Aaron’s Arrival: Marking 100 Years

Aaron Naginsky With Grandson Gary

Aaron holding his first grandson, Gary Grossberg.

One hundred years ago today, my great grandfather, Aaron Naginsky, arrived in America.

I’ve described his trip from Russia to New York’s Ellis Island in an earlier post. I’ve also shared what I learned about his childhood and adulthood. But given this significant milestone, I wanted to dedicate this post to “papa” and include everything I’ve been able to gather about him in one place.

Aaron was born in about 1879 in Pohar, Russia, the second child of Ann Voloff and Morris Naginsky, a cantor. His older brother, Israel, was about 2 years old when he was born; he was about 6 when his sister Mary arrived and 13 when the youngest, Sadie, came along. He would marry at about age 26, and he was about 28 when his first child was born; the following year, the family would move to Aleksandrovsk, Russia, where his four other daughters would be born during the next six years. He was about 35 years old when he left for America in 1914. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen on July 14, 1921.

Aaron would make a living as a butcher in Russia and later in America, but he spent most of his working years in New York as a capmaker in the Garment District. Presumably, his first job was at Supreme Caps Co., located at 51 West Third Street, where his brother was working as of 1918. Sometime during the 1920s, we were told the family lived in Linden, New Jersey, and operated a butcher shop there; however, I have yet to find any official documentation of this. As of 1930, he and the family were back in Brooklyn, according to the census, which recorded his profession as a capmaker again. His last job was at Buchbinder & Co., located at 43 West 46th Street, where his sister Sadie’s husband, Sam Silvert, was a partner.

Aaron may have had a typical working-class immigrant experience, characterized by long hours and hard work, but the sweat shop role did not define him. As I’ve noted in previous posts, family members say he was interested in politics and loved music, especially Russian composers. They also describe him as a quiet, gentle man.

Throughout his adulthood, he struggled with his health. He contracted tuberculosis while still in Russia, and, according to family accounts, he was treated for the disease in America as well, spending a year at the New Jersey Sanitarium — something I have yet to document. His daughter Ada always remembers him “coughing his head off” and having asthma. His granddaughter Judith Bradfield Tomero remembers him injecting himself with insulin because of diabetes.

Despite the challenges he faced in his life, when he died of heart disease on Dec. 23, 1945, at age 66, I like to think he was content. In addition to his five daughters and sons-in-law, there was now a new generation of American-born Naginsky descendants: three granddaughters and seven grandsons. The youngest, 3-year-old twins Nick and Bob, would visit him when he was ill and bed-ridden, but Nick would “retain an image in my mind of him cheering up at our visit.” Seeing them, I expect, was the fulfillment of a dream.

Beside the Golden Door

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In 1913, a new world record was set for traversing the globe. It took John Henry Mears, a representative of the (New York) Evening Sun, just 36 days to log 21,066 miles, averaging 587 miles a day and 24.5 miles an hour, according to the Railway Age Gazette (July 1-Dec. 31, 1913). Five years later, Mariasia Naginsky and her young daughters would cover much of the same territory for about 15,000 of those miles — but would travel for what might have qualified as a record long journey. As they waited in Chicago to begin the final leg, less than 1,000 miles separated them from their destination of New York City.

If they followed the same route as Mears, they would have taken the New York Central Railroad. The NYC’s most famous train, the 20th Century Limited, offered a fast, nonstop connection between Chicago and New York. The train departed from LaSalle Street Station and traveled what was referred to as the “Water Level Route,” hugging the shores of the Great Lakes of Michigan, Erie and Ontario — the “natural highway between the West and East,” as described in NYC advertising. The 20th Century Limited took its passengers across Indiana and Ohio, then through the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania before crossing into New York state with stops in Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany before swinging south along the Hudson River past Poughkeepsie as it headed toward New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, which had just opened five years before. Because the 20th Century Limited was an extra-fare, first-class train, it’s more likely the family traveled on a lesser-known route that would take them on the same path until it reached Ashtabula, Ohio, where the train would turn to traverse northern Pennsylvania past Williamsport and cross northern New Jersey to the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal in Jersey City, where they could have boarded a ferry to lower Manhattan.

