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Austria - Vienna to New York, NY

1940 | Rosa Sara Ginsberg (Guensberg) | Female | 12-19 years old

by Anne Hawkins

Filed under: , ,

Angel Island immigrant: Yes

Place of Origin
Austria - Vienna

Place of Settlement
New York, NY

On March 7, 1940, 18-year-old Rosa Sara Ginsberg arrived in San Francisco, California aboard the Asama Maru. An Austrian Jew, carrying a German passport, Rosa traveled alone to the United States via Shanghai, China where she left behind her parents, Bernhard and Erna Guensberg, as well as her sister and brother-in-law.

closeup of Rosa from passport

From Rosa Ginsberg’s passport. Courtesy of Jeffrey Klein family.

While Rosa had a good deal of family living in the United States, she seemed ill-prepared for her arrival.  She stepped into port with only $2.50 in her pocket, and no clear plan of where she was going or how she planned to get there.  Her aunts and an uncle lived clear across the country in New York, while her father’s cousin and his wife lived in Chicago.  Seemingly most significant, however, was Rosa’s fiancé, Herbert Klein, who lived in Yonkers, New York.

The inspectors described Rosa as, “fairly well educated and well bred, intelligent, alert and healthy in all ways.”  Yet, they denied her admittance into the country on March 8, 1940, because she lacked the funds to travel to either Chicago or New York.  Rosa explained that her parents would send the money if she made the request, but that given their ages, she did not want to take money from them unnecessarily.  While they had the equivalent of five to six thousand American dollars, brought over to Shanghai with them from Vienna in the form of gold and diamonds, Rosa worried that her father might get sick and need the money to pay a hospital.  For this reason, she neglected to bring any extra money with her.

On March 14, 1940, a week after entering the country, the Board of Special Inquiry held a hearing to determine whether Rosa would in fact be admitted to the United States.  At the hearing, Rosa expressed her intention to join her aunt and uncle in New York City, and to reside permanently in the United States and become a citizen.  But while she may have planned to live initially with her relatives, Rosa stated that her purpose in coming to the United States was to get married.  Adding to the confusion regarding Rosa’s plans was the fact that it was her cousin in Chicago, not her uncle in New York, who provided an affidavit in support of her admission.

When asked directly about her marriage plans, Rosa was equivocal.  She explained that she met Herbert Klein two years earlier in Vienna, where Mr. Klein became her boyfriend.  She did not wear an engagement ring, and described the arrangement as “Not directly engaged, but it is the same thing.”  When asked if he had ever proposed, she responded, “Yes, I think so.”  She did express uncertainty about whether they would actually marry, given that they had not seen each other for several years and that they were both quite young.  Despite her reservations, she later stated that she expected to get married a few months after arriving in New York, and that Mr. Klein and she “thought all the time of coming to the States together.”

Originally from Vienna, 18-year-old Mr. Klein worked as a waiter for the Hebrew National Orphan’s Home, where he also lived.  While he wrote her letters almost every two weeks, he never sent Rosa any money, and she never asked for any.  When contacted by the inspectors, he stated that he only had $27 in the bank and could not afford the transportation cost for Rosa to travel to New York.  According to Mr. Klein, Rosa informed him that she planned to travel from San Francisco to Chicago and to eventually make her way to New York.  He considered Rosa his girlfriend, and stated that if economic conditions improved, he planned to marry her, but first wanted to see her and talk things over.  He believed her aunts would support her when she arrived in New York.

Perhaps just the optimism of a young naïve woman, or perhaps that of a desperate one, none of Rosa’s expectations about how she planned to get to New York seemed to check-out.  She explained that her uncle would send her the money.  But, when the inspectors interviewed her uncle, he responded that he did not know what arrangements, if any, had been made for her transportation and that he was not ready to pay for it.  He did, however, add that he would furnish a $500 bond to guarantee that Rosa would not become a public charge, and that if she made it to New York, he would take her in and look after her, despite an income suggesting that he could probably not afford to take on such an obligation.  In hearing this news, Rosa, simply responded that “Maybe this friend will pay it,” referring, it seems, to the cousin in Chicago.  She then explained that if Mr. Klein did not marry her, she could stay with one of her three aunts in New York.  Rosa was, however, unable to provide addresses for these individuals and the Board questioned whether they would be willing or able to accept Rosa into their homes.

