean the house, I think. But I know we had a cow, and she used to feed the, yeah, feet the cats.
SIGRIST: Did the cow have a name?
MAYERS: No, but that was supposed to be my playmate, because they bought it when I was born, the day I was born. ( she laughs )
SIGRIST: Did you, because you were born so late in life, your mother was how old, again, when you were born?
MAYERS: She was forty-seven.
SIGRIST: Oh, my goodness. So she was born in the, what, 1870's sometime?
MAYERS: I guess. And I was born 1810, I was born.
SIGRIST: ( they laugh ) Did she ever relate any stories about your birth to you?
MAYERS: Well, all right. She didn't have a midwife like everybody else had. They sent for a doctor, and she said it was a woman doctor. I don't remember later on a woman doctor again. All I can remember is an old, old man that was a doctor. He was professor, and very highly thought of, you know, almost revered, because he had gone to school in Vienna. But she said that they had, her son was born on a Tuesday when my father was at the marketplace, and I had to run and get my father to tell him this news. And I was known to my father as the child, never by name. "Where's the child?" I remember him picking me up, holding me in his arms, buying me little somethings when he came home. I remember a little (?) whistle that he once brought home. [p. 10]
SIGRIST: I can only imagine that you must have been a surprise to them at that age.
MAYERS: Oh, yes, indeed. ( she laughs ) And my mother told me that she was very, very embarrassed when she was pregnant. However, when I was older, when she was older, she was very happy that she had me.
SIGRIST: Can you tell me, what was your mother's name?
SIGRIST: That would be C-H-A-N-N-A-H? Channah, is that . . .
MAYERS: No, we spelled it with just an H.
SIGRIST: And what was her maiden name?
MAYERS: Hmm. No, I can't recall it.
SIGRIST: Well, maybe you'll think of it later. Is it written down on here somewhere? Well, let's see. We can look it up afterwards. Can you tell me a little bit about your mom's personality?
MAYERS: Well, my mom was a redhead, light red hair. And I heard later on that she probably had a temper.
SIGRIST: Butzarsky, is that her, "my father became engaged to Anne Butzarsky."
SIGRIST: That's B-U-T-Z-A-R-S-K-Y. For the sake of the tape I am reading off of a paper prepared in 1928 by Mrs. Mayers when she was in school, about her family tree. So her name was Hanna Butzrsky.
SIGRIST: Okay. I didn't mean to interrupt you.
MAYERS: That's all right.
SIGRIST: Tell me about her.
MAYERS: On the papers in the United States it was Anna. Anna, we pronounced it Anna. [p. 11]
SIGRIST: Her personality.
MAYERS: All right. As far as I was concerned she was a very sweet, gentle woman, no formal education whatsoever. But she had been brought up by an older brother and sister-in-law. It seems that, well, her father died in a fire when she was only three years old. I don't know when her mother died. It may have been while she was engaged to my father, but long ago. But so, somehow had a sixth sense about everything. You know, it's laughable. Sometimes I wonder the things that she would make me eat. Later on I learned I was so glad I had the right vitamins and minerals. At any rate, I, if I were very upset I'd put my head in her lap, and that's about all I needed, and I'd feel much better. Everything would go away. A very gentle person.
SIGRIST: But am I to believe that perhaps with other people she was not so gentle?
MAYERS: No, not with the other people. She'd yell at my father. That is what my older sister told me later on, that she yelled at my father. But, no, for the most part, I'd say she was, because I know from the relatives here in the United States, my father's relatives, that they'd always go to her to complain, and then they'd leave smiling. I had a sister-in-law who was once divorced from my brother and then remarried. And then I remember one time here in the United States I was at home and my sister-in-law came barging in, and they made me go out and play. And she looked so mad and irritable. And then after about a half hour she came out smiling. Even then, at such an early age, I thought she's going in there to tell that lady about her son and complain, and then she comes out smiling. How come? [p. 12]
SIGRIST: Now, your father came back to Russia when, roughly?
MAYERS: Well, he was only away two, two-and-a-half years.
SIGRIST: Oh, so . . .
MAYERS: So it was still in the 1890's.
SIGRIST: Some time in the 1890's. Did he ever, shall I say, did he regret going back to Russia? Did he really not want to come back to Russia, do you think?