Also operating between the cities was NYC rival the Pennsylvania Railroad. The “Pennsy,” as it was known, traveled from Chicago’s old Union Depot to Pennsylvania Station in New York, which had just opened in 1910. The Pennsy’s most famous train, the Broadway Limited, departed Chicago daily at 12 p.m. and went through Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia before arriving in New York the following day at 9:40 a.m. Like the 20th Century Limited, the Broadway Limited was as an extra-fare, eight-car all-sleeper train with no coach service, so this, too, may not have been a feasible option. (It’s also possible neither of these upscale trains operated when the railroads were nationalized during the war.) The more likely scenario would have taken the family on the Pennsy’s Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago line, which connected to the Pennsylvania Railroad main line, traversing that state through Harrisburg and Philadelphia, where it entered New Jersey and headed north through Newark and then into the newly built tunnels under the Hudson River into Manhattan.

What awaited the Naginskys in New York was undoubtedly something special. We don’t know for certain when, or how often, Aaron heard news of the fate of his wife and children. With the support of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, we can guess that he at least received word from Yokohama, Seattle and Chicago and knew of their impending arrival. What we do know for sure is the family was apart for four long, difficult years, his youngest still likely an infant when he left in May 1914. And so, beneath the starry ceiling of Grand Central, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, or under the steel-lined skylight windows of Penn Station, Aaron and Mariasia — “papa” and “ma” — and Jenya, 10; Chaya and Mira, 9; Zepora, 6; and Chana, 4, would finally reunite, beginning a new chapter in their lives — and putting the past firmly in the past.

In Chicago, a Final Stop

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1918 was a year of extremes in Chicago. It began with a blizzard that dropped a still-record snowfall of 42.5 inches over 22 days, as recorded by The Old Farmers’ Almanac. In September, the Chicago Cubs played in the World Series at 2-year-old Wrigley Field — but lost to the Boston Red Sox. Soon afterward, an influenza epidemic paralyzed the city for nearly two months, with more than 38,000 cases of influenza and 13,000 cases of pneumonia reported from mid-September to mid-November, according to the Influenza Encyclopedia.

There probably was still snow on the ground when Mariasia Naginsky and her daughters arrived in early 1918, en route from Seattle to New York. A city of 2.7 million people, Chicago had established itself as the nation’s transportation hub, providing a connection from the East to newly settled areas in the West. There were six major rail depots at the time the family passed through on the final leg of their journey to America.

Traveling on the Great Northern, Northern Pacific or Milwaukee Road railroads, they would have arrived at the Union Depot station. Built in 1881, the station was a long, narrow brick building stretching north-south. It did not have some of the elaborate architectural details or features that had become commonplace in the more modern rail stations of the 20th century. In fact, construction already was under way on a replacement facility, the present-day Union Station, to accommodate the growing rail traffic. Exiting the station, a long awning stretched across the front facing Canal Street, between W. Adams and W. Madison streets, just outside the city’s Loop business district.

If the Naginskys were aboard a Union Pacific train, the North Western Station would have been their terminus. Although just a few blocks from Union Depot, the station represented a new era in train travel. Opened in 1911, it was the city’s largest train station when they would have passed through. Mother and daughters would have been greeted by a three-story, 202- by 117-foot main waiting room with marble walls trimmed in bronze. They may have caught a glimpse of the dining room or the women’s rooms with writing desks and hairdressing services. Some of the other features of the station included smoking rooms for men, a barber shop and even hospital rooms, according to a history of the Chicago and North Western line. Exiting the granite building on a site bounded by Madison, Lake, Clinton and Canal streets, six distinct columns marked the grand entrance, as described by the Encyclopedia of Chicago History.

Whether they arrived at Union Depot or North Western Station, it’s likely there was community support awaiting them. Chicago was one of the centers of the settlement house movement, which had begun in Great Britain in 1884 in response to growing industrialization. The most well-known settlement house in the U.S., Hull House, was established in Chicago in 1888 by Jane Addams Hull and Ellen Gates Starr to help assimilate immigrants and ease the effects of poverty by providing much-needed social services in an industrial area on the near West Side of Chicago.

