Sunday, March 19, 2017

I wonder how my grandmother felt when she first saw the Statue of Liberty

I have never been hit so hard as I was in the second episode of Who Do You Think You Are. I know from years of research that there are times when genealogy can hit a nerve and you feel guilt or sadness or fear. But on Sunday I really understood this.

My mother would tell me stories about how much fear my grandmother lived with during World War I. My mom would have been about 12 years old when this happened. People would come to my grandmother's house to check on her. I thought this was rather strange, but I never saw it as something that would scare a person. 

Then as I watched Julie Bowen research her great grandfather on WDYTYA it started to make sense. And the more I learned the more upset I became until finally I became extremely angry. I was so upset that someone could do this to my grandmother. I never met her but from hearing my mom talk about Grandma Gussie I felt like I knew her and I have always felt close to her. It is still hard to describe the emotions I feel about this time in her life. And then I think about what my mom must have gone thru being only 12 years old. My mom was extremely close to her mother.
It was 100 years ago. 1917. World War I. The year the United States decided to join the war. 

My grandmother, Augusta Friedricks, came to America at the age of 5 with her parents. She was born in Germany. She eventually became a citizen when her father was naturalized. She married and created a home for her husband and children. She worked as a seamstress. Then World War I broke out in Europe and her life must have completely changed.

I say "must have completely changed" because I wasn't there. I only heard the stories, but after Sunday night I can now understand the HELL she must have gone through. 

Julie Bowen discovered during her family research that her great grandfather, Charles Fry was associated with an organization called the American Protective League. These were ordinary American citizens who kept tabs on anyone in the United States who was born in Germany. My grandmother came from Prussia and this made her a possible enemy alien, a German radical. It appears that as a German born American she would have had to register during the war.

This group of German born citizens were told where the could live and work. They were spied on by fellow co-workers. Their bank accounts were inspected. Phones were tapped. In the case of Grandma Gussie, men came to her house many times and interrogated her. I remember my mom telling me how terrified she was by this. And many were placed in camps where they lived until the end of the war. In 1919 after the war around 10,000 aliens were released from these camps. 

The citizens who belonged to this group thought they were doing their part to protect America. I suppose you could buy into this if you never knew of a grandparent who was subjected to this horrible treatment. I find it hard to believe that this could happen in this country. Or do I?

I wonder how my grandmother and her parents felt when they saw the Statue of Liberty for the very first time.  


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