A History of European Emigration

For a long time, Europe was a continent of emigrants rather than of immigrants. In the period between 1840 and 1940 around 55 million people left their homes in Europe and set off to the Americas.

Between 1840 and 1939, some 55 million Europeans left their homes and set sail for the Americas. In this, the largest migratory movement in history, people turned their backs on the Old World to make their fortunes in the New. This documentary travels through a century full of dreams, innovations and opportunities, but also through war, exclusion and destruction.

In short, but telling, played scenes, we hear from the emigrants themselves, through their letters, diaries and reports, as they explain their motives and their experiences. Rare photographs and early film footage have been rediscovered and reworked for the series. Leading experts from the USA, United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany provide the context for the period.

This elaborate multi-part series, "Dreams of a New World" tells of the settlement of a new continent, where the grand ideas of equality and democracy were realised, but where immigration quotas were also invented and borders closed, even though the misery at the gates was unbearable.

The 2h "Core" version

"The Pioneer Years" describes the causes of this great wave of emigration and the attraction the New World held for emigrants. In the early 19th century, many people lived in abject poverty, they often went hungry or were persecuted for their religion. Bureaucratic regulations hindered free development. We follow the journey of Irish cook Ann McNabb, the Swede Gustaf Fair, who dreamed of owning his own farm, the hurdy-gurdy girl Dorothea Luise Ludwig, and the student Carl Schurz, who believed in the American promise of freedom and prosperity.

"Closing the Gates" describes the exodus in the early 20th century, which came to a shuddering halt with the outbreak of World War II. The US had become a world power and now wanted to restrict immigration. The global economic crisis bolstered this intention – just as hundreds of thousands of people were attempting to flee the Nazi reign of terror. The reports of Fiorello La Guardia, who went on to become Mayor of New York, and Gustav Schröder, captain of the refugee ship "St. Luis", are representative of this time; we also hear about the fate of German paediatrician Hertha Nathorff and of Audrey Miller, who, like many other children of the British Empire, was sent to the colonies.

The 4h "Extended" version

In addition to the episodes already mentioned, "Breaking Records" looks at the incredible technical developments that made this mass exodus possible in the first place. Steam engines and ship's propellers were revolutionary innovations of the 19th century. These inventions were a source of huge excitement for many – but were also marked by catastrophe, even before the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. On this topic, we hear from the brothers Jules and Paul Verne, Austrian inventor Rudolf Ressel, the Irish captain of the "Sirius", Richard Roberts, and French woman Victoire Lacasse, who survived the sinking of the "La Bourgogne".

"The Pursuit of Profit" looks at how the focus shifted to competition between the ports and shipping companies for passenger numbers. Mass emigration became big business, in which the main competitors were the British and the Germans. In this war for profit and prestige – harbinger of a world war - the large shipping companies became symbols of national pride. The different sides of this development are brought to life in the stories of the Ballin and Inverclyde ship-owning families, and in the experiences of journalists Julius Kaliski (Germany) and Eliza Putnam Heaton (US).

"Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." -  Franklin D. Roosevelt