An oral autobiography, as told by Tillie Konschak, to her son-in-law, John F. Matzko
My parents and grandparents lived together somewhere in the southern part of Germany. Around 1875 times were bad and there were no jobs to be had, but the rumor was there was work in Lodz. My father, Julius Konschak, was one of the three taken there by my grandparents. The other two were John and Francis. The boys married in Lodz. John immigrated near Dover, Del. There he was able to buy a large farm. In time they raised a big family and with them were to make it a success.
Francis married Andreas Hantwerke who was an experienced coach builder. Including the apprentices there were about 15 children in their family. The Hantwerkers settled in Philadelphia and did wagon work there. They emigrated when they heard that their boys would be conscripted in the Russian Army. My Grandparents had another son who died and left a son Oscar. He was raised by my parents. My mother's name was Bertha Turner. That is interesting since there are two more Turners in the family.
In Russia the Konschaks and the Hantwerkers lived near each other and played together. The families were brought closer together when my brother Edward married his cousin Mary Hantwerker. My parents and grandparents tried various ways of making a living in Russia. Operating a grist mill and then an inn. They also slaughtered meat and sold it.
The German people lived in one area of Lodz and had their own Lutheran church. The pastor was the teacher. He taught them German when no inspector was around.
The girls had a great fear of the hard riding wild cossacks who could do anything they wanted to with the girls. The boys were afraid of being pulled into the army at their whim. Andreas Hantwerker was a minor official and had plenty to eat and had a good life but wanted to come to a free life. I had seven brothers and one sister born in Russia.
Through a prank by my brothers they put a bear suit and scared me into convulsions. That was the start of my neck developing a lot of egg sized lumps. My mother and I walked to a hospital a half a day away where the doctor lanced them. There was no anesthetic. A few weeks later we had to go back to have the backing removed. This was very painful. The doctor gave me some strong medicine which ate the enamel off my teeth. At the age of fifteen, I had one set of teeth pulled with several men holding me. My mother would faint each time a tooth was broken loose.
My brothers names were Albert, Julius, Edward, Adolph, Theodore, Henry and Reynold. A sister Emma. I remember the hard cold winters with snow 4 foot thick. There were huge ovens in our home and the boys would sleep on top of them. Much wood had to be cut to keep the ovens going.
My father and a brother came to this country in advance and landed in Atlantic City. My father was able to get work in a used furniture store. He rented a house and furnish it with some of the used furniture. Then they waited for others to join them. They were on the boat 6 weeks and were sea sick and half starved and half died. We made it to Ellis Island. I almost did not pass the examination as the healed sores might have kept me back. Mother told me to wrap a scarf around my neck and to hold my head down as if I was shy. The doctor passed me. The agent put us into a room with a frisky goat as he wanted more money. Mother told him she had no more. She got in touch with my father and brought us to Atlantic City. We were all tired and hungry. It was good that a home was prepared for us.
The next problem was to get work for the boys. Our Lutheran pastor recommended that we move to Millville as there were many factories there. Father got work in a factory yard and some of the boys also got work there. My father was paid nine dollars a week and was able to rent a home there next to the factory. My problem was that I was too big for school and I did not understand English. The children made fun of me and I would not go back to school. My father found that I could get work in the cotton mill.
At the factory I made friends with a girl who asked me to go to a birthday party with her. I heard the loud voice and I asked who the loud person was. It was the birthday of a big handsome fellow. On being introduced, he kissed me and I slapped his face. He pestered me for a date and in time I married "Colonel" Tom Austin. He had been named after an uncle Thomas Forrest Austin.
Tom worked in the glass factory and I also got work there as a person who took off the rough spots from glass lids. I also packed them. Tom had and English background, but was born in this country. That made me a citizen when I married him.
It was war time and Tom was afraid that he would be drafted. With 3 children he was exempt. We put money down on a home and were furnishing it when Tom got very sick. The doctor did not know what was wrong with him until his appendix broke and peritonitis set in. He started back to work very weak and died with the flu at the age of 28. I was with William and the twins aged 9 months. My sorrow was so great that I would go to the factory expecting him to come out.
