Lisi Ebner, my grandmother, made the gut-wrenching sacrifice of leaving behind her family to follow her heart to America, to marry my grandfather, Josef. Or so I thought.
It turns out Lisi’s father, stepmother, Maria, and half siblings (Theresia and Johann (aka, Resi and Hans, born in 1900 and 1904, respectively), had planned to join her!
On our trip to Romania in 2007, we learned for the first time from a relative that Samuel Ebner had never made it to America because of an eye infection, probably Trachoma, or pink eye, incurable and highly contagious at the time, but today easily treated with antibiotics.
For more details on the many inspections culling eye-disease emigrants, see Threats to the Dream.
Since I learned this stunning news, I have discovered the actual letter Samuel Ebner wrote about what happened. It captures in simple, stark words, what was surely a devastating disappointment.
Deciphered from the old German and then translated, here’s the story, one of tens of thousands no doubt, about the immigrant who didn’t make it.
November 3, (year missing)
Probably 1912 or 1913, based on other letters after Lisi left
Dear Children, Sepp and Eliess, [aka Josef and Lisi]
It wasn’t meant to be that we would see you. Mari and Rudolf sent us free tickets 2nd class. [Lisi’s stepsister and husband in Cleveland, Ohio ]
We had our things in two boxes and what you wanted packed into a box. We sent it all, second class, to Bremen on the 11th of October. Then we traveled to Cadca. [a town on the border of Germany that Lisi had also passed through. See post: To Catch a Ship]
There at Cadca they wouldn’t let me go any farther because I needed to have a certificate from the hospital [probably for his eyes]. They took 1600 Kronen from me. It wasn’t only my money. It was also 1,000 Kronen from Mari [probably Maria Wagner, his 2nd wife’s daughter in Cleveland].
They made me turn around, but Mari’s mother [Ebner’s 2nd wife, Lisi’s stepmother] still had 1,000 Kronen and travel money to get her to Bremen, so they let her travel onward to Bremen with the children.
There they [the authorities] wouldn’t let her travel without me. Maria [his wife] wrote me in the hospital in Mühlbach, and I immediately telegraphed them that they should come back.
But they had also sent a telegram to America and waited 12 days in Bremen [probably waiting for word from Mari in Cleveland], where it cost 3 Kronen per day and there were three of them so it cost nearly 9 Kronen per day, and they [still] had to all come back along with the baggage.
Now I’ll unpack your luggage [probably extra stuff he was bringing along for Lisi and Josef] and send to Mari [in Cleveland].
I already paid the transportation charge to Bremen and back. I wasn’t allowed to send [the packages to you] without us accompanying them. Mother came back to me sick and if she can’t get better in a short time, then I’ll have to see what I’ll do. In other things, it’s not going the best. You don’t have to worry about us. Health will come back, if God gives it to us.
Dear Son, [Josef] all the accounting of your money is the luggage. I will send it to you when the opportunity is better.
How is it going with you both? Stay healthy. Write back soon. Sam [Lisi’s brother] is in military service and is healthy. [This didn’t turn out so well either, once World War I began. See The Fallen]
I greet you a thousand times as does the whole family
Lovingly, your father,