Immigrant Soldier: The American Journey of Albert J. Heim

Memories of Albert Heim (Part 1)

Part Two -->

My thoughts and reflections as of now | Childhood and School Days | A golden opportunity | The thought of leaving home and getting ready for the trip | Farewell to home and loved ones and the trip through Germany to Hamburg

My thoughts and reflections as of now

May 13, 1897 – In a little town nestled in the Ore Mountains on the border between Saxony and Bohemia, Austria, a kind and rather buxom midwife slapped a little male on his soft side of his anatomy.  A vibrant yell, full of life and no doubt for the want of something to soothe his perhaps empty stomach bursted from this little male’s throat and behold, a future citizen of the U.S.A. came into being, hundreds of miles away from the land of the free – America – the melting pot of all nations. – Yes, it is true, so many outstanding citizens and many, many more perhaps not so outstanding but never the less loyal and true to the land of their adoption experienced the same journey.  Born in a foreign land and after crossing the big water, lived and served and even died for their new found home.  It was an enormous change in their life.  First, a new language had to be mastered.  The way of living in this new land was somewhat different. As a rule, in the beginning an ordinary or low grade job or work was all that could be found due to not being able to communicate in English.  The so called “Greenhorn” soon found out that, education, even just an ordinary one, was a must.  Those who really wanted it did not have too much trouble in getting it, that is, the ordinary every day know-how of being able to communicate with others, and the three R’ of an education in a grammar school.  One also had to accept the good-natured fun by those, whose mother tongue  we had to conquer because we did not know the proper pronunciation and putting together of all these difficult and strange  English words.  Of course  all this had to be tolerated, even though many times one felt indeed very inferior.

Americanization does not require a too long of a period, if one really desires it and after a little while the inferior complex disappears and one also can enjoy the feeling of equality.  It is then that one begins to understand, that indeed this is the only place in the world for opportunity and happiness for those who really want it and are looking for it.
Having had this experience, it is so hard to understand why in this decade of the 1960’s so many strong and healthy young men so lucky to be born in this country, demonstrate a rather not so true and not so loyal devotion to the land of their birth, by deliberately destroying their draft cards and are so foolish in taking part in public demonstrations which are harmful  to their country and its government policy.  Can’t they see, that is just the very thing the enemy desires?

Yes, it is true I am a free American.  I have the right to think free and I also have the right to my own convictions.  But, as an American I also have a duty to live up to my country’s laws and obligations toward my fellow country men, and towards my country’s obligations in regards to foreign  problems and all things pertaining to peace, a defense and liberty for all mankind which America proclaims and stands for and many humans on earth seek our help.

Someone once said: My country wrong or right.  I can’t help but ask, How many really love our country that way?

The home is the beginning of good citizenship training.  Certainly the possibility of making good homes in our country is forthcoming and respect for law and authority should be present.  Of course there will always be some exceptions.

Ever since I landed in this great country I have always made it my earnest effort to accomplish my duty as an adopted citizen in a true, loyal and neighborly manner, because this land was good to me.  It trained me to earn my daily bread in a skillful manner so that I could raise my family with love and dignity in a most comfortable home.  No one questioned me to what church to go or in what manner to educate my children.  I even had the right and privilege to vote and let myself be heard in my community when I thought it was necessary.  And now that age has curtailed my former activities to some extent, I need not worry too much, for Social Security, Medicare and substantial pension from my former employer lets me live more independent than I hoped for. I am certain, it must have been God’s providence that guided me to this beautiful land.  I may not be rich, but I also am not poor.  I am not outstanding or famous but I am respected by many of my fellow citizens and I can boast of a great number of true and loyal friends. 

Let’s face it, if one wishes to achieve happiness and contentment, and some of the better things in life, one has to work for this.  Many times this is somewhat difficult but hard work and determination is not at all harmful to ones existence and the result is always a pleasing one.

Childhood and School Days:

