Station: [17] Immigrant Luggage

M: The first islanders emigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century. Sailors had heard about the discovery of gold in California and sensed an opportunity. It was the start of the first wave of emigration. When Prussia introduced conscription on Föhr almost two decades later, the number of emigrants skyrocketed.

F: Take a look at the display case to see a typical example of the luggage would-be emigrants had with them when they embarked on the crossing from Bremerhaven: a pair of glasses and a Bible, the shawl that was part of traditional dress, some jewellery, and, as a keepsake, a decorative image woven from the hair of family members who had stayed behind.

M: The crossing wasn’t a pleasure trip. Very few people could afford to travel in first or second class. Most emigrants travelled in steerage, hundreds of them penned into spaces with low ceilings. The hygiene situation was appalling, and contagious diseases were rampant. Quite a few didn’t survive the crossing.

F: After their arrival in the States, the first generation of Föhr emigrants mostly found work panning for gold. Once they’d gained a foothold in their new country, the emigrants brought their relatives and acquaintances over – a process sometimes known (rather disparagingly) as “chain migration”. Whole communities grew up in the US, made up entirely of immigrants from Föhr.

M: If you turn around, you’ll see a banner next to the doorway. It belonged to a local support organisation called the "Föhr-Amrumer-Krankenunterstützungsverein". This society was founded in 1884 in Brooklyn, New York – in a saloon run by Jappen brothers from Toftum on Föhr.

F: The club house became a popular meeting place for immigrants from Föhr and Amrum. They kept the island traditions alive and celebrated the same festivals as on Föhr. But the organisation’s original goal was to provide mutual support among former islanders in case of illness and death.

M: Maintaining such close links with the island meant that many emigrants returned home after a few years to look for a spouse, and then travelled back to the States with him or her. Many families who had struck it rich came back permanently and spent their savings on making a new life for themselves here on Föhr.

Fotos: © Dr.-Carl-Häberlin-Friesen-Museum