Published on December 16th, 2012 | by Charu Suri3
Transformational Journey: Red Star Line Museum Set To Open in Antwerp, Belgium
As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and sometimes on an Ocean Liner. Like many emigrants, passengers on the Red Star Line which departed from Antwerp in Belgium came in search of the American Dream and embarked on a journey that would shape and change their lives forever.
From 1873 to 1934, ocean liners from the Red Star Line sailed with more than two million passengers out of which around 200,000 were from Belgium. Each one hoped to make a better life for his or her family.
Emigrants on the ship’s deck
Some of these passengers were famous, including German Albert Einstein and composer Irving Berlin, who left a brutal regime behind in search of liberty. They had no idea what they would find in America, but they knew that it must be better if not good. Many of these passengers were Eastern European Jews who fled persecution.
The two million passengers’ stories of hope, courage and perseverance will be beautifully showcased in a Museum set to open in Antwerp in September 2013. Indeed, it is a reason to visit the Belgian region of Flanders next year, if only to feel, understand and recreate such powerful history. The museum opening is emblematic of hope and a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. Belgian-American Diane Von Furstenberg, who is a staunch advocate of the museum, says that it is a museum about hope and new beginnings.
There is a sizeable number of Americans living today who have roots dating back to the Red Star Line buildings: some historians put that figure at about 30 million Americans.
The Belgian port city of Antwerp houses a few historical warehouses where emigrants were subjected to a medical and administrative check-up, and where their luggage was disinfected prior to boarding the ship. All these exhaustive, if not humiliating measures were taken in order to prevent the United States from sending the emigrants back to Belgium, because that would have proven extremely costly.
American architects Beyer Blinder Belle — the same architects who constructed the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York– are responsible for the restoration of these warehouses. Unlike many museums which focus on the past, the Red Star Line Museum will also focus on migration as a universal and current phenomenon. Mr. Belle himself is an emigrant to America from Wales, and the first thing he saw through the fog while on board a Holland America Liner was Ellis Island. Sometimes, history comes full circle.
The Red Star Line had immense luxurious comforts for those fortunate enough to hold a First Class ticket: access to lounges, salons, swimming pools, dancing rooms and fitness rooms. The Triple Screw Belgenland liner (the Red Star Line’s flagship) even had a beach with real sand imported from Ostend, West Flanders. Sadly, many of the emigrants were in third class and had no access to this lap of luxury, and their hardship and small quarters followed them even after they hit U.S. shores.
The real story is what happened to these emigrants who came to America. Did they fall in love with the country or were they disappointed? How did their careers turn out? Once they came to U.S. shores, there was no turning back. The museum will feature stories of the passengers as well.
If you or your family were on the Red Star Line, consider sharing your photographs with the Museum which is looking to house them prominently in the exhibit; photography is a very important part of the storytelling. For more information and guidelines, visit the site.