Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

Stories from Niagara’s rich ethnic past told in “Melting Pot”

In Coming to America, Irish Americans, Niagara County, Niagara Falls, Polish Genealogy, Recipes, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Armenians of Niagara Falls, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York, The Polish of Niagara Falls, Tradtional Ethnic Costumes, Uncategorized on July 18, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage

By Michelle Ann Kratts, Lewiston Public Library

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I will always see Niagara Falls as a delicious melting pot of cultures, languages and traditions. In fact, just last summer, I found myself at an international crossroads while sitting on a bench at the State Park. It seemed the world passed me by as I snacked on an ice cream cone. Women strolled by wearing colorful Indian saris or Middle Eastern hijabs. Men presented themselves with Hasidic tendrils or donning Sikh turbans. My ears discerned voices speaking every manner of language imaginable. I could even smell the traditional spices of the world’s cuisines mix and mash with the rising mist as these men and women marveled at the brink of the great cataract.  Some things never change.

Niagara Falls is a great American story. Throughout the years we have nurtured a sacred tradition in which we have welcomed and embraced people from every corner of the world. Our history includes the stories of brave refugees of war, genocide and famine. So many came to Niagara Falls to make a new start. At the dawn of the past century and for many decades afterwards, the factories and the railroads brought in thousands of much-needed workers and their families. They came from the cotton fields of the Deep South, from depression-ravaged towns. Some came from exotic countries– utterly desperate souls– and occasionally with only false papers, as they would never have been allowed in the lawful way. They crowded onto sea vessels with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They said their last farewells to their loved ones and to their homelands—and most often, never again stepped foot on the land of their ancestors. Niagara Falls was the last hope for so many.


Our new book, Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage, published by the Lewiston Public Library, is a celebration of these people and their stories. Over the past few years, as the local history librarian, I have collected the stories of our immigrant ancestors for the purpose of sharing their struggles, as well as their triumphs. As you read through the narratives, you will see that oftentimes great hardships precipitated remarkable achievements. Despite differences in ethnicity, these Niagarans shared common housing, jobs, and churches and even married into each other’s families. They shared meals with one another and learned bits and pieces of each other’s languages and traditions. They crafted businesses out of what they did best and introduced our area to unique foods, music and customs. They also valiantly fought prejudice and bigotry whenever it arose—from the violent threats of the Ku Klux Klan to racist intimidations from unkind neighbors.

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Novak Family at Ellis Island 

Some of the personal stories mentioned include insightful histories of African Americans in Niagara Falls. Exquisitely written by Dr. Michael Boston, assistant professor of African American Studies at Brockport, and a trailblazer and researcher of Western New York African American history, these chapters highlight the importance of “family” as well as leadership in the African American community at Niagara Falls.  Our friend, Bill Bradberry, a Niagara Falls Gazette columnist and the chair of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Corporation, as well as the winner of the Civil Rights Achievement Award in January of 2017, opens the book with a poignant and nostalgic look back in time at the multiculturalism present in individual neighborhoods throughout Niagara Falls.

Other stories in Melting Pot include: the brave and invincible Armenians, heroes and heroines, who defied all odds before coming to our city; the industrious Germans, who dominated local industry and business; the story of coalmining Italians who ventured into Niagara Falls from a dismal life in Pennsylvania; Polish tales of hardship at Ellis Island, and lost connections with the Old Country; the children of Spanish immigrants who had worn the customary clothes of Spain to American schools; the ancient Ukrainian tradition of the painted Easter eggs, or pysanky; and recipes from a war bride from Wales. Many of our Irish stories were submitted by the local chapter of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Another Irish chapter, written by Niagara Gazette columnist, Don Glynn, reveals a modern day friendship with ties to the Lynch and Buttery families. Yet another tells the story of St. Mary’s Church.  Melting Pot also contains precious family recipes, collected and written with great care, family photos and nostalgic news clippings.

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Sdao Family      

The front cover of Melting Pot proudly displays the marriage of Lithuanian born Zygmont Puisys and Ursula Anna Zugzda at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in 1912.  Ursula, an orphan, had been raised in a church rectory in Igliauka, Mirijampole, Lithuania.  It was said that Zygmont had “escaped” his homeland under a hail of gunfire. Their story is representative of how many of our Niagara Falls stories begin…with despair and gunfire.

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                                                              Puisys-Zugzda Wedding 

Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage will be available at the Book Corner, located at 1801 Main Street in Niagara Falls,    and through Amazon.com. We welcome any new family stories for future volumes.



The Lewiston Public Library and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; “Jewish Refugees Desperately Seek Safe Harbor”

In The Holocaust and Niagara Falls on January 6, 2017 at 8:23 pm

Apparently, Niagarans were quite interested in the fate of the Jewish refugees on board the ill-fated St. Louis that had left Germany in May of 1939, in hopes of resettling its passengers in Cuba. Several news articles carried the updates and usually with a sympathetic tone. Time had run out and no one would take in these desperate asylum seekers, not even the United States. Most of the passengers were returned to Europe and perished in the Holocaust.

Here are some of the articles as they appeared in the Niagara Falls Gazette. You can access the original article in the links listed in the user comments.

https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/6313 “Ship With Cargo of Terrified Refugees Cruises Caribbean”


https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/6312 “Liner Carrying 900 Jewish Refugees is headed for Germany”


https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/6295 “Liner Heading Back to Germany with its 907 Refugees”


https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/6310 “Cuba is Silent on Offer to Post Big Bond for Refugees”


https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/6293 “Human Derelicts”


https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/6311 “Despair Turns to Joy for Refugees”


https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/6314 “Exiles Who Reached United States Are Luckiest of Jewish Refugees”


https://newspapers.ushmm.org/article/6294 “The Jewish Refugees”


The Lewiston Public Library and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; “Dachau Opens”

In The Holocaust and Niagara Falls, Uncategorized on January 6, 2017 at 7:25 pm

Just recently, I became a contributor to an exciting project sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum called “History Unfolded; US Newspapers and the Holocaust.” You can find this at https://newspapers.ushmm.org/

The project asks students, teachers, and history buffs throughout the United States what was possible for Americans to have known about the Holocaust as it was happening and how Americans responded. As volunteers, our job is to scour local newspapers for news and opinions concerning 31 specific Holocaust-era events that took place both in the United States and in Europe and to upload them to a database. As of January 6, 2017, 920 participants from across the country have submitted more than 6,200 articles from their local newspapers.  I am proud to say the the Lewiston Public Library is now a participant in this very important work. Anyone is welcome to contribute, as well. I encourage you to do so. Check it out and see if you have some time to help the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with their research.

As for my contributions, they will focus on the news as it appeared in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. It is fascinating to read through these old newspapers and to almost become a part of history as it unfolded. Witnessing these events as they occurred brings history to life. Only through learning about our past will we be able to make prudent decisions in the present.

As the articles that I submit are published, I will also share them with our page and I will take you along on my trips back in time.

The first event, or topic, that they list is “Dachau Opens, March 22, 1933.” How did the Niagara Falls/Buffalo area present this information? Interestingly, I found the very first reference in the Niagara Falls Gazette to the Dachau concentration camp on July 31, 1933. Dachau was initially set up on the grounds of an abandoned munitions plant on March 22, 1933 to incarcerate political prisoners. According to the Niagara Falls Gazette article, “…thousands of people are in jail for political offenses. Estimates of the number vary between 20,000 to 50,000. The latter figure seems nearer the truth, since it is learned on good authority that there are no less than 5,000 prisoners in Dachau, the Bavarian concentration camp.”

Below is the link to the newspaper submission, followed by images of the original article.