In Seattle, a Handoff to HIAS

HIAS Arrival Card_Mariasia

As part of its effort to help newly arrived immigrants reach their destination and get settled in their new country, HIAS prepared registration cards, such as this one for Mariasia Naginsky, to track the progress of their charges.

Where the work of U.S. immigration officials ended, the work of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society began. A representative of the organization, perhaps Seattle home manager Abe Spring, would be at the steamer dock to meet arriving ships. His task there would be to identify those passengers “likely to belong to the class that the organization caters to,” as described in written instructions, and to gain their confidence so HIAS could provide assistance to those in need.

HIAS provided a wide range of services to immigrants upon their arrival. Once admitted, the representative would help them with their immediate needs — checking and transfer of baggage, exchange of foreign money, and transportation assistance for those continuing on to another destination. The Society helped guard against unscrupulous agents offering these and other services to those unfamiliar with the language, currency and customs of a foreign country. For those individuals who had to be hospitalized or quarantined, the representative also would offer assistance, with regular visits providing information about their situation, help in writing to their relatives, and reassurance that “no injustice would be done to them by our government.”

Even those who were detained or excluded by the Board of Special Inquiry would receive special attention from HIAS. In many cases, the organization was able to solve problems by finding the address of a relative, providing funding for transportation inland or referring a case to the chairman of the Society’s law committee. When all avenues were exhausted, the branch would provide support to individuals who faced deportation, including those considered “unworthy” because they were found to be immoral, criminal or alien enemies — among the many classes barred entry to the U.S. — offering comfort and sufficient funds to allow them to return to their desired location in their home country.

The Naginskys were among those who benefited directly from the intervention of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society. Once admitted, each member of the family would be registered by the Seattle branch of HIAS, as shown in the individual cards of Mariasia, 33; Jhina, 9; Chaya and Mira, 8; Zepora, 6; and Chana, 4. The information on the cards was the same as that on the ship manifest, including the steamer name, date of arrival, final destination, last permanent residence, birthplace and amount of money brought with them. More importantly, the cards provide concrete evidence of the involvement of HIAS in the family’s care.

After being discharged from the custody of immigration authorities, the Naginskys likely were taken by automobile to the shelter house of the Seattle branch of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, about 2 miles from Pier 6. As described in the HIAS representative’s instructions, the immigrants were to be “conducted to that place in a manner and by means that will expose them to the least embarrassment because of their personal appearance after going through the ordeal of the journey and particularly the nervous tension incidental to the landing.”

A number of tasks and opportunities awaited the Naginskys when they arrived at the home in late January 1918. HIAS staff would take advantage of every day the immigrants were under their care to prepare them for life in America while they awaited processing of paperwork and completion of the travel arrangements that would allow them to proceed to their next destination — and, for Mariasia and her daughters, bring them another step closer to reuniting with their husband and father.

Seattle Adapts to ‘a Bolt from the Blue’

Local businessman Leo Schwabacher served as the first president of the Seattle branch of HIAS. Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW33538

HIAS Home Manager Abe Spring

Abe Spring (right) was the longtime manager of the HIAS home in Seattle. Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, UW33539

Eastern European immigration to Seattle, fairly insignificant before World War I, suddenly spiked in late 1915, “like a bolt from the blue,” as described in the Jewish Immigration Bulletin of 1916-17. Instead of less than a dozen immigrants every month, the Jewish community of only 6,000 suddenly found itself trying to provide for the needs of almost 200 every month.

Realizing the magnitude of the challenge before them, local Jewish leaders appealed to the national organization of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society to establish a Seattle branch in early 1916. The branch would be called upon to intervene with the U.S. government to facilitate admittance to the country, provide temporary care and shelter, offer “Americanization” classes in the English language and other subjects, find employment, and arrange transportation to other destinations for the growing number of arriving immigrants.

