On April 23, 2018, this article first appeared in issue number 7 of Faith On Every Corner, a free digital magazine. It can also be read there by clicking the link.
Coming to America by Craig Ruhl
I first met Fritz Gloege in high school, I was a sophomore and he was in his junior year. It was not long before we became fast friends and best buddies. Fritz’s mother and father became my second set of parents and mine became his. We often sat at each other’s family dinner table and participated in our family’s discussions. Our friendship continued through our college years and periods of active duty in the Navy. There were many double-dates as well as being in each other’s weddings. Fun times and great memories. Fritz dated my oldest sister, Dana, and took her to her prom. The other day, Fritz and I spoke on the phone when he related the story of how he and his family came to this country and became part of the American tapestry.
Fritz and his parents were my first close relationship with a first-generation immigrant family. They immigrated from Germany in December of 1949, when Fritz was about to turn three years old. This was just a few years after the end of the second world war. Since they were sponsored by Fritz’s father’s aunt and uncle, they entered the United States in New York, but not through Ellis Island, as did so many others. At that time, if an immigrant did not have employment, their sponsor was responsible for their housing and care. There were no government subsidies or assistance available at that time. The Gloege family were driven from the entry point in New York to Media, Pennsylvania, where they lived with their sponsors.
The Gloege family lived in a suburb outside of Cologne, Germany. Before the war, the family was considered upper middle class, with a home, a business, and wealth. The area where they lived was heavily bombed during the war resulting in not just the massive destruction of buildings and loss of life, but the economy ceased to function. This caused businesses to decline and fail. Mr. Gloege served in the German army on the Russian front. Fritz said, “My father returned from the war to a bombed out town. There was no economy and money meant nothing. Everything had to be rebuilt. Barter was the only commerce. He was the younger of two sons and, as was the tradition and custom, he did not inherit from his father. The oldest son received everything.” Since the family meat business could not support both families, the Gloege family prepared to seek a new life in America. It wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity.
There was a two-year process to become eligible to immigrate, during which Fritz’s parents went to class in Germany to learn English, at least enough to get started. It was important for Fritz’s father to learn as quickly as possible since he would be seeking work. Once in their new country, Fritz’s mother continued to learn the language from friendly neighbors who put any prejudice aside in order to help her. Fritz was still a child, so he was able to learn the language as he grew up through school, pretty much the same way as other American children. Fritz said, “One of my biggest regrets that I have is that we went from speaking German at home to them allowing me to speak to them in English. I suspect that my speaking English helped my mother and father learn the language faster which helped them integrate more fully into the community”
Fritz’s father was a master sausage maker in Germany and he brought those skills with him to America. His father’s uncle was also a master sausage maker and he helped Mr. Gloege obtain employment with a local meat packing company. About six months after arriving, the family moved into their own apartment in Leiperville. Fritz said, “It was probably government-owned housing, what we would today call a project, consisting of a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and, a small dining alcove. It seems to me that it was probably less than 1000 square feet. I slept in the small alcove.”
In 1954, when Fritz was in the third grade, the family bought a row home in the Chester area a much better, blue collar, neighborhood. There were more children and Fritz remembers it as generally being a good move. Fritz told me, “I have vivid memories during that period of other parents being less than nice to a little German boy. This was probably because someone in their family had been in the war and had fought against the Germans. It wasn’t always blatant, but I would overhear a parent saying to their child, “don’t you have another friend to play with” or “He’s that little German boy, that Nazi kid.” Fritz was still young and was able to shrug most of it off, but the prejudice still stung. By the time that he was in the 10th grade, most of the negativity associated with being German had dissipated. There were not a lot of immigrants where Fritz live which, at first, led to difficulty in being accepted. Fritz said, “I always had a feeling that I didn’t completely fit in. In looking back, that was my personal interpretation and a reflection of my family’s feelings than reality. People pretty much accepted you for who you were.”
Fritz’s father also ran into prejudice at his new job. His employer had recognized his skill and knowledge as a master sausage maker and made him the new sausage kitchen foreman. This was not well received by the other workers who resented being told what to do by a German. Several the workers, American, Italian, and Polish and other central European immigrants, had been deeply affected by the war and still held hard feelings towards the German immigrants. Being an immigrant in a new country with new customs, language, and ways of doing things is difficult, but when you add strong prejudice, it becomes even harder. Over time, he was able to prove the value of his knowledge and experience and was embraced as a leader.
The decision to become American citizens was a given for these newcomers. Being an immigrant was one thing; becoming a naturalized American citizen was another. Fritz’s mother and father took preparatory classes in history, civics, customs, and language. They then passed exams before taking the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America. In 1956, they were Americans. As a minor, Fritz became a citizen based on his parent’s citizenship. A requirement was for the family to renounce their German citizenship. Dual citizenship was not allowed.
Faith played a vital role in the Gloege family story. They had survived a world war and believed that there was a better life in America. Their Christian faith acknowledged that God was guiding their destiny. In Germany, where they had lived, the population was primarily Catholic or Lutheran. Once in America, Fritz went to Sunday school at a small Lutheran Church. His parents would attend church several times a month and made sure that Fritz was involved in church activities. It was common for immigrants at that time to be sponsored by a church, but for the Gloege family, it was family who was the sponsor. When the family moved a short distance to Media, Pennsylvania, they started to attend the Lutheran church there. Fritz’s father’s uncle was one of the founders of the church and he insisted that the family would worship there. That showed the power of being a sponsor. Fritz told me, “Up to now I had been very involved in church youth groups and activities, but this was a strange time for me at the new church. It was not a good fit for me at all. The minister was very anti-war and that was reflected in his sermons and in the attitude of the congregation. I was very upset to have left all of my friends at the old church and I just didn’t like being at the new church.” He continued, “This was when I pretty much gave up on religion and stopped going to church for about 14 years. When I met my wife, Randalynn, and we were raising kids, we decided that church was important to us.” Fritz and his wife continue today to be active in their church as well as examples to their children and grandchildren.
I asked Fritz how he felt about the current immigration issues that our country is going through. He told me, “I have great empathy for those who would like to come to this country. I have traveled around the world and seen many wonderful places. There is no other place in the world that can give a person the opportunities that America has to offer. When an immigrant becomes an American citizen, their country of origin takes a step back in their life and will take an even further step back in their children’s lives. I am very proud to be an American. Since I came to this country when I was three years old, I feel that I have always been an American. I feel that is how it should be for all who come to this country. Either you are an American or you are not. An immigrant should come here legally, playing by the rules.’ Fritz added, “I know what it is like to come from a war-torn country. A person who is in a country devastated by war, as so many are around the world today, must decide. If an opportunity exists to come to America legally, they should either take it or they should stay and help rebuild their country.”