As I think back and recall the past, I can’t help but wonder, where have all the years gone.  It seems so long when one looks ahead but so awful swift did the years roll by when one looks in the past.  I think of my home where I was born and of my childhood very often.  Of course my parents, grandparents and my younger brother come vividly into my mind and my school days with my school buddies are always a pleasant memory.  No matter how long the absence from the homeland, the picture of that quaint little town where we lived, and beautiful mountains that surround it, the always green forests and the murmur of those clear and cool streams even the piney smell in the air after a mountain shower, all these are imprinted in my mind forever.  The short but mild summers followed by the cold and blustery winters, with snow piled high all over the country side which gave us so much fun by exciting rides on our sleds and toboggans and skis, who could forget those happy hours I remember well, going to and from school in my skis, because it was indeed much faster than walking in the deep snow.  I attended school in the old country from 1902 to 1911, only  9 years, but I can truthfully say, that I really loved it.  Schools at that time in my homeland operated much different than in America.  Our teachers indeed were strict while they taught, but also very kind and understanding when they thought we needed assistance.  The boys had men teachers n the girls had lady teachers.  I am convinced that this system worked very well in regards to discipline in the class and the meaning of this word was indeed made very clear to us by our parents.  Like all youngsters, there are certain periods in school which are the  more favorite and my choice were gymnastics, history , geometry and nature hikes.  Our religious training of course was a very important part of our education.  The pastor in our parish would take a personal interest in every student that attended the Volksschule (public school) and Burgerschule (high school).  If your parents were in a position to afford it and you graduated from high school, of course you could further your education in a Gymnasium (college or a university).  However for the majority of my comrades and myself an education beyond high school was financially impossible.  So, as soon a boy reached the age of 14 years, he would leave school and find work as an apprentice to learn a craft of his liking.  This period of his life was called to be the on the Wanderschaft because he wandered  around from one master to another and by working under different employers he would gain experience and eventually become a good craftsman.  As a rule, this would take about four years and then after successfully passing his examination in his trade, he would become a full-fledged  craftsman in his particular trade and would then be entitled to man’s pay.  Then of course another important  period in his life would present itself, his 21st birthday.  He was a full grown man now and the time to do his duty for his country has arrived and if he was found to be in good physical and acceptable condition he had to serve four years in the military forces of his country.  This was the experience my former school buddies had to go through, but as for myself, an entirely different course lay ahead of me, which changed my whole life and gave me the opportunity to become a citizen of this great country.

A golden opportunity

At the age of 12 years,  my favorite aunt on my father’s side and her husband paid us a visit.  My uncle of course was a Frenchman and this sort of complicated things a little in regards to communication.  Of course my family could not talk French and my uncle found himself in the same difficulty, he could not talk German.  However, I got along just fine with this French uncle of mine.  What a lucky break for me, because due to the fact that I already had a three-year course in French at school, I was able to converse with my uncle fairly well and we “parley vous’d” like two old timers.  - - My French much have sounded awfully funny to him, because I still can see his belly shake from laughing at times.  He was O.K. however, for he informed me that I would probably laugh at him also, were he to talk German to me.  So, we really got along very well with each other, and I certainly made a hit with him.  Before he left my home. He promised me when I would reach the age of 14 years, he would send me enough money to either further my education or use the money to come and live with him in America, where he had a very important position in a French Firm, the Michelin Tire Company in Milltown, N.J.

What a chance and what a choice to make for a lad like me. - - -

I must confess, that never did a boy wait for his 14th birthday as patiently as I did.  To think, that I was never more than a few kilometers away from my home I never even had a ride on the railroad that passed the edge of our town. The way I see it now, I was just a regular hillbilly, that was getting a chance to see what was beyond the mountains  that encircled my home town.  I read and heard so much about the outside world in school, but what is that compared to really being able to see all this and experience the thrill of traveling.  I got my hands on every thing that I possibly could pertaining to America and there was no doubt in my mind, that my decision was to come to that far off land. 

So, like many boys before me, that carefree school age had to come to an end.  On my 14th. birthday I received my school certificate from the director or education. Of course he knew about my destination and saying goodbye, he shook my hand with feeling and I have never forgotten his farewell words:  For one so young, you are taking a mighty big step. I am sure, you have the proper training, may God bless you always and I hope that you will always remember us here in your mountains. - - - -   

The thought of leaving home and getting ready for the trip:

No more school - - - Ordinarily this should be a pleasant situation, but for some reason or other it did not seem proper at all and I really got lonesome during the day for I missed my buddies.  I could hardly wait for the time of this great journey to start.  However all sort of thoughts ran into my mind.  The long train ride to Hamburg, Germany where I would meet some of my relatives who I have never seen before.  Then the ship.  Would it be a safe ship?  I had all sorts of pictures in my mind about this ship, because it had to take me across the ocean.  And speaking about the ocean, I kept thinking, that is an awful lot of water - - - It really scared me, I have never even seen a good-sized river and now I have to cross this big ocean. - - - I would never let on to my parents about my thoughts and fears but many tears ran down my face when I was alone just thinking of what lay ahead.  But at the same time I would not miss this trip and this opportunity.  The day of departure came closer and closer and more and more I realized I am going to leave my home, and I will also be all by myself, alone and I got so that I wanted to be near my parents and brother as much as possible.  Somehow or other, I never realized how much they meant to me and thinking of this separation I would always ask myself: Will it be just for a little while or could this be forever?  Then I tried to visualize America.  What would New York look like.  Of course I knew my uncle and aunt did not live in the city, they lived more in the country.  Then I wondered if by any chance there might still be Indians roaming around the country side?  Then I wished I never read so many Indian stories.  Of course stories are only a lot of stuff, but just the same I kept thinking about  it - - - -

Farewell to home and loved ones and the trip through Germany to Hamburg:

