ALAMEDA, Calif. – His father roused Harry Gluckman from a deep sleep, urging the
11-yearold to get out of his cabin bed and climb to the deck of the steamship
The boy rushed outside to see the Golden Gate Bridge soaring
above him. In the pre-dawn darkness of Oct. 21, 1940, he gaped at its beams and
towers as the Japanese liner sailed beneath the famous gateway that had opened
just three years earlier.
“My father always referred to it after that as
‘My Golden Gate of Freedom’ whenever we crossed the bridge or came near it,”
The family was among as many as 600 Jewish refugees who
sailed into San Francisco Bay from 1939 to 1941, fleeing Nazi persecution in
Germany, Austria, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
They were part of
a largely forgotten Pacific exodus that was much smaller than the stream of
thousands of refugees who reached the East Coast.
Gluckman, 82, is one of
a handful of surviving refugees in the Bay Area who vividly remembers the
transoceanic voyage to San Francisco. The Angel Island Immigration Station
Foundation has spent months trying to track down others, hoping to share the
little-known stories while there are still people who can tell
After the outbreak of war in Europe made escape across the Atlantic
Ocean difficult, hundreds of European Jews took advantage of a small window of
time when the Pacific Ocean was open to passenger travel.
“In 1940 and
1941, right up to Pearl Harbor, the Pacific was still open,” said Eddie Wong,
director of the Angel Island foundation.
The Gluckmans crossed most of
the world to get to California, fleeing Nazi Germany by way of the
Trans-Siberian railroad, then boarding ships in Korea and Japan.
at his Alameda home Oct. 21, the 70th anniversary of his arrival, Gluckman
called the day his “re-birthday.”
He clutched a newspaper clipping that
shows him wearing knee-high socks, smiling as he stood in a crowd that posed
after walking onto a San Francisco pier.
The immigration station opened
in 1910. It was a processing point for most of the Jewish refugees who arrived
in San Francisco before the station burned down and was closed in early October
1940, just weeks before the Gluckmans arrived.
Many of the Jewish
families did not have the American sponsors they needed in order to get a US
visa, but they found them by calling or sending letters to American Jews who
shared their surname.
The Gluckmans’ sponsor was a man in New York they
had never met, but who shared their last name and agreed to vouch for them if
they promised never to contact him for financial help, or even to express
gratitude, once they reached America.
"In those early days of the
concentration camps, the Germans would let them go if they had a place to go, on
the condition they leave all their assets behind,” Wong said. “Everything they
owned was handed over to the regime.” One family, before leaving Europe, spent
their savings on two expensive fur coats, Wong said.
The mother and
daughter wore the coats on the trip to the United States so they could sell them
The Gluckmans arrived with just $3.36 and a few suitcases
with clothes and paperwork. The boy arrived as Heinz Glucksmann, but immigration
officials recommended the family change the name to something easier for
Americans to pronounce.
Growing up in the southern German city of
Stuttgart, Gluckman was expelled from German public schools by the anti- Semitic
Nuremberg laws of 1935.
His family enrolled him in a Jewish school
attached to the Stuttgart synagogue, but on Nov. 9, 1938, the boy watched
townspeople pull books and chairs from the school, beat up a rabbi and burn the
buildings down. It was Kristallnacht, or the Night of Shattered Glass, when
Nazis ransacked Jewish homes, shops and places of worship across Germany and
It also was the night when the Gluckmans became determined to
flee, or at least to get their two children out of Germany.
rescue organization called the Kindertransport adopted Gluckman’s 3- year-old
sister in 1939, taking her to England where she would be kept safe. His parents
signed their son up for the same program, but Germany invaded Poland in
September 1939, launching World War II just before he was set to
The Gluckmans applied for exit visas and kept looking for other
ways to get out, eventually finding the Pacific route.
read that if you could pay for the entire trip in German marks in Berlin, they
were willing to take you,” Gluckman said.
They stopped first in Breslau,
now known as the Polish city of Wroclaw, where they paid a final visit the boy’s
paternal grandparents. The grandparents had been unable to get an exit visa, but
they expressed confidence to family members that they would survive, Gluckman
said. The grandfather was a German veteran of World War I.
‘I’ve served my country. Nothing will happen to us.’ He even had his old sword
over the fireplace, and the Iron Cross,” Gluckman said.
The boy and his
parents left Germany for Poland, then crossed through Lithuania to Moscow, where
they boarded the Trans-Siberia Express for a long journey across the continent.
They sailed from Korea to Japan, and left Japan on Oct. 4, Gluckman’s 11th
birthday, arriving in San Francisco nearly three weeks later.
of three settled on Sutter Street. Gluckman’s father found work at
Magnin department store. His mother became a housemaid for a wealthy
family in Pacific Heights.
Their last contact with Gluckman’s
grandparents came years later in a postcard thought to be sent from the
Auschwitz concentration camp. The vague message expressed that they were doing
“My father spent every waking moment searching for ways to bring
his parents out,” Gluckman said.
The grandparents were murdered at
Auschwitz in late 1943 or early 1944, Gluckman said. He lost 58 family members
in the Holocaust.
Wiping tears as he talked, Gluckman said his name in
German means “lucky man.”
He went to his office closet, pulling out a
piece of cardboard where his father had drawn a family tree that stretches back
to the 19th century. Gluckman keeps it updated, he said, as he used a finger to
trace a line to his grandchildren.
“Hitler did not wipe out all of the
Jews,” Gluckman said. “There were enough of us here to restart the
family.”– Contra Costa Times/MCT