For every boy it is of great importance whether his parents are strangers or not. If they’re not, then he knows the place where they were born. He could go there, if he wants to see it with his own eyes. He can point out the street where they lived as children. He could ring the bell of the building where they went to school. He knows what they have learnt, he knows the songs they sang and the games they played. Because he learns and plays and sings exactly or almost the same as they. The classroom he’s in doesn’t differ that much from the classroom they have been in. The teacher is just like the teacher they have had and their friends are the same kind of friends as theirs.
But a child of immigrants cannot look back, he grows up without a background and his curiosity for this grows ever larger, and is ever less satisfied. He doesn’t understand a thing about his grandparents. He doesn’t even know what they did for a living. It is a lot if he knows them at all. The people don’t know his background and because of this, they don’t know what to expect of him. The parents of other children wonder if they could interact with him, and invite him to a birthday party. Because of this, his environment in school and outside of that will have an accidental character. It is not an addition or continuation of his home. Partly it is even a contrast to this. Only in the long term does this contrast diminish bit by bit. It disappears when he becomes an adult and he goes his own, independent way. But even then memories will continue to stir his mind.
Abel J. Herzberg about growing up in the Netherlands (Amsterdam) in the beginning of the 20th century as a child of Jewish-Russian immigrants.
Source: Abel J. Herzberg, Letters to my grandchild (Bieven aan mijn kleinzoon). Translation by me.