As the Seattle branch became established within the community, it would make continuous improvements to its facilities to manage the influx. From an initial temporary home at 811 Yesler Way, an “old house poorly situated and badly equipped to handle a large number of immigrants,” the group moved within several months to a new quarters about a mile away at 512 18th Avenue that could accommodate up to 120 people, according to the Jewish Immigration Bulletin of 1916-17, as cited in a January 1990 newsletter of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society. The president of the branch, Leo Schwabacher, a prominent Seattle businessman, led this effort, which included addressing concerns voiced by some community residents who worried about the presence of an “immigrant station” in their neighborhood, as described in an April 20, 1916, article in The Seattle Daily Times.

The Society also would formalize the procedures of the home, “bringing order out of chaos,” according to an Oct. 7, 1917, article in the Seattle Sunday Times. After years suffering under czarist rule and, more recently, being exploited by factory owners, many of the early immigrants to Seattle had become involved in the revolutionary movement in Russia. Suspicious of any authority figures, the refugees — almost all men — initially refused to work. In time, however, the manager of the home, Abe Spring, would gain their trust. “It was when Spring took charge [in February 1916] that they soon were made to realize that in America everyone must work,” the Seattle Sunday Times article stated.

Another obstacle the organization would overcome in its first years of operation were new government restrictions on entry to the United States. In late January 1916, U.S. immigration authorities began refusing admission to anyone without adequate funds or who was not joining a relative already in the country — which could affect up to half of all arrivals, as recorded in the May 1916 Presidents Report Address and Minutes of the HIAS Seattle branch. The branch had to prepare appeals, pay for additional medical treatment caused by stress from prolonged detention, and ultimately furnish individual bonds — using tens of thousands of dollars in personal property from the branch directors as security — to allow the immigrants to enter the country. By April 1916, the government determined that instead of detaining the immigrants it would start releasing them to the HIAS Seattle branch with the expectation that the organization would care for them and ensure they would not become public charges — a promise that had to be guaranteed through an official letter from the branch president.

This challenge may have become even more difficult the following year, when the U.S. Congress passed sweeping legislation preventing broad categories of people from entering the country. The 1917 Immigration Act barred immigrants from Asia and many adjacent regions as well as those with mental and physical limitations, including illiterates and the poor. It also increased the head tax on adult immigrants to $8 and added new enforcement provisions. With widespread public hostility toward certain classes of immigrants, Congress was able to override a presidential veto. The new law, which took effect May 1, 1917, certainly broadened the scope of the authority of U.S. immigration officials, medical examiners and boards of special inquiry, but it’s not clear whether it derailed the agreement that already had been struck between government officials and HIAS.

After two turbulent years adapting to changing U.S. policies and adjusting to the needs of the many newcomers, the Seattle branch of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society likely had most of its systems in place to provide for the Naginskys when they were officially admitted to the United States in early 1918.

The Journeys of the Hawaii Maru

The Hawaii Maru transported passengers and cargo for a quarter century before becoming a Japanese “hell ship” during World War II.

The Hawaii Maru — the vessel that carried my great grandmother and her five daughters to America from Japan in 1918 — had a colorful history, judging from the stories reported before, during and after my family’s voyage on board this Japanese steamship owned by the Osaka Shosen Kaisha line.

The ship gained notoriety not long after its maiden voyage in 1915. As noted in a previous aside, the Hawaii Maru was at the center of a 1916 cholera outbreak in Japan, when 55 cases were discovered on board the ship as it sat in Yokohama harbor in late July preparing to depart for Seattle. Some of those cases were fatal. This incident is cited in the 1917 Annual Report of the Surgeon General as the impetus behind new rules requiring all steerage passengers traveling on foreign ships from Asia to disembark at quarantine stations for “bacteriological examination” before being allowed to enter the United States.

The January 1918 voyage of the Hawaii Maru, with the Naginsky family on board, made headlines for different reasons. According to a report published Jan. 26, 1918, in The Seattle Daily Times, the ship was carrying an unprecedented amount of precious cargo: 1,365 bales of raw silk and 3,000 cases of manufactured silk, the largest shipment of silk ever received in the city — at the time, valued at more than $4 million (or $60.8 million today).