MAYERS: That's right. Because from the stories I heard, and you understand that I was too young to really know about these things, he wanted my mother to come to the United States, and he begged her to take her and the two little boys to the United States. But she would not go, because she was a very observant person, kind of a Jewish thing, you know. She was orthodox, very observant, and she'd heard that people didn't believe in God and people were not religious in the United States, and she just would not go, so he remained at home.
SIGRIST: Well, what finally changed his mind? Why so many years later did he decide to come back?
MAYERS: Oh, come on! ( she laughs ) That was right at the Revolution time.
SIGRIST: So it was the political climate, then, that made him change his mind.
MAYERS: Oh, my land, yes.
SIGRIST: Well, talk a little bit about that for me, please. About . . .
MAYERS: You want me to talk about it now?
SIGRIST: Yeah, please.
MAYERS: All right. The revolution started in 1917, but we really didn't feel it until maybe a couple of years later. Well, then these gangs started coming through town, killing and slaughtering and burning. [p. 13]
SIGRIST: Indiscriminately, or just Jewish people?
MAYERS: Just Jewish people.
SIGRIST: So these are the pogroms.
MAYERS: That's right. But pogroms were before that. This was more than a pogrom, because it was constant. Maybe they let us alone for a day or two or a week maybe, and then they'd be there again, and it was constant. There was one day when we heard that they were going to come and burn the town. So everybody got up and left. And we all walked to the next town, which was Belatserkov, Belatserkov, in Russian. I just kept following everybody, and the first thing I know I wasn't with my family or anything. I wasn't frightened or anything, I knew (?). I never frightened easy anyhow. But my father sent my brother to go looking for me, and then they, he found me there, and they all came there anyhow after a while. So that's what was happening, but that, why we came, let me tell you why we came to the United States, what made us come. My two brothers were here in the United States. In fact, one brother came here about a year before I was even born, and then the other one came about a year later. He got in touch with some of his friends in the United States. There was one in New York, I know, and one in Chicago. I don't know if there were any others. And that group decided, since they couldn't reach their parents either by phone or by wire or by letter, nothing reached Russia at that time. They decided to send for two of them to go to Russia, look for all the parents in that little town, and bring them to the United States. Well, these two young men got as far as Roumania, and then they just didn't know how to go, or they didn't know how to cross the border. That was Nesta River, between Roumania, at that time Roumania, you know, the map has changed many times. They decided to hire someone that knows the terrain, knows the country, that would go over and look for their families. They hired a man and his wife to go over there and see if they could find them. Well, they evidently were pretty smart people. They knew the place really well. And they got there, we weren't in Stavishte, because we had gone away from there. And so they reached Belatserkov and found us, these different families. I can't remember who they were, but I know that there were a few of them. Then all of us, but my father had gone back to Stavishta to see if he could salvage anything from the houses. [p. 14]
SIGRIST: Do you remember if the town had indeed been destroyed?
MAYERS: Had what?
SIGRIST: Had been destroyed. When he went back, what did he find?
MAYERS: Yeah, it was destroyed, because when I went visiting there a few years ago, they told me, and that reminded me, I do remember that. And, but they rebuilt the town almost the same as it had been before, and that's how it looked today, years later. Anyhow, they found us, but my father had gone back to Stavishta, and they told us, you know, they were in a hurry to get us all together to start on our journey. So my mother sent my brother Herschel to Stavishta to tell my father to hurry up and come, we're going to America. On the way there he found this gang of marauders, and there was a woman there that they were molesting. They had found another group that were on their way out. And so he tried to defend this woman, and they killed him.
SIGRIST: Killed your brother Herschel?
MAYERS: My brother Herschel.
SIGRIST: How old was he when that happened?
MAYERS: How old was he then? Well, if I was, what did I say, he was eleven years older. If I was ten, he was twenty-one.
SIGRIST: A young man.
