Rosalia was relieved to learn that processing at Ellis took less than a day. But part of the processing included information about what would happen next. Even though these short “tutorials” were intended to be helpful she, like so many others, felt a stab of panic in her belly when she heard the words “government”and “police.” The idea that policemen could be helpful was unthinkable. She had seen—and heard—too much back in “the old country.” To her way of thinking, a uniform meant peril. She watched in horror as officials separated families…a procedure police always did back home: they separated men from women and children.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, where am I?” she asked herself. As long alone trailed with at last one family member, one could converse, plan. But Rosalia had no one, and Joasia was nowhere in sight.
At last an official appeared who spoke Polish. He reassured her that the separation was only for one last medical check-up. “They’ll look at your back, they’ll listen to your lungs.”
This made sense; of course men were separated for a medical check-up, she thought.
Poked, prodded, and released to a dining room built for 1500 but that this time had to feed 3000, long tables that were set for 60 people were set with white dishes and cloth napkins. Rosalia and Joasia spotted each other, clasped hands, and found a place to sit among the chaos.
“They’re handing us food!” The girls were astounded; food was not something that people gave you.
“Whatever is this? Joasia said with alarm as she was handed a banana.
“Nie nie,” Rosalia answered as her hand pulled the queer looking fruit from Joasia’s lips. “Don’t bite into it; I saw someone peeling it. Like this.”
The girls finished dinner and moved to the women’s dorm to spend their last night on Ellis Island.