In late 1940, Harry Gluckman’s father rushed down five flights of stairs on a converted freighter to awake his son at 5 a.m. “You have to come up on deck immediately,” Gluckman remembers his father saying. “I just want to sleep,” was Gluckman’s reply.
The sleepy-eyed boy of 11 scrambled on deck. “We were just coming under the Golden Gate Bridge, which I can remember as if it was yesterday morning,” says Gluckman. From that day forward, his dad referred to the bridge as “My Golden Gate to Freedom.”
Gluckman and his family had just fled Nazi Germany by taking a perilous train and ship journey through Eastern Europe, the USSR, China, Korea, and Japan. When the family came ashore in San Francisco, they had no money and spoke no English.
“This lady bought me a hamburger,” remembers Gluckman. Strangely enough, Gluckman says he never had eaten the ground meat delicacy made famous in Hamburg. “I hadn’t seen anything like that before. I never heard of it.”
But he’ll always remember that day.
The Gluckman family was one of hundreds of Jews who escaped Germany and occupied Europe in 1939-40 by traveling eastward. Many landed in San Francisco and were processed at Angel Island. Some of their stories are only now coming to light.
Nazis tighten the screws
Harry Gluckman, nee Heinz Glucksmann, was born Oct. 4, 1929, in Berlin. His family moved to Stuttgart in southern Germany when he was still a baby. Gluckman’s father, Walter Glucksmann, was a manager for his father’s veneer furniture business.
But their relatively prosperous world collapsed by the late 1930s as the Nazis ratcheted up repression against Jews. Jews were brutally mistreated and killed for years, but the infamous concentration camp exterminations didn’t begin until June 1941. An estimated 6 million Jews and 5 million others died during the Holocaust.
Gluckman says the Nazis carefully planned this increased repression, while leaving open the possibility that a few Jews could escape the country. “The Germans were diabolical,” says Gluckman, “They just tightened the screws a little bit at a time. They deliberately went about not stopping all hope. That’s how they were able to succeed.”
One day in 1938 Gluckman’s grandfather took him to work because he father was away on business. That day the German government nationalized Jewish-owned businesses.
The family chauffeur showed up at the factory wearing a black uniform and Nazi armband, remembers Gluckman. He had become a captain in the Gestapo. He announced, “I’m here now to get the keys to the door, your desk and the car. You might as well clean out your desk because we won’t need you Jews around here anymore.”
A short time later, Walter Gluckman fled into the Black Forest to avoid being detained after the bloody Nov. 9, 1938, assaults known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Many Jewish men were arrested, but some were freed and managed to bribe their way out of the country.
Harry witnessed the best and worst of German attitudes towards Jews. Some doctors and store keepers he knew in Stuttgart joined the Nazis thugs in attacking Jews on Kristallnacht.
In the days that followed, Jews were fired from jobs, refused the right to work and even forbidden to purchase meat. A few local bakers and butchers, however, managed to slip some food to the family. The butcher would “sneak me a hot dog or his son would come walking by and hand me a little bag” with meat, remembers Gluckman.
“My father was put to work as a forced laborer, leveling land and breaking rocks, until they stopped having Jewish people work at all.”
By 1939 Jews in Stuttgart were ordered out of their homes. The Gluckmans were forced to live in a two-bedroom apartment with two other families.
For a brief time in the late 1930s, the British charitable group Kindertransport offered to find homes for Jewish refugees. So in 1939, Gluckman’s two-year old sister Marianne was sent off to live with a family in Sheffield. Harry was scheduled to leave on Sept. 8, but Britain declared war against Germany on Sept. 3, and the trip became impossible.
Gluckman didn’t see his sister again for 7½ years because crossing the Atlantic was too dangerous. After the war, a family acquaintance brought his sister to San Francisco where the family was finally reunited in 1946.
Escaping Berlin in the nick of time
The family managed to find some people in New York willing to sponsor them for a U.S. visa. The U.S. consulate in Stuttgart held a lottery to select new immigrants. Harry’s parents got lucky; his grandparents did not. But getting a U.S. visa was only the beginning of their difficulties.
They needed transport. Travel westward through Europe to neutral Portugal was forbidden. The family discovered that the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha provided train and ship passage for a hefty fee.
The family needed a total of nine entry and exit visas for the train journey. Finally, they secured the visas and tickets and left Berlin in September 1940.
Harry’s family stopped in Breslau, now the Polish city of Wroclaw, to say goodbye to his grandfather. The elderly man firmly believed that because he fought loyally for Germany during World War I that he would be protected. “My grandfather pointed to his sword,” remembers Gluckman, “He had served his country and his Kaiser. ‘Nothing will happen to us,’ he said to me as the train was pulling out of Breslau.” Harry’s grandfather and grandmother later died in a concentration camp.
