This story is contributed from the Tenement Museum's collection of documents about families who lived in 97 and 103 Orchard Street.
Joseph Confino lived at 97 Orchard Street, where the Tenement Museum is now housed, from 1913-1917. He and many of his family members immigrated to New York City from Kastoria, in modern-day Greece, during the Balkan Wars. His family particularly feared that Joseph, then 15, would be conscripted. In addition to the dangers faced by soldiers, in the army he would not be able to practice Jewish religious obligations, such as observing the Sabbath and eating kosher foods. When the war began to impact Kastoria, soldiers were quartered in the Confino family home. War directly lead to the Confino family's immigration to the United States, and just a few years later, the U.S. entered World War I.
In 1918, Joseph signed this draft registration card, which would have allowed him to be called for service in the U.S. military during World War I. Joseph himself was never called to serve, but about 18% (or approximately one in five) of service members in WWI were immigrants. The U.S. entered the war during a peak in immigration, and the War Department continued to see military service as a path to 'Americanizing' new arrivals, educating them about civics and history and providing a fast track to citizenship.
Joseph's registration card hints at the common experience of immigrants serving in the military in the United States, and the complexity of serving without naturalized citizenship. What does it mean to be an immigrant and serve a country?
– The Tenement Museum