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.

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.

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.

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.”