GALVESTON, Texas — Max Sukiennik and his family are among the thousands of Jewish Texans who found refuge in the state, specifically Galveston, during the 20th century and after years in European labor and displacement camps.

“I don’t know if you want to say home, but it was certainly a new start for them,” Sukiennik said. “Whether you were fleeing World War I or II, or coming here during the 1900s during the wave of immigration.”

“You do whatever it takes to pay the rent, buy the food, have survival skills, and that’s what my parents did,” Sukiennik said.

Making it in America is nothing new, so Sukiennik questions how nearly a century later, antisemitism is at an all-time high in Texas, according to the Anti-Defamation League. 

Jan Siegel Hart’s family immigrated to Texas in 1907 as part of the Galveston Movement, later settling in North and Central Texas. (Spectrum News 1/Dylan Scott)

“I think they moved forward very well and should be people that are perceived to have done very well for themselves,” Sukiennik said.

Galveston Historical Foundation Executive Director Dwayne Jones said the city’s history could serve as a way to reinforce their contributions.

“In the street names, building names, continuing businesses, are all names that have a significant groundbreaking impact in the 19th and 20th centuries,” Jones said. 

Jan Siegel Hart’s family came to Texas in 1907 as part of the Galveston Movement and has been embracing the ways of the Lone Star State since. 

A plaque of the Galveston Movement. (Spectrum News 1/Dylan Scott)

“We are like other people and just want to have a good life and just improve the world,” Siegel Hart said. “Just thankful we’re able to do that.” 

From the small towns of Dublin to Temple, she’s spread her family’s story, even writing books on the topic. 

“I’ve tried to let people know there are Jewish Texans. Maybe not a lot of us, but we’re here and proud,” Siegel Hart said. 

A feeling of community and purpose for many beginning off the Gulf of Mexico and at early synagogues like Congregation Beth Jacob in Galveston and South Texas.

“We see a lot of people that live in other cities in Texas and surrounding states, whose grandparents or great-grandparents lived or came through Galveston,” Sukiennik said. “So, there’s a real sense of connection for many people. This is where I first learned about my faith.”

Some of the oldest synagogues in America are located in Texas, including Congregation Beth Jacob in Galveston. Many members of the Jewish faith can trace their origins back to these places of worship. (Spectrum News 1/Dylan Scott)