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WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > A German Deserter's War Experience > XXIV AMERICA AND SAFETY



WHAT I have still to relate does not concern actual war experiences. But the reader might want to know how I came to America. That must be done in a few short sentences.

In Holland war was believed to be unavoidable. Again I had to choose another domicile. After much reflection and making of plans I decided to go to America.

After having left my place I executed that plan. Some days after I was informed that the steamer Zyldyk of the Holland-American line was leaving for New York in the night from the 17th to the 18th of March. According to my plan I packed my things in a sailor's bundle and began the risky game.

I had never been on a sea-going steamer before. The boat was a small trader. I had found out that the crew had to be on board by midnight. I had an idea that the men would not turn up earlier than was necessary. With my sailor's bundle I stood ready on the pier as early as ten o'clock. All I had packed together in the excitement consisted of about seven pounds of bread and a tin containing some ten quarts of water. At midnight the sailors and stokers of the boat arrived. Most of them were drunk and came tumbling along with their bundles on their backs. I mixed with the crowd and tumbled along with them. I reached the deck without being discovered. I observed next to me a deep black hole with an iron ladder leading downwards. I threw my bundle down that hole and climbed after it. All was dark. I groped my way to the coal bunker. I would have struck a match, but I dared not make a light. So I crawled onto the coal which filled the space right up to the ceiling. Pushing my bundle in front of me I made my way through the coal, filling again the opening behind me with coal. Having in that manner traversed some thirty yards I came upon a wall. There I pushed the coal aside so as to have room to lie down. I turned my back against the outer wall of the boat.

Nobody suspected in the slightest degree that I was on board. Now the journey can start, I thought to myself. At last the engines began to work; we were off. After many long hours the engines stopped. Now we are in England I guessed. Perhaps we were off Dover or somewhere else; I did not know. Everything was darkness down there. While the boat was stopping I heard the thunder of guns close to us. I had no idea what that might mean. I said to myself, "If the English find me my voyage is ended." But they did not turn up.

At last we proceeded; I did not know how long we had stopped. All went well; I scarcely felt the boat move. However, it was bitterly cold, and I noticed that the cold increased steadily. Then the weather became rougher and rougher. Days must have passed. I never knew whether it was day or night. Down in my place it was always night. I ate bread and drank water. But I had scarcely eaten when all came up again. Thus my stomach was always empty.

Through the rolling of the boat I was nearly. buried by the coal. It got worse and worse, and I had to use all my strength to keep the coal away from me. The big lumps wounded me all about the head; I felt the blood run over my face. My store of bread was nearly finished, and the water tasted stale. I lit a match and saw that the bread was quite black.

I wondered whether we were nearly there. No more bread. I felt my strength leave me more and more. The boat went up and down, and I was thrown hither and thither for hours, for days. I felt I could not stand it much longer. I wondered how long we had been on the water. I had no idea. I was awfully hungry. Days passed again. I noticed that I had become quite thin.

At last the engines stopped again. But soon we were off once more. After long, long hours the boat stopped. I listened. All was quiet. Then I heard them unloading with cranes.

New York!---After a while I crept forth. I found that half of the coal had been taken away. Not a soul was there. Then I climbed down a ladder into the stokehole; nobody was there either. I noticed a pail and filled it with warm water. With it I hastened into a dark corner and washed myself. I was terribly tired and had to hold on to something so as not to collapse. When I had washed I took my pocket mirror and gazed at my face. My own face frightened me; for I looked pale as a sheet and like a bundle of skin and bones. I wondered how long the voyage had lasted. I had to laugh in spite of my misery ---I had crossed the ocean and had never seen it!

The problem was now to get on land. What should I say if they caught me? I thought that if I were caught now I should simply say I wanted to get to Holland as a stowaway in order to reach Germany. In that case, I thought, they would quickly enough put me back on land. With firm resolve I climbed on deck which was full of workmen.

I noticed a stair-way leading to the warehouse. Gathering all my strength I loitered up to it in a careless way and---two minutes later I had landed. I found myself in the street outside the warehouse.,

Up to that time I had kept on my legs. But now my strength left me, and I dropped on the nearest steps.

It was only then that I became aware of the fact that I was not in New York, but in Philadelphia. It was 5 o'clock in the afternoon of April 5th, 1916. 1 had reckoned on twelve days and the voyage had taken eighteen.

Physically a wreck, I became acquainted with native Americans in the evening. They afforded me every assistance that one human being can give to another. One of those most noble-minded humanitarians took me to New York. I could not leave my room for a week on account of the hardships I had undergone; I recovered only slowly.

But to-day I have recovered sufficiently to take up again in the ranks of the American Socialists the fight against capitalism the extirpation of which must be the aim of every class-conscious worker. A relentless struggle to the bitter end is necessary to show the ruling war provoking capitalist caste who is the stronger, so that it no longer may be in the power of that class to provoke such a murderous war as that in which the working-class of Europe is now bleeding to death.

WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > A German Deserter's War Experience > XXIV AMERICA AND SAFETY