six degrees of stanley derda

November 9th, 2015 § 0 comments

My family is very lucky to have photos, transcripts of oral histories, recorded interviews and extensive records (mostly compiled by my paternal grandfather Luke Zidar) that make it possible to piece together a pretty detailed family tree, going back in places as far as the 1500s. In the past few years – since traveling by boat, since marrying my own Alien Spouse from abroad – I have become especially interested in the oversea voyages that my immigrant ancestors made, and have continued researching these incidents of departure and arrival.

Stanley Derda was my great-grandfather from Poland. He was born in a village named Pokoje, and emigrated in 1912 during the lead up to World War I. When I’ve asked my grandmother, Helen Zidar, what she knew about her Dad’s immigration story, she simply said that Stanley’s mother must have sent him because “the men over there kept dying.” And with that, Grandmother summed up the Partitions of Poland.

At age 24, Stanley sailed 15 days from Hamburg, Germany to Philadelphia, PA aboard the S.S. Prinz Oskar.


Five years later, Stanley would marry Victoria Nickle/Nichols/Nickols(?) from Westmoreland, PA. He worked as a coal miner at Coverdale Mine #8 in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, and they would raise their family in the company coal patch in what is now Bethel Park. I can remember visiting that house as a small child.Derda_nichols
I have never been much of a history buff, but I am pretty entranced by these real life vignettes: teenage Stanley in rural Poland at the turn of the century, a young Pole’s trip overland through Germany to board a German ship, standing beside tall Victoria for a wedding photo – no hand holding! – and raising a family on company scrip.

I’ve also never had much of an interest in any boat other than the one that is currently eating up our money, but as it turns out, the S.S. Prinz Oskar went on to have an intriguing life as well. The ship continued to run between Germany and the US until it was seized by the US government at the beginning of the war, renamed “Orion” and operated by the US Shipping Board.

In 1922, Orion was sold to the Black Star Line, the steamship company operated by Marcus Garvey with the vision of promoting worldwide commerce among black businesses in North America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The company was beset with controversy, however, including infiltration and sabotage by agents from an early iteration of the FBI. The transfer of the Orion became embroiled in fraud charges against the Black Star Line, and 1923 she reverted to the US Shipping Board and was scrapped in Baltimore by 1929.

I find this all so incredible. Its hard for me to objectively tell if this recap is at all interesting to read, because my perception is totally clouded by the overwhelming interconnectedness of it all. There is actually a lot more to this, but I can’t extrude it all at once without my circuits overloading.

So far, all I can absorb at once is that Stanley Derda is the space-time link between Marcus Garvey and Prinz Oskar.

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