On March 28, 1940, after being detained for approximately three weeks, the Board of Special Inquiry reconvened to discuss whether Rosa’s uncle would in fact furnish transportation for her to New York and furnish the $500 bond, if required.  By the time of the hearing, Rosa’s Aunt Helen had wired Rosa $41.85 for a bus ticket to New York and $8.15 for necessary expenses, as well as a telegram indicating that they would furnish the bond.  Given the arrival of the transportation funds, the inspectors admitted Rosa as a Section 5 immigrant on March 28, 1940.

Rosa made it to New York.  Given her prior work experience, studying at a cosmetics school and working in a salon in Vienna, and then as a salesperson in a curios shop in China, by May 17, 1940, Rosa was employed by T.M. Freund Co., an ink manufacturer and distributor.  The records do not indicate with whom Rosa lived when she arrived in New York, or if she ever married Mr. Klein.  What is clear is that she had family with the best intentions, and with her optimism about her own future, she made it to her desired destination and began living out the rest of her life as an American.

Looking for Love Update:

Following the posting of our story on Rosa Ginsberg, Jeffrey Klein, the son of Rosa and Herbert Klein, contacted AIISF in 2014. Mr. Klein solved the mystery of whether Rosa ever married Herbert, and helped fill in some of the missing pieces about his parents’ lives.

In 1938, two years prior to Rosa’s arrival, and before settling in New York, Herbert arrived in the United States aboard the Queen Mary. He had traveled from Vienna with stops in Poland, Belgium and France before taking ship at Cherbourg France. Herbert played semi-professional soccer and this status helped him get into the United States.

Rosa was the first of her family to travel on to the United States. She herself traveled a circuitous route to Angel Island – not simply from Vienna via Shanghai, but her passport seemed to indicate additional stops in Sri Lanka and Hong Kong.  Herbert confirmed that people did come out to speak with him about Rosa after her arrival at Angel Island. At the time he worked shoveling coal into furnaces of an orphanage. He had known Rosa well back in Vienna, but their relationship had not progressed to the point of an engagement. As indicated by the records, Herbert was not prepared at that point to make any promises with respect to Rosa.

And so, Rosa moved to New York and stayed with her Aunt Helen in Queens. She reconnected with Herbert, and they were married in 1941. They moved to the Bronx projects where Rosa gave birth to her eldest son, Jeffrey. Several years later, she gave birth to a daughter, Debbie.  Rosa and Herbert eventually moved to Hicksville, New York. Herbert, who had an engineering background, found work in manufacturing. Rosa stayed at home and took care of their children. Jeffrey described their life as “blue collar living,” Then Herbert’s mother, Olga, lived with them.

Sadly, Rosa’s father, Bernard, passed away in Shanghai, but her mother ended up in Toronto. Rosa’s sister Helen, along with her husband and daughter, eventually moved out to San Francisco where they settled and ran a family jewelry store. Rosa’s mother also made her way out to California to live near Helen.

Later in life, Herbert suffered a heart-attack. As a result, he and Rosa sold their home and moved to Florida to live out their retirement in a “spot in the sun.”

Anne Hawkins lives in Oakland and is an attorney for the Habeas Corpus Resource Center where she represents California death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings.

Jeffrey spoke at AIISF’s Family History Day in July of 2015 and you can see him present more details about his parents’ story here.

Jeffrey’s daughter Heather Klein wrote a wonderful one-woman musical about Rosa’s Angel Island experience, Shanghai Angel. Click to see a preview and learn more at Heather’s website.

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