Skip to content

Alien Sister

November 23, 2011

The Promised Land

I’ve always felt like an “alien,” and aliens populate my books. This week’s New Yorker cover reminds me of my grandmother Carolina Watrobska, a Pole whose illegal escape from Ellis Island in 1921 was reported in the New York Times. Here is a condensed version of the article:


“Emaciated and pale from a hunger strike undertaken on behalf of her sister, Stefania Watrobska, 21 years old, was taken from Ellis Island yesterday. She was charged with violating Section 8 of the Immigration act in that she assisted an alien to land in the United States in violation of law.

“Stefania’s younger sister, Carolina, 18 years old, arrived here last week from Poland, but was ordered deported because the monthly quota of immigrants from that country had been exhausted. Stefania’s lawyer was unable to persuade the authorities to allow Carolina to enter, although her sisters would be glad to care for her.

“Last Friday, Stefania obtained a pass to visit Carolina at Ellis Island and took her place in the detention pen. Carolina slipped out and has not been seen since. The deception was discovered, and Stefania asserted she did not know Carolina’s whereabouts.

“When the authorities detained her, Stefania went on a hunger strike. She touched no food Saturday, Sunday, or yesterday, and when she was half carried into the Federal Building she almost collapsed. The United States Attorney who represented the Government said that if Carolina did not appear soon, Stefania would be deported instead.”

What’s your immigrant story?

  1. November 23, 2011 9:50 pm

    What happened to Stefania?

  2. November 24, 2011 10:10 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving, Joan, to you and your family.
    I can’t believe you’re not gonna tell the end of that story–what happened next!?!
    My maternal grandmother came from a family that maintained matriarchal lineages and paternal–she said we were descended from Elder Brewster, one of the Mayflower’s passengers–and she even had a family tree that showed the whole thing–rather than a ‘tree’, she invented a circular lineage chart that very cleverly allowed for the expansion of the descendants–she got written up in the paper for that. She was also very proud to point to whaling ship’s captains, privateers and even pirates among our ancestors. The Elder Brewster thing was her ticket into the DAR, but she was one of the many who dropped their membership and boycotted the DAR when they refused to let Marian Anderson sing in their D.C. Hall–which led to her concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.
    So, in the end, she was proudest of that break with her lineage–and my mother and sister have never joined either.
    I think the New Yorker cover quite apt–‘alien’ and ‘immigrant’ are complex concepts in our country, depending greatly on which era of our history is being discussed.

    • November 25, 2011 12:45 pm

      The DAR, that’s quite a story. I guess the immigrant question goes way back–including the “native Americans” whose ancestors’ trek was the greatest immigration of all time.

      About Stefania, the authorities gave up and released her. Carolina stayed, undocumented, in the Polish community until she married my grandfather.

  3. JamesPadraicR permalink
    November 24, 2011 11:19 pm

    As best I can remember what I was once told.
    This was shorty before, or after WWI.
    My great-grandfather (mother’s mother’s father), a Lithuanian Jew, was visiting relatives in Poland. There was a knock on the door one night, and all the military aged males were taken, and inducted into the army. He wound up in a Yiddish calvary regiment. (I believe there were different regiments according to language: Yiddish, German, Russian, Polish etc.) His family were eventually able to sell the farm and buy his way out. They then sent him and his six brothers (or seven?) to America. Once here, they looked into the phone book to give themselves new American names. He took the first one he saw, and went from Gedaliah Kosoy (don’t know that correct spelling) to Joe Abrams. His brothers all took different names, and scattered.

    Unfortunately, I have no one to ask about the family history. I know nearly nothing about my maternal grandfather’s family, other than they were also Lithuanian(?) Jews. I don’t know much more about my father’s side, other than they were originally from Scotland, and the old records were destroyed in a courthouse fire years ago.

    • November 25, 2011 12:50 pm

      Poland was a scary place in those days. My grandfather had a tough time getting out of Poland. Actually, back then, most places were scary; if the pogroms didn’t get you, the famine did. Today they gripe about the Euro and their pensions. I guess that’s progress.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: