As you may recall, one of the mysteries I was having trouble solving was the fate of Itic Jankel Srulovic, aka Jacob Strolowitz or Adler, aka a number of other possible spellings of both his first and last name. He was the husband of Tillie Rosenzweig Strolowitz, my great-grandmother Ghitla Rosenzweig Goldschlager’s sister. He had arrived with his wife and his three youngest children on December 29, 1907, aboard the SS Saratov and had been detained because of problems with his eyes—scars on his corneas and coloboma on both irises. Family lore suggested that he had never left Ellis Island, either having been deported or dying there, but the passenger manifest was stamped “Admitted,” indicating that a bond had been posted.
I had requested the case file for Jankel Srulovici from NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC, a few weeks ago, and it arrived yesterday. I have been studying it ever since. The papers are fascinating not only because of what they reveal about Jankel and his family, but also because they provide some insight into the times and the experiences of immigrants. I will post scans of the documents in their entirety for those who are interested in the general history as well as those who are interested in the particulars of the family history.
The first document, dated December 31, 1907, is a recommendation from the Acting Commissioner of the Immigration Service, Joseph Murray, that Jankel Srulovic [sic] be admitted to the United States based on a bond of $1000 that was being posted. Commissioner Murray then described Jankel’s eye problems as causing “very defective vision (1/10), corrected by glasses,” but also said that Jankel was suffering from senility which affected his ability to earn a living. He was only 55 years old; why was he suffering from senility? What was this diagnosis based upon? There is later testimony that Jankel could not read or write; perhaps the diagnoses was based on his illiteracy, or maybe his illiteracy and his apparent senility was really more a misdiagnosis based on the fact that he did not speak English. Or, of course, perhaps he was really senile.
Enclosed with the recommendation were the report of the doctor’s exam of Jankel, as described in the Acting Commissiner’s letter, and a transcript of the hearing held on December 30, 1907. The transcript names the parties detained and subject to the inquiry as Itie Jankel Srulovic, 55, Roumanian Hebrew, and his wife Tille, 48, and children Riwke [Beckie, then Ray], 15, Pinkus, 9, and Lea, 7. There is then what I assume to be a translation of some of the testimony given by Jankel. He named his four older children already residing in the United States, Srul [Isidore], 26, Judel [David?], 21, Brucha [Bertha], 23, and Bluma [Bella], 18. He testified that he could not read or write, that he was a painter, that he paid his own passage on the Saratov, and that he had $100, which he showed to the hearing officers. He then was asked whether he had worked before coming to the US or been supported by his children, and he responded, “I supported myself without assistance from my children.”
A few things struck me by this testimony. First, I had an immediate reaction of surprise and anger that Jankel was identified by his religion. Why was the fact that he was “Hebrew” at all relevant, especially in the context of a legal hearing to determine his right to enter the country, a country supposedly founded in large part on the principle of freedom of religious exercise? Second, I could almost feel Jankel’s humiliation; he was asked whether he needed his children to support him. He had to admit that he could not read and write. On the other hand, he had $100—was that a lot or a little for an immigrant to have with them back then? And he had a trade—he was a painter.
The next paragraph made me smile because the next witness was Gustave Rosenzweig. You may recall that I had noticed on Bertha Strulowitz’s marriage certificate that one of the witnesses was named Gustave Rosenzweig, and I had wondered whether this could be Tillie’s brother and thus also my great-grandmother’s brother. Well, here he was, testifying at the hearing where the future of Tillie and her husband and children were at stake. Gustave testified that he wanted [to help?] his sister, brother-in-law and their children. He said, “I am worth $6000, all told; have a business of Painter Supplies,” and further said, “I will do the best I can for them.” When asked whether Jankel could work, Gustav responded,”He has no business to work at all. I will keep him in my house.” He further testified that Jankel had “four grown children here to take care of them and able to take care of them.”
