Bessie’s Story

immigrants-at-ellis-islandTwenty Million Immigrants Came to America between 1880 and 1924.

Most would come from Eastern and Southern Europe, others from Germany and Ireland, from Asia and Latin America. They passed their stories of struggle and triumph down to us, their children and grandchildren.

Bessie Markman, one those immigrants, left Lithuania by herself in 1906 at just 18 years old. She was leaving the Russian pogroms against the Jewish people for a new life in New York.

Writing her story was passed on to her granddaughter Linda Silbert.

While waiting to board a train in Vilna and saying goodbye to her tearful family, most of whom she’d never see again, a stranger asked Bessie to deliver a pillow to her son in New York. The pillow would play no small role in Bessie’s life in America.

Now Bessie Markman’s unique story is told in Bessie’s Pillow. The novel, based on the true story, was taken from recorded interviews with Bessie’s daughter, Ann Bress.

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from a featured Kirkus review: “These events . . . are presented with an agreeable fluidity and ease. The author’s storytelling skills offer laid-back prose that will convince readers to care about Bessie from the start. An intimate story of fortitude and finding independence.”


synagogue 2From Glubokoye to New Rochelle

Written in first person, Bessie’s Pillow grabs you from the very first page and puts you in Bessie’s shoes.

You’ll walk with her through the terrifying pogroms against the Jews in Lithuania. You’ll experience the humiliating immigrant inspections in Hamburg, and you’ll travel with her on the S.S. Moltke, one of the many ships that carried immigrants from Europe to America.

Live with her in early 20th century New York City and spend some time in one of the infamous factories on the Lower East Side. Celebrate her wedding.

Cry and laugh with her through the bad times and the good times as she raises her family in New Rochelle. Cheer when, after a devastating tragedy, Bessie moves forward to take control of and manage a contracting business. Something few women of her generation would do.

Bessie & KidsWhat’s So Special about Bessie?

Bessie faced the common challenges of all immigrants as they searched for the American Dream.

Hundreds of these immigrant stories, often similar, sit on shelves on our bookcases, in libraries and bookstores.

As with the others, Bessie would learn a new language, find work, adapt to a new culture without giving up old traditions and values, establish community, and suffer tragedy and loss.

In other fascinating ways, Bessie’s story is unique.

Many Jewish immigrants, after crossing the Atlantic in the crowded, dirty steerage area of the ship, would first face hunger and back-breaking work in the cruel factories and tenement sweat shops.

Despite the poverty on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, they would find comfort in community and families, in Kosher food and speaking Yiddish. Bessie, on the other hand, traveled first class and came alone which would give her different experiences and perspectives of immigrant life in New York.

And rather than stay in New York City in one of the several Jewish neighborhoods as most immigrants would eventually do, she would marry and raise her children in a city with so few Jews that her husband and his friends had to build the first synagogue in New Rochelle.

A city with so few immigrants that Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant immigrants would live in harmony in the same neighborhoods–almost unheard of anywhere in America during Bessie’s lifetime.

In her own search for the American Dream, Bessie left us a legacy of courage and perseverance, of humanity and generosity.

Click to Buy Bessie’s Pillow Today
or Download Bessie’s Pillow on Your Kindle to Start Reading Today