Immigration into the Great Plains
Not everyone was leaving Nebraska during the 30s. Almost four million people came to the U.S. in during the 1920s (down from six million from 1910 to 1920). After World War I, there was an increase in racism and prejudice against immigrants. In response, Congress passed several restrictive laws and established a quota system. The Immigration Act of 1924 (National Origins Act) changed the quota system to allow more immigrants from northern and western Europe and fewer from southern and Eastern Europe (Russia and Italy). Nearly all Asians were barred from entering the U.S.
Immigration declined in the 1930s because of the restrictive laws, the Great Depression, and the looming war in Europe. Despite the hardships of travel and the indignities of Ellis Island where some immigrants were given new names, people from many countries found their way to the Great Plains.
Alvin and Delbert Apetz’s father immigrated from Germany to Nebraska. Alvin describes how a friend of his father’s came to United States, but went no farther than New York City because of the rumors about Indians.
Carla Due describes how her father first came to Nebraska from Denmark. Her mother joined him, and finally Carla arrived, but not willingly. She says her father was ‘Americanized’ and believed everything in America was perfect.” When she was 16, Carla followed her family and crossed the Atlantic. Her father met her in New York City. Her first impression of Nebraska was not very good because she arrived in August “when the corn rattled on the stalk because is was so dry.”
Herman Goertzen’s father fled Russia just as the Communist Revolution started. It took him two years to cross Russia, Austria, Poland, and Germany. He never found out what happened to his parents and siblings who had to stay behind. Herman’s father crossed the Atlantic on a coal ship that had very little food. He arrived at Ellis Island where “he had to be cleaned up and deloused, and the whole bit.” Thanks to Mennonite sponsors, his father came to Henderson, Nebraska, which had a climate similar to Russia, and farmers grew the same kind of wheat. He also found a wife, the daughter of the couple (also of Russian heritage) who gave him a job on their farm. Herman says his father had nightmares about fleeing through Russia and Europe, hiding until he found a family that would give him food and clothes.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.