Butcher's Meat Cleaver

My grandfather's meat cleaver
My grandfather's meat cleaver

In 1904 my grandfather, Joseph Guth, a German-speaking Hungarian, was apprenticed to a butcher in the small village of Kecsked, near Budapest. He was just 12 years old. He learned quickly, and by the time he was 14 he was permitted to slaughter and butcher a steer by himself. When he was 17 he met Julianna Pohlmüller, a young girl in the village, and they fell in love.  Although they were not allowed to marry (she was Catholic; he was Protestant), Julianna became pregnant. Soon after their son was born she boarded a ship for New York. Joseph followed one year later.

As Joseph’s ship was leaving the harbor, the captain made an announcement. Joseph could not understand English so he asked a fellow traveler to translate. “The captain needs a butcher,” he was told. Immediately Joseph reported to one of the ship’s officers, and explained that he was a trained butcher; all he needed was the knives. Joseph was offered the job, and soon won the favor of the captain. When the ship arrived in New York the captain feared that authorities on Ellis Island would deport Joseph because he did not have the proper papers. He insisted that Joseph accompany him to shore. From there he went immediately to see Julianna.

Finally reunited, Joseph and Julianna soon married and had two daughters. Their son arrived in New York several years later.

In old age my grandfather was fond of telling how he was successful in settling in New York. His ship needed a butcher, and the captain looked after him. As he always put it, “Der butcher var drunk; he don’t showed up!”

Place(s): Hungary, New York, Kecsked, Pusztavam
Year: 1913

– Philip Howard

Relationship:  Grandchild of im/migrant Grandchild of im/migrant