MAYERS: So, but my father must have heard from these people that my brother had met, going back to Stavishta or someplace. So we knew what the situation was. And I suppose he must have buried him on the way, or taken him or whatever. He came back to Stavishta, and he got prepared. We prepared to go on our journey. They had several wagons they hired, these people, of hay and straw and all that. Whatever little bit we had I suppose we had in the straw there. Now, I remember this. I had my school uniform that had, it was a brown sateen. You know what sateen is? A little collar here, and a belt here, but it was sewn in, not separate belts. They put their jewelry here and here and in my hair. My mother baked some brown bread, and she put money or whatever else, you know, the precious things, into the bread. [p. 15]
SIGRIST: She put it into the bread. Isn't that interesting.
MAYERS: In the bread.
SIGRIST: We need to pause so that Kevin can flip all the tapes, and we'll get you on your way.
MAYERS: All right. Now we're not . . .
END OF SIDE ONE
BEGINNING OF SIDE TWO
SIGRIST: Okay. We're now resuming. Is it right for me to assume, then, that this packing process is happening very quickly, that once that couple found you and your family . . .
MAYERS: Well, then in a couple of days, I suppose, very quickly.
SIGRIST: It was over very quickly. So you're hiding valuables in your clothing, and in the food. You said your . . .
MAYERS: In bread.
SIGRIST: In bread. What else did you take with you? What else did you have to take?
MAYERS: I don't, I don't recall anything, but there must have been something, a few things, that I know of. What could there have been?
SIGRIST: Especially if everything was destroyed.
MAYERS: We walked out of Stavishta, and we walked to this next town.
SIGRIST: As a young girl around ten years old, are you frightened by what's going on, or are you sort of not aware . . .
MAYERS: I'm not frightened.
SIGRIST: It's more of an adventure than a frightening . . .
MAYERS: I don't know if it was an adventure, just something that had to be, and that's what happened. So we just take it as it comes. [p. 16]
SIGRIST: Do you remember your parents, how they reacted to all these events? You know, was this, did they just become hardened to it all after a while?
MAYERS: I really can't say.
SIGRIST: And they just lost a son, you know, a young adult.
MAYERS: It seemed like we were almost without any feelings. We just didn't feel frightened or sad or anything. It just, nothing. I do remember that when I heard about my brother being killed my first thought was, "I guess I'd better not tell Mama." That's it.
SIGRIST: Well, tell me, then, a little bit about what happened. You got everything into the wagon. How many wagons are there? Just one, or . . .
MAYERS: It was more than one. At least two, there may have been more. Now, I don't know. I was only interested in the one, maybe the one behind me. But, you know, as we were riding along, I remember talking to my father as if nothing had happened. Told him about the soil. You know, and the rich soil and the things growing. It's strange. We rode along, and if, I was told if we were stopped I should say, "Where are we going?" "We're going to such-and-such a town," which was the next town, wherever we were. We were to say that we were going to the next town. Finally, and I don't think it took too many days, we were at the border, the Russian border.
SIGRIST: This would be the border of . . .
SIGRIST: Of Roumania and Russia. [p. 17]
MAYERS: Niesta, Russia, the border of Roumania.
SIGRIST: Is it, it's nearing . . .
MAYERS: Just (?).
SIGRIST: Miriam is with you, Golda is with you.
SIGRIST: Herschel has died.
MAYERS: Yeah. Miriam's husband.
SIGRIST: Oh, Miriam's married, that's right. So it's Miriam and her husband, and Golda and you.
SIGRIST: Mom and Dad, this couple, and other people.
MAYERS: And other people.
SIGRIST: And other people.
MAYERS: They were more than just a couple. I know there was one family, I think she was a niece or a cousin of my mother's, that was with about six children, her husband and six children.
SIGRIST: Little kids.
MAYERS: Now, yeah. Now, they were not sent for. In other words, these other families, the son sent for them. These were just our relatives, and she was a very strong woman, and she says she's going, too. And she just got on the wagon with her family, and she's going, no matter what. So there were other people. Now, we got, finally we got to the border. The woman took my sister and her husband and some of these, and the young and able people, when it was the darkest at night, you know, and they started crossing over.
SIGRIST: Would they do that in small boats?
MAYERS: Yeah, rowboats.
SIGRIST: Who supplied the boats? [p. 18]
MAYERS: They found them, or hired them, you know, paid for them. And then later on when there was a little bit light, they took the older people, took my sister that was crippled, and maybe some of the children, I guess. I don't remember that part. And they took us across. Now, my sister and brother-in-law were stopped by the border guards, the guards on the border. And they were arrested and taken to this town. I don't quite remember the details of it. It doesn't seem to come out. Let me say what they did with us. They also, oh. And then guards met us, too.
