George Alexander Ehrlich – Immigration

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In a previous post[4], it was determined that George Alexander Ehrlich was a neighbor of the the Kirmse and Lohman families near Goodwin, Oklahoma. and lived about six miles southeast of Shattuck. Oklahoma. This post examines the immigration story[3] of George Alexander Ehrlich from Russia to the USA.

Emmigration Story

“George Alexander Ehrlich sat at a wedding table in September 1929 and told his grandchildren what it had been like in the bad years on the Volga River in Russia, in the village of Tcherbagovka. Some of his nine children were around him as well. They were at church in Shattuck, Oklahoma, the one place where a person named Schoenhals or Hofferber did not have to pretend to be somebody else.

He told his family about being chained to horses in barns in the Russian countryside. George used to travel with his father, a leather tanner, learning the trade. One of the tricks his father taught him was a way to deter horse thieves. At night, George and his father locked the horses’ legs to their ankles. They slept that way in the barn, horses and Ehrlichs, bound by shackles.  George would have followed his father’s footsteps into the tanning trade if it were not for the draft notice he received from the Russian czar on his sixteenth birthday. The Ehrlichs knew what happened once a boy left the village: he was never seen again. Often, the czar’s army would not even do the family the service of sending a death notice. To avoid this service, they would have to leave  Russia.

In 1890, the Ehrlichs boarded a ship out of Hamburg, an immigrant boat with enough supplies to last twenty days. It was supposed to take only two weeks to get to New York. Midway into the voyage, a wind came up with sideways rain and high waves, rising in heaving swells, forty feet, swamping the boat. They had sailed into a late season typhoon, and it played with the ship as if it were a bathtub toy: it was knocked and tossed and slapped. All hands retreated to a lower cabin, where they cowered, listening to the wood beams strain and the winds scream and the ship fall apart. Don’t worry, the captain said, the deck is sealed; the boat is unsinkable.  On the second day of the storm, the ship’s mast snapped and crashed into the water, but it did not break clean. The boat listed. The mast was snagged in the ocean, tipping the immigrants’ ship at such an angle that water poured in and swamped the deck. The captain sent out an SOS and told everyone to prepare for death. …

As George told this story — the founding narrative of the Ehrlichs in the New World of Oklahoma — more of his children came around to his table, and they were joined by other adults as well. The older people knew the story, but it was worth hearing again, the way George told it….

Through an improbable journey of 166 years, they had bounced from southern Germany to the Volga River region of Russia to the Cherokee Outlet of Oklahoma. The Russlanddeutschen were not Russian nor were they fully German. Hardened by long exile, state cruelty, and official ridicule, they wanted only to be left alone. The treeless expanse of the southern plains was one of the few places in the United States that looked like home.

George Ehrlich turned eighteen on his journey across the Atlantic in 1890. As he continued with his story at the wedding, he told about his emotions on the immigrant boat: scared, yes — a week into the sailing, he regretted leaving home. His money was strapped to a lower leg, and all his possessions fit into one bag. Part of his family had gone one way to Ellis County [Kansas] in an earlier migration, while others stayed behind, hoping they could hide from the czar’s conscription police.  George received his draft notice at the same time that a terrible drought hit the Volga region, another nudge to go to America.

When the wind of the hurricane got ahold of the ship’s mast and dragged it into the water, he thought he would never see American soil. The mast was broken about ten inches from the bottom. The longer it dragged in the water, the more the ship listed. The typhoon raged, seas engorged, wind and heavy rain clawing at the ship. Another SOS went out. Nothing in response. They were all going to drown in the mid-Atlantic.

Another German — George knew him only as a Catholic boy — offered to crawl out on the mast and try to saw it off. The Captain said it would kill him, but if the boy wanted to give it a try —Godspeed. They tethered the boy to a rope, handed him a saw, and sent him on his way. He shimmied out, the sea heaving, salt spray sweeping over him, inching along the downed mast. When he was far enough along the beam, he started sawing. He cut through rope cables and oak until his hands were numb. At last, the mast broke away. As the beam fell to the sea, the boat righted itself. Now the Captain ordered all the immigrants to bail.

