Stephen Miller’s Great-Grandfather Sam Was a ‘Chain Migrant’ and a Fine American
While his brother Saul volunteered here, Sam, barred because he had only one good eye, fought with David Ben-Gurion in the Jewish Legion before returning to his new homeland.
A Russian immigrant in steerage had given birth aboard the S.S. Ryndam on an earlier run from Rotterdam to New York, and the first-class passengers had taken up a cash collection for the mother, then baptized the baby in champagne.
The captain pronounced the birth a good omen, offsetting the ill fortune of having run aground the year before. He declared the Ryndam a lucky ship as it made two more runs, arriving with its latest load of immigrants on July 9, 1906.
The ship docked at a Manhattan pier with a light breeze and the temperature in the high 60s. The first- and second-class passengers were cleared onboard by immigration officers and allowed to go on their way. Those in steerage were transported by ferry to Ellis Island, where they stepped off as others had in a Biograph film shot there exactly two months before.
The May 9, 1906, footage captures the particular beauty of people in the first moments of their new lives, carrying all their worldly possessions in suitcases, satchels, and cloth sacks. They were no doubt tired and poor and tempest-tossed, just like in the Emma Lazarus sonnet inscribed on a brass plaque installed at the Statue of Liberty three years earlier, yet they looked anything but wretched as they proceeded toward the Great Hall. They appeared to be summoning what was best and strongest in them for whatever awaited.
No doubt this same beauty and strength was also to be seen in the new arrivals who came off the Ryndam on July 9. Those listed on a manifest marked “THIS SHEET IS FOR STEERAGE PASSENGERS” included 13-year-old Sam Glotzer—future great-grandfather of Stephen Miller, the White House aide who is crafting the Trump administration's efforts to curtail even legal immigration. Miller’s latest effort is to disqualify green card and U.S. citizen applicants who have received government benefits through programs such as Obamacare and children’s health insurance.
Sam arrived with his 15-year-old brother Saul and 9-year-old sister Bella and their mother, 50-year-old Bessie. The manifest records that the mother affirmed she was not an anarchist and had never been incarcerated or committed to a mental institution. But there was a “No” where it asked if she could read and another “No” where it asked if she could write and her occupation was listed as “None.” She seems to have been the kind of immigrant that her great-great-grandson would seek to exclude.
In the column headed “Condition of Health - Mental and Physical,” Bessie is listed as “Good.” But 13-year-old Sam’s entry in present days might well have marked him as an excludable, someone liable to need child health care.
“Blind in one eye,” the manifest notes.
As also noted in the manifest, Bessie’s husband, the children’s father, had arrived before them, on Jan. 7, 1903. His surname was listed on the manifest that recorded his arrival as Glozer. His given name, Wolf Leib, was recorded only as Leib.
The newly arrived Glotzer family joined the father Glozer in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, as an indisputable example of chain migration such as Stephen Miller and his boss Donald Trump would decry.
Wolf Leib there became Louis and the family became the Glossers and opened a department store by that name. A book titled Long Live Glosser’s recounts the enterprise’s growth.
When the U.S. entered World War I, Sam and Saul responded as the true Americans they were and volunteered. Saul was accepted, but he would still be in Fort Drum in upstate New York when the war ended. Sam was barred because he had only one good eye. He remained determined to do his bit and he sought entry to the Jewish Legion, which was fighting in Palestine with the British Army against the Turks. He had to pass an eye test and he did not read the letters so much as recite them, having committed them to memory beforehand.
Sam saw well enough in combat to be twice decorated by the British. He became close friends and tent mates with a young fellow soldier named David Ben-Gurion. Sam also met a woman named Penina.
In 1919, Sam and Penina were married, with Ben-Gurion in attendance. Ben-Gurion went on to help draft Israel’s Declaration of Independence and be its first signatory. He led the fight in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and served as the first prime minister, becoming known as Israel’s founding father.
Sam and Penina left Palestine six months after the December 1919 birth of their daughter, Freda, in Jaffa, Palestine. They arrived in New York aboard the S.S. Philadelphia on July 5, 1920. Sam’s arrival was again recorded on a manifest, but this time the top of the sheet read:
“LIST OF UNITED STATES CITIZENS”
The space that recorded his claim to citizenship offers further proof that the future great grandson Miller arises from chain migration such as he abhors:
“By father’s naturalization 1907.”
Sam and Penina had two more children, Fred and Isadore, known as Izzie. Isadore went on to have three children, Mark, Miriam and David. Miriam married Michael Miller, who was himself the son of an immigrant. They gave us Stephen, whose politics have prompted his uncle David to denounce him as an “immigration hypocrite.”
To listen to the uncle and appreciate his decency and think of Sam before him and all the others in that resolute, big-hearted chain is to know that—Stephen Miller aside—the Ryndam really was a lucky ship.
And to look at that film shot two months before is to know that all those ships were lucky.