SIGRIST: This is on the Roumanian side.
MAYERS: This is on the Roumanian side, yeah. Yeah, because Russia wouldn't let anybody out, Roumania wouldn't let anybody in. But we were already in there, couldn't do anything about it. But we were stopped in, you know, not in the town, in the countryside where there's nobody. And so they brought us into the town, too, and we, and my sister and brother-in-law were there. Now, I don't know whether they just let them stay and were watching them or what, I can't recall. But we were all there, and we had to go on a trial, in a courthouse. It was very cold, I remember. I was leaning against the wall, trying to warm up. My brother-in-law and my sister were sentenced to an interment, inter, what's the word? A camp where they . . .
SIGRIST: Interment camp.
MAYERS: Interment, is that the right one? Yes, an interment camp. Why weren't my mother and father there? I don't know. But I was there. And my sister or my brother-in-law said that they had some relatives in Kishnev which at that time was the capital of Roumania. I don't know if it was, Basarabia is where we. Evidently Shirokov was the name of the town. Evidently it had big relations with Roumania or whatever, or maybe it was part of that country then. But, at any rate, they said they had relatives there, and that would they please let the child, let them leave the child with relatives so that I wouldn't have to go with them, so I didn't go to this camp with them. They were there about six months or so. My father negotiated with somebody, and he paid ransom or whatever and got them out after a while. [p. 19]
SIGRIST: Did they ever tell any stories about being in the jail?
MAYERS: Not too much. It was not difficult, and they did have enough to eat. However, they couldn't just get up and go.
SIGRIST: So that delayed you.
MAYERS: But they said, yeah, but I was with my mother and father.
SIGRIST: Right, but I mean it delays the whole trip just that much longer.
MAYERS: Yeah. It took us a whole year to get here. And then, let's see. I was with my father and mother, and then they, and Golda. And then they came back, and then we had to go to, what we were doing in Hamburg, Germany I have no idea, because we left from South Hampton, England. But we were interred there too, for some reason, and we had to steal borders. We didn't just, you know, get a ticket for a train and go. We had to find our way somehow, and we had to just go across borders, but there were guards. We somehow made it.
SIGRIST: Do you think that Hamburg, was Hamburg actually your destination, or did you just kind of go aimlessly?
MAYERS: No. I don't think we went aimlessly. I think, well, maybe, yeah. I guess they figured out that was the best way to go. Probably someone figured it out. There were a few families, don't' forget.
SIGRIST: Do you remember at any of these points where there were guards, being searched? You've got valuables sewn into your clothes.
MAYERS: Whatever happened to them? I don't even remember bringing them to the United States. Maybe they sold them. [p. 20]
SIGRIST: Or maybe they were used to get your sister and brother-in-law out of jail.
MAYERS: That's it. At any rate, I remember the one instance where it was Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, I don't know. It was in the middle of the night, and I remember the lights going on. It was a train station. And we couldn't get them on, and we finally got on the baggage train and went from one place to the other. And then, but when I got to Hamburg, then the people were very nice to us. But that also was under somebody's jurisdiction. We didn't just, we just weren't free to move around.
SIGRIST: Was it like a refugee camp of some sort?
MAYERS: No. That was not a camp. I think it was like an apartment. Maybe it was a camp. Maybe it was, something like that.
SIGRIST: How long did you have to stay there?
MAYERS: We stayed quite a long time, a few months.
SIGRIST: Do you remember anything . . .
MAYERS: So between, between Roumania, and between Hamburg it took almost a year, because then from Hamburg we went to London, and we stayed in London for a while. I was vaccinated there, I was vaccinated in Hamburg. And, well, so we were under somebody's jurisdiction there.
SIGRIST: When you were in Hamburg, did you take it, you must have taken a ship to London from Hamburg.
MAYERS: I guess. I don't know.
SIGRIST: But you don't remember that.
MAYERS: I don't remember it at all. [p. 21]
SIGRIST: What do you, do you have any stories or anything about staying in Hamburg for those months? Did anything stick out in your mind?
