The Immigrant Jew in America

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From the New-York Daily Tribune, April 22, 1906


Often Swindled by Their Own Countrymen Who Have Become
Familiar with Ropes Here and Show a Cruel Cunning

"Milwaukee? Milwaukee?" called out a seamy-faced earringed Italian of middle age to a Tribune representative. The latter was standing at the east end of the big immigration building on Ellis Island watching the stream of immigrants stagger along under loads of baggage toward the boat which was to take them to the railroad station. It was only a drop in the stream which has been pouring into the country at the rate of five thousand a day all last week. They were in good spirits, for the day was mild, the sky as blue as the Italian heavens, the water of the bay beyond as blue as the sky, and at last they had been released from the steamship which had brought they to land where liberty of opportunity prevails. They were on their way to the West. The grizzled Neapolitan drew out of the hurrying tide for an instant to ask the first person who looked like a personage of authority if he was going in the right direction.

Fortunately for the Italian, the newspaper man was not a rotund boarding house runner grown fat on the pickings of the immigrant business, or a hack driver seeking his prey, or he might have been drawn aside and told that Milwaukee lay just across the blue waters of the bay, where the church towers of Brooklyn could be seen, and that he, the runner, would take him to his destination.

It is this innocent childlike dependence upon any one at hand that makes the immigrant such an easy mark. Within the last two or three years every safeguard imaginable has been thrown about him. Still he goes astray. The resourceful runner is rigidly excluded from Ellis Island. Not an immigrant is permitted to depart without official escort, or absolute assurance that he is able to take care of himself or in the hands of his friends. He is personally conducted to the railway station or to his destination if intending to stay in New York. Missionaries distribute leaflets in the different languages describing the pitfalls that await him. Yet he is still captured by the sharps.

Only the other day one of these resourceful parasites was discovered selling the smudgy tickets of the elevated system to unsophisticated foreigners at 25 cents each. Another of this brotherhood proved his fellow only a novice by persuading an immigrant to give up $5 for one of the dingy red five-cent slips of cardboard by telling him that it was a ticket to Boston.


Even some of the precautions taken by the Commissioner of Immigration to protect the greenhorn is sometimes used to deceive him. Every person who has any official connection with the handling of immigrants on Ellis Island must wear a uniform. Even the missionaries are obliged to have something about them to indicate that they have a right to talk with the immigrants. The immigrant in his innocence before he leaves the island concludes that every person who wears brass buttons is one of Uncle Sam's guardians, designated to assist him and authorized to look at and change his money into coin of the country. As he climbs the stairs to the strange railroad on stilts he meets a man wearing an overcoat. The stranger throws open his overcoat. Ah, yes, it is an official, for there are the brass buttons. The luggage is laboriously set down in order that he may show his money as he has already been obliged to do twice before on Ellis Island. What happens next is illustrated by an incident that occurred recently.

A number of immigrants bound for points in Connecticut and Rhode Island had been escorted to the Grand Central Station. While they were waiting for the train to be made up, a man with shining buttons of golden hue approached. He beckoned to them, and they like children followed the piper. He played dulcet tones until they reached his home in East 15th street. There he asked to see their capital, informing them that it ought to be changed. Their idea of how the money was to be changed and his were different. They had already received American money for their foreign bills on Ellis Island. One of the adult children handed him $30 and received in exchange $8. The immigrant bowed low in thankfulness for the kindness of the official in straightening out his finances. A second produced $15, and the exchange was productive of proportionate shrinkage. It is pleasing to be able to record that that particular parasite has made another exchange--that of freedom for the penitentiary.


How immigrant girls are sometimes caught in the toils was illustrated a couple of weeks ago. In the steerage of the steamer Rugia, which arrived here from Hamburg on April 7, was a Russian peasant girl, nineteen years old, Ursa Tenkowitz by name. She was alone and was going to her father, who was in Exeter, N. H. She was detained for two days until her father sent her $15. Late in the afternoon of April 9 she was allowed to leave Ellis Island to go to Exeter. In the rush she failed to get her railroad ticket, and was permitted to leave the building and go to the ferryboat which runs to the Barge Office.

When she left the ferryboat she carried in her hand a slip marked with her destination. As she came through the gate a dark-skinned Italian saw it. He followed her through the crowd, and observing on the slip the name of the town to which she was going, he accosted her. In the Italian's skillful use of the sign language he conveyed to the girl the impression that he was going to the same place and would take her there. She followed him to the elevated station and they took a Ninth avenue train. He led her from the train at 125th street. When they reached the foot of the long stairs the girl evidently had made up her mind that something was wrong. A. F. Post, of Edgewater, N. J., who was on his way to the Fort Lee ferry, saw the girl endeavoring to leave the man. The Italian took her arm and forced her to get on a car with him. At the ferry he was joined by several of his countrymen, who showed an interest in the girl. Upon reaching the New Jersey side she made a vigorous effort to free herself from the men, but they forced her to board the waiting car. Mr. Post interfered at this juncture and had the Italian arrested. He proved to be an Italian immigrant who came to this country last September and who was living near Edgewater. He was indicted for assault and battery and kidnapping by the Bergen County Grand Jury.

