EASTERN EUROPEAN JEWISH EMIGRATION VIA THE PORT OF HAMBURG: 1880-1914 by Jurgen Sielemann
(Taken from the Morman Latter Day Saints THE SOURCE)

Between 1880 and 1914, almost three million Jews left Eastern Europe, representing the most extensive migration in Jewish history since the expulsion of Jews from Spain at the end of the 15th century. Most of the emigrants fled from Russia, where, especially in 1881, 1903, and 1905, horrible pogroms had raged, and where the laws of Czar Alexander III had oppressed Jewish life. Another large number of Jews emigrated from Austria-Hungary and Romania where they left a world of poverty and hostility. Most of them came to the United States in search of freedom, peace, and prosperity.

In 1880, at the beginning of the extensive migration, almost four million Jews lived in Russia. Galicia was part of the Austria-Hungary empire at that time where the number of Jewish inhabitants amounted to about 800,000, whereas about 200,00 Jews lived in Romania.

A considerable number of European Jews emigrated via German ports. There are statistics for the period between 1905 and 1914 that indicate approximately 700,000 European Jewish emigrants sailed from Germany. Hamburg and Bremen were the most important ports of embarkation; almost five million people left Europe via these ports between 1890 and 1914. Other German ports were used less extensively. Only 7,000 passengers embarked from Emden, Wilhelmshaven, and Stettin in the years of their greatest importance as emigration ports (1888-1898).

The port of Hamburg was preferred for several reasons, most notably for its convenient geographic location and its traffic conditions. Since the 1880s, Hamburg had been connected with several Eastern European countries by a well-developed railway network. Another reason why so many emigrants decided to travel via Hamburg was the "Hamburg Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Aktiengesellsschaft" abbreviated HAPAG. The HAPAG was a shipping company that specialized in the transfer of passengers to the United States and owed its rapid growth mainly to the vast numbers of Eastern Europeans who were emigrating here. Before World War I, the HAPAG became the greatest passenger line in the world. The agents of the HAPAG tried to engage as many passengers as possible by offering economical fares and by intensive propaganda techniques in Eastern Europe. Then the government of Hungary proposed to direct the emigration across the Mediterranean port of Flume in 1904, the HAPAG was powerful enough to prevent the plan, and the Mediterranean and Russian ports were eliminated as competition for the HAPAG.

The exact number of European Jews who emigrated via Hamburg is unknown because there are no statistics based on the religion of the emigrants. Also, the passenger lists of the emigration ships, from 1850 to present, which are kept in the State Archives of Hamburg, do not state religion prior to 1920. We do know that 1, 200,000 Russians emigrated between 1880 and 1914 and that 1,100,000 emigrated from Austria-Hungary. These figures are based on yearly statistics made up by the office that had control over emigration via the port of Hamburg.

In 1911, Samuel Joseph stated thet 62% of the Russians who emigrated to the United States between 1886 and 1898 were Jewish. If we take this figure (62%) as a basis for the whole period, it can be determined that from 1880 to 1914 about 730,000 Russian Jews emigrated via Hamburg; this figure almost accounts for half of all Russian Jews who reached the United States in that period.

In a similar manner, the number of Jews who emigrated from Austria-Hungary via Hamburg can be calculated using the data of Michael Traub. According to Traub, 7.5% of all Austrian and Hungarian emigrants bound for the United States between 1899 and 1914 were Jewish. Taking this percentage as a basis for the whole period, then 85,000 Jews emigrated from that monarchy via Hamburg between 1880 and 1914.

Therefore, together with the smaller number of Romanian Jews and those European Jews who had been living for a while in Germany before they left the continent, the total number of European Jews emigrating via Hamburg from 1880 to 1914 approaches 1,000,000.

After the horrible pogrom of 1880, when Czar Alexander III oppressed Jewish life by degrading laws, the number of emigrants rose continously until 1891, the year of the expulsion of the Jews of Moscow.

There were further pogroms in Russia in 1903 and 1905.

The lodging houses for Jewish emigrants awaiting departure of their ship were regulated in such a way that the travelers were allocated to licensed landlords, who were supervised and periodically inspected by the Board of Emigration in order to control transit, provide security for ships, prevent epidemics, provide travelers with information, and protect them from fraudulent practices of the so-called "Litzer". The "Litzer" worked for the clerks of the shipping companies, landlords, and for special stores selling useful and useless utensils for the voyage, and for money changers. There were paid a commission on each customer they brought. In the year preceding 1890, about 40 lodging houses with a total of 1,200 beds were licensed. As the emigrants did not arrive in a steady flow, but in very differing numbers, it sometimes was not easy to arrange accommodations. For instance, between October 1881 and October 1882, when masses of refugees fled from Russian pogroms, about 10,000 Jewish emigrants were brought with extra trains from the Galician town of Brody to Hamburg. Members of the Jewish community of Hamburg very quickly reacted to their misery. In 1881, they founded a relief organization for the Russian Jews, which took care of the emigrants from their arrival at the railway station to the departure of their ships. In 1892, there were 23 German committees that cared for Jewish emigrants from Russia. But who supported the Jewish emigrants coming from Galicia, other parts of Austria-Hungary, or Romania? It was Daniel Wormser, a teacher for the Hamburg Talmud-Torah-School who decided to stop the misery of the non-Russian Jewish emigrants in Hamburg as best he could.

