The newest in Antwerp, this museum is focused on emigration and particularly on the stories of the two million people who sailed on this steamship company’s ships when they left Europe for new lives in North America.
The museum is located in a warehouse of the port district of Antwerp. The building served as the ticket office, examination room and embarkation point of both first and second class passengers and those who traveled in steerage. For the most part the higher-paying passengers were going to the USA and Canada on business or for leisure travel. Those in steerage were intent on becoming new residents of the USA and Canada. The stark difference in the way in which these two classes were accommodated is highlighted.
The creators of this museum worked for years pulling together many artifacts and stories of people who have sailed on Red Star Line ships. They found local support and sponsorship, renovated their building, and created a 21st century museum. The stories they tell are inspiring. Here are a few photos of the displayed objects.
Displays of passengers’ photographs, letters, and written accounts fill most of the museum. We see photos of passengers, lists of their names and personal information, a first class stateroom, dining room menus, luggage and much more.
First class passengers lived well in the upper decks of the ships.
Here we see the more numerous steerage passengers headed to the new world with only what they could carry on their backs. It is explained that, before being allowed to board, steerage passengers were forced to endure invasive physical exams and their clothing was “sterilized” in huge steamers. In this era emigrants to the United States were not required to have visas before departing but as many as two percent were rejected for health or character reasons and were sent back.
Golda Meir is quoted as having written this about her journey from Europe, “It was not a pleasure trip. We spent the nights on sheetless bunks and most of the days standing in line for good that was ladled out to us though we were cattle.”
Albert Einstein sailed on Red Star Line ships twice, in 1930 and again in 1933. During his second trip Hitler came to power, and (being Jewish) he decided to remain in America. Here’s a fun reminder that’s on display.
Here a Canada-bound ship is shown getting ready to sail. The ships were surely much smaller than those vacationers cruise on today.
And here we see one family’s arrival in America.
In a separate exhibit, one I think is temporary, the focus is on the history of emigration.
Using a type of video display I’ve never encountered before, images of emigrants of yesterday and today flash on this unusual monitor. Along the walls large panels use stories and photographs to describe individual emigrants.
The story of emigration begins with “Mungo man” who set off to find a new home 40,000 years ago and extends to the people in China who were forced by flooding to flee their homes in late 2015.
We learn about emigrants in Africa, China, ancient Greece, including Pythagoras.
Moving forward in time we learn of a royal woman, Sybille of Anjou, who in the 12th century went to Jerusalem, accompanying her husband on one of the crusades, and became an emigrant when she refused to return with him to France.
We learn about Elisabeth Vincent who, born into slavery in Haiti, fled as a child to Louisiana with her mother and became a free woman. Years later she relocated to France with her husband before ultimately settling in Antwerp.
A better known emigrant was Israel Beilin who emigrated to America with his family in 1893. An accomplished musician, he became well-known by another name, Irving Berlin.
The stories told at Red Star Line Museum reflect the experiences of all our ancestors who moved from their homes and families to new places. It reminds us to appreciate the sacrifices they made so that we can enjoy the comfort and freedom we have today.
Learn more about this museum at http://www.redstarline.be/en