Apparently the Italian peasant has as much need to be on his guard against the wiles of his countrymen as Caesar had in his day. In New York are sixty or seventy Italian banks. The are not banks after the manner of American institutions of that description, but serve the Italian as a connecting link with his new environment as well as with his old home. The "bank" is often his first destination in this country. It finds him a job. It looks after his money--so thoroughly sometimes that he does not see the color of his wages for a long time. Its character brings it under the observation of the Commissioner of Licenses. It is from these "banks" that railroad companies and lumber companies, and sometimes mining corporations, secure their labor. The "bank" is asked to furnish so many hands, and the "bank" provides the goods, taking toll from the corporation in the form of a concession to feed the laborers, and if possible securing from the laborer a fee for giving him a job.

This is the way the "bank" secures its labor and treats it, according to John N. Bogert, Commissioner of Licenses:

From time to time Italians return to their old homes. They carry back with them the information that so and so can find a job for his neighbors.

"He is our countryman; he will treat you right," they say to those trusting ones. Sometimes this service is performed by regular agents. When one of these neighbors starts for the new country he makes his destination the "banker," who, he has heard, will treat him so kindly. He is escorted with his baggage to the "bank" and finds that employment is awaiting him. He is to go with 150 others to a Southern point to work on a railroad. His wages are to be $1.25 a day. The "banker" has secured the concession to board and lodge his countrymen. The railroad company lends the "banker" a few discarded freight cars. These are shunted to a siding, where the laborer is to be employed. Bags are strewn about the cars in order to make the boards a little more comfortable when the men lie on them at night. For accommodation in this palatial lodging house the Italian is charged possibly $1 a week. The laborer is charged 75 cents a day, perhaps, for his food. This is possibly no more than hard bread and bologna sausages, costing the "banker" only a few cents a day--five cents, Mr. Bogert said. When payday comes around, the representative of the "banker" is on hand to indicate to the paymaster how much each laborer owes him. The laborer does not receive much money in return for his month's toll. Even when he learns that he is not getting what is due him, he does not lay the blame on the right shoulders, but ascribes it to the laws of the country. His faith in the "banker" continues.


A case that recently came before the Commissioner of Licenses illustrates the way in which the foreigner, and many poor Americans, for that matter, are fleeced. At the hearing eleven men testified to the same facts. They were sent South with many others, some of them boys only sixteen years old, by a Prince street agency, to work for a Florida railroad company. Altogether 3,685 men were taken South. According to their stories they were told that they were to get $1.75 a day, their transportation in both directions and their board. This looked like a bonanza as bright as Eden looked to be to Martin Chuzzlewit and Mark Tapley. They were put to work on an island at $1.25 a day, and not only were they obliged to pay board, but deductions were made for their railroad fare from the North, so that they received no money at all. Five of the men testified that when they left camp after brutal treatment the company took their return tickets from them. They walked seventy miles to Miami. Having insufficient money to get home again, they tried "jumping" freight trains and were arrested by a sheriff, who received as a reward $3 for each man he captured. They were sentenced to ninety days in the chain gang. After serving their sentences they managed to get North again. The eleven men were the only ones who escaped so far as was known.

A few months ago Isidor Herz, of No. 2 Carlisle street, said to be one of the largest agents in the labor business, clearing $40,000 a year, was deprived of his license by Commissioner Keating, on the ground that he had made misrepresentations to immigrants. It was charged that he hired two hundred men, telling them that they would get good wages and there would be no trouble. They were packed into a special train. There was a guard armed with a club and a pistol stationed at each car door, so that no one could pass in our out. The guards were said to be deputy sheriffs. For two days the men travelled in this way in day coaches. Their food consisted of stale bologna sausages. The drinking water, what there was of it, naturally became ill-smelling. When they reached their destination they learned that they were to work in coal mines, and that they were to break a strike. Some of the men tried to escape, but could not, for they were watched by armed men. Finally three or four got away and tramped all the way back from the South to New York. Their journey consumed two months.

Commissioner Bogert has had cards prepared in Italian for the information of immigrants of that nationality regarding their rights.

F. L. C. Keating, formerly Commissioner of Licenses, and counsel of the Italian agents' Society, estimates that 100,000 immigrants are sent out by the employment agencies in the course of a year, and one agency finds employment for from 25,000 to 30,000. The number of immigrants who have arrived at Ellis Island since last Sunday is 31,000.







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