The perilous journey
The Gluckman family took the Trans Siberian Express through the USSR to China. They stayed overnight in Harbin, China, visiting a distant relative. They planned to rejoin the group at the train station the next day. But there was a mix up and the group left without them.
“We were the only non-Asians in this railroad station,” Gluckman says. “Go ahead and read a sign.” They took the wrong train and ultimately ended up in Kobe, Japan.
“Nobody could speak to us. My father was crying, ‘We’ve come all this way and now we’re lost.’” The family finally got assistance and made their way to Yokahama harbor, the embarkation point for their ship.
The ship departed for San Francisco on Oct. 4, 1940, which was also Harry’s birthday. The cargo freighter had been converted to carry passengers. Families were separated, with all children sleeping in one open bay in three-high bunk beds.
It was from this bed that Walter Gluckman awakened his 11-year-old son Harry to see the Golden Gate Bridge.
Life in America
Many Jews and other immigrants spent time at Angel Island while U.S. officials determined if they could support themselves financially. In the case of the Gluckmans, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) took responsibility for the family. So they entered San Francisco immediately.
The Gluckmans eventually found a place to live, an apartment costing $7 per month with a Murphy bed in the living room. They even had a boarder for awhile, but conditions improved over the coming months.
Harry even reconnected with a friend he knew from Stuttgart. Together they sold magazines door-to-door. By chance Harry met a man who had worked for his grandfather. That man arranged for Walter Gluckman to get a job at Joseph Magnin’s department store. Walter was employed there for the rest of his working life. He died in 1980.
Harry found a job at the City of Paris clothing store. He later worked for 23 years for Addressograph-Multigraph Co. as repairman and manager. Gluckman later sold Israel bonds and then became west coast director of Women’s American Organization through Rehabilitation and Training, a Jewish charitable group.
Today, at age 81, Harry Gluckman is retired and living in the Bay Area city of Alameda. He keeps a meticulous archive of his war-time experiences, hoping that later generations will learn from the horror of that time.
Freelance journalist Reese Erlich has written about the Holocaust and Jewish issues for AARP’s Viva magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. His latest book is “Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence and Empire,” Polipoint Press, 2010. For more information, see www.reeseerlich.com
This article was based on an interview conducted by Reese Erlich on Oct. 16, 2010. We wish to express our deep appreciation to Harry Gluckman for sharing his story and photographs with us.
After we completed the story of the Gluckman family, Harry Gluckman sent us a copy of his father’s diary, which details their journey from Berlin to San Francisco in 1940. Harry Gluckman translated the handwritten diary, which was in German, in January 2011. We thank Mr. Gluckman for providing us with such a vivid account of a difficult journey.
Walter L. Gluckman’s Diary of Voyage from Berlin to San Francisco
September 11, 1940 – October 21, 1940
~ Translated from the handwritten original German text by Harry W. Gluckman – January 2011 ~
Sept. 11 Departed from Berlin to the East, hopefully to Freedom, with wife, Alice and son, Heinz
Sept. 12 Morning Konigsberg, then to German Border – Eydt-kuhnen – Check Passports on train – short ride to Virbalen, Russian-Lithuanian passes, examined all luggage, took off train. Slow progress, long stay in Kovno – Lithuanian Jews brought sugar and bread to train. Arrived 7 p.m. in Vilna, we had help from Vilna Jews. First contact with O.R.T.! and men in one group, women another – I had room, bed full of bugs, only toilet an outhouse across cold garden – Dinner: bread and butter – sleeping difficult…
Sept. 13 Breakfast. HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) tour of city and gave us 30 Lithuanian coins, used for lunch, wrote Postcard to parents (in Breslau, Germany) , picked up luggage. Nice personal help! Train scheduled leave at 15:12, delayed, open depot, very cold, cloudy, again through Passport and luggage control. Crossed borders (over and over), Intourist lady (spoke some German), continued in sleeping car, dinner – sandwiches.
Sept. 14 Arrived Minsk – lady from Intourist told us ” Must get off train!” escorted on foot to station, brought luggage , candle light, dirty; long negotiation did not result in getting us anything to eat or drink! Slept on hard benches on train, doors all locked, freezing cold, no heat, walked inside train-car to try keep warm. Breakfast at 10:30 in waiting room in waiting room of station. Between meals we were walked single file back to the cattle car where we remained locked up till next meal, by a soldier with a rifle.
