All of my research only confirmed the gut reaction that I had when I first heard about Angel Island. I knew it was a special place.
I recently came across two stories of European Jews who fled Germany to America via Angel Island. Eva Shott and her family escaped Berlin in 1940. Lotte Loebl Frank left Austria after Nazi Germany invaded. Jews weren’t allowed to take the trains through Nazi-occupied counties to the west, so they had to endure a seven-day journey through the USSR on the Siberian Express, continue through China, and finally sail from Japan. This meant that they would enter America through Angel Island.
Both Eva Shott and Loebl Frank stayed at Angel Island with their families. Both families were questioned, not to prove that they weren’t paper sons or daughters, but instead to insure that they were capable of supporting themselves in America.
This is a piece of Angel Island history that I didn’t know. Around 500 Jews immigrated through Angel Island from 1939 to 1940.
As I read their interviews, their experiences strike me as having common threads with Chinese immigrants. Loebl recalled in her interview, “They had gates there, wire gates that we felt like we were prisoners. When we went to breakfast, the guard went with us, and we were totally guarded, just like prisoners.” Those words could have come out of Jade Moon’s mouth.
At the same time, their journeys are unique. They come to Angel Island from different places and will continue down different paths. Just for this moment, they are part of the same experience.
There is a quote from Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried that reminds me of Angel Island:
“Martha wrote that she had found the pebble on the Jersey shoreline, precisely where the land touched water at high tide, where things came together but also separated.”
Angel Island is one of those places, where things come together and separate. It is a place for people who have left, often escaped, but not arrived. People there must leave their old life to get there, but then will be blocked from starting a new one. It is like holding your breath between breathing out and breathing in. Many of the stories from Angel Island contain that tension.
I hope you will look at more immigrant stories from Angel Island.
Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation Links:
Read a Story Page – You can find a collection of stories from immigrants, some who immigrated through Angel Island, and others who immigrated in the past few years.