Austrian officials visit museum
Recently, the Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum had the honor to welcome Mayor Hans Niessel, governor of Burgenland, Austria, and a delegation of officials and Austrian media.
Many residents of Northampton, Coplay, Whitehall Township, Bath, Nazareth and other Lehigh Valley communities have family roots in Burgenland.
Many would be employed in the cement, steel, cigar and, later, the garment industries. My father, Anthony, and grandfather, Ignatz, came from the region. In my many years of writing — or “something resembling writing” — I have interviewed and visited the homes of numerous former sons of Burgenland.
The visits brought back memories of some men and women I have interviewed. Here are some past recollections.
Mr. Paul Eberhardt resided on 10th Street in Northampton.
He recalled, “I was born in Burgenland, Austria, in 1897. I came to America because there were no jobs at home, and our family was very large. The government at the time took 25 percent of our farm crops after World War I. This made supporting a family very difficult.”
Paul continued, “My brother and sister decided to leave, hoping America would be a better place to live. My brother was hired by the Atlas Portland Cement Company at the first Northampton plant, named Plant No. 2. The first plant was in Coplay.”
In those days, you could find agents of the Atlas, Whitehall, Lawrence, Coplay and Lehigh Portland at the Main Street and Siegfried railroad stations of the Central Railroad of New Jersey with the sole purpose of hiring workers. Cement mills were booming, and employees were needed to supplement the labor force, which was primarily Pennsylvania German.
The companies had even sent agents to Europe to entice people to come to America. “There are jobs for all” was a familiar refrain. Upon arrival, the agent signed up workers. Some could not write, so there was always someone there who could speak Austrian. Yes, America had streets of gold.
“There were jobs we didn’t have at home” was told to me by a number of men. Paul’s brother had sent him a couple of hundred dollars, considered a fortune. Two hundred dollars was the fare for Paul and his wife, who had to wait three months because of the quota system. They made a long journey to France and boarded a steamship at the port of LaHare as second-class passengers.
Paul’s brother met him in New York on March 3, 1923. He had $20 in his pocket.
What he said to me is a quotation I have placed in the Atlas museum: “When I saw the Statue of Liberty, I knew I was here and I would have a better life.”
This is a feeling that has been expressed by millions. His eyes glisten at that moment, a happy memory of the past always to be remembered by a young immigrant far from his homeland.
More in two weeks.