The ship had only one working propeller; the other was broken by a cable that had snapped in the storm. The boat limped on, steadily west, away from the grip of the typhoon.  In New York, it was announced as lost at sea. Almost two months after leaving Hamburg, the immigrants arrived in New York Harbor, their food gone, many of them desperately ill. George Ehrlich landed in America on New Year’s Day, 1891.”

Back at the wedding, it was time for toasts. To Catherine the Great, of course. And to America. They raised glasses of schnapps and the spritzy white wine made by the Germans in Oklahoma and thanked God for their good fortune. The accordions and dulcimers came out. They danced the Hochzeit, which was like the fox trot, only faster.[3]

Arrival in New York

A search in for a George Alexander Ehrich who arrived in New York Harbor about “January 1, 1891” found him in the passenger list of the POLARIA steamship that arrived on February 9, 1891 as is shown below:

New York, Passenger Lists, 1891 - Ehrlich Family
New York, Passenger Lists, 1891 – Ehrlich Family

The transcription of the entry for George is as follows:

Name: Georg Ehrlich
Arrival Date: 9 Feb 1891
Birth Date: abt 1874
Age: 17
Gender: Male
Ethnicity/ Nationality: Russian
Place of Origin: Russia
Port of Departure: Copenhagen, Denmark and Stettin, Germany
Destination: New York
Port of Arrival: New York, New York
Ship Name: Polaria

The POLARIA Steamship

The POLARIA was built by C.Mitchell & Co, Walker-on-Tyne in 1882 for the Carr Line of Hamburg. She was a 2,724 gross ton ship, length 300ft x beam 38.2ft, straight stem, one funnel, two masts, iron construction, single screw and a speed of 10 knots. There was accommodation for 1,100-3rd class passengers only. Launched on 21st Feb.1882, she sailed on her maiden voyage from Hamburg to New York on 27th Apr.1882. In April 1888 she made her last Hamburg – New York voyage for the Carr Line and in May of that year went to the Hamburg America Line with the rest of the Carr Line fleet. On 16th Jun.1888 she commenced her first Hamburg – New York crossing for her new owners and on 22nd Sep.1889 started sailings between Stettin and New York. She commenced her last voyage on this service (Stettin – New York)on 12th Mar.1893 (20 round voyages) and on 6th Jun.1895 started her last Hamburg – New York voyage. On 28th Aug.1895 she commenced her last Hamburg – Philadelphia – Baltimore crossing. In July 1903 she went to a British company and later the same year was resold to German owners and scrapped in 1904 at Hamburg. [North Atlantic Seaway by N.R.P.Bonsor, vol.1,p.395].

Downloaded from on 11 Nov 2017

Departure from Germany

From the above arrival passenger list, the ship master was Captain Busch and the ship was from Copenhagen, Denmark and Stettin, Germany. .A small number of emigrants left for the USA (and other places) from the port of Stettin (today called Szczecin in Poland)[2]. The surviving passenger departure lists are available at the Vorpommersches Landesarchiv in Greifswald, Germany, and online at

Pomerania, Germany, Passenger Lists,George Ehrlich 1891 Departure
Pomerania, Germany, Passenger Lists,George Ehrlich 1891 Departure Pomerania, Germany, Passenger Lists, 1869-1901 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
Original data: Passagier Listen. Rep. 79 ca. 1804-1924 and Rep 81 ca. 1885-1924. Landesamt für Kultur und Denkmalpflege, Landesarchiv Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.

The transcription of the entry for George is as follows:

Name: Georg Ehrlich
Birth Year: abt 1874
Gender: männlich (Male)
Departure Date: 8 Jan 1891
Departure Place: Swinemünde, Pommern, Preußen (Germany)
Departure Age: 17
Origin Place: Colonie Tuherbakowka, Russland (Russia)
Ship Name: Polaria


These are the correct passenger manifests for George’s family.  Both the departure and arrival passenger lists have the same names of the Ehrlich family members as was found in the previous post George Alexander Ehrlich – Time Line.[1].

