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Robert Schwarz, a 39-year old German citizen, arrived in San Francisco on August 28, 1940 aboard SS Rakuyo Maru, from Yokohama, Japan. The hearing to determine his right to be admitted to the United States was conducted by a board of special inquiry three days later, on August 31, 1940. Like many other passengers aboard Rakuyo Maru, Robert, who was Jewish, came with a hope and intention to remain in the United States permanently and to never return to Germany. His destination was Detroit, Michigan, where he intended to stay with his aunt’s son-in-law, Nathan Schlafer, whom Robert met two years earlier in Vienna. In addition to Nathan, Robert had other family members and acquaintances in this country, including an American-born cousin and two uncles.
During his hearing, Robert seemed to struggle with some of the questions posed by the immigration board, and his testimony at times appears inconsistent. Potentially, this could be a result of the language barrier at the hearing. However, Robert was resolute in his desire to become an American citizen as soon as possible and pursue the occupation of a banker.
Robert arrived to the United States without any funds to proceed to his destination and did not have any money in his possession at the hearing. However, Robert was able to convince the board that his cousin from Detroit had forwarded him one hundred dollars through a local Jewish association. According to Robert, the money was in the care of a woman who was waiting for him outside of the hearing. The board believed Robert’s testimony and concluded that one hundred dollars would be sufficient to enable Robert to travel to his destination.
Aside from a minor issue with his eyesight, Robert was found to be in good health. His examining medical officer certified him as “having an affliction of color blindness”, which potentially could have affected his ability to earn a living in the United States. However, Robert denied that this condition ever interfered with his occupation.
At first, he admitted being afflicted with the condition for three or four months, but later in his testimony denied being color blind. He explained that he was far sighted and could not see the color when asked by the doctor because he was not wearing glasses during his medical examination.
Back in Germany, Robert had always worked in a bank. When questioned by the immigration inspector about what kind of employment he would be seeking or willing to do in the United States, Robert at first expressed no interest in anything other than being a banker. He did not want to pursue another occupation because he “[knew] that business”. In fact, Robert stated in his testimony that he would rather do nothing and rely on support from his friends if he could not obtain a position in a bank. The immigration officers had to rule out the possibility that Robert would become a public charge without gainful employment.
Throughout the hearing, the members of the board repeatedly raised the question of potential employment, giving Robert multiple opportunities to convince them that he would be willing and able to find a job in the United States should his plans to work in a bank fall through.
Eventually, Robert reluctantly admitted that he would follow other occupations, but reaffirmed that he would prefer to remain in “[his] own profession as bank clerk”. In the end, it was Robert’s demeanor and manner that, in spite of some of his testimony, convinced the board that “he is a person who would be willing to do any kind of work until he has familiarized himself with the ways of this country”.
That, in addition to an affidavit of support to guarantee that Robert would not become a public charge, was sufficient to persuade the board to admit Robert Schwarz into the United States on August 31, 1940.
Yulia B. Bartow is a volunteer at the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School.
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