MAYERS: I can remember soldiers. I can remember that they were so nice to me. And in my story here I wrote about the book they gave me to read. I learned German very quickly, and in a few months I was talking to them. All the children there. People were nice. I remember that the streets were so clean that if you dropped something you had to pick it up, otherwise you were fined. And everybody was very nice to us.
SIGRIST: Now, why London? Why did you go from Hamburg to London?
MAYERS: I don't know.
SIGRIST: Did you have family, or somebody have family?
MAYERS: No, no. We had no relatives anywhere along the way, none. No. No acquaintances, nobody.
SIGRIST: What do you remember about being in London?
MAYERS: Very little. Almost nothing. But I do remember Germany, because people were so nice to me. I remember playing outside, but I don't remember any children.
SIGRIST: Do you remember if you had steamship tickets in hand, or were you going to have to get them once you got to wherever it was you were leaving from?
MAYERS: My brother sent tickets. Now, maybe that's, maybe we had to go to London to pick them up. It's a possibility. I know that . . .
SIGRIST: So your brother was paying for all of this. [p. 22]
MAYERS: Oh, yes, yeah. My father had money until we got to the ship, except for the tickets. That I know. Now, we came here on the Berengaria. And we were on second class.
SIGRIST: And you left from Southampton.
MAYERS: Yeah. Not in steerage, but . . .
SIGRIST: This is . . .
MAYERS: But second class.
SIGRIST: And what time of the year is this?
MAYERS: This was in October.
SIGRIST: October of '21.
MAYERS: Yeah. Now, my sister and brother-in-law left earlier. They left in the spring. Maybe April, March or April. And perhaps, yes, I think. They left earlier. They were free to come, whereas we were waiting because my father with a, with the amputation, and my sister with her condition. Now, my brother had to arrange to be responsible for us, a guardian. He lived in Covington, Kentucky. And he had to put up bail or whatever, no, not bail.
SIGRIST: A bond.
MAYERS: A bond. Yeah. He knew a senator that lived in Covington. And he was helpful to him, so that my sister, because she was crippled, and nothing about her sanity or anything, but for that, and my father, because of his amputated hand, that they wouldn't become a ward of the state, wouldn't have to depend on welfare. And that went okay, finally. That's why we stayed in Hamburg, and that's why maybe we had to go to London. And so we came to the United States.
SIGRIST: What do you remember about the boat? [p. 23]
MAYERS: About the boat.
SIGRIST: Yeah. Tell me about the Berengaria, and what you remember about it.
MAYERS: Well, we had good food. It was nice and warm.
SIGRIST: Did anything . . .
MAYERS: And I didn't have to . . . Yeah.
SIGRIST: Did anything interesting happen while you were on the boat? Were there any . . .
MAYERS: I don't think so.
SIGRIST: No? Were you sick?
MAYERS: No. No, I wasn't sick.
SIGRIST: An uneventful trip on the boat.
MAYERS: No. Nothing, nothing outstanding whatsoever.
SIGRIST: Do you know how long it took?
MAYERS: Yeah. I think it was six or seven days, about a week.
SIGRIST: Were you all in one cabin, in second class?
MAYERS: Yes. Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
SIGRIST: Do you remember seeing the Statue of Liberty when you came into port?
MAYERS: Yes, and I remember the thrill. I really do. I don't think I knew anything about the Statue of Liberty, or that I had to look for it or anything, but I was so thrilled I can still remember that, yeah.
SIGRIST: Well, then what happened when you got into New York?
MAYERS: Okay. They examined people, or examined them, on first and second class. The steerage all had to go to Ellis Island. The others did not, and that's why my brother had sent us second class tickets and all that, with all the arrangements. Well, he was with his friend in New York waiting for us to come, and his friend, this is the story I heard, and I remember part of it. His friend suggested that he had a friend who was a reporter, and he was a good talker. He knew how to do things, and to get him to go on the boat and speak for us and there would be no problem whatsoever to take us off. Well, he got drunk, and he came on the boat, and he started talking. And evidently said something about my sister, and they held us up and sent us to Ellis Island. [p. 24]
SIGRIST: He said something about your sister's . . .
MAYERS: Your sister's mental capacity.
SIGRIST: Her mental capacities.