Sept. 15 Sunday, breakfast in dining car. Arrival Moscow at 10:30 – Two taxis through beautiful streets to Hotel Metropol. Many arrangements re baggage, money, coupons for meals, spent hours haggling.
A change in plans “out of necessity”! We were to stay in Moscow for 3 days, sightseeing, etc. All plans were changed. At 4 p.m. by subway to the R.R. Station - left at 5 in the same car as we arrived in a.m. Dinner in dining car. Joined now by other groups of Jews plus many we already knew from earlier in trip.
Day 6. Terrible mess in arrangements for meals. Man from Intourist didn’t care and had no interest.
I took the initiative in organizing the group, about 100 Jewish refugees, several Arians, an English couple with child, 6 Japanese, into 3 groups to take their turns eating as assigned, neat and orderly!.
Day 7. Novo Sibirsk, beautifully located on the River Op. Exchanged unused food and hotel coupons for Russian Rubles and, since coupons not needed as we only stayed a few hours in Moscow instead of the 3 days planned, we used the money instead to send telegrams to Breslau (my Parents), Tel Aviv (wife’s parents and sister), Sheffield, UK (our 5 year old daughter, sent by Children’s Transport to England to “save her life) and to my friend Rudy Glass in New York (the friend who was the person who helped us secure the affidavit from Glicksman in New York, who made it possible to get Visas) and to Dr. Ziegel in Harbin, letting all of them know that we were finally out of Germany and traveling across Russia. Here the scenery outside our windows changed to Birch and Fir Trees, to Irkutsk (sent telegrams!) At the railroad station I twisted my ankle, sprained, and rested in pain for rest of day. Enjoyed ride through the Ural Mountains, past Lake Baikal, the world’s largest lake at such a high altitude - idyllic Swiss type scenery with snow covered mountains in all fall colors.
Sunday morning, got up early, Intourist checked our Passports, and lengthy luggage inspection, everyone off train with luggage at Otpor. Continued on same train to Mandshuli, only a ½ hour, amidst yelling and our first signs of Oriental types, again another Manchurian border control. Two men came aboard regarding the hotel accommodations – very difficult to communicate. Finally whole group to Japan Hotel, suitcases stored, and crouched on floor to eat. Short walk, dinner, all at Tamara Hotel, arranged by committee from Harbin. Before going to sleep, had to pay 7 Yen, big gyp, sleeping 12 persons per room, on thin mats on the floor, and in the clothes that we had been wearing for days!
Sept. 23 In the morning in washroom together with Geishas and Japanese in Kimonos, interesting colors. Breakfast and dinner in Tamara Hotel, long awaited REAL coffee! Dragged luggage back to railroad station; long wait in line for Passport and ticket window. Still walked, supported self with umbrella as cane because of twisted ankle, limping. Well organized and trained luggage porters, and cars clearly designated, so that all 110 quickly found our places, as the train with beautiful U.S. made cars arrived in station. Had places in wonderful open cars, large windows, which were converted to sleeping cars of 28 beds at night. No food on this train; very thirsty!
Sept. 24 Boys in group became acquainted with friendly young Japanese officers (all about the same size as our youngsters!) At RR Stations saw ceremonies, much deep bowing, very colorful! Afternoon arrival in Harbin. We were picked up by Dr. Ziegel (a cousin of my wife’s mother living and a practicing doctor) all others by Jewish Committee. By car to Dr. Ziegel’s, washed, and drank outstanding A-1 coffee. My wife and son bathed and down for nap. I with Dr. Ziegel by Rickshaw to large auditorium, where all others in our group were fed and cared for by wonderful volunteers of Jewish Committee. After lengthy deliberations, decided to continue trip still that evening (perhaps too dangerous to stay on?!) Back to Dr. Ziegel’s via Rickshaw through very colorful street scenes! At Ziegel’s I finally shaved and was able to wash my hair, wrote letters, repacked and had dinner. At 9 p.m. by car through brightly lit streets to Railroad Station. At station, terrible crowds, noise, looked for representative of Committee, after farewell to Dr. Ziegel departed in very overcrowded train. Saw only 1 German Jew and 1 British couple from our group. Was forced to stand on train from 9 p.m. till 2 a.m. Wife and son sat on our red bag, filled with the remaining brought along from Berlin food.
