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Ellis Island: A People's History Reviews

Ellis Island: A People's History by Malgorzata Szejnert, Sean Gasper Bye

Ellis Island: a people's history

Malgorzata Szejnert, Sean Gasper Bye

Score pending

2 reviews

Imprint: Scribe Publications
Publisher: Scribe Publications
Publication date: 8 Oct 2020
ISBN: 9781911617976

Ellis Island draws on unpublished testimonies, memoirs, and correspondence from internees and immigrants, including Russians, Italians, Jews, Japanese, Germans, and Poles, along with commissioners, interpreters, doctors, and nurses ― all of whom knew they were taking part in a tremendous historical phenomenon.

4 stars out of 5
6 Jan 2021

"Małgorzata Szejnert uncovers stories with a reporter’s instinct"

The veteran Polish journalist Małgorzata Szejnert uncovers stories with a reporter’s instinct: we learn that Brits were the pushiest newcomers; the “first” arrival – a young Irish girl – was a prejudiced choice (there were 77 Russian Jews on the original ship compared to just eight Irish migrants); and Scandinavians packed the most luggage.


5 stars out of 5
Tim Smith-Laing
3 Jan 2021

"Małgorzata Szejnert’s excellent new book delves into the history of the gateway to America – and those who never made it through"

Szejnert’s first thumbnail traces his trajectory: driven to union activism, he became treasury secretary of the United Mine Workers of America, then returned to New York as an immigration clerk at Ellis Island. In 1905, he became commissioner there, overseeing all those who, just as he had, sailed into New York in search of a new life. A philanthropist and outspoken opponent of nativist immigration policies, by his death in 1944, the youth who came to America with $15 had added oil millionaire to his list of achievements. Stories of Ellis Island have been told many times. What sets Szejnert’s book apart is her idiosyncratic style – elegantly translated from the Polish by Sean Gasper Bye – and the success with which she deploys it. Closer in technique to the mode of oral history pioneered by the Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich than to conventional popular history, Ellis Island’s real achievement lies in recreating not just what it was like but what it felt like to be there. It is, in its understated way, quite remarkable.