THE BEGINNINGS OF ROMANIAN IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA

INTRODUCTION

In view of the fact that much of the work of the Foundation has been in the immigration field, it seems appropriate to glance back briefly at all Romanian immigration to the United States before going into its recent phases.

Since immigration to America has tended to occur in distinct periods, we shall use the classification of Dr. William S. Bernard in his work entitled "The United States and the Immigration Process": The First Period: The Old Immigrants, 1789-1890; The Second Period: The New Immigrants, 1890-1920; and The Third Period: The Refugees - this classification for the later and continuing migration, after World War II.

THE FIRST PERIOD: THE OLD IMMIGRANTS -- 1789 - 1890

    The Old Immigrants group included very few Romanians.  The first known, so far, was in the eighteenth century: one Samuel Damien (also spelled Domien and Domjen identified as a Romanian priest of "the Greek religion".

    Samuel Damien's name appears as far back as 1748, when he placed an advertisement in the Gazette of South Carolina announcing the lectrical demonstrations he planned to give and inviting the public to attend.  Letters written in 1753 and 1755 by Benjamin Franklin attest to the fact that the two had met and had carried on dicussions concerning electricity.  Damien remained in the States some years, then travelled on to other lands.  No more was hears of or from him.

    There is little if any information available as to the existence of Romanian immigrants in the United States in the early part of the nineteenth century.  There is documentary evidence, though, in the form of military records, of several Romanians who became ranking officers in the Union Army during the Civil War: Brigadier general George Pomutz, Commander of the 15th Iowa Regiment, Captain Nicholas Dunca, who fought and died in the Battle of Cross Keys, Virginia, and Officer Eugen Alcaz, who died in battle in 1861.  Constantin Teodorescu gave his life on February 15, 1898 in the Spanish-American War.  There is further evidence that in 1865, general Pomutz -- on the termination of his Army career of excellent record -- was appointed U.S. Consul Genral at St. Pteresburg and Kronstadt in Russia, a position he filled very efficiently with his good command of languages.

    Between 1850 and 1895, more Romanians must have come to this country, but there are few known records prior to 1902.  By the end of the nineteenth century, however, a sufficient number had come to warrant the creation of organized groups: the two fraternal and beneficial societies formed in 1902 were the "Carpatina" in Cleveland, Ohio and the "Vulturul" in Homestead, Pennsylvania.

THE SECOND PERIOD: THE NEW IMMIGRANTS -- 1890 - 1920

    The great bulk of Romanian immigrants came to the United States during the second period, 1890-1920, mainly from Transylvania, Bucovma and Bessarabia, all three Romanian provinces under foreign rule: until 1917 in the case of the third, and 1918 in that of the first two.  Unfortunately, statistics for this period are very difficult to untangle.  In 1898, when the American Immigration Service began to reglster immigrants according to country of birth, it did not take into consideration ethnic origin, and only 98 Romanians were recorded for the year.  From 1899 to 1927, the official records show the number of 149,826 Romanian-born immigrants in the United States.  This data, too, is of little significance when one takes into account the geographic boundaries of Romania and its provinces and the political changes that took place within the years spanned by those records.  Up to 1918, immigrants from Transylvania and Bucovina were automatically registered as Austro-Hungarians born in Austria-Hungary, while those from Bessarabia were considered born in Russia, hence Russians, regardless of their etlhnic origin; thus they were part of the statistics of immigrants from those countries, respectively.  Economic pressures, as well as political persecution exercized against its minorities by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were the impetus for the migration of Romanians from the first two provinces, and the Russian Revolution in 1917 spurred that from Bessarabia.

    Many of the immigrants to the United States, in the early part of the twentieth century, came seeking a temporary haven, a chance to work hard, to earn enough to place them in a better economic category, to make possible the building of a new house, the purchase of a piece of land back home, and thus raise one's status there.  The "thousand and the fare back home" was the motto current during the first decade or so.  World War I put an end both to more emigration from Romania and to the intentions of those in America to return home. After the war's end, in 1918, when the three provinces were once again united with the Mother Country Romania, emigration dropped sharply from the pre-war rate, stopping almost entirely until 1939.  In America, some of the early Romanian immigrants returned home to the reurnted country, but most had already become American citizens, while some had served in the U.S. Army; their children were attending American schools and the families had become integral parts of the communities in which they lived.  During their first three decades in the United States, the Romanian-Americans had already founded a number of societies and parishes in many cities; they had built 27 Romanian Orthodox Churches, 16 Romanian Greek-Catholic Churches and 12 Baptist ones.  A number of Romanian-language newspapers had appeared, though some were of brief duration.  As a group, Romanians were a distinct asset to their respective communities.  Mainly of peasant and working-class backgrounds, they placed great value on education -- for themselves whenever possible, but definitely for their children.  Today, in every city and town that has a Romanian ethnic group it is found to be a constructive middle-class American group, contributing its full share toward bettering the life of the community of which it is a part.

THE THIRD PERIOD: THE REFUGEES

The third group of the migration series was made up of World War II refugees seeking a haven, the decision to flee being forced upon them by terror and political persecution.

Who is a refugee?  There are countless definitions, but the most comprehensive and precise is the one formulated by the Committee on Migration and Refugee Problems, of the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service, in New York City: "a refugee is a person who on account of persecution or fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion or belief, is outside his usual place of abode and cannot return thereto or will not return thereto because of such persecution or fear of persecution of military operations or natural calamity."