Sept. 25 Arrived at 7 a.m. in Mukden. Coffee and toast in Waiting Room. Then wandered through streets in the midst of colorful Oriental street scenes. Much noise, bicycles and rickshaws. Repaired our broken suitcase handle and searched for a toilet. At 11:28 continued on, again a nice Express train, but had no tickets for sleepers. Interesting trip in nice cars. Warm, sweating. Thirsty! Pass and easy border control, around 17 hours in Antung, the border to Korea. Paid 50. per person, filled out questionnaires, and changed money again. Continued through beautiful countryside, rice fields, terraced fields, high mountains, tobacco, many rivers and enchanting huts with straw roofs. Managed finally to secure 2 sleeping car accommodations, 3 Yen for upper bed, 4.50 for lower, slept well.
Sept. 26 Thermos with tea, and our cracker bread, Leo’s marmalade (from friends Leo Einstein and family, best friends, who all were murdered at Auschwitz) Arrived on time at 10:45 in Fusan, Korea, (renamed Chosen by Japanese) where the English couple remained. The ship, an Ocean-going Ferryboat, arrived at the Pier. Changed money again, to Japanese, and boarded the Ferryboat. On boat a lovely view of harbor and mountains, almost like Trieste, Italy. Luggage on board, all well-organized, but terrible over-crowding. Found seats in a type of small sitting room. Japanese sat on floor on pillows, wearing slippers and kimonos. Detailed passport control, questionnaire with very detailed questions. Well organized, detailed examination intended to find anyone hidden. Heinz very interested in ship. Everyone put on Kimonos. Only had own food, slept, I on bench on deck. Very thirsty, very hot! Again many formalities with passports as we arrived around 7:30 in Shimonoseki, and with that, we are now actually in Japan! The train right next to the dock, so found train by ourselves. A beautiful train, exceptionally clean. Places reserved, everything functional. Others we knew, the Kahns and Detsch (from Guatemala) also on this train, as well as some of the Japanese we also knew, very very nice and elegant and friendly, with much deep bowing! Departed promptly 2:30 on time. Very good dinner in Dining car – overjoyed to find menus in French, an easy and light menu, especially apples and fresh water, as we were parched! Very interesting to see lighted shops, only upon exit from Shimonoseki, otherwise everything all dark. Seats all covered in white, clean and beautiful, and train ran comfortably, nevertheless difficult to sleep sitting up. Many small children, much crying and feeding, so up already at 3:15 a.m. Washed thoroughly and shaved and ready for our arrival in Kobe shortly after 6 a.m.
Sept. 27 Breakfast in the waiting room, then search and questions (in German) of the Committee. Lunch in garden, bread and butter, then thorough registration and control of all papers. 1 Yen per person for daily care, and took to Home 27. Unpacked luggage and took shoes to be repaired. Washed all personal laundry, had a haircut, everyone showered. In the afternoon again to Committee, after the Café. Again met many acquaintances, even the Leders and Baums, both from Stuttgart, where we had lived in Germany. Endless waiting for our ship. In evening in café, beautifully and colorfully lighted.
Sept, 28 Packed all together. Packed fruit. Again to the city and Committee and mid day by auto taxi to the harbor. Short good byes, then boarded the “Heiyo Maru”, Cabin 340 ( 6 beds) alone, for the time being. Sailed at 4 o’clock in afternoon…..feeling almost like at home!
Sept. 29 Arrival in Yokohama, we were taken by the HIAS representative to a hotel where we would be housed while waiting for two more trainloads of Jewish refugees who were to sail with us to Hawaii, where to ship was to unload and take on freight, and then on to our final destination, San Francisco, United States of America!!! The HIAS Representatives, men and women, were all truly wonderful and real life-savers!
Much fascinating sightseeing in Yokahama, a large city with much traffic and many stores. My wife arrived with terrible tooth infection, and the wonderful person from HIAS found a fine dentist and took her there by taxi to be treated. Walked around city and through many stores. Saw a Woolworth for first time and in awe. Never had seen such a store. One more trainload of refugees bound for our ship arrived and housed in Yokohama. Small hotels, 12 to 16 people slept on straw mats on floor, clothes stored outside room in numbered spaces on wall. Our son’s only socks were stolen (borrowed?) from his box. Bought new pair at Woolworth. Nice Japanese gentleman bought a gift for Heinz, our son. Very kind! Two ping pong paddles and one ball. Where to play? Perhaps in America? A very long wait and anxious to get under way!
Oct. 4 Boarded ship, finally, and found our places. Sailed that evening, Heinz’s 11th Birthday, and the Eve of Rosh Hashanah, in total darkness, as Japan had their first total blackout. Their newspapers said, “In preparation for our war with America!” (This was 14 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor!)
First days of trip on sea found almost everyone at the handrails, and feeling unwell! Eventually the sea calmed or we became used to the constant rolling of the ship from side to side. The food was strange and unfamiliar, mostly rotten (stinky) fish and many eggs well beyond their useful lives, not safe for eating!