SeattleWashingtonCrewListp1Carrying all this cargo, the ship likely needed to make multiple stops to ensure the silk got on the way to its proper destination. A report on recent ship arrivals and departures published Jan 27, 1918, in The Seattle Daily Times indicated that the Hawaii Maru sailed from Seattle on Jan. 26 at 11:30 a.m., arriving later that day in Tacoma, Wash. It appears the ship also made a stop in Canada, as the manifest of crew members (one page shown at left) notes that it sailed from Victoria, British Columbia, to Seattle.

Another newsworthy event stemming from this voyage of the Hawaii Maru involved the ship’s stowaways, who likely hid in steerage along with paying passengers, including Mariasia and her daughters. A week after the ship’s arrival, two people appeared before a U.S. commissioner, accused of helping these illegal aliens enter the country. As reported Feb. 3, 1918, by The Seattle Daily Times, after denying any involvement in assisting the seven stowaways on board the Hawaii Maru, the hearing took a comical turn when one of the accused, Sirochi Tanno, inadvertently admitted that he had been a stowaway himself five years earlier, then “bowed impressively” to the commissioner, interpreter and U.S. marshal. Tanno would be deported for his admission.

The connections forged by the Hawaii Maru in a growing U.S.-Asia travel and trade relationship would come to an abrupt halt 23 years later. Requisitioned by the Imperial Army in 1941 for use during World War II, it served as a “hell ship,” carrying prisoners of war to Japanese camps, according to various Internet sources. The conditions on board the ship led directly to the disease and death of scores of POWs. On Dec. 2, 1944, the U.S.S. Sea Devil would hit the Hawaii Maru with a torpedo, sinking it in the East China Sea off the coast of Japan.

Sailing to Seattle, 1854-1918

This postcard appears to be an early image of the Diamond Point Quarantine Station in Washington, which grew from three to 27 buildings during its years of operation (1893-1936).

For many passengers sailing to Seattle before the Naginskys, their ships were required to stop once or even twice near the entrance to the Puget Sound before they could proceed on to their destination.

Starting in 1854, all arriving passengers would have to disembark at Port Townsend for processing. Located at the entrance to Puget Sound, this site would serve as the official customs house and port of entry for 57 years before those functions were transferred to Seattle in 1911.

After the U.S. Congress passed the National Quarantine Act in 1878 to prevent vessels from carrying infectious diseases into the United States, it subsequently authorized funds for the development of a quarantine station in Washington state — which would become another regular stop for all vessels arriving from foreign ports when it opened in November 1893. Situated opposite Port Townsend on Discovery Bay, Diamond Point would serve as the site for the inspection of all incoming passengers for symptoms of diseases such as influenza, cholera, malaria, smallpox, yellow fever, diphtheria and leprosy. If necessary, ships would be fumigated with burning pots of sulphur to kill fleas, rats, lice, and other vermin that could be potential carriers of disease, as described by HistoryLink.org. The 1878 law also shifted control of the quarantine and disinfection process from states to the federal government; the Marine Hospital Service — the precursor of the U.S. Public Health Service — became responsible for these measures at ports nationwide and in 1902 took over medical examination of all immigrants.

While Diamond Point operated as a quarantine station for 43 years, it’s unclear whether it was always a mandatory stop for vessels arriving in Seattle and other nearby ports during that entire time. In September 1916, for example, the U.S. government issued instructions requiring all steerage passengers coming from Asia to disembark at Diamond Point for “bacteriological examination” — suggesting this was a change in policy. The new instructions were issued in response to an outbreak of cholera in Japan and China during the fall and winter of 1916. Ironically, the initial cases of cholera, some of them fatal, were discovered in late July 1916 aboard the Hawaii Maru as it sat in the Yokohama harbor waiting to depart on the same voyage to Seattle as Mariasia and her daughters would make on board that ship 16 months later.