For a long time I would take the children to weep at the cemetery. Finally I realized that I must go on living. There was no Social Security to help. We left our house and moved in with one of my husbands relatives. He was too hard to take care of. I rented a roach infested house which I cleaned up to get rid of them.
One of my brothers was a baker so he supplied me with baked goods to sell. That house was to be torn down so I took my $500 and had a house built across from the school. I took in boarders until the school was finished and then my boarders left and I lost the house for taxes.
I heard that there was work in Wildwood, so I took my children and left them roast on the beach while I looked for work. They got terribly sunburned, especially Evelyn who got very sick as she was very blond.
We lived in a tiny shack during the summer while I worked for people. After the season was over I went back to the glass factory and lived near there with a lady. Then I moved to Wildwood and lived there for 8 years. I began to realize that the shore was no place to raise children as there was too much temptation.
Evelyn and Tom went to school. So did Bill but he also worked in a bakery after school. Evelyn's chore was to keep up with Tom and to see what he was into. One day she found him on a lifeguard stand and so she climbed up to get him. A boy gave her a push and she got hurt. The lady doctor said that it was only a pulled ligament. After suffering over a year, a friend took her to a doctor who took a x-ray and found she had a broken arm. It was too late to rebreak it.
In Wildwood the children sold newspapers, gadgets, Larkin orders and ran orders. Fisherman would give us fish. Bakers would give me pans of day old pastry. We were never hungry.
With the help of my sister and brother in law the Surbecks brought me to Westmont N.J. We had a good house where we lived for many years until it was sold. Bill stayed in Wildwood to finish school, but he didn't. He then got on the WPA for some time. Evelyn went to business school but started in a 5 & 10 store. Then she got a job with the American Stores office. There was so much traveling so she got a job nearer at the Camden Fire Insurance. She stayed there until her marriage to John Matzko in November 1945. Tom got a job with Esterbrook pen and stayed with them about 25 years.
I did all sort of work, Campbells Soup, housework and sold Larkin products. Bill also did sales work and cooking and baking. The boys went into the army so Evelyn and I lived alone for a while. Our house was sold so we had to look for an apartment. Mr. Kille from the Bible Presbyterian Church heard of our need and found us an apartment in Haddonfield. To me it was a shock as we had to sell or give away most of our furniture. It was not pleasant to live in the same house with the owner of the house.
When John and Evelyn bought a home in Westmont, I had enough of housework and moved in with them. Bill was cooking at Strawbridge and Clothier and got me a job in the kitchen. There I stayed for 10 years until I had to retire. My Social Security gave me enough to pay my way during all the years I lived with them.
I had been raised Lutheran, but "Colonel" Tom was reared Methodist. For my sake he turned Lutheran. He was saved. When possible we went to hear evangelist Billy Sundays. In Westmont we joined the Lutheran church, from which Tom and Evelyn got confirmed.
One day Evelyn took all her savings and bought a floor model radio. Through the radio we heard about tent meeting in Haddon Heights. We attended many of them. Evelyn was saved there. Then we heard of a new, wonderful preacher in the Presbyterian church. We went to hear him and when he pulled out most of the the congregation, we joined him in a tent.
It was apostasy that drove the pastor out of the old church and he started a Bible Presbyterian Church. John Matzko senior was a widower and when he married my cousin Emma Hanwerker, we got acquainted with John and Mike his sons. My father died at the age of 47 from remorse because he blamed himself for his boy dying from lockjaw after stepping on a nail. He had asked his father to fix his shoes, but he had been too busy. This was in Millville. My mother lived to 83.
Colonel worked in the summer for Shrivers
Salt Water Taffy people. I also spent one summer with young Bill in Ocean
City. There were many things I could not do. I did not care for education
either. The tragedy was that Colonel died one month after Armistice was
In 1983 Tillie Austin died from "old age". Bill lives in an apartment in Philadelphia.
Mother Austin had 3 children 9 grandchildren 15 greatgrandchildren
As of June 1984