Heather Klein in front of the display about her grandmother, Rose Klein, at the Angel Island Immigration Museum. (Photo/Courtesy Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation)
Heather Klein in front of the display about her grandmother, Rose Klein, at the Angel Island Immigration Museum. (Photo/Courtesy Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation)

Jewish immigrant story part of new museum on Angel Island, ‘Ellis Island of the West’

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Heather Klein recalls being moved to tears of joy when she saw her Jewish grandmother’s story featured in an exhibit at the new Angel Island Immigration Museum. It’s a tale that Rosa “Rose” Klein wouldn’t share fully during her lifetime.

“I felt so happy to know that her story was not lost, but brought out into the light, and a part of so many other incredible immigrant stories,” said Klein, 40, a singer and cantorial soloist who lives in Las Vegas.

Angel Island, part of Marin County, was a military installation from 1850 through World War II. From 1910 to 1940, as many as a million immigrants came through the Angel Island Immigration Station, according to the National Park ServiceSome passing through “the Ellis Island of the West” were Jewish, though the precise number is unknown. Several hundred Jews came “fleeing Nazi rule in Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia,” according to the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. A few are featured in the foundation’s “Immigration Stories,” including Eva Schott Berek, Lotte Loebl Frank (also covered in J. in 2010) and Harry Gluckman.

The “Opening Doors” exhibit at the new museum, which opened quietly in January due to Covid concerns, relates how 18-year-old Rose Ginsberg arrived at Angel Island on the Japanese ship Asama Maru in March 1940 with $2.50 in her pocket. She came from Shanghai, China, where her family had lived after fleeing Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938.

View of the Opening Doors Exhibit at Angel Island. (Photo/Courtesy Angel Island Immigrant Station Foundation)
Klein’s story is shared in the “Opening Doors” exhibit at Angel Island. (Photo/Courtesy Angel Island Immigrant Station Foundation)

According to interrogation records created at Angel Island, young Rose told immigration officials that she was engaged to Herbert Klein, a man she had met in Vienna who was now living in White Plains, New York. However, that wasn’t true, a surprised Herbert told investigators after they tracked him down in New York.

But Rose’s luck shifted after she spent three weeks in detention at Angel Island. Her relatives sent her money for bus fare to New York, and promised to pay a $500 bond. Rose found work as a garment cutter, and a year later, she married Herbert. A family picture of the Kleins from 1991, with their children and grandchildren, is part of the exhibit.

Visitors can also hear from Rose’s son, Jeffrey Klein, who recorded an audio track about his mother. He learned the details of her immigration experience in 2013, when he stumbled upon an article about her on the Angel Island Immigration Station website. As recounted in a 2015 J. article, he contacted the organization and filled in some of the gaps in her story post-1940.

Klein, 73, said he sees parallels between his mother’s experience and recent immigration stories.

“Basically, my mother showed up at Angel Island the same way people are showing up at border stations at the southern border right now,” said Klein, who also lives in Las Vegas. “It does parallel everything that we see going on today. And I think my mother would have been very, very connected to it.”

Exterior of Angel Island Immigration Museum. (Photo/Courtesy Angel Island Immigrant Station Foundation)
The Angel Island Immigration Museum is a 30-minute ferry ride from San Francisco. (Photo/Courtesy Angel Island Immigrant Station Foundation)

The majority of the immigrants who came through Angel Island were from China and Japan, and their story is the main focus of the new museum. Many were subjected to lengthy quarantines and waiting periods for entry into the United States, much as they were at Ellis Island.

“People from over 80 countries trace their roots to the U.S. through Angel Island,” said Ed Tepporn, the museum’s executive director. “It’s just as important that people are aware of these different journeys, as well.”

Angel Island became a state park in 1955 and is a national historic landmark. It is a 30-minute ferry ride from San Francisco.

The new immigration museum is housed in a former two-story hospital, part of the Angel Island Immigration Station, a 15-acre site on the island in San Francisco Bay. (Another museum there, housed in former immigration barracks, has been open for more than 35 years.) The hospital building, which had sat unused since World War II, was renovated at a cost of $15 million, with funding coming from federal, state and private sources.

In addition to the exhibit featuring Rose Klein, there are two other exhibits currently on view. One looks at experiences of detention and exclusion, while the other focuses on medical treatments from the opening years of the hospital.

Heather Klein was so inspired by her grandmother’s story that she turned it into a music-filled, one-woman show called “Shanghai Angel,” which she performed in 2017 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and at several synagogues. She said she has pitched the idea to museum officials of performing the show on Angel Island as a way to “broaden the way people look at this experience of being detained.”

Angel Island Immigration Museum

Weekends from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Free. Arrive via ferry from San Francisco on Golden Gate Transit or from Tiburon on Angel Island-Tiburon Ferry. Walk or bike 1.2 miles to museum, or take a tram for $11. angelisland.com

Larry Sokoloff
Larry Sokoloff

Larry Sokoloff is a writer in Mountain View.