MAYERS: And so they took us to Ellis Island. All I can remember is a great, big hall and benches, and that's all I can remember of Ellis Island.
SIGRIST: Do you know how long you were here?
MAYERS: A few days.
SIGRIST: Oh, so you had to stay overnight.
MAYERS: Oh, yes.
SIGRIST: Do you know anything about the kind of testing that they might have put to your sister?
MAYERS: No, I don't know any, I was examined physically by a doctor, you know, looking for my eyes being clear, no breaking out of the skin or anything like that. That's all I can remember about that part. I just can't remember anything.
SIGRIST: Then I should think that they probably would have done tests with your father, too, because of his amputated arm.
MAYERS: No. Well, my father had taken care of that part, and also my sister being crippled. That all would have been okay. But they didn't know anything about her mental state, and that, I think even now you couldn't do anything about, they wouldn't allow her. But, at any rate, that was the situation with us.
SIGRIST: So what was the final outcome?
MAYERS: All right. They let my sister stay for two months, you know, stay here for two months.
SIGRIST: Not in Ellis Island. In America. [p. 25]
MAYERS: No, no, in America. And then after two months they let her have another two-month stay, but after that she had to go back. And my brother found a home for her in Germany. It was owned by B'nai B'rith, the Jewish organization. You might have heard of that probably, that had a home for people like that, and my other brother took her back to Germany. Now, we heard from people that had been there for, you know, to see other people, or had been in Germany, and the family asked them to look her up. And they said they couldn't see anything wrong with her. She was perfectly all right. They may have had some kind of, today they would have spotted, and then a psychologist would have known what to do, you know, but at that time that was the unfortunate thing. She went back to Germany, and she stayed in this home. We corresponded. And then, of course, Hitler came and Hitler took her away.
SIGRIST: Do you remember, do you remember her leaving when your, do you remember when your brother took her back?
MAYERS: Sort of. We didn't really clear. I must have shut my mind to a lot of things, maybe to Ellis Island, too.
SIGRIST: Sure, because that must have been very sad for your family.
MAYERS: Oh, of course. My poor mother.
SIGRIST: Did they ever talk about it in later life, your father and your mother ever talk about that whole situation and when she was sent back?
MAYERS: Interesting, no, no. Nobody ever talked about it. [p. 26]
SIGRIST: Well, we've got ten minutes left. Tell us a little bit about getting adjusted to America. Did you stay in New York, or did you go right to Kentucky?
MAYERS: We went to, we went to Covington, and lived in the house that my brother had.
SIGRIST: What was he doing there?
MAYERS: He had a, what they call a general store. He owned a building, and downstairs was the general store. And he had two living, two floors of living quarters. We lived on the second floor, and my sister and brother-in-law lived on the third floor.
SIGRIST: What were some of the things that you were seeing in America that you had never seen before?
MAYERS: We had washcloths. Uh, hot water coming out of the tap. I don't know. I was so busy playing. Now, this was in October. The weather was still pretty nice to go out in the backyard, and all these little boys and girls talking English, and here I am. In no time whatsoever I was talking with them. And I had the most wonderful time. And I remember the next summer thinking then, and it stayed in my mind, "I'm having such a wonderful time. I wonder if I'll ever have a good time like this again." School. I was a big girl, eleven years old. There is a third grade, I think, in Covington, where they had the German teacher, and since I knew German my brother heard about it from friends and they were told, he said they told him he ought to enroll me in that so I could understand. He said, "No." He was going to enroll me in a regular American school. He enrolled me in the first grade. And here I was, and I learned English very fast, and I remember hearing a little girl say, "Look at that big girl. She's only in the first grade." But I didn't care. I knew I, after four years I was right up there, finished school. [p. 27]
SIGRIST: Do you remember when you were learning English, do you remember like your first word?
SIGRIST: Or anything like that?
MAYERS: No. It just came so natural.
SIGRIST: You know, your mother didn't want to come to America in the 1890's. How did she feel about being there in the 1920's?
MAYERS: Well, she wasn't a complaining person, but I know she was not happy.
SIGRIST: Tell me a little bit about her Americanization, if you will, if there even was one.
