Introduction

History of Italian Immigration

Italian Immigration: A Personal History

Background of Post-WWII German History

German Immigration: A Personal History

Sources

 

German Immigration: A Personal History

Videos

Immigration Documents

Passport Photos

My grandparents, Rosi and Gerd Heinsohn, whom I call Omi and Opa, and my mother, Ingrid, left Germany with 5 trunks, 2 suitcases of belongings, and $27 in pocket in 1955.

Please watch the brief videos to hear Omi discuss her experiences immigrating to the United States.

Movie 1: Decision to Immigrate to America

Movie 2: Arrival to New Jersey and Philadelphia

Movie 3: Move to D.C.

Movie 4: Maintaining German Tradition

Movie 1: Decision to Immigrate to America (1 min 34s)

Omi and Opa had an American friend who found a sponsor necessary for them to immigrate to the United States. Opa was a refugee from Guben, a town in Eastern Germany, had lost his home, and had been taken Prisoner of War in the American zone in 1945 and was released 1946. Omi, born and raised in Schweinfurt, was not very keen on leaving, but did realize that going to America was a good opportunity. Opa was 33 years old and Omi almost 30.

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Movie 2: Arrival to New Jersey and Philadelphia (2 min 20s)

Omi, Opa, and Ingrid (who was 2 years, 2 months) arrived in Hoboken, NJ May 5th 1955. Omi describes the boat trip as discouraging because she was very seasick. Their friend picked them up at the harbor and that was when they experienced New York City for the first time. Omi described Lower Manhattan as a “horrible sight,” especially having come from a small town. The newly arrived family drove to Philadelphia where they found temporary housing in a friend’s house. It was 1 room, included a small kitchen, and the bathroom was shared. Omi explained that language was not a problem because both she and Opa spoke English, which they had learned at school.

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Movie 3: Move to D.C. (2 min 23s)

The owner of this house in Philadelphia was a Hungarian immigrant who had been living in the US for a longer time. He expected the “German woman” to do the cleaning. However, Omi was unable to work in the extreme heat. So after 2 months of living in Philadelphia, Omi and Opa borrowed their friend’s car and went to the Washington, D.C. area where they found a place to live. The apartment was extraordinarily primitive—it resembled a shack—and had only a bare bed with no mattress. Omi did office work and Opa found work building a country club, tennis courts, and swimming pools. Later on, Omi and Opa bought a house in Kensington, MD.

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Movie 4: Maintaining German Tradition (2 min)

Omi and Opa continued to speak German to each other and their children (in 1956 they had a son, Gerd-Jo). Ingrid and Gerd-Jo attended a German school in Potomac which was built in 1961. There at the school they made acquaintances with international friends.

Omi explains that it was important to maintain their German traditions. Being from the South of Germany, she had different traditions from Opa, who was from the north and whose mother was Italian. They celebrated holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, in the way in which they were raised and cooked traditional German meals. Omi met other German-born people and joined a German book club. One item that Omi missed the most from her homeland was the German bread; in America she often bought white bread for 21 cents a loaf. She stated that overall the food was inexpensive and they could live decently with the little money they possessed. A German item that Omi could buy in American grocery stores was sauerkraut in a can.

Omi noticed some differences in culture. One large difference was the notion of Americans just “stopping by” the house; Omi was not used to this openness. Overall, the families that they met were very helpful. In addition, Omi noticed that American families ate more meat, and larger cuts of it. For example, an American family would cook a large steak for dinner whereas German families tended to eat more cold cuts.

In conclusion, Omi explained that they had good roots in Germany, so they were (and she still is) able to vacation to visit family and keep contact with friends. Omi did not return to Germany until 1957 when she went back with her two children for 6 months while Opa worked building pools in the mountains of West Virginia. Opa did not return to Germany until 1967, 12 years after leaving. Omi explained that it took about 10 years to fully overcome the homesickness she felt.

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Documents

Letter of Congratulations to Rosi and Gerd from the Governor of Maryland

Congratulations from the U.S. Senate

Congratulations from the U.S. Congress

Gerd's Naturalization Paper

Gerd Heinsohn's Naturalization Paper

(click on image for larger view)

 

Rosi's naturalization paper

Rosi Heinsohn's Naturalization Paper

(click image for larger view)

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Passport Photos

passport cover

German passport cover

 

Passport cover

Ingrid Molnar passport

 

Passport stamp

Passport with United States admittance stamp

 

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