About four blocks away from Hull House, a Hebrew sheltering home was established in 1916 in anticipation of the expected wave of refugees fleeing Russia. As described in the Feb. 10, 1916, issue of the Jewish Courier newspaper:

Chicago is opening up a first class Hebrew immigrant shelter home. This institution was recently organized and is being financed by the Federated Orthodox Jewish Charities, which expects to donate about $4,000 annually to its upkeep. The Federation realized that something must be done in the way of providing a home or homes for the many immigrants who come here from Russia stranded.

Several hundred refugees who escaped the Russian fire, at present in Japan, will arrive in Seattle in a few days, and a great number of them who will come from there to Chicago will be out on the street if shelter is not provided for them. These immigrants are some of the best children of our Jewish nation. We must by all means provide homes and food for them when they arrive. This home for immigrants is to be located in the large building of the Jewish Aid Society, 1336 S. Morgan Street. This society has with great pride provided the space for the new home and the Federation donated $2,500 to this worthy cause.

Just a couple days later, the Reform Advocate newspaper also reported on the opening of the new home:

The Federated Orthodox Jewish Charities of Chicago has taken the initiative to create and support the Hebrew Immigrant and Sheltering Home. It will be the aim of the H. I. and S. H. to provide recent immigrants with temporary shelter, food, clothing, and other aid deemed necessary to prevent them from becoming public charges.

The present time is an opportune one for launching this organization as the wave of immigration is at low tide and will afford the time to gradually develop the scope of the Sheltering Home.

The F. O. J. C. has given its approval to the Sheltering Home and accepted it into the fold of its affiliated institutions. It has been voted a budget of $4,000 a year. The Jewish Aid Society has offered the Sheltering Home the use of its large building at 1336 S. Morgan Street, rent free, which has been gratefully accepted. An appropriation of $1,500 to remodel the building and $1,000 to furnish it has been made by the Federated Charities.

In the ensuing years, the home — whose management shifted in about 1918 to a newly established Chicago branch of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society — would serve scores of new arrivals, likely Mariasia and her daughters among them. In a letter sent to the Society’s national headquarters in 1919 requesting additional funding, branch President Adolph Copeland would document not only the work of the sheltering home but also the branch’s many other activities on behalf of immigrants. According to the Federated Orthodox Jewish Charities:

… they were appealed to for help on all sides, and no cry for help went unheeded. He mentioned the Shelter maintained by the Society, describing it as modern and well-equipped where transient and immigrant poor are fed and lodged under thoroughly sanitary conditions. He described the manifold services rendered by the Society, meeting immigrants at the depots and directing them to their destinations, transmitting money abroad without charge to needy relatives. …

Mr. Copeland concluded his letter with an appeal asking the F. O. J. C. to take up with the A. J. C. the matter of setting aside for the work of the Society the sum of $35,000. He asked the board to remember that although the actual immigration is less than it used to be and at present (1919) smaller than it ever has been in the history of the country, still the immigration problem is more serious than it ever has been and the Society is the only body that is coping with the tremendous problem.

It’s unclear how long the Naginskys stayed in Chicago in what was likely late winter of 1918. It’s probable they had to at least wait for the departure of their train bound for New York, not only because there were fewer travel options during the war (at the same time that passenger traffic was growing) but also because they may have needed to have money wired to them to pay for the final leg of their trip. We know they already were being assisted by the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society in Seattle so it’s likely there was communication with the Chicago branch to meet them at the station and transport them to the shelter home at 1336 S. Morgan Street for however long they needed to stay.

While family members recounted very little about their travels, they did talk about one thing: a newspaper article written about their journey to America while they were in Chicago. That fabled article remains the holy grail of our research, holding the promise of uncovering details that have been lost to time.

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.”