Once satisfied that Japan had quelled the outbreak, the U.S. government withdrew its quarantine requirement for steerage passengers about six months later and shifted to a different strategy: inspecting ships both at the departure point and at the destination — which is likely what occurred on board the Hawaii Maru in January 1918. Dr. R.H. Earle, head of the Diamond Point station, described the new process in an article published March 29, 1917, in The Seattle Daily Times: “All ships sailing from a foreign port must have the written bill of health of a medical examiner whose salary is paid by the United States government before they sail. Failure to obtain this paper incurs a heavy fine. Then the ships are thoroughly examined before any passengers are permitted to land over here. Thus there is a double check.”

At Pier 6, a Day of Judgment

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Unlike the vast majority of U.S. immigrants who came through Ellis Island, the passengers on board the Hawaii Maru in January 1918 would not be greeted by the majestic Lady Liberty as they approached America. Leaving behind the open, blue waters of the Pacific, they would enter a long, narrow strait with Vancouver Island on one side and the Olympic Mountains on the other. After navigating past a series of peninsulas and islands, the ship would enter Puget Sound as it approached its destination.

[For years, vessels sailing from foreign ports had been required to stop at the Diamond Point Quarantine Station, located at about this spot in the journey. It’s unclear whether the Hawaii Maru stopped there, but recent shifts in immigration policy (read this aside to learn more) as well as evidence from the ship manifest (described below) suggest they did not.]

Rising above the shoreline, passengers would glimpse the city of Seattle perched on a series of hills, with the Cascade Mountains, including Mount Rainier, as a backdrop. Thanks to its geographic location, Seattle had thrived since the turn of the century, first as a launchpad for prospectors after the discovery of gold in Canada and Alaska and later as a center for trade and shipping. New, imposing structures dominated the skyline, including the 17-story Hoge Building built in 1911 and the 42-story Smith Tower completed in 1914, all evidence of the city’s growing prosperity.

The ship carrying Mariasia and her daughters, along with 70 other passengers, would pull into Pier 6, in the heart of Seattle, on Friday, Jan. 25, 1918. The pier served as the terminal for the McCormick Steamship Line, the Munson McCormick Line and the Osaka Shosen Kaisha, owners of the Hawaii Maru. Built in 1902, the pier was located at the foot of University Street, adjacent to the Pike Place Market, which already had been in operation for more than a decade by the time of the Naginskys’ arrival.

The immigration station at Seattle was not set up to handle large numbers of people. There was no single building physically separated from the mainland to process thousands of immigrants, as there was at Ellis Island. According to guidance prepared for the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society representative who would meet arriving ships, it appears that passengers were processed right at the pier (although the Immigration Building was located just a couple blocks away, at 84 Union Street).

As at Ellis Island, processing in Seattle likely involved multiple physical examinations and interviews. According to Irving Howe’s “World of Our Fathers,” passengers would stand in lines to undergo basic medical evaluations, and those with obvious issues would be marked with chalk to indicate they needed further inspection in a certain area. Through an interpreter, immigrants would be asked questions to determine if they were alert or “dull-witted.” The inspectors also would make sure children could walk and were not deaf or dumb, which, of course, was an issue for Mariasia’s daughter Zepora. A second medical specialist would evaluate the passengers for “contagious and loathsome diseases,” and a third doctor — “often feared the most” — would conduct eye examinations looking for trachoma, responsible for half of all medical detentions. As Howe wrote: “It is a torment hard to understand, this first taste of America, with its poking of flesh and prying into private parts and mysterious chalking of clothes.”

The ship manifestSeattleWashingtonPassengerandCrewLists2 Hawaii Maru Ship Manifest reveals some interesting facts about the Naginskys gathered from a final interview with an immigration inspector. Either John Wyckoff or J. McCullough, the two document signatories, asked Mariasia questions about things such as character, family and money. She revealed that the closest relative she left behind was her father, Shlomo Balotin, in Potzib, Russia [Pochep]. She indicated that she would be joining her husband, A. Naginsky, at #422 Blake Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y., but she didn’t yet have a ticket to her destination. Fortunately, the inspector indicated that she was not a polygamist, anarchist, or deformed or crippled. It noted that she arrived with 70 rubles, which appears to be converted to the dollar amount of $90.

