In the later part of 1956, when one morning I came home from work, as I was working on the night shift, my mother had noticed a small article in our local newspaper about emigrating to the U.S.A. The article said that the U.S. government had issued 1500 quotas of visas for Dutch people who wanted to emigrate. The ones who could apply for this quota were only people who had lost everything during the German occupation. I said to my mother, there is a good chance for me to try to get this visa, as we were bombed out in the city of Rotterdam during the German invasion into Holland, and we had lost everything.
Jeff with his mother on his last day in Holland
So the next day I took a day off from work and went by the train to the American Consulate in the city of Den-Hag (The Hague). I spent almost a full day filling out papers and answering all kinds of questions. After all of this I was told I would hear from them in a few months. I still wasn't sure if they would issue me a visa, but after so many years there was finally a hope of going to the U.S.A.
In Oct. 1956 I received a notice from the U.S. Consulate that my visa was cleared to emigrate to the U.S.A. After another trip to the Consulate for a medical check-up, my long awaited dream had come true.
When my parents found out that I was serious about leaving Holland, they tried to persuade me to go to one of the big cities like Rotterdam, and try to find a job there. The idea of emigrating all be myself was not very comfortable for my parents, as I had never been away from home. But I told them I saw a better future for myself in the U.S.A.
Since I knew that I was leaving for the U.S.A. I gave the coal mining company my resignation time. When I picked up my resignation papers at the coal mining headquarters, the general manager wished me all the best and said, "I am sure wherever you go you will be successful." For two months I took a vacation. I had so many things to prepare for the boat-trip. I had to arrange it so that I could get my little pension money from the coal mine company, which I needed to pay for all the expenses to get to the U.S.A. All those years I had worked in the coal mines, I was never able to open a savings account. Financially I couldn't depend on my parents, as they would have a little hardship with money without me. Fortunately my pension paid for the boat-trip to New York, and I was able to carry about 300 dollars in pocket money along. The rest I spent on many nights out celebrating in the old favorite beer pubs with my friends and coal mining buddies from around town. Of course I had to listen to much talk about how lucky I was going to a country where I had to work 35 hours a week, and so many opportunities were up for grabs, and in a few years I would be a rich American. With all of this pep talk I was more eager to leave.
The year 1956 was the last Christmas I spent with all my family. There were always two Christmas days we celebrated with the family. Christmas day we stayed home together and enjoyed our real Christmas tree. We would give presents to each other. Mom always had something specially baked and cooked for that day. At night we would light up the Christmas tree, there were real wax candles, and sing Christmas songs together. The next day we would all go to my grandmother's house, where we would meet all our uncles and aunts. I always loved to go to my grandmother's house for the holidays. She would always prepare something special for us. For me it was always a delight to visit or stay at my grandmother's house. I will never forget when in the wintertime I would take a bike ride to her house, she would always make me a cup of tea, and put some of her own home made wine in it, and in no time I felt much warmer.
We would sit together and talk about my emigration to the U.S.A. Her house had always such a warm atmosphere. Of course my grandmother was very sad to hear that I was leaving. For several years I was her only grandchild, and I was always her favorite. She understood that it was better for my future to emigrate, as she hated to see me work in the coal mines. She told me that her oldest sister had emigrated to Canada fifty years ago, and lived not too far from the Niagara Falls in a town called Saint-Catherine. I promised once I would get to the U.S.A., I would try to visit her.
The New Year's eve of the year 1956 into 1957 I had really celebrated with all my old friends. I knew it would be the last one for a long time to come, as I was leaving for New York on Feb. l6th, 1957. The last of the remaining weeks, I spent mostly visiting family and good friends to say good-bye.
From the Catholic emigration service I received a notice that they had found a sponsor in the city of Milwaukee and in the state of Wisconsin. So once I arrived in New York I would be received by people from the Catholic emigration service and they would arrange my travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a sponsor there would look after me for housing and work. It all looked so good that I just wanted to leave right away.
At home we all sat around the table with a large map of the U.S.A. to find out where Milwaukee in Wisconsin was located. We noticed that it was an industrial city which we thought would be good for me to find a job. But it is as people say, it isn't all gold that shines. And I would find that out very soon.