Bookcase from Bremen, Germany

Bookcase from the captain's quarters
Bookcase from the captain's quarters

My great-great-grandfather, Bernhardt, was the captain of a ship that sailed from Bremen, Germany to New York. In his captain’s quarters, he displayed a teakwood bookcase with glass doors.

In 1914, Bernhardt and his pregnant wife, Gesine, were making a trip to New York. This voyage would mark their last time in Germany. While they were en-route, World War I broke out in Germany. When they arrived in New York, Bernhardt was taken to a war camp since they arrived on a German ship. While the ship was docked, Gesine gave birth to my great-grandfather, Herbert. Gesine and Herbert were permitted to take their belongings and live in Brooklyn. Bernhardt was eventually able to reunite with the rest of his family and they moved to Staten Island; the bookcase went with them.

The bookcase was passed down to my great-grandfather and eventually to my mother. As the bookcase has gotten older, my mother has become more protective of it. Everyday, I hear my mother yell to someone, “don't touch the glass cabinet!” It has become a sacred item in my family, still housing many of its original contents.

The cabinet is part of my family’s history, having traveled with them to every place they have lived. Bernhardt and Gesine were expecting to return to Germany, but they were never able to. Since they did not have most of their belongings with them, this bookcase was one of the few items that connected them to Germany. The bookcase reminds me that the immigrant experience is the American experience.

Place(s): Bremen, Brooklyn, Staten Island
Year: 1915

– Caroline Morris

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more