A Gift of Gratitude

"The Statute of Liberty, a gift from France, erected on Bedloe Island,  New York Harbor in 1886, is a symbolic landmark of the dreams and aspirations of mankind to live, under God, free and peacefully with each other."

(Cattaraugus Historical Society.  "Karl Wittman and his Statute of Liberty")

The Immigrant and his family

 Karl Wittman, his wife and four children were living in Germany during World War II. One month before the end of the war Mr. Wittman was conscripted by the German army. There he was wounded and captured by the Russians and spent some time in the hospital. After regaining his health Wittman worked for five years at the Zeiss Works in Jena, Communist East Germany.  Karl refused to accept the Communist principles that he was supposed to teach. Because he did could not follow these ways he recognized his family had to leave Germany. To accomplish this, first he requested and was granted permission from the government for his wife and three younger children to visit her father in West Germany. Karl and the oldest son were forbidden to cross the border. So the two contrived a plan to escape and embarked on the daring and dangerous journey. Although they were at one point chased by the border dogs their escape from East Germany was successful.

For the next four years the Wittman family lived in West Germany. In 1955, through the efforts of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief, the Wittman family was chosen to relocate in Cattaraugus, New York.   The Wittman family was sponsored by the Cattaraugus Methodist Church.  This German-Polish family left Germany and came to the United States of America in February 1955.  The Wittman family was thrilled and impressed as their ship passed the Statute of Liberty in the New York Harbor. That symbol remained in Karl's thoughts.

Within a few days the family was in Cattaraugus.  The Methodist Church had secured employment at the Setter Brothers woodworking factory for Karl. Mr. and Mrs. Karl Wittman and their four children lived in the village of Cattaraugus from 1955 to 1960. The children attended school in the community.  In his spare time Mr. Wittman was sculpting a replica of the Statute of Liberty, the symbol of their new found freedom.

 The family did not make Cattaraugus a life-long residence. Mr. Wittman moved the family to Jamestown to gain a better paying job. Jamestown was where the family became American citizens. Later the family moved to New York City, although only two of the children were still at home and the only children to make that move.

In their retirement years Mr. and Mrs. Wittman moved to Florida. It was in Florida in 1980 that the Wittman's read about the history of the (Cattaraugus) county and the town of New Albion published in 1979. Always remembering how they came to America, Wittman presented the Cattaraugus Historical Society with the replica of the Statute of Liberty.

Mr. Kenneth Kysor, president of the society with his wife and accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Pritchard,  drove to Florida and transported the statute back to Cattaraugus where it was placed in  the library.

When bestowing the statute to the historical society of Cattaraugus, Wittman made this statement to Kysor, "It is with great pleasure and pride that (we) donate this … as our token of gratitude to the people of Cattaraugus for making it possible for us to live in the free land of the United States of America."


This material can be found in the following print located at the front desk of the Cattaraugus Free Library

"Statute of Liberty" by Oscar Handlin 1971

Karl Wittman and his Statute of Liberty", Cattaraugus Historical Society

Post Journal article from April 1985 written by Wendy Marsh

Much more interestinginformation can be found in those references.  


This material was compiled by Sue M. Cross, December 2019

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