No matter what my thoughts and worries were, time did not stop and the day of departure had come.  My parents decided, that mother would come with me to Hamburg.  No doubt they too worried, because this was my first ride on a railroad.  All preparations and packing was completed and that dreadful morning to say farewell finally arrived.  Saying goodbye to my dear old grandparents was really very sad, because I knew I would never see them again for they were at a good age then.  Never will I forget the strong arms around me when my Father held me close to him.  It seemed to me as though he would never let me go and I never saw my 7-year old brother cry so hard.  Words do not come easy at a moment like this and I think I told my loved ones, that in a few years from now, I’ll be coming home for a visit and they all will be proud of me.  I doubt very much that this made it easy for all of us.  So, this early morning in mid-October 1911 the little railroad station in my home town was full of youngsters and even some grown ups, they too came to see me off and I was really surprised to think they cared that much. The whistle blew and the train started to move and my face was pressed so close to the window and all I could do then was cry, cry and cry.  It certainly was very comforting to have my mother near me and I still can hear her:  Na Liebschen, Sei Stark jezt (Be strong now).  Every thing happened so sudden and before I could find my handkerchief to wipe the tears off my face and blow my nose, I realized I was already a few kilometers away from home and there was no use of crying any more, the first ordeal was really over.  This being my first experience on a train, I became very much absorbed, for every thing I saw, was something I had never seen before.  This was indeed a different kind of education and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Our first stop was in Johangeorgenstad, which was the border station between Saxony and Bohemia.  Here my mother bought our tickets to Hamburg.  This trip took us all the way from the southern part of Germany to the North Sea.  We only had to change once during our trip.  I really enjoyed this trip especially during the day and I very seldom left the window only when I really had to.  Riding on the train at night was rather dull and dreary, especially when one rides third class.  These sort of accommodations in Europe are never very comfortable but mother and I could not afford any other way to travel.  The trip to Hamburg took almost two days.  Never did I think when I studied geography about the great cities in Germany, that some day I would actually pass through some of them.  Well, it’s really happening and I remember passing through Chemnitz, Leibzig, Halle, Magdeburg, Braunschweig, Uelzen, Harburg, and finally Hamburg.  This was my first trip on a railroad many years ago and of course many changes have taken place since then.  It was a very tiresome trip for my mother and I and it was a great relief, when the conductor announced, Station Hamburg, All aussteigen- (all out).

My other aunt on my father’s side and her two children, a boy and a girl my own age met us at the railroad station in Hamburg.  It was the first time I ever saw these relatives and it was quite a long time since my mother saw them also.  Their reception was indeed very heart warming.  When relatives in Europe live a great distance away from one another they do not see each other too often, because travel was very expensive.  Luckily we only had to walk a few blocks to their home.  Here I met my uncle who had just arrived from work.  He held a position at the Hamburg American Steamship Line in Cuxhafen, which is the harbor at the mouth of the Elbe River, only a few kilometers away from Hamburg, and where my ship will sail from.  We had a delightful supper and I really out did myself, for living on sandwiches for two days does not compare to a home cooked meal  After the meal, there was so much to talk about and as the evening passed on, my head began to nod up and down, back and forth, and oh what a relief, when my uncle suggested, that we all retire or otherwise we would have nothing to talk about the next day. - - -

With my relatives in Hamburg, Germany: 

I really enjoyed the company of my two cousins.  They were so friendly and we had a wonderful time together and they showed me so many interesting sights of their great city.  One afternoon they took mother and I to a Cinema.  Well, that really was something.  It was the first time we ever saw a place like that.  Quite an experience and for us it was just unbelievable.  My cousins could not understand, why we made such a great fuss about it all.  No doubt they must have had a great time, talking about their hillbilly cousin and his mother after we left.   As I mentioned before, every thing we saw was something new and it was just live and learn.  I had to laugh at my mother, when she told me in secret:  Son, we really are getting very smart, Ja?

On the third day of our stay in Hamburg, my uncle announced that my ship, the Pennsylvania, would leave for New York in two days.  Of course at once, my mother had to make certain, that this ship was really safe for me to cross the ocean.  Never having seen a steamship or for that matter a good sized row boat before, you can just picture her what a surprise she got when she saw the Pennsylvania.  And this goes for me also because my eye balls worked overtime too.  My aunt told us, that there were even larger ships, but I thought this ship was large enough for me. – As we boarded the ship, one of the officers approached us and offered us his assistance.  When we told him, that I was to sail on this trip, he showed us my cabin, the dining saloon and the different decks and also the life boats.  My mother really amazed me when she said to me:  Son, I don’t think you will need these, not on a big monster like this.  But never forget, say your prayers, just to be on the safe side.  – I was very glad that my mother saw all this, for I think it made it a lot easier for her, for she had no idea what an ocean going vessel was all about and most assuredly, that goes for me also.  We really had quite a day and that evening my uncle talked to me and gave me much advice in regards to my trip.  We  all retired early because we had to get up early the next day and how I dreaded the thought of this second farewell – It’s hard to say goodbye to mother. - - -

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