Arrived in Hawaii, where we were told we would be docked for several days, while ship unloaded freight bound for Hawaii, then reloaded with other freight bound for San Francisco. We hoped that they would also load fresh food, not yet spoiled! We took a taxi, together with another family with one son about the same age as our Heinz, and had driver take us to a beautiful beach. Of course nobody thought to pack swimming suits in our sparse luggage, so we all went swimming in our underwear and had the first enjoyable break from our long and trying trip, except our son, Heinz, who was too bashful to go swimming bare!
Shortly after departure from Hawaii, we heard of the shocking death of an elderly Jewish couple of our fellow passengers from Berlin, who simply could not stand any further difficultees and committed suicide. A few days later a member of the crew suddenly disappeared, and was thought to have fallen overboard. A lengthy search of the area did not bring any good result.
(Here the sparse notes by Walter Gluckman ended, as the lone pencil he brought along for the trip finally became too short a stub with which it became impossible to write even one more word!)
(From this point in this text is written from memory by the son, Harry W. Gluckman, (formerly Heinz)
on January 25, 2011. Harry’s text begins at 5 a.m. on the morning of October 21, 1940,.)
We had been up very late on October 20, 1940, though I do not recall why, except that I spent the evening with some of the other boys on our ship in my age range far into the night. I was in deep sleep when my father began to shake me awake and said “Get dressed – hurry up – then come up on the main deck as quickly as you can. I recall mumbling some response about “What for?” But I quickly put on my clothes and went up on deck many flights of steps, as my father had requested.
I walked into the bright light of the rising sun, as my father pointed up and shouted “Look up!!!” and there, directly above our ship was our welcome reception to our new home, The Golden Gate Bridge, as my father shouted “OUR GOLDEN GATE TO FREEDOM !”
It remained a phrase that my beloved Dad uttered whenever we drove or walked anywhere near the bridge until the day he died in 1984, at the age of 80, and the family, now including seven grandchildren, who only knew that this was “Grandpa’s Golden Gate Bridge!
Because the Ellis Island of the West Coast, Angel Island Reception Center had burned in a fire about two weeks before our arrival, the Harbor Pilot had been instructed to dock the Heiyu Maru at one of the Piers at or near Fisherman’s Wharf, this is where we first set foot on shore of our New Homeland, after a journey of forty days, San Francisco, and our first deep breath of the air of freedom!
There were many spectators to this vision, many pedestrian passers-by. One of them, a young woman holding some strange type of food she was munching on, stopped and asked “Would you like one of these?” I did not understand her kind offer, and understood only the word “Hamburger”, as my knowledge of the English language was limited to Yes, Thank you, No Thank You, Toilet, and a few other words one could learn in the Fourth Grade of the Jewish School in Stuttgart, Germany, before our non-Jewish neighbors decided to burn it down, along with the adjoining Synagogue on November 9, 1938 at the order of their government for a National Pogrom! The beginning of the end for Jews in Germany!
As the Heiyu Maru moved closer to shore, a swarm of San Francisco News Reporters and Photographers came aboard to take pictures of the passengers of what they had dubbed “The Death Ship” in the next day’s edition of their newspapers. Along with those mentioned earlier, a young Japanese Woman had also committed suicide not long before we docked, and thus the Press invented title. When I came on deck and saw the gathering crowd I pushed my way to the front to see what was going on, just as flashes from several cameras blinded me. The next day’s Newspapers, The San Francisco News and the Call Bulletin (those two newspapers merged a couple of years later) had the group photo on their front pages, where little Harry was prominently featured on the left side of the throng of newly arrived Immigrants. One of my dad’s friends, who came to San Francisco about 2 years before, saw that photo and remembered his friend’s little boy from Stuttgart, contacted the local Jewish Organization for Aid to newly arrived refugees, and found out at which of the hotels near the harbor they had placed us. He showed up at that hotel that evening to be reunited with my parents. He invited us to his home for lunch the next day, and even provided directions and coins for the Cable Car ride on the California line to his home.
When we arrived for lunch on Sacramento Street the next day, there was a boy about my age, playing handball with a Tennis Ball against the building. I said to my mother ‘That boy looks just like my friend Hans from our school in Stuttgart!” My mother answered, “That is Hans!” We were classmates until he and his parents escaped from Germany to America about 2 years before. We renewed our friendship and attended the same schools in San Francisco, and that friendship survives to this day, 76 years since our first day of school at the Jewish school in Stuttgart !