The manifest also has some notations that indicated the Naginskys encountered some difficulties in the immigration station. The medical examiner signed his name to the following statement: “Seattle, Wash., 1/25/18: I hereby certify that the above named aliens are not suffering from any physical or mental defect or disease excepting — 3, 5, 17.” Mariasia’s oldest daughter, Jhina, was listed on line 17. The immigration inspectors signed their names to additional information stating that those individuals listed on lines 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15-22, 25-27 of the manifest, including the entire Naginsky family on lines 16-22, were “Held B.S.I. Lines” — in other words, they needed to be evaluated by the Board of Supervising Inspectors.

Whatever issues may have arisen before the Board of Supervising Inspectors — whether they involved Jhina, Zepora or something else entirely — would be resolved quickly. On Jan. 25, 1918 — 95 years ago yesterday — the Naginsky family was cleared by immigration. Next to each of their names on the final manifest is a single, faded stamp of the word they had awaited for years: “Admitted.”

Destination: America

The Naginskys traveled from Yokohama to Seattle on board the Hawaii Maru, a ship in the Osaka Shosen Kaisha fleet.

This postcard from the 1920s shows the global routes of Japan’s Osaka Shosen Kaisha steamship company. One of its ships, the Hawaii Maru, would take the Naginskys from Yokohama to Seattle in 1918.

By most measures, the timing of the Naginskys’ journey from Russia to America could not have been much worse. But in the case of their trans-Pacific voyage, it’s possible their path was smoothed somewhat by those who had come before them: the more than 3 million Jews who left Eastern Europe for the West during the so-called “Second Crossing,” which took place from about 1870 to 1921.

The horror stories of the Atlantic crossing — the route of the vast majority of Jewish emigrants during this time period — had been well documented. Hordes of people crowded together in dark, dirty, unventilated steerage compartments. Inedible (and non-kosher) food served from large vats into passenger dinner pails and little availability of fresh drinking water. And, worst of all, a pervasive stench caused by widespread seasickness.

As word of the emigrants’ experience spread, the U.S. government began to look into their allegations. A congressional committee conducted an undercover operation and detailed its findings in a 1910 report: “… one wash room, about 7 by 9 feet, contained 10 faucets of cold salt water, 5 along either of its two walls, and as many basins. … This same basin served as a dishpan for greasy tins, as a laundry tub for soiled handkerchiefs and clothing, and as a basin for shampoos without receiving any special cleaning. It was the only receptacle to be found for use in the case of seasickness,” according to Irving Howe’s “World of Our Fathers,” an account of the journey of East European Jews to America and their lives there.

Private U.S. relief organizations would intervene on the emigrants’ behalf as well. The Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society had a vested interest in maintaining their health on board the ships as it also worked at major ports, most notably at Ellis Island, facilitating entry into the United States, which required emigrants to pass a series of physical examinations. An April 9, 1916, letter to the Nippon Yusen Kaisha Steamship Co. in Yokohama, Japan, from the HIAS president likely was representative of the group’s advocacy efforts:

You are aware of the fact that during the past few months Jewish passengers have been traveling on your steamers from Yokohama and Kobe to Seattle. We have been informed that the ship’s officers have endeavored to do what they could so that the Jewish passengers shall have as much comfort and convenience as possible, but one phase of the situation has been brought forcibly to our attention — the matter of proper food, and we therefore place the matter before you. …

The importance of giving food to Jewish immigrants prepared in accordance with Jewish laws is obvious. You will realize that these passengers are not accustomed to such food as your stewards prepare, even though it is probably wholesome and nourishing. They find it difficult to partake of Japanese food, with the result that they often abstain from food for many days at a time, and that they arrive at the port of debarkation in a weakened condition, which may result in detention by the immigration authorities. … we respectfully submit that of late their number [Jewish passengers] has been large enough to warrant you in giving consideration to this question, with a view of doing what you can to meet these conditions.