MAYERS: No, none. Never learned English. Stayed in the house pretty much. Of course we had my father's relatives who lived across the Licking River in Newport. And they'd visit us, and we'd all visit them. And my mother had them to be with, so she wasn't completely alone. But, of course, I know that she missed her home. But there was nothing to do about it. I mean, if she had stayed in Russia she would have been killed, too, like everybody else, so what do you do?
SIGRIST: In Covington, was there a Jewish population or an immigrant population that she could . . .
MAYERS: No immigrants, no. No immigrants. There were a few Jewish people, but scattered through the whole town, but very, very few. She had no friends in Covington, none, and she did not mingle with the other people. She never made an effort to.
SIGRIST: Were there any ways that you as the young girl tried to Americanize yourself, perhaps in clothing or . . . [p. 28]
MAYERS: I didn't have to try. It just came so natural.
SIGRIST: Did you ever experience any kind of prejudice because you were an immigrant?
MAYERS: No. If I did, I didn't notice it. I just felt American immediately, I really did.
SIGRIST: Did your dad get a job right away?
MAYERS: My brother had the general store, and he opened another general store for my father to run. But my father knew English, because he had been there. I mean, he had been in the United States for a few years, and he knew English, so he ran a little store for him. But then, of course, things got bad and the Depression in '29, and he had to close it, and then he was too old to look for anything else. He got to be a very sad person.
SIGRIST: Do you think, in your own heart do you think your parents should have stayed in Russia?
MAYERS: How could we? We wouldn't have lasted any time at all.
SIGRIST: Well, but, you know, they were on in years at this point, you know. They were in their late forties, and they had such a hard time assimilating into America. Do you think that they would have actually been happier?
MAYERS: Well, not at that time because we all would have been killed.
SIGRIST: It was a bad time.
MAYERS: For sure, we all would have been killed.
SIGRIST: So really, they were sort of stuck between a rock and a hard spot, you know.
MAYERS: For them it was hard. No, they didn't regret coming. They had to come. And it was, I mean, it was sad, but it wasn't impossible, because they did have the relatives. [p. 29]
SIGRIST: Right, right, so they had some support.
MAYERS: They had some support, of course. And my mother had her two sons that she had and she never thought that she would ever, I remember as a little girl her saying, "I'll never see them again." That was a long ways away from Russia to America. And, of course, during the Revolution you never heard from them. So . . .
SIGRIST: So it was like getting long-lost children back, sort of, for her.
MAYERS: That's right. Oh, my brother, I can remember when he came on the ship and saw her. He fell on his knees and he kissed her hands, and I can still remember it was so sad.
SIGRIST: So America is really a mixed blessing for them, isn't it, really?
MAYERS: Oh, sure.
SIGRIST: It's so good, and yet so hard.
MAYERS: Well, it was hard, but they were happy to be here, sure.
SIGRIST: Are you glad they came?
MAYERS: Me? ( she laughs ) Of course, I am. Oh, my land, yes. Of course. But I feel American.
SIGRIST: Like you grew up here, sort of?
MAYERS: Of course I do, I really do. I don't feel any, I don't feel Russian, none whatsoever. No allegiance to Russia. I was there two years ago. My daughter wanted her roots, so I took her to Russia to find Stavishta, and I found a woman who knew my father.
SIGRIST: Was that emotional for you, or . . .
MAYERS: Oh, it certainly was, it certainly was. I went into, well, that's a long story. ( they laugh ) No, that's okay. But it was emotional, it certainly was. And I tried to remember some of it. There was very little I could remember, except that the town looked exactly as it did before, even though it had burned to the ground and they rebuilt it. [p. 30]
SIGRIST: Well, Mrs. Mayers, we've got to end now.
SIGRIST: But I want to thank you very much. This is . . .
MAYERS: This has been fun. I enjoyed it.
SIGRIST: And, you know, it's such a dramatic and really heart-wrenching story in a lot of ways, and I thank you very much for letting us record it.
MAYERS: I don't think about it as heartbreaking. ( she laughs )
SIGRIST: It's a dramatic story. Anyway . . .
MAYERS: When people suffer so much, then nothing phases them any more. They more or less get used to it.
SIGRIST: Sure. This is Paul Sigrist signing off with Rose Mayers on August 17, 1993 at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Thank you very much.