In the aftermath of World War II, about 47 million exiles, all victims of the war or of its Peace Settlements, scattered over five continents, having forsaken their homes to escape persecution, and sought asylum in other countries, often lacking documents and thus completely without legal status -- a difficult way to start a new life in the free world.

Refugees were in much greater need of moral support than earlier migrants had been, because of the abrupt and dramatic nature of their departures from home.  Families and friends had
been left behind, positions abruptly abandoned when dangers of remaining threatened or when sudden opportunities to leave presented themselves.  Being a refugee in the West turned one into a stateless nobody, reduced to a number, without money, family or friends.  Finding themselves in the host country, lost in a new world with different concepts of life, usually no knowledge of the country's language, and faced with a certain amount of indifference towards them, created in refugees a terrifying confusion.  The dreams and hopes they had brought with them had led them to expect too much from the free world.  Instead of the utopia anticipated, they found a war-weary, tired, self-centered and imperfect world, filled with the perplexities arising from the democratic system of freedom of action, speeeh and opinion, and of movement.

By 1947, the situation of the refugees in Western Europe was grim.  There were some isolated religious organizations trying to ease the suffering, but much more was needed.  The disorganization created in Western Europe by the influx of refugees became a menace to the stability of the host countries, a fact which warranted the intervention of the United Nations Organization.  The United States enacted special legislation, through the Displaced Persons Act of 1947, to open its doors for the admittance of refugees as special immigrants to this country.

Through special efforts, the United Nations created the International Refugee Organization (I.R.O.) to take care, shelter, feed and in cooperation with the countries willing to help, to resettle the many refugees already waiting to be resettled in different receiving countries.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees was created in Geneva to solve the legal status of refugees, as was the Inter-governmental Committee for European Migration (I.C.M.), created after the termination of the I.R.O. assistance early in 1952, to work out agreements with governments of the free countries willing to receive people as immigrants, and also to finance their transportation.

As to the refugees from Romania, the stream of migration began with the rise of the dictatorships and intensified after World War II, when Romania was left in the Communist orbit and a savage political persecution forced the outstanding statesmen and professional men to flee the country -- a phenomenon that was common to all East and Central European countries in the same situation.  This category of refugee had a certain amount of protection from host countries whose governments still hoped for a betterment of the situation.  However, after them came a growing number of refugees, young and middle-aged, fleeing in protest against the dictatorial form of government.  In contrast to the early migrations of Romanians, these were mainly from the better educated strata: political and professional people, students, fleeing from fierce political persecution, unjust condemnation and unwarranted imprisonment.  Their flight from Romania was not meant as an abandonment of their native land, nor a search for a new one.  It was what they thought to be a hopefully temporary exile during which their talents would be used to alert the West to the dangers of the political changes in Romania and to rouse the democracies to resist and prevent the absorption of that country into the Communist orbit against the will of its people.

At first the Romanian refugees were barred by the United Nations from receiving any assistance from the I.R.O. in Europe, due to the Soviet bloc argument that since Romania was a "liberated" country, it had no refugees.  An article written by Mr. Spencer D. Irwin then assistant and foreign affairs editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, dramatically described the hardships being endured at that time by Romanian refugees in Europe.

With reference to the Romanians, as well as the Yugoslavs and Bulgarians in the same situation, Mr. Irwin concluded with the plea: "A little has been done by the Church World Service, Inc., the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Welfare Agency ... More must be done, but it cannot be done indefinitely.  Beyond charity there is no hope unless some nation realizes the importance of these people to civilization.  They are excluded from finding hope in America because they are 'refugees' and not, technically speaking, 'displaced persons' who are provided for in the D.P. Act.  America would benefit if the 81st Congress passed a law to admit 2,000 of them.  They would be an asset of the greatest value to this country".

The law was passed in 1948 and subsequent laws were passed in 1953 to admit America's "fair share" of refugees, and in 1965 to admit more refugees and to make possible the reunification of families.

From 1948 on, American-Romanian relief committees were organized, in connection with their American denominational religious organizations, to ease the situations by finding sponsors, to give affidavits of support for the refugees, by providing food and clothing, writing letters to those in refugee camps in order to keep up their morale and, upon their arrival in the United States, helping with their resettlement.  There was concern, eagerness to help, and enthusiasm to get the job done.  No one could anticipate the frightening reality that the refugee problem would not end, but would continue to increase and become a world-wide problem.  The world refugee population given in the Annual Survey Issue of the U.S. Committee for Refugees gives the figure of 14,195,541 as of 1974/1975.

For a time, the Communist regime in Romania, in its determination to develop the "new man" it needed to carry out its ideology, was winnowing out of the universities and professional
schools the students of middle and upper-class families, as well as those who were opposing the political changes being imposed upon the country.  This was the impetus for students to leave home in search of a place in the free world in which to work and to complete their studies.  Some managed to get through the Iron Curtain and find countries ready to receive them, but not yet prepared to ease the financial burden involved in the long preparation for a career in the professions.

At this juncture, the need for an organization geared to help out in these specific situations became obvious, hence the establishment of the IULIU MANIU AMERICAN-ROMANIAN RELIEF FOUNDATION.