Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary Source: Oral History Interviews

Pursuing the American Dream

Two couples stand on a pier looking out to sea, luggage and bundles nearby

Hopes and Dreams of Immigrants

When you come to the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center you will see videotaped oral histories of Johnstown residents talking about their immigrant parents and grandparents. The Generations Theater is only able to show brief portions from those interviews. Below are other excerpts from the interview transcripts.

Mr. Beerman explains what his parents worked for

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptTo attain a better life my folks worked long hours. In other words, a clock didn't mean anything to them. They got up in the wee hours of the morning. And my mother would go down to the store from upstairs and meet the bakers and the milkman. And take his wares into the store, and to make sure that he got paid, and make sure everything was put in, on display, for the people who were going to come in. It was very hard work. It wasn't something that just happened.

I mean, you don't just get up to the store and here we are, let's go. It just didn't happen that way. And my father, of course, helped as much as he could but he had to go out on the road. And break his back selling these things and dragging them on the wagon, and dragging them into the house, and the lady not wanting it, and then taking it back out again, and starting all over again.

And it was very hard, hard work. And it was time consuming and they worked hard. And the little bit of money that they made, it was all saved, everything saved. I mean, everything was saved.....

So our folks instilled upon us that money doesn't come easy and if you want it, you're going to have to go out and work for it. And it didn't hurt us.

No, my dad never did complain too much about his work. He did say it was hard work. You've got to remember my father, and the rest of the Jewish people, the religion to them was a very important thing. And they would get up at six o'clock in the morning or five o'clock in the morning, go to the synagogue and say the Morning Prayer, and then go to their places where they bought the merchandise. And then go out on the road. Now, this is the wee hours of the morning, it's very dark.

And every morning that's what they did. And it didn't seem to hurt them. Of course, we saw this happening and when we came of age we schlepped along with him....

Among my friends, ... the parents of these people wanted them to go to college. ...Their children should have it much easier than they had it. And they shouldn't have to work so hard. Become lawyers or doctors or whatever. And that way they didn't have to go into the family-- But they would like them to come into the family business but they would much rather they went to college.

And, of course, that's how a lot of these people went to college. They got an education because the family wanted to have it easier for their children. Which we have it today too. That we want our children to have it much easier... for them rather than work as hard as they can, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Martha Banda tells what her grandparents believed about succeeding in America

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcript... My family's immigrants -- I think they came over from Europe with maybe like a threefold purpose; and first of all, you pray, because if you pray, you will succeed. God will help you.

Secondly, I think you work. If you work, God will help you, and you will succeed. So the prayer and the work, and then the third you get educated, because if you're educated, you can work, get a better job, and God will help you, and you will succeed.

So, the three things I think really that was foremost, that you pray, you go to church. You work hard, and you get an education, and then how can you fail?

...We used to tease my daddy that he was a Bethlehem man, because his allegiance was to Bethlehem Steel, and even though he started that union, he knew that if it were not for Bethlehem Steel, he would not have been able to rise, to better his life. And to give his children more, so he did have a loyalty to Bethlehem.

Mr. Jakovitz summarizes what motivated his parents

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptThey really struggled. The immigrants struggled, but I think many of them, just like my father, felt that this was a free land, and they could work, and they could amount to something, and that, to them, was extremely important.

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