New Lady Liberty Mural Yields Immigration Story20 Apr 2012
Our main conference room is now graced by a stunning wall-sized photograph of Lady Liberty, artistically rendered in sepia tones, with the closing line of Emma Lazarus’s immortal poem, The New Colossus, printed across it:
“I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It is a fitting daily reminder to all of us at the Murthy Law Firm of just how important our work is to the aspiring immigrants who depend on us to smooth their way to a new life in the United States. It’s an inspiring sight.
The photomural was installed with meticulous artistry by Peter Goldmann; who, as it turns out, has his own immigration story to tell. Mr. Goldmann was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States after World War II. He says he vividly remembers the day in 1951 when their ship, the General S.D. Sturgis, arrived in New York harbor. His uncle picked them up and brought them to Baltimore, where they had family members living. He didn’t get a good look at the Statue of Liberty until his mother brought him to New York, several years later.
Mr. Goldmann’s parents – Walter and Vera – were Jewish refugees from Katowice (Kattowitz), a Polish-German city in Upper Silesia. They spoke no English, but with help from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, his father quickly found work at the Comfy Mattress Factory in Baltimore. He moved on to the Bond Bakery, and worked there until it closed, in 1963.
Mr. Goldmann said his father took public transit to work, and prided himself on being there on time, no matter what the weather. When a snowstorm shut down the city in February of 1958, Walter Goldmann left home three hours early to get to work on time for his midnight shift, knowing that the street cars would not be running. He picked his way down the only clear path, in the middle of the deserted streets. When he finally got to work, nobody was there but the foreman, who’d slept there overnight. There was no work to be done, and the foreman promptly sent him home.
When the Bond Bakery closed in 1963, Walter Goldmann launched his own business – something Peter says his father always wished he’d done as soon as he arrived in Baltimore. In short order, Walter Goldmann learned to drive, bought a station wagon and painting equipment, and became his own boss, running a successful painting company. Peter Goldmann recalls his father’s tremendous work ethic: “Lunch with my father was a paintbrush in one hand, and a sandwich in the other. He was always working, and he worked very hard. Nobody could outwork my father.”
The younger Goldmann sees the same drive and determination in today’s immigrants. “A lot of them have little stores, they work 60-80 hours per week, and don’t make much on an hourly basis. They have family members working with them, and their businesses do well.” He says the new generation of immigrants shows habits of hard work and thrift that he learned growing up in an immigrant family:
“My dad saved a lot of money. He was very frugal – not cheap – but always believed in buying good-quality things that would last, things he could fix. He always paid cash. When he died, I was shocked at how much he’d saved. When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she needed very expensive care, but my parents had saved enough so that the rainy day came and went. We were able to take care of all my mom’s needs.”
Many immigrant families share this experience, Peter Goldmann says: they work hard, save as much as they can, and take care of their families – and they take nothing for granted. These are among the core values that built this country. No coincidence that these are immigrant values.
Many thanks to Peter Goldmann for sharing his family’s immigration story. There is much to be learned from this shining example for those of us who have been here for several generations; to take us back to our immigrant roots and put us in touch with our own stories!