Beyond the Big Water. Part 4: The authorities towards the emigration.

Facing such an enormous problem of disappearing recruits, the authorities were going out of their way to stop this process. They were censoring and confiscating private letters, in which emigrants were speaking positively about their life abroad. There was also the recommendation not to give passports to people who had not sufficient assets. It was obligatory to have certain amount of money to obtain passport. But people had their tricks to skip this obligation: sometimes they were giving the false destination, for example Russia and then trying to use the passport for overseas emigration. The other way was even easier: one was obtaining the passport and just after crossing the border he was sending it by post to his village. This way the one document had been used by a several people. The more the illegal emigration was growing, the more obstacles and decrees of the authorities there were. And the new tricks and frauds were invented.

Since 1892 emigrants had to present the ship boarding card before leaving their country, and even before obtaining the passport. With time there were more and more obligations and documents required. Since 1880,  the immense battue started at the main train stations, in Dębica, Tarnów, Kraków and especially in Oświęcim, which was on the western border of Galicia. The stations were watched by officers, gendarmes and the police.  Many of the emigrants were turned off the road and forced to come back home, sometimes their savings were confiscated.

Emigrants started to avoid Oświecim and travelled via smaller stations, in Szczakowa, Dziedzice. There were alternative routes: people were afraid of the controls in Oświecim so they were travelling to the stations in Kraków,  Łobzów or Kraków – Bonarka, then walking to Zabierzów (omitting the central station in Kraków) and later traveled   to Chełmek or  Jawiszowice (small stations near Prussian border). The other way (popular in the 1890s) was leading to Hamburg via Torun and Gdańsk. The emigrants were using special raftsman’s travel permissions (of course illegal). Sometimes people were merging with the groups of pilgrims travelling to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary from Prussia and back.

The authorities of Galicia (the main representant of the emperor was the Deputy of Galicia), resided in Lwów (today’s Lviv, Ukraine). In 1873 an important decree was issued: it was demanded from all district authorities to dissuade people from the reckless emigration using all available methods: legal, moral, with the support of the church, priests, mayors, teachers and gendarmerie. There was a series of similar, official letters sent to the local authorities, especially in Krakow and Lwów. The emigration offices obligation was to inform the emigrants about the poverty in the destination country and they had to inform them that the emigration will cause loss of the Austrian citizenship and their properties (which accordingly to the Austrian law of that times was not true). There was a large scale action against the agents recruiting emigrants.

New life in America. Orchard street in Manhattan, Picture source:

All obstacles and efforts to stop the emigration were in vain. The facts were clear enough: for a 12-hour work day in America, there was the salary of $2 , or $ 8-9  per week, while in Galicia for hard, full day work during the harvest, the salary was about 25 cents.  Not only were the poor peasants without any land emigrating, but also wealthy farmers were selling their farms for a song and leaving for, what they thought, a better life. In some villages even mayors and other important and respected people were leaving. This was a real emigration fever. No matter how many difficulties, humiliations, frauds and other obstacles they had met, the thousands of Galician people were risking all to start a new life beyond the Big Water.

Aga Pawlus
PolishOrigins Team

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