The occupation given for George’s father is “Tanner with family”‘.  This corresponds with the story that George is telling his family at the wedding in 1929.

On the departure passenger list, the Ehrlich family’s origin place is listed as “Colonie Tuherbakowka, Russland (Russia)” which is currently called “Shcherbakovka, Saratov, Volga, Russia”. in the previous post .George Alexander Ehrlich – Time Line.[1]..The next two families on the passenger list are also from  “Colonie Tuherbakowka, Russland (Russia)” so the Ehrlich family is not traveling alone.

The arrival passenger list shows that the Polaria originated from Copenhagen, Denmark and Stettin, Germany – the voyage originated from Copenhagen, Denmark and went to Stettin, Germany to board additional passengers.  As is noted in the departure passenger list, George’s family departed from Swinemünde, Pommern, Preußen (Germany) which was the port of Stettin, Germany (today called Szczecin in Poland)[2].on 8 Jan 1891. So they did not board “a ship out of Hamburg,” as George told the story in 1929.

The arrival passenger lists show that George’s family arrived in New York Harbor on 9 Feb 1891. This is 40 days days later than the story being.told by George – “January 1, 1891”.

“George Ehrlich turned eighteen on his journey across the Atlantic in 1890.” Actually, George turned 18 a month before the Ehrlich family boarded the Polaria.  George probably did turn 18 on the way to the departure port.

“The Steamship Hamburg, an immigrant boat ” is actually the Steamship Polaria which had accommodations for 1,100-3rd class passengers only – no first or second class cabins. This was an “immigrant” ship designed to really pack the passengers in.

” It was supposed to take only two weeks to get to New York.”  This is correct,  The voyage time to New York depended highly on the weather.  Steam ships are not as dependant on having favorable weather conditions – the fastest steamships were making the same voyage in a week or less as reported in THE SPHERE – September 15, 1900. Sailing ships at that time took about 50-60 days as note in Statistics concerning the transatlantic crossing.

“The ship had only one working propeller; the other was broken by a cable that had snapped in the storm”.  The POLARIA Steamship was built with only a single screw. If the propeller was broken by a cable, there was no steam propulsion and the ship was powered only by whatever sail  they had (according to the story, the mast was broken off).

“enough supplies to last twenty days”.  The voyage took 32 days so the food supply may have been exhausted for 12 days not the 6 weeks that George stated.  No doubt they were out of or at least low in food and drinking water. And, very likely many were ill.

George’s youngest brother, Peter, died during the voyage.

Since George is telling the story of the Ehrlich family’s immigration to America almost 40 years after it happened, some of the details may have been forgotten. The storm probably did occur during the voyage and the ship had damage because the voyage was much longer than was typical of steam ships of that era.  But, it did not hurt to exaggerate the difficulties a bit for the benefit of George’s audience.


Circa 1900 -1929.


  1. See: George Alexander Ehrlich – Time Line at
  2. Wikipedia, History of Szczecin  After 1713, “Stettin became the capital of the Prussian Province of Pomerania, and the main port of the Prussian state. From 1740 onwards, the Oder waterway to the Baltic Sea and the new Pomeranian port of Swinemünde (Świnoujście) were constructed.” downloaded 15 Nov 2017 from
  3. Timothy Egan, ‘The WORST HARD TIME – The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the The Great American Dust Bowl’. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, New York. 2006. Chapter 4 High Plans Deutsch, page 68. This is a must read non-fictional account of the Dust Bowl era. Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” novel deals mostly with the poverty in California as a result of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl years. Timothy Egan writes about the history and people who stayed and survived the Dust Bowl period which plagued the Southern Plains.
  4. See: George Alexander Ehrlich – Land Patent at

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