Ten Days in Yokohama, Part I

The Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society took over operations of the Yokohama shelter in 1918 after local groups were overwhelmed by the influx of emigrants. Photo courtesy YIVO Archives.

The Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society took over operations of the Yokohama shelter in 1918. Photo courtesy YIVO Archives.

On the first day of January 1918, Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society special representative Samuel Mason arrived in Yokohama. He didn’t even have to set foot inside the refugee center before he started hearing the stories, which he shared later in his August 1918 summary report, “Our Mission to the Far East”:

No sooner had I reached Yokohama than I was informed that the “Russian Home” was the filthiest place. The Russian people are so terribly filthy, I was told. Hence the reason for the deplorable state of the “Royal Hotel.” No one could pass the place, I was further told, without acknowledging the absolute truth of the statement.

Determined to get to the root of the problem, Mason conducted his own investigation into the center’s operations before visiting the shelter himself. However, its presence would prove impossible to ignore. “[A]s we started to walk I scented the place where the refugees were kept,” Mason wrote in his summary report. “The odor was exactly as described. I then knew where the house was situated.”

In the months since the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society had confirmed the conditions in Yokohama and cabled $3,000 to Japan Advertiser publisher Benjamin Fleisher to establish a temporary shelter, there seems to have been a struggle for control, according to Mason’s report. While Fleisher had secured an option on the old Royal Hotel, the local Emigrant Aid Society stepped in while he was out of town and obtained a one-year lease for the property. The Emigrant Aid Society had approached Moissei A. Ginzburg, a Russian businessman living in Japan, to provide operating funds for the home, which the group estimated at 12,000 yen per year, or about $180,000 today. This amount was turned over to the custodian and administrator, Maurice Russel, who renamed the shelter the Ginzburg Home for Russian Emigrants. To support the Emigrant Aid Society’s efforts, a group of “kind-hearted, charitable ladies,” including Ginzburg’s wife, formed the Ladies Committee for the Ginzburg Home for Russian Emigrants. The committee supplied clothes to the “half-naked inmates” of the home.

Within a short time, however, there were conflicts among the various parties involved in the Ginzburg Home. “They simply failed to understand their respective aims,” Mason stated in his report, in what sounds like a somewhat sanitized version of events. As he relayed further: “The situation became so aggravated that at one time serious disorder among the refugees was threatened, one organization throwing the blame for the occurrence upon the other. Japanese police had to be called in to prevent disturbance …” After that incident, a police officer had to be stationed outside the home around the clock.

The overwhelming number of emigrants descending on Yokohama could have caused the situation at the Ginzburg Home, but it also could have been the result of prejudice, cheapness or greed — or a combination of those factors. As Mason described in his report:

Originally the Royal Hotel had been a well equipped house. It had everything that a good hotel should have. Electricity, gas, beds and bedding, tables and chairs, dining room, kitchens and store rooms, well furnished lounging parlors, a very fine sun room, a billiard room and even an immensely large skating rink.

The gentlemen who rented the hotel were asked to pay Y7,000 [or about $10,000 today] for all the furniture and equipment. But they decided that it was all too good for the purpose. They wanted none of it, and so permitted everything to be sold at auction, including the floor of the skating rink, nearly all of the toilet bowls, all the gas piping, several of the ranges and every one of the electric chandeliers. The Royal Hotel had been metamorphosized into an almost dilapidated building.

When Mason finally entered the Ginzburg Home for Russian Emigrants on about Jan. 4, 1918, the reports he had heard were confirmed. From his room at the Grand Hotel, he shared his observations with interested parties in the United States through correspondence found within the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Archives. In a Jan. 14, 1918, letter to a representative of the Society’s Seattle chapter, he painted a vivid picture: “The living conditions of the emigrants in this city were horrible. I was shocked to find the house they were kept in (the new quarters) lacking the most necessary sanitary facilities.” His account in a Jan. 26, 1918, letter to New York financier and humanitarian Jacob Schiff, who had facilitated the Society’s original $3,000 loan, was similarly blunt:

The lack of sanitary facilities in the house, coupled with the lack of a sewage system in this city, soon transformed the house into the worst imaginable place. When I arrived in town, I found thirty-two children suffering with whooping cough, eighteen with measles, sixteen children and adults with trachoma, two with tuberculosis, two with diptheria, one with typhoid, one with appendicitis and an epidemic of influenza. My task was terrific.

