"We were so excited we saw the statue of liberty. ‘Everybody was yelling America! America!"
a three part documentary series about 2 million European people who sailed with the Red Star Line towards a new future in America.
The Belgian shipping company Red Star Line carried more than 2 million migrants from Antwerp to New York between 1873 and 1934. Most of them were Eastern Europeans who had left their homes and their families due to war and poverty. After a long and exhausting journey they would reach America. Yet before they could even start with their new life across the ocean, they first had to be examined at Ellis Island. Only healthy people were allowed to step on American soil.
The documentary series presents a mosaic of human migration stories. The series is based on taped interviews with more than 2000 people who tell about the most important journey of their life. Together with the descendants, we discover the stunning stories of these Red Star Line passengers. We get to know why exactly they left their country, how they survived this difficult journey and how they tried to build up a new life in the United States.
Ellis Island is the legendary gate to America. Millions of immigrants who were in search of a better life, first landed on this island. The mythical building on the island preserves the tapes of the Oral History Program. In more than 2000 interviews people tell about their most important journey of their life: how they fled from war and poverty and how they abandoned their country, home and family in Europe. Many Americans have tried to reconstruct the puzzle of their ancestors' lives. The series Red Star Line visits descendants of people whose astonishing migration story is registered on the Ellis Island tapes. For many of these descendants, it is the first time that they can hear the story of their ancestor’s journey.
At the time of the Eastern European migration, Antwerp is full of migrants.
The migrants are exhausted and they have no money to buy things. However, before they can even depart for America, they have to stay in this city they barely know. Once aboard they again had to face a new challenge, as many migrants were suffering from sickness and hunger, due to the unbearable life circumstances of the 3rd class on the ship. For two weeks they have to live on an overcrowded deck. Many wondered why they ever had considered this journey.
When the European migrants see the Statue of Liberty, suddenly, the ‘American Dream’ seems to become reality. However, the challenge is not over, because the migrants still have to wait for the results of the medical examination on Ellis Island. Many entrants have been sent back to Antwerp due to medical reasons. For some people it would take years before they were even reunited with their family. For those who passed the medical examination, a new life could begin. But not everything turned out to be that easy as one would have expected…