When looking at ancestors who have immigrated, it’s good to realize that there are always reasons. Nobody ever packs up his entire live to go and live in a different country ‘just because’. Sometimes, it’s because they moved away from something, like bad economic circumstances, persecution or famine. Other times, it’s because they moved towards something, like a new job, new opportunities or freedom. Most of the times, it’s a combination of the two.
It’s rare that we can ask the ancestors who moved to a new country why they did so. Sometimes they are still alive to ask, sometimes they left documents that state those reasons. But most of the times, we can only speculate. And maybe we come close to the real reason when we do this.
My grandfather Adolph Knura was born in Bottrop, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Nordrhein-Westfalen borders the Netherlands in the east and Bottrop is right in the middle of the highly industrial Rurh-area. My grandfather was born in 1914 and left Bottrop in 1932. He moved to Voorschoten, Zuid-Holland, the Netherlands, all the way in the west. Today I take a look at the reasons he might’ve had to move away from Bottrop and the reasons he might’ve had to move to Voorschoten.
Away from Bottrop
The Great Depression begins in Oktober 1929 in the US, but quickly spreads across the world. In Europe, Germany and Austria are hit particularly hard because they have huge loans after World War I, due to having to pay damages. In March 1931, France demands all loans be payed back immediately, which causes the complete collapse of German industry. When 1932 begins, there are around six million people unemployed. In Bottrop, the economic crisis is also felt. One of the mines closed in 1930, causing a lot of people to become unemployed.
My grandfather might’ve had trouble finding a job, causing him to move in search of employment.
Another cause might be found in the mining industry. Bottrop and the surrounding area relied heavily on the mining industry to provide jobs. In fact, my grandfather’s father and brothers were miners. But mining is very dangerous. Chronic lung diseases such as black lung were very common in miners in those days, leading to a reduced life expectancy. The mining itself also brought many dangers, like suffocation, gas poisoning, roof collapse and gas explosions.
According to my mother, my grandfather was very opposed to going to work in the mines. So this likely influenced his decision to move away from Bottrop.
The last reason he might’ve had to move away from Bottrop can be found in the politics of the time. In the beginning of 1932 a new government was elected, but the military refused to support the government, causing new elections to be written. It was these new elections, in July 1932, in which Hitler’s party became the leading party.
My grandfather left in February/March of 1932 and the political unrest of those days, perhaps with a bit of foreshadowing of what was to come, could’ve contributed to his decision to move.
So, in summary, the move away from Bottrop was most likely economical in motivation. My grandfather didn’t want to work in the mines and with the Great Depression, there were few other jobs in the area. The political unrest of the time might’ve been the final push to leave.
Now that we know why Adolph moved away from Bottrop, it’s good to take a look as to why he moved to Voorschoten. He did not stop anywhere along the way, he came directly to Voorschoten, clear across the country from where he entered it.
There’s a very good reason for that, and she goes by the name of Anna Knura; Adolph’s older sister. She was already living in Voorschoten and was married to Lambertus van Aken, who owned his own painting company. Adolph moved in with her for the first few months he was in Voorschoten and went to work as a painter in Lambertus’ company.
So, he came to Voorschoten knowing he had family here, a roof over his head for as long as he needed it, and a good prospect (if not a certainty) of a job.
Where there more reasons for this move? Perhaps.
Am I right in every reason I just mentioned? Very likely.
Will we ever know for sure? No.
Still, it’s a valuable exercise, as it colors in the events surrounding one of the most important decisions in Adolph Knura’s life.
2. Bingham, J., Chandler, F & Taplin, s. The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History. 2008.
3. Reader's Digest. Mijlpalen van de 20e eeuw. Amsterdam: The Reader's Digest, around 1980.