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From the Land of the Czars:
Turned Away From America


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Many Jews came and were admitted to America but a few were sent back. The "Poet of the Ghetto," Morris Rosenfeld, sang of their plight. Leo Wiener, Instructor in Slavic Languages at Harvard, translated the poem into prose in his Songs of the Ghetto, Boston, 1898, a collection of' Rosenfeld's poems in transliteration and prose translation.

On the Bosom of the Ocean

The terrible wind, the dangerous storm, is wrestling with a ship on the ocean....

Children weep, women wail; the people cry and confess their sins; SOL11S flutter bodies tremble in terror of the angry, destructive wind.

But below in the steerage, two men sit quietly; no pain assails them; they seek no salvation, they make no plans, just as if it were safe and calm about them.

"Who are you wretched ones ... that you have no sighs and no tears even at tire awful gates of Death?

Have you no fatherland, no country, no home ... no friendly house.... No one in heaven above to whom to cry when you are in trouble?"

"A mother has fondled us ... a father ... kissed us tenderly.

We have a house but it has been destroyed, and our holy things have been burned

You know our Country; it is easily recognized ... by its cruel riots, its ruthless destruction, dealing death to the wretched Jew,

Yes we are Jews, miserable Jews, without friends or joys, without hopes of happiness ... America drives us back to Russia. To Russia, because we have no money ...

... Earth is too mean to give us a resting place; we are voyaging, but.... no one waits for us.

The two Jews were turned back by the March 3, 1891, immigration law which barred entry to "paupers or persons likely to become a public charge." They are graphically depicted in the hold of the storm-tossed ship by E. M. Lilien in an illustrated German edition of the Songs of the Ghetto, Lieder des Ghetto, Berlin, 1903, translated from the Yiddish by Berthold Feivel and illustrated by Lilien. The two men are seated, one on a steamer trunk, the other on the floor, and in their eyes, staring into nothingness, is the despair of a two-millennial exile. Across the hold, black-winged skeletal death waits expectantly

Austrian Jewish artist E. M, Lilien was the illustrator of the German edition of Morris Rosenfeld's Songs of the Ghetto. Two Jewish erstwhile immigrants have been sent back, being deemed "paupers," The poet writes:

America drives us back to Russia.
To Russia, because money we have not!

The artist captures the despair on their faces. And should the reader not plumb the depth of their despair, the skeletal face of death will evoke it.

Morris Rosenfeld, Lieder des Ghetto, translated by Berthold Feivel, illustrated by E. M. Lilien, Berlin, 1903, General Collection.

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).

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