… There were three hundred and fifty people in the house, with only one hundred and eighteen cots, no toilets, just a few out of commission, no baths, some rooms on the ground floor without flooring, no tables, no benches, all the women cooking their own meals on little Japanese coal pots, eating off their beds.

Within days, Mason would take steps that would start dramatically improving the condition of emigrants stranded in Yokohama. “… by January 15th all the three organizations had been dissolved, the lease of  the house assigned to our Society and extended to April 1, 1919, and a host of carpenters, plumbers, painters, paper hangers and electricians installed and working at top-speed to make the house fit once more for human habitation,” he wrote in his summary report. As he told Schiff in his Jan. 26 letter: “I removed the sick to hospitals, I rented temporary quarters in different lodging houses to relieve the congestion in the house. … I started to fumigate the house and all the rooms, disinfect clothing and baggage, install toilets, flooring, a laundry, showerbaths, wash rooms, kitchen, etc. … I had every inmate vaccinated.”

From the time Mason entered the rundown home, Mariasia and her daughters would have only about one week left in the city to experience the benevolence of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society — a group that was really just beginning to bring relief to the suffering of Jewish refugees around the world.

HIAS to the Rescue

Mariasia and her daughters sailed from Russia to Japan in late 1917, perhaps aboard this Russian Volunteer Fleet steamship, the Simbirsk.

As conditions in Russia deteriorated throughout 1917, Yokohama, Japan — where emigrants congregated for the final leg of their trip to America — would become a flash point in the growing refugee crisis. Mariasia and her daughters would find themselves in the middle of this maelstrom when they arrived in the city late in the year.

One of the first reports about the situation in the Far East came in correspondence between two influential friends. Benjamin W. Fleisher, an American who served as publisher of local English-language newspaper the Japan Advertiser, wrote a letter to New York financier and philanthropist Jacob H. Schiff advising him that the small Jewish community in Yokohama was overwhelmed by the urgent needs of the emigrants who had become stranded there — mostly women and children — following the collapse of the monarchy, according to Mark Wischnitzer’s historical account of HIAS, “Visas to Freedom.”

Upon hearing of conditions in Yokohama, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society stepped in right away to provide assistance. The Society requested an investigation by the U.S. State Department, which was conducted by the American consul general, George H. Seidmore, in Yokohama. Once the reports were confirmed, $3,000 was cabled to Fleisher through Schiff, “to meet the immediate needs of those refugees who, according to the report of the Department of State, were in danger of being exploited,” as stated in a Nov. 18, 1917, HIAS press release. The Society instructed Fleisher to use the funds to establish a temporary refugee shelter and committed to defray ongoing maintenance and housing costs.

The Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society also dispatched a special representative to address the problems in person. Calling it the “most important mission yet undertaken on behalf of Jewish wanderers,” the organization would send Samuel Mason, a director and former general manager of the Society, to the Far East on Nov. 18, 1917, with a mission to “extend prompt relief to the emigrants now stranded between Harbin, Manchuria, and Yokohama, Japan,” according to a press release. After planned stops that included HIAS branches in Seattle and San Francisco, he would set sail for Japan on Dec. 20, 1917.

In the meantime, Mariasia and her daughters were traveling in the opposite direction, from Russia to Japan. On their second attempt to cross the Sea of Japan in 1917, they would finally be successful. Sailing from Vladivostok onboard an Osaka Shosen Kaisha or Russian Volunteer Fleet steamship — as described in “Ships for Passengers Worldwide,” a comprehensive history of ocean mail and passenger liners, seagoing ferries and modern cruise shipping — the family likely arrived in Tsuruga, a port located on Japan’s western coast, on a Monday morning, as Mason noted in his Aug. 12, 1918, summary report, “Our Mission to the Far East.” They still had to travel, presumably by train, more than 200 miles across the country to get to Yokohama.

