Coming to America

In 1955, Arnie Klein’s grandmother and her brother enjoyed a reunion 52 years in the making

When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me the stories about how my family came to America. I love hearing these stories from the seniors today about their families’ journeys to this great country.   

Adolf Hitler was starting his rise to power in the late 1920s and my family thought it was time to leave. I remember my mom, Mary, telling me about her relatives who stayed and were killed in the Holocaust.  

My grandparents on my father’s side (Isaac and Anna Klein) came here in the late 1890s from a city in Russia named Dvinsk. They were Russian Jews who were forced to leave that country, finding a new home in The Bronx. In 1911, Isaac and Anna gave birth to Jacob Klein, my father. 

They also had two daughters, my aunts Bertha and Esther 

My mom Mary, also born in 1911, was the oldest of five children. She told me about her childhood adventures in Russia/Poland as a Girl Scout.  

My paternal grandfather, Isaac Klein, was an iron worker, and a religious man. He was very strong, with hands like steel, and worked on the construction of the Whitestone Bridge in the late 1930s. He loved his wrestling on TV and I loved watching it with him. He died at 86, having never been sick a day in his life.  

Arnie’s parents Mary and Jacob

My paternal grandmother, Anna Klein, was a homemaker and a great cook. She made the best stuffed cabbage I ever ate. I used to watch the way she sipped her tea by placing a sugar cube between her teeth. When she left Russia, she was separated from her brother (Louis Katz), who went to Johannesburg, South Africa 

In 1955, after more than a half-century apart, my great uncle Louis and my grandmother Anna had a reunion in New York. It made headlines in the newspaper. I remember Morris’s love of cowboy movies, which I enjoyed watching with him.  

My mother Mary’s father, Max Zigman, had two brothers on the East Coast, Sam Zigman and Mike Zigman. Eldest brother Sam was a furrier in New Jersey. Sam arranged to bring Max to America in 1923, leaving behind, in Russia/Poland, my grandmother (Tille Zigman), my mother Mary, her brother Sol, and three sisters (Phyllis, Goldie, Sylvia). Max worked as a tailor until he saved enough money to bring them all here in 1927.  

After crossing the Atlantic, they were detained on Ellis Island. My mother’s brother Sol had polio and didn’t speak well, but they were eventually allowed to leave the island. They settled in The Bronx, where my grandfather Max was reunited with them.  

My mother Mary and my father Jacob were married in 1933. My brother Norman was born in 1939 and I was born in 1943. My dad was an air raid warden during World War II. He was a scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 234 in the Bronx in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.  

My brother Norman was an Eagle Scout. I only reached First Class, but we always enjoyed belonging. My father passed away in 1966 from cancer, at 55. My mom, a dressmaker, was a remarkable woman who, after my dad died, did her best raising my brother and me by herself. She passed away in 2003 at the ripe age of 92, with me by her side. 

My aunts and uncles are all gone now but I’m in touch with all my cousins from both sides of the family.

Arnie Klein is a resident of Cortlandt Manor. 



  1. Since I am also a senior citizen and love being one, I really enjoy reading Arnie Klein’s articles in your monthly publication. He brings back a lot of memories from my youth in many of his articles. I look forward to reading more of his articles in your future publications.

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About the Author: Arnie Klein