George P. Mann: A Refugee From Another Era

George poses in front of his uncle's car shortly after arriving in the United States.
George poses in front of his uncle’s car shortly after arriving in the United States.

I came to the United States at age 16, as a refugee from Communist Romania. It was on September 30, 1964, when I arrived with my parents aboard a big passenger ship named SS Independence. As we neared New York City, the Statue of Liberty loomed above. I felt like an astronaut stepping on to the surface of the moon. The immense skyscrapers and unfamiliar faces of people, who dressed so differently, gave me a feeling of landing on another planet very far from home.

I had never been on a cruise ship before and although we traveled in a third class cabin, the marvelous amenities aboard seemed heavenly. Truth be told, my experience as a refugee was far from those poor souls boarding rickety boats and taking to the high seas to find safety in lands where they are not wanted. I was very lucky, and I knew it even then.

In New York, we were taken to the amazing Pennsylvania Station to board a train to Detroit, where my brother’s mother was waiting for us. He also came to the U.S. as a refugee back in 1949, after being liberated from a Nazi concentration camp in Germany and waiting in a temporary camp for displaced people. Somehow he ended up in Detroit with a refugee visa and we eventually followed his footsteps to America’s “Automotive Capital.”

Now, after so many years, I look back and wonder what kind of life would have been possible had I not had the good fortune to end up in this country. I try to remember every day and feel grateful that this country opened up its arms to me and made it possible to build a family and a good life here.

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