The paths of the two parties would cross — however briefly — when Mason arrived in Yokohama on New Year’s Day in 1918. By then, it’s likely the Naginskys had been in the city for weeks or possibly even months, as emigrants had to wait for visa approvals, money for their passage and ships heading to their destination with space available. What the HIAS special representative found at the refugee shelter, located in the old Royal Hotel at 87 Yamashita-cho, was alarming. “Arriving at Yokohama I found that steps had been taken to make some provision for the refugees,” Mason stated artfully in his summary report. “But it soon became evident that there would have to be radical changes if the well-being of the refugees was to be served.”

At the End of the Line

An image of a street corner in Vladivostok during the 1910s.

After their ship nearly capsized, the Naginskys were forced to return to Vladivostok (pictured here during that era) and remain there for several months.

Once they were permitted to leave Harbin, the Naginsky women would board the train and travel about 300 miles to Vladivostok, the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway and gateway to the Pacific Ocean — another step closer to their ultimate destination of America.

It almost became the final stop along their journey. After an initial stay in Vladivostok — for how long we don’t know, though others were held up there because of overcrowding in the next destination of Yokohama or by Japanese visa requirements — Mariasia and her daughters departed for Yokohama only to be forced to return to the port after their ship nearly capsized, according to family lore. Most stories told of the ship hitting an iceberg, but in that part of the Sea of Japan it was more likely an ice sheet. Winters in Vladivostok typically are dry but cold, while heavy snow commonly occurs on the western coast of Japan. Other accounts suggested the ship encountered a storm, which also is plausible as the region experiences typhoons year-round, peaking from August through October, as well as a monsoon season, which generally occurs in June and July.

Regardless of the cause, we know Mariasia and her daughters had to remain in Vladivostok for several more months until it was safe to cross the Sea of Japan. During that time, most of the family likely stayed in a shelter for emigrants supported by the Jewish Kehilah of Vladivostok.

The Jewish Kehilah of Vladivostok was active in supporting fellow Jews in need. According to a letter from a Kehilah leader, the Federation of Jewish Societies of Vladivostok helped families of Jewish soldiers from the onset of World War I. After the revolution, a committee was formed to provide housing and food to the Jewish emigrants who had begun to stream into Vladivostok, and it eventually became known as the Jewish Relief Society. To support these groups, initially the Kehilah relied almost exclusively on monthly contributions from the city’s 30 to 40 Jewish families.

As demands increased, however, the community could no longer remain self-sufficient. The letter from the Kehilah leader went on to make an appeal for funds to Herman Bernstein, a noted U.S. journalist and diplomat who went to Russia in 1917 to report on the revolution for the New York Herald:

The Jewish Kehilah of Vladivostok was in a position to go on with the relief work without any outside help when the number of war sufferers was small, between 50 to 100. At the present time, there are 500 men, women and children at the Vladivostok center. … The exact number of Jewish war sufferers and immigrant at the different places in Siberia is not known to us. But from the little information which is reaching us, we know that they number many thousands. We know also that most of them are on their way to Vladivostok and, therefore, the vital problem before us is to get sufficient funds, so that we should be able to continue our relief work, which will be necessary to increase with the increased number of expected war sufferers.

The letter, found among the archives of the YIVO Institute, was sent after the Naginskys’ stay in Vladivostok, but it still provides insight into the worsening situation on the ground there as well as throughout the region.

With the local Kehilah playing an active role in providing assistance to emigrants, it’s not surprising that the Naginskys would have interacted with some of the members. One of them, a wealthy merchant, invited the oldest daughter, Jhina, then about 7 or 8, to live with his family while they waited for the departure of the next ship to Japan. Years later, Jhina (Janet Naginsky Bradfield) recounted this story to her own children, telling them that the family gave her silk dresses to wear and caviar for breakfast. And when the time came to finally leave, the merchant asked if she could stay as another member of his family. “No,” Mariasia said, according to Jhina. “My husband left me with five daughters, and I have to bring him all five.”