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The immigration story of Bertha Weinstein (Romanian Immigrant)

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Tales from the Trailer
Bertha Weinstein, my Mom

My Mother, Bertha Weinstein, was born in Suchava, Rumania on November 18, 1914. Her Mother’s name was Adele and her Father’s name was Bernard. He died of pneumonia when she was only 3-years old. She was the youngest of her 5 siblings, all girls. Two of them died during birth and the other 2 who survived were my favorite aunt, Sabina, and her sister, Regina. My Mom was the baby.

My Grandfather was well off; owning a lumber mill and yard. The family lived in a fine house, not in the Jewish ghetto but near the Jewish area. All 3 sisters went to school; with my Mother having started high school by the time they left Rumania to come to Montreal.

In 1927 my Grandmother decided she had experienced enough of the hardships of living in Europe. She determined, based on letters from other Jewish families who had emigrated, that the best place for her and her 3 young daughters to go was Montreal. I’m not sure if she knew where Montreal was located. She certainly never counted on the weather in Montreal.

After selling the family house and business, she took all the money, apparently it filled three pillowcases, and started on the journey to the “New World”.

When they disembarked in Montreal, my Grandmother led her family off the ship. Apparently my Mom, then 13-years old, was so cute that when they got to the bottom of the stairs the customs agent pinched her on her behind. That was quite a rude awakening to the customs of Canada.

As compared to my Dad’s family, my Mom had some money left when they arrived in Montreal. They were met by a Yiddish speaking man and were given information about where they could stay and how they could start their new life. My Grandmother determined that her 2 oldest daughters were old enough to go out to work. Sabina was first to find a job as a seamstress in a factory. She quickly secured a similar position for her next youngest sister. My Mom was allowed to stay home and look after her Mom and the house. Eventually she was allowed to work at the same factory.

Her first day on the job was an eye-opener. Her sisters had told her that she would be given a stack of dresses to finish, and that she would get paid only for the dresses she completed. She figured that the more dresses she completed the more money she would get, and so she didn’t stop for a break, lunch or to use the filthy toilets; she just worked and worked and worked. Early in the afternoon the foreman came over and noticed how many dresses she had finished. He asked her what she was doing, working so hard. She told him she needed to make money to support her Mom and therefore she was determined to finish as many dresses as she could. He told her she was showing up the other seamstresses, and that she was only to finish a certain number each day; much less than she had already done. He told her that if she exceeded the quota, she would be fired. My Mom was not a fighter, and so she started to take her break and her lunch. She refused to use the filthy washrooms. She cut back on her production and managed to stay employed until she was married and could leave.

When my parents got married in 1940 my Mom, who came from a well-to-do family with a big house in Rumania, was earning $8 per week. My Dad, who came from a poor family and had a house with a dirt-floor, was earning $6 per week.