I was impressed both by the fact that Gustav had $6000 in assets and that he was so generous in coming forward to help his sister and her family. He could not have been in the US that long himself, and he had to have some concern and fears about facing an official governmental agency, but he stood up for Jankel and his family. Based on this testimony, the board of inquiry recommended that Jankel be “given this opportunity” to apply for admission on bond.
The remaining pages included with the Acting Commissioner’s recommendation are the bond, the application for the bond, and the oaths made by those providing the bond, Gustave Rosenzweig and Joe Langman. Although I have only done some preliminary research on Joe Langman, it appears that he was also from Iasi and had been in the US for some time before this hearing. I do not know whether there is any family connection, or whether he was just a landsman helping out another Romanian from Iasi. Langman signed an oath claiming to have real property in Manhattan worth over $60,000, which must have been quite a substantial sum back then. Gustave also signed a similar oath, asserting that he had $3000 worth of interest in real estate located in Brooklyn as well as personal property consisting of furniture and his painters’ supply business (presumably worth the other $3000). Based on these oaths, a bond was issued for $1000 and presented in order that Jankel “shall not become a public charge” and be allowed to enter the country.
One other interesting thing I noticed about these documents: at the bottom of the page containing the oath is a footnote that reads, “In case signer of bond is a woman, insert here [on a line on the oath] “that deponent is an unmarried woman.” “ I had to stop and think about that for a minute, and then I realized what it meant. Only an unmarried woman could post a bond because a married woman had no independent claim to property. Boy, between being Jewish and a married woman, I would have had no rights back in 1908.
The final document in the file is the recommendation of the Commissioner of Immigration Services to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, agreeing with the Acting Commissioner’s recommendation and recommending that Jankel Srulovici be granted admission on bond. Although there is no response from the Secretary, I would assume that in general the Secretary deferred to the Commissioner and his hearing officers, and that Jankel and his family were in fact admitted into the United States and that he was not left on Ellis Island or deported.
And yet, despite spending hours again last night searching for some record of his death or a gravesite, I still cannot find anything that reveals what happened to Jankel after January, 1908, when he was admitted, and April 29, 1910, when, according to the 1910 US census, Tillie was already a widow.
I’ve also been tracking down records for Gustav Rosenzweig and Joe Langer, but more on that in the next post.
I’d bet ‘Hebrew’ was there as a nationality marker, not a religious one. We’re sensitized to the canard that Jews are Jewish first, Americans second–and react with shock and hostility to any such imputation on our loyalties. But I think a century ago it was widely assumed that there was a Hebrew race and a Hebrew nation and so it would have been considered slipshod work not to note the assumed nationality (Hebrew) along with the actual country of origin (Roumania.)
I am sure you are right that no anti-Semitism was intended. I’d be interested to see whether other religions were noted on other immigrants’ documents. For example, if a non-Jewish Romanian was immigrating or a Protestant from France, would that be noted? Or was it just the Jews who were singled out as a “race”?
Whoa, Amy! I didn’t say no anti-Semitism was intended! But it was casual, endemic, unprogrammatic, xenophobic, unpointed anti-Semitism, par for the course in an era of ‘scientific’ eugenics and notions of racial hierarchies.
OK, I guess we are on the same page. I think they would say they were NOT anti-Semitic, and for the times, they were doing what was socially acceptable. But it sure smells like anti-Semitism to me.
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What prompted you to contact NARA about this relative in particular or do you usually contact them? It amazes me that there’s such a detailed file for Jacob. I’m also amazed that they kept the paperwork and didn’t toss it or at least put it on microfilm.
My Jacob (GG GF) had a court case in 1911 and all the paperwork with the exception of one sheet was tossed. In addition, they didn’t microfilm it.
You also recommended USCIS to me yesterday. Did you also contact them concerning Jacob? How do they differ?
See my email
I have another question: Do you happen to know if there were files for every person that was detained at Ellis Island?
I will reply by email. Did you get the email I sent last night?
No, I’ll check now. Thanks