One day he saw a crowd of 400 non-Russians sitting helplessly in front of the Hamburg Jewish Community Office. Daniel Wormser succeeded in lodging them all. In 1884 he founded the "Israelitic Union for the Relief of Homeless People' which provided accommmodations and food, paid for medical care and for ship tickets. Wormser did his best to collect the needed money, but it was not easy, and he never got enough to relieve all the emigrants' need. Fortunately, he became acquainted with an aristocrat who lived in Paris, Baron Moritz von Hirsch, who was not only very rich but also a very humane person. In the following years, Moritz von Hirsch donated so much money to Daniel Wormser's union that Wormser was able to help thousands of emigrants.

In 1891 the Hamburg government ordered the Hamburg-America Line to better the housing situation of the emigrants. Indeed, the available overnight accommodation was not sufficient in the least.

On a site provided by the city on the America Quai, the HAPAG erected eight big sheds. There was room for 1,400 persons. The emigrants only had to pay one mark per day for accommodations and full board. The police authority took over the management of these huts. Daniel Wormser cared for the new emigration camp very eagerly. Through his activities, the Jewish emigrants could get kosher meals and attend services in a synagoggue which was consecrated at the America Quai in 1896.

In 1892, the emigrant camp was ready for use. In late summer of that year, a terrible cholera epidemic raged in Hamburg. The conditions of emigration via Hamburg changed fundamentally. In the spring of 1892, cases of cholera had been diagnosed in southern regions of Russia, and now nearly everyone was sure the Russian emigrants carried the epidemic. Robert Koch, the famous explorer of the vibrio comma and in later days winner of the Nobel prize, visited the emigrant camp at the America Quai and stated that Russian emigrants caused the outbreak of cholera. Later research proved he was wrong. In actual fact, the cholera was introduced by French sailors.

However, the Russian emigrants were isolated as well as possible. The emigrant trains no longer stopped in the city, but were directed straight to the America Quai. Those who were in possession of steerage tickets were not allowed to leave the train before the emigration camp was reached.

There, the emigrants were medically examined and their clothing and baggage were disinfected.

After the outbreak of the choloera epidemic, every Russian emigrant was kept in quarantine for several days. The German border to Russia was closed for all those emigrants who intended to sail as steerage passengers. Nevertheless many were able to cross the border. In June 1893, the Hamburg authorities prohibited the embarkation of Russian steerage passengers completely.

The loss of the HAPAG ran into millions, and Albert Ballin, the famous managing director of the shipping company, tried to find a way out. He really was in a difficult situation, especially caused by very restrictive immigration laws of the U.S.A. Because of the laws in 1891 and 1893, neither very poor people (the so-called paupers) nor people suffering an epidemic or repugnant disease were allowed to immigrate. They had to return immediately, and the return-tickets were paid by the shipping company that sold the ticket for the voyage.

In 1900 Wormser died, but his work continued. Wormers had cared for the emigrants like a father. Of course, the missionary society of Hamburg tried to persuade many Jewish travelers to change their religion, sometimes by extortive methods. Wormser spared no pains to get all of them embarked without being baptized. Sometimes, in cases of undecided young people, he ordered their relatives to come to Hamburg. So, when suddenly the father appeared, the mind of the son often changed very quickly.

At the end of 1893, HAPAG and the shipping company, Lloyd of Bremen, offered the German government the opportunity to build control stations at the German-Russian border at their own cost. The purpose of these control stations would be to conduct medical examinations as well as determining whether the finances of the emigrants would be sufficient. The government agreed to this suggestion.

The control stations were established mainly at places where the Russian trains crossed the German border, for example in Bajohren, Eydtkuhnen, Tilsit, Illowo, Thorn, Posen, Ostrowo. The transfer to Hamburg or Bremen was only allowed to those emigrants who were in possession of a valid passport, a railroad ticket to the port of embarkation, and enough money in case their entry was refused in the US. They also had to enter into a contract with one of the German shipping companies, mainly HAPAG or Lloyd of Bremen, concerning their voyage. The control stations at the border were supervised by police authorities, but the shipping companies managed the control themselves.

The competitive struggle between HAPAG and cunard had favorable effects for the emigrants. For example, in 1904 the HAPAG reduced the price for a ticket from Europe to the U.S. to 61 marks, which was equal to three English pounds at the time and really very cheap. Indeed, that price was not a great deal for the HAPAG, but the intention is quite clear as stated in a letter from HAPAG dated December 9, 1904, "if we don't make such a sacrifice, the passengers will be lost to England."

In 1900, the city required the emigration camp area for other purposes and HAPAG decided to build a completely new camp on an adjacent site in a district name Veddel. The camp was constructed in the form of pavilions. The pavilion system offered the advantage of better isolating persons with infectious diseases and made it possible to keep the sleeping rooms much smaller. Each of the pavilions contained dormitories for up to 40 persons, bathrooms, toilets, and a living room. The camp was opened in 1901 and offered space for initially 1,000 persons per day. After 1906, it could provide accommodations for 5,000 passengers daily.

After their arrival, the emigrants had a medical examination. If necessary, modern bathing and disinfecting facilities could be used for arriving guests, their cothing and luggage, prior to being transferred into the "clean" division. Emigrants suffering infectious diseases were taken to another division, an observation ward. A special kitchen prepared food strictly in accordance with Jewish ritual. The enormous capacity of the kitchens made it possible to serve more than 3000 meals per hour. There was not a wide choice of menu. Here is the daily bill of fare of 1907: In the morning: Tea or coffee with sugar, milk and white bread. At noon: soup with meat and vegetable. In the evening: Tea or coffee with sugar, milk and white bread. The price for board and lodging amounted to 2 Mark per day. Normally the emigrants did not stay in the camp longer than five days.

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