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Ita Moel's eye infection

One of the biggest obstacles on the way to the “promised land” of America was trachoma, an infectious eye disease. If a passenger was found to have trachoma during the medical examination then the migrant would be inexorably sent back. Young Ita Moël was sent back twice.

Born in 1913(?)
Travelled to New York on the SS Lapland in 1922 (but was deported to Antwerp)
Travelled to New York on the SS Belgenland in 1923 (but was deported to Antwerp)
Travelled to New York on the ??? in 1927
Item in the museum’s collection: ???

Trachoma, a contagious eye disorder

One of the biggest obstacles on the way to the ‘promised land’ America was trachoma, a contagious eye disorder that can result in blindness if it is not treated. If trachoma was discovered during the medical examination on Ellis Island, immigrants were turned away, with the skyline of Manhattan in their sights. This happened to young Ita Moël twice.

A heartbreaking decision

Chaja Moël had to make a heartbreaking decision in the summer of 1922. She and her four children had been trying to reach the US from the Russian Empire since before WWI. The father of the Jewish family was waiting for them in the US. Trachoma was a stumbling block more than once: in Warsaw, where they were waiting for a visa, in Antwerp, during the examination before they boarded, and at the immigration department on Ellis Island. By then, Ita’s brother was completely cured, but Ita was deported. In the end, she returned to Antwerp alone for further treatment.

Family reunion

 Ita had spent those five years in Antwerp under the custody of EZRA, a Jewish aid organisation. She had learned Dutch, French and English and made friends with other children who, just like her, were looking forward to being reunited with their families. Ita was afraid she ‘would never be cured and never get to America and be with her parents’. Luckily, that fear was unfounded. After multiple treatments and a second deportation in 1923, Ita was finally reunited with the rest of her family in West Virginia in 1927.


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