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The USA was a better place to raise a family

Immigrant Stories
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Tillie and Rollie Fischer
ALL |

Rollie: My mother was born in Peterborough, Ontario, and came to the United States with her parents. Her mother was from Ireland, and her father was from England.

My dad’s mom came on her own from Switzerland. The Lutheran Church helped her find a family that took her in. She eventually met and married my grandfather who had emigrated from Germany. Three months before my dad was born, his father died leaving my grandmother to raise my dad and his sister. But the Lutheran Church and that family took care of them.

The sponsoring family had a truck farm, and my dad and his sister worked alongside my grandmother on that farm as soon as they were old enough. Dad got paid a nickel a week for every year he was old. They stayed with that family for more than 10 years.



My dad went to work for General Motors, right out of high school, running a punch press and ended up as a manager of manufacturing for three GM plants.

My grandparents came for the opportunities. That’s all they wanted. They came for the same reason that Tillie’s parents came. They realized that their home country was no longer a good place to raise a family.



Tillie: That’s right. My parents were both born in Germany and didn’t meet until they came to the United States. They were forced to leave home due to the horrendous hyperinflation in Germany after World War I. In order to make reparations after the war, Germany had to print money. That overprinting of money caused the inflation and destroyed the economy. As a result there were no job opportunities for young people.

For example, my mother worked for a bank at that time, and the inflation was so bad that she was paid at 11 o’clock every day because that day’s pay might buy her a whole loaf of bread, but tomorrow’s pay might only buy her a half a loaf.

My father was very frugal. He had been living with his widowed mother for 10 years as a degreed engineer, trying to save money. When he cashed in his 10 years of savings, he had enough to buy a belt. They both realized independently that they couldn’t raise a family in Germany.

They each had to have a sponsor here in the United States. And the sponsor had to agree that if he or she became ill or fell on hard times the sponsor would be responsible for them. They underwent a physical in Germany and another one at Ellis Island. If they failed that physical the ship’s captain was responsible for taking them back. So before they got on board in Germany, the captain made sure that they would pass the physical in New York.

They also had to have a letter that said someone would employ them. Some of those letters stretched the truth. Sometimes the job was a promise from a friend of a friend. According to the stories I have heard, from my parents and their friends, those jobs didn’t last very long. But they got them here and gave them a place to start.

My dad was a degreed mechanical engineer, and my mom had graduated from secretarial school. Neither, mom or dad, stayed at their first job for very long. The gentleman who hired my mom as a secretary was some kind of a distant, distant relative, and he was a little too friendly.

My mom had a friend who had come over years before and she had a job as a governess. This woman knew of a family, in one of New York’s richest neighborhoods, who needed a governess. Their “darling little boy” had been kicked out of three private schools. My mom got hired and spent two wonderful years traveling with them to lots of interesting places.

The family treated my mother like their daughter and took wonderful care of her. In fact, they let my mother know that there was no way she was going to date anyone unless they first approved of him. Courtship was very different back then. For example, if you had any sense of manners at all you would not consider marrying someone unless you had permission from their parents to do so. My father had to get on a ship and go back to Germany to meet my mother’s parents and ask permission to marry her.

Gallacher: So it wasn’t appropriate to write and say, “We’re getting married.”

Tillie: Oh no, they would write and say, in the politest of terms, “Would you be willing to meet with me so we can discuss the relationship that has developed between your daughter and me?” The letter that my father sent to my grandfather opened with “Dear Honorable Mr. Myer.”

My dad did get permission, and my parents were married. Dad was working for Carnegie Steel at the time and, not long after they were married, he was transferred to Youngstown, Ohio. Carnegie Steel eventually became part of U.S. Steel, and my father spent the rest of his working life designing steel mills for U.S. Steel.

Youngstown was a melting pot at that time. There was a Serbian Hall, a Ukrainian Hall. My parents belonged to the Youngstown Maennerchor, which was a German singing society. The Italians had their own society. These were social clubs like the Elks and the Eagles of today.

We didn’t have any relatives in the United States. There was my mother, my father, my brother and myself. But we had surrogate grandparents. We had Swedish and Norwegian friends that we called “aunt” and “uncle.” Their children were our “cousins.” That’s the way we took care of each other.

Gallacher: A lot of Germans who came to the United States after World War I had to deal with discrimination. Did your parents have that problem?

Tillie: No it wasn’t a problem at that time, but it did become a problem during World War II. You see my father was involved in vital defense building steel mills. My dad was involved in the design of steel mills that were forging steel for battleships.

Often, on a Sunday afternoon, we would have the FBI show up at the house. We didn’t have the term racial profiling back then, but that’s what it was. My older brother would take me upstairs and my parents would talk to them. My father had been a low ranking soldier in the German army during World War I.

Rollie: He was a wrangler wasn’t he?

Tillie: Yes, his job was to take care of the horses as they marched from Germany to Russia and back. But someone in the FBI thought that if my father was smart enough to be designing steel mills he must have been an officer in the German army. Fortunately, he had kept his discharge papers and was able to prove he had been assigned to the horses. The FBI came back often enough that we finally decided they were after my mother’s German cookies. She always baked some kind of pastry for Sunday afternoons.

My dad didn’t resent the visits. He understood that it was necessary for the FBI to make sure he was reliable because he was involved in the U.S. effort to defeat Hitler. My parents had a great love and appreciation for this country. And when people would identify my mother as German from her accent she would correct them and say, “No, I am an American.”

Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent. To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com.


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