Improving the food on board ships carrying emigrants was just one of many transportation-related issues addressed by the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society as part of its work in the Far East. According to special representative Samuel Mason’s summary report “Our Mission to the Far East,” the Society had to contend with fleet shortages, specifically the lack of available third-class accommodations; the lack of separate accommodations for women and children; and restrictions on the sale of tickets to all Russians after a “disturbing element” celebrated excessively during voyages immediately following the successful revolution in violation of ships’ rules and regulations.

Despite these efforts by the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, which started in 1916 but began in earnest in early 1918, we don’t know whether they yielded concrete results in time to influence the nature of the Naginskys’ trip. As noted in the ship manifest for the Hawaii Maru, the vessel that carried them across the Pacific, Mariasia and her daughters traveled in steerage. This was likely all they could afford, with each steerage ticket priced at about $50 compared to $225 for the “first cabin,” according to the article “Doubling Trans-Pacific Travel Facilities” by Henry Walsworth Kinney, published in 1921 in The Trans-Pacific: A Financial and Economic Magazine of International Service.

It’s also possible they ended up in steerage because it was the only option available to them — or because they made the reservations before the Society had arrived in Yokohama to help. As referenced in Mason’s summary report, there was a shortage of adequate transportation for emigrants seeking passage to America. But the operative word may have been “adequate,” as Mason noted he was seeking third-class accommodations, which were not offered on the Hawaii Maru.

For their trip, Mariasia and her daughters joined 70 other passengers boarding from three Japanese cities — Nagasaki on Jan. 2, Kobe on Jan. 6 and Yokohama on Jan. 10, 1918. This is a surprisingly low number considering the passenger capacity was 385, according to the 1921 article in The Trans-Pacific magazine. The first cabin was nearly full, with 11 of the 15 spots taken; however, only 56 people traveled in steerage, along with eight stowaways, taking up only a fraction of the 370 spots allotted in that class. The vast majority of the passengers were Japanese, but 15 were Russian, including 10 Russian Jews. Like the Naginskys, all the other Jewish emigrants on board were women traveling alone with their young children in steerage, destined for New York to reunite with their husbands and fathers.

The vessel that would take them across the Pacific, the Hawaii Maru, was relatively new, with an all-Japanese staff. Built in 1915, the 9,500-ton passenger cargo ship was part of the fleet of the Osaka Shosen Kaisha Line, a Japanese steamship company. Hajime Yamamoto of Kobe, Japan, served as captain of the ship, which had a total of 84 Japanese officers and crew performing tasks such as engineer, steward/stewardess, wireless operator, doctor, mail officer, carpenter, sailor, stove-keeper, fireman, coal passer and cook.

Moving at speeds of up to 17 knots — or about 20 miles per hour — the Hawaii Maru would slowly make its way toward  America. Whether my great grandmother, my grandmother or my great aunts experienced rough seas, harsh conditions, unpalatable food or no food at all, I never heard those stories. Perhaps it was so bad they couldn’t talk about it. Perhaps they were just grateful to be a step away from the “Promised Land.” Perhaps conditions really had improved by that time. Or perhaps it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for a family that had endured so much already. It would take 16 days to make the nearly 5,000-mile trip before Seattle, Washington, finally was in their sights.

Ten Days in Yokohama, Part II

The Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society used this form to help refugees make contact with their family members in America.

The Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society used this form to help refugees make contact with their family members in America.

In early January 1918, Mariasia and her daughters were on the cusp of a remarkable achievement: reaching the shores of America after a yearlong journey through Russia and the Far East during a period of dramatic social upheaval, including a world war and a revolution. Like so many of the other emigrants, they probably suffered from exhaustion, disease and hunger. But just what did they experience in those final days as they prepared to leave Yokohama?

The work of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, under the guidance of special representative Samuel Mason, offers a glimpse into that time. As described in my last post, Mason took immediate steps to address the physical condition of the Ginzburg Home. So in those early days of January, it’s likely that Mariasia and her daughters were moved to temporary quarters to accommodate the improvements being made. They also may have been among a group of refugees who “began to bless America as soon as they realized what I planned to do,” according to the Jan. 14, 1918, letter Mason wrote to a representative of the Seattle chapter of the Society. “They greeted President Wilson’s photograph which I brought into the Home with rousing cheers, and when I unfurled an American Flag, some of the inmates rushed forward and kissed it.”

