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Steerage Passengers Gathering Before The Voyage

From the small windows of fourth-class railway carriages they get glimpses of a new world, larger than they ever dreamed it to be, and much more beautiful.

Through orderly and stately Germany, with its picturesque villages, its castled hills and magnificent cities they pass; across mountains and hills, and by rushing rivers, until one day upon the horizon they see a forest of masts wedged in between the warehouses and factories of a great city.

Guided by an official of the steamship cornpany whose wards they have become, they alight from the train; but not without having here and there to pay tribute to that organized brigandage, by which every port of embarkation is infested.

The beer they drink and the food they buy, the necessary and unnecessary things which they are urged to purchase, are excessively dear, by virtue of the fact that a double profit is made for the benefit of the officials or the company which they represent.

The first lodging places before they are taken to the harbours, are dear, poor and often unsafe. Much bad business is done there which might be controlled or entirely discontinued.

For instance in Rotterdam three years ago, coming with a party of emigrants, we were met by an employee of the steamship company and taken in charge, ostensibly to be guided to the company's offices near the harbour.

On the way we were made to stop at a dirty, third-class hotel (whose chief equipment was a huge bar) and were told to make ourselves comfortable.

While we were not compelled to spend our money, we were invited to do so, urged to drink, and left there fully three hours until this same employee called for us.

I complained to the company through the only official whom I could reach, and who no doubt was one of the beneficiaries, for the complaint did not travel far.

This is only the remnant of an abuse from which the emigrant and the country which received him, used to suffer; for our stringent immigration laws have made it more profitable to treat the immigrant with consideration and to look after his physical welfare.

Yet, admirable as is the machinery which has been set up at Hamburg for the reception of the emigrant, these minor abuses have not all passed away and while care is taken that his health does not suffer and that his purse is not completely emptied, he is still regarded as prey.

The Italian government safeguards its emigrants admirably at Naples and Genoa; but other governments are seemingly unconcerned. When the official has done with the emigrants, they are taken to the emigrant depot of the company (which in many cases is inadequate for the large number of passengers), their papers are examined and they are separated according to sex and religion.

At Hamburg they are required to take baths and their clothing is disinfected; after which they constantly emit the delicious odours of hot steam and carbolic acid.

The sleeping arrangements at Hamburg are excellent. Usually twenty persons are in one ward, but private rooms which have beds for four people can be rented.

The food is abundant and good, plenty of bread and meat are to be had, and luxuries can be bought at reasonable prices. At Hamburg music is provided and the emigrants may make merry at a dance until dawn of the day of sailing.

The medical examination is now very strict, yet seemingly not strict enough; for quite a large percentage of those who pass the German physicians are deported on account of physical unfitness.

I wish to make this point here, and emphasize it: that restrictive immigration has had a remarkable influence upon the German and Netherlands steamship companies, in that they have become fairly humane and decent, which they were not; but improvement in this direction is still possible.

Source: Steiner, Edward Alfred, On the Trail of the Immigrant, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1906

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