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AIISF is very pleased to present the story of Henry and Miriam Haskin, Russian Jewish immigrants, who came to San Francisco in the early part of the 20th century. We wish to thank Gretchen Haskin and Ernie Haskin for sharing their remembrances of the family and the wonderful photographs that accompany this story.
Henry Haskin was a Russian Jew who immigrated to the U.S. through San Francisco on the Shinyo Maru, which arrived on January 25, 1916. Born Aron Hasankin in Russia in November 27, 1891, he grew up in the region that is now part of the Ukraine and went to work for a printing company when he was twelve or thirteen years old. His early experience as a printer in Russia would lead to his success as the founder of the California Printing Company in San Francisco.
Growing up facing the intense discrimination against Jews, Aron despised the Imperial Dynasty in Russia and refused to serve in the Russian army in World War I. Aron had tuberculosis and hoped his illness would preclude him from having to serve in the army. He went to Kharkov in Ukraine and visited a top doctor who gave him a certificate stating he had tuberculosis. But when the Russian army began drafting all able bodied men, Aron knew he would be forced to serve in the army despite his medical issues. Knowing he was ultimately be drafted, he decided to leave Russia and move to the U.S.
As he had worked at a print shop as a young man, Aron took his Cyrillic fonts with him in the hope that it would provide him some kind of work in the US. Aron took $100 to pay for his trip to the U.S. and planned to take the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia to Vladivostok and then depart for America by ship. Since the Trans-Siberian did not run near where he lived, he worked, hitched rides, and traveled by railroad when it was convenient and when he had the money.
He traveled as far as Harbin, China, and met up with his relative, Antoinette Gabey, whose husband was a French diplomat in Harbin. He knew that when he got to Harbin, he would see her, and she could help him get on a ship to America. He had nothing except the Cyrillic fonts and the clothes on his back, and when he arrived his relatives were shocked to see him. Before he continued on his journey, his relatives insisted on getting Aron some clothes. They bought him a suit. He stayed with them until he recovered from his trip across Russia. His relatives got him forged documents to get him on a boat out of China, and he went from Harbin to Kobe, Japan.
His relatives had bought him a first class ticket on the Shinyo Maru to San Francisco. In first class, everybody dressed for dinner and looked very elegant, so Aron was very embarrassed that he only had the one suit he was wearing. He kept washing his shirt out in the basin overnight and that is what he wore all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Angel Island. It took him about three months to get from Romny, Ukraine to Japan and then from Japan over to San Francisco. According to stories Henry told his family, Angel Island inspectors renamed him Henry Haskin. However, when Henry registered for the draft in World War I, he was listed as Henry Hasankin. The name listed in the 1920 Federal Census was Henry Haskan, and later that year when he became a U.S. citizen, he was formally renamed Henry Haskin.
When Henry first arrived in San Francisco, he stopped a policeman and asked him where Jews could live. When the police officer told him that Jews could live anywhere in the city, he thought that it was so wonderful and decided to stay in San Francisco for the rest of his life. He didn’t know anyone in the U.S., so he rented a room with a Russian family and went to work right away as a ship fitter. He didn’t speak English when he first arrived in the U.S., so for the most part, he was knocking paint off of boats to earn a living.
Three or four months later, as soon as he had enough money, Henry cabled to his fiancée Miriam Dopkin to join him in the U.S. Miriam was a Russian Jew born in Takernigon Mena, Russia in 1897. At 19 years old, she left Ukraine on her own and made her way all by herself across Russia to Japan. She departed from Yokohama, Japan on the ship Persia Maru and sailed to San Francisco. Marion arrived at Angel Island on August 7, 1916 and was listed under the name Maria Dobkin. She was held there for one day and then joined Henry in San Francisco. She and Henry lived together for about four months and got married.
After awhile, Henry met another printer named Albert J. Cone. Henry and Albert joined together and started a printing business in 1919 called the California Printing Company, which became a very successful company. It was a commercial printing company and won the contract to print the San Francisco telephone directory. Henry continued to lead the company as Chairman of the board until age 93.
Miriam was a housewife and an active member of the Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The group performed much volunteer work in the Jewish community.
Henry and Miriam raised their three children in San Francisco. Their eldest was their daughter Cecilia, who went by “Celia,” and their two younger sons were named David and Ernest. They lived in a beautiful home in the Richmond district on 25th Avenue, which is where David and Earnest were born. In 1931, they built a beautiful new home on Funston Ave. The house was about 4500 square feet and an absolutely magnificent construction. It cost $8,000 to build in 1931, which was a considerable sum of money at that time.
When their daughter Celia married William Francisco in 1937, her parents bought them a beautiful new home on Kittredge Terrace in San Francisco. The eldest son David became a pediatrician and was the director of pediatrics at St. Luke’s hospital for many years. He passed away in 2004. Their youngest son Earnest worked for the family printing business and later became president of the company. He remains active in the printing business today.
Henry was very prominent leader in the Jewish community and one of the founders of Congregation Beth Shalom at 14th Ave. and Clement and was later active in Temple Sharif Israel. In 1960, during its centennial year, Henry served as President of the B’nai B’rith. Henry passed away at the age of 94 in 1984. Miriam Haskin passed away in November 1973.
From very humble beginning and very difficult living conditions in Russia, the Haskins made a new life for themselves in America and through hard work and good fortune prospered. Their story continues to inspire us today.
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