The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Home Lands

October 31, 2010

Polish Jews re-created roles from old country

Fleeing persecution, Polish Jews came to America and some settled in Johnstown in the 1850s.

Re-creating their roles from the old country, some Jewish immigrants engaged in trading and finance. Many lived downtown near the train station, while others settled in Cambria City.

“They became the shopkeepers and the traders,”  Richard Burkert, Johnstown Area Heritage Association executive director, said.

One of the better known local Jewish families is the Glossers.

The history of the Louis Glosser and Bessie Greenberg Glosser families from 1854 to 1929 is detailed in the book “A Precious Legacy,” written by Ruth Glosser.

Ruth Glosser describes conditions in Antopal, a part of Poland where her family lived in a thatched-roof house with a dirt floor.

Chickens were brought inside during cold weather.

Many Jews fled after a law was passed in 1827 requiring Jewish boys to be conscripted into the Russian army. Jews at that time faced intense religious persecution from the Russian government, which sought to eradicate the Jews unless they converted to Christian Orthodox.

“It was not an easy time for the Jews,” said Glosser, 87, by telephone from California.

“They sent soldiers out and slaughtered all the Jews they could find.”

Jewish roots stretched to Johnstown.

Wolf Laib left Poland and his wife Bessie and their unmarried children as guarantors to assure their creditors would be paid.

He arrived at Ellis Island on Jan. 7, 1903, where he peddled bananas and other fruits on street corners and sent small amounts of money to Poland. He soon headed to Johnstown.

With the help of his brother, Moses Glosser, who was living in Stoystown, Laib secured a horse and wagon and began peddling merchandise.

After paying debts to their creditors in Poland, other family members joined the brothers.

“It was very hard for the boys because they spoke no English,” Ruth Glosser said. “The other kids  taunted them.”

The Glossers had many business ventures, including Glosser Bros., a two-story department store on Franklin Street.

They are one of the successful examples of a multigeneration family business, Burkert said.

Ruth Glosser said family members were tireless workers.

“It was two generations and it took years before they had some degree of prosperity,” she said.

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