I am alive today because Shanghai opened its doors to my father, his parents, his uncle and his aunt when the gates of most other countries, including the United States, were closed to them. I am alive today because, even as the Japanese conquered the Chinese and forced Jews into the ghetto of Shanghai, they refused to return them to a certain death in Nazi Germany. I am alive today because Jewish agencies like ORT and the Joint Distribution Committee sent aid and support to the Shanghai Refugees. And I am alive today because at war’s end, the United States began to reflect more closely the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gates were finally opened. A life of freedom and security in America was finally a reality.
This is a picture of the S.S. General W.H. Gordon making its way under the Golden Gate Bridge as it comes to port in San Francisco. This is the ship that in 1948 brought my father and grandparents, German Jewish refugees, from the Shanghai Ghetto to which they had fled to escape the horrors of the Shoah to America. They came here in the hopes of finding a home and, like so many before them, the gift of freedom.
My father, an ardent Zionist, actually hoped to make his way to Israel and help build the modern Jewish homeland. In 1948, that possibility, that long held dream, lay before him. But he faced one significant obstacle, the needs of his parents.
His parents, my grandparents, had sacrificed so much to take him out of Germany and to survive the hardships of living in the Shanghai Ghetto under Japanese domination. They did not have the strength to go to a new and unsettled land. They hoped to go to the United States where they had a San Francisco Jewish community willing to give them shelter and a Jewish company, Levi Strauss, ready to offer employment.
Like so many young adults before him, he sacrificed his dreams for his parents. He knew that they could not go alone, that they needed him now as he had needed them in the past. So, he accompanied them to America on the Gordon, a ship of refugees sponsored by the American Joint Distribution Committee.
In the United States, his parents built a new life. My grandfather worked his entire career for Levi Strauss and retired with pride in what he had accomplished and of how his son had thrived both professionally and personally.
My father went to college and graduate school, met and married my mother (hence my being alive today!) and pursued a career in pharmacy. Ultimately, he became one of the giants of pharmaceutical science, the father of the field of Biopharmeceutics and Pharmacokintetics. He developed or laid the foundations for drugs and therapies that have saved millions of lives, especially among children.
But for the good fortune of finding a refuge, in 1941, from the horrors of the Holocaust, none of this might have happened and I would not have been born to write about it. That Shanghai was one of the few safe havens available to them, that the Japanese refused to send them back when the Nazis demanded it, and that America finally began to return to the essence of its highest ideals are the blessings at the heart of why #myimmigrantfamily is #heretostay.
How many will die or never be born because the Gates of America are once more being closed to refugees whose lives are at risk? Will the United States of today once again become the United States of 1939 that sent the passengers of the St. Louis back to Europe and their certain demise? Will we allow Muslims seeking to escape the horrors of Syria to become the “European Jews” of today, denied sanctuary and sent back into danger?
We who have lived this history know that Silence = Death. And so, we will raise our voices, we will protest and advocate, we will never forget and we will not give up! And one day, I pray, some American Imam, yet unborn, will write that he is alive today because of us.