The Naginskys would not be around to experience the Ginzburg Home’s transformation into the clean, modern “American Home,” as it came to be called. As described in Mason’s August 1918 summary report, “Our Mission to the Far East,” the refurbished home opened on Feb. 11, 1918, with a fully equipped kitchen including several new gas stoves; eight lavatories; four shower-baths; and a laundry. It also featured a classroom for English language instruction, a sun room for children where they could learn “the American sport … with bats and balls provided,” and a room for religious worship. Weekly lectures were offered on topics such as hygiene and Americanization. A visitor to the home later called it “a living monument to the glory of American Jewish charitable enterprise,” the report stated.

Another one of Mason’s initial steps upon arriving in Yokohama was to reconnect refugees with their relatives in America. During this brief period when he and the Naginskys were both in Yokohama, Mariasia may have been given the opportunity to communicate with her husband, Aaron, in New York. To do this, staff may have helped her complete a “War Refugees Record of Inquiry” form, asking her name, age, “social state,” previous home and address, and how long she had been away from home as well as information on her relatives in America, including the date of the last letter to and from them. Through the local American Consulate, Mason arranged to have this information sent by cable to the relevant Society branches in America to help locate and inform family members, according to Mark Wischnitzer’s historical account of HIAS, “Visas to Freedom.”

While it’s certainly possible that Mariasia managed to relay messages to Aaron earlier on during her journey, most organized U.S. efforts initially focused on World War I’s Eastern Front and not in areas farther east. With the exception of an initiative by the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society and other U.S. relief organizations to publicize the names of people seeking lost relatives in newspapers throughout Russia’s Pale of Settlement as well as in America, most notably the New York Times, refugees had to rely on what was likely minimal coordinated assistance from local Jewish relief societies outside of those areas. During his 1918 mission, Mason established the Central Information Bureau for Jewish War Sufferers in Yokohama, with branches in Harbin and Vladivostok, to provide this and many other services to emigrants. The Yokohama bureau alone would provide assistance to more than 1,700 people over the next eight months alone, but most of that help would come a little late for the Naginskys.

An additional service they may have been able to take advantage of during this short time frame is assistance with travel arrangements. As noted in “Visas to Freedom,” Mason led an initiative to help refugees make passage reservations with various trans-Pacific shipping lines. This was not a simple task, as limited space was available, few ships offered separate areas for women and children, and many expressed a reluctance to allow “troublesome Russians” on board, an effort he described in his summary report. Yet within three months’ time, HIAS would secure spots for 700 people, Wischnitzer stated in his book. The Society also conveyed the urgent needs of war refugees in the Far East to U.S. government officials, which led the State Department to issue special instructions to regional consulates that would make it easier for women and children to obtain visas allowing them to enter the United States and join their husbands or fathers, according to Mason’s report.

Mariasia and her daughters likely underwent medical examinations, disinfections and immunizations as well during those 10 days as part of Mason’s urgent agenda to improve the physical condition of the refugees themselves. A clean bill of health was required to obtain steamship tickets so it was not only a health issue but also a practical matter if the Society was going to successfully reunite these refugees with their families in America.

In summarizing his organization’s successful mission to the Far East, Society President John L. Bernstein made these observations in the foreword of Mason’s report:

The refugees were found in a most terrible plight. For months they had been driven from pillar to post, had suffered most grievously at the hands of officials, had been robbed of their funds, had undergone every conceivable and inconceivable hardship. That the unfortunate women and children were able to overcome the ordeal is evidence of their tenacity and pluck, which was, no doubt, buoyed up by the hope that somewhere there must be some people, there must be an organisation, that would come to their rescue.

During what were likely 10 remarkable days in Yokohama, Japan, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society would come to the rescue of Mariasia, whose courage and determination had allowed her family to reach that point in their journey. On Jan. 10, 1918 — 95 years ago today — she and her five daughters would finally set sail for America.