by Andrea Bradley
AIISF is pleased to present the story of Max, Fanni, and Gertrude Rohr, who fled Nazi-held Vienna in 1940 and made the arduous journey across Russia and China to reach Angel Island in June 1940. They were among the hundreds of Jewish refugees who found new homes in the U.S. before the Holocaust.
On June 16, 1940, Max Rohr, his wife Fanni and daughter Gertrude arrived at the Angel Island Immigration Station. They had traveled from Shanghai, China on the ship “Asama Maru,” once considered the “Queen of the Sea.” Their passage (probably third-class) to San Francisco was paid for by Fanni’s brother-in-law, Meier Norwat, who lived in Shanghai. One can only imagine the travails of their journey – traveling from their home in Vienna in the German Jewish community to escape the horrors of Nazi Germany, to Shanghai and then to Angel Island. The official record doesn’t provide us with enough facts but history and our imaginations can fill in the blank spaces with the trepidation mixed with relief they felt arriving in the United States.
First time visitors to the United States, Max, Fanni and Gertrude intended to travel to Brooklyn, New York to live with Fanni’s brother, Max Popper. The Rohrs arrived in the United States with valid German passports and a valid quota immigration visa but with only $40 in their pockets and no tickets to their final destination. As a result, and because they feared the Rohrs would become public charges, immigration officials on Angel Island convened a hearing on June 19, 1940.
The Rohrs must have known that it was likely they would have to appear at such a hearing. Max Rohr was prepared with various documents attesting to the wealth of his wife’s family. Fanni’s sister, who attended the hearing on Angel Island, had given Max and Fanni an additional $200, which they intended to use to buy their tickets to New York City. Max Popper, Fanni’s brother, with whom they intended to live in Brooklyn, was a naturalized US citizen and perhaps it was his experience immigrating to the United States that prepared Max and Fanni Rohr for their immigration hearing on Angel Island. The Rohrs’ experience at their immigration hearing was complicated by the fact that, themselves native German speakers, only Gertrude, their 12 year old daughter, spoke and wrote English, necessitating the presence of an official translator at the hearing.
Fanni’s family seemed to be one of relative means – from the sister who attended the hearing on Angel Island, to Max Popper who owned his own business and made a salary of $100 a week, to Emil Popper, Fanni’s other brother, who had steady employment as a jeweler on New York’s Park Avenue at a salary of $70 a week. Max Rohr presented the immigration officials with many letters of reference, including letters showing that Emil had $2,300 in savings and that the Popper’s Brooklyn residence (owned by Ida, Max Popper’s wife) was valued at $7,000, all documented and verified by big name New York financial institutions and a real estate appraiser. So not only did Fanni’s family have assets, but Max, Emil and Ida Popper also seemed to have established connections with the New York business community that they called upon to support Max and Fanni Rohr’s presence in the United States. We can imagine as well that Max Rohr himself presented an image of stability and respectability. The Chairman of the Board of Inquiry concluded that Max, a wholesale smoking pipe merchant, was “alert and one who might be expected to succeed”, once he learned English.
June 19, 1940 therefore was a momentous day for the Rohrs as the Board of Special Inquiry on Angel Island admitted Max, Fanni and Gertrude Rohr as quota immigrants to the United States. We don’t know what became of the Rohrs but we can imagine they took the train to New York City and settled down to live in Brookyn in the warm embrace of their German Jewish immigrant community and with the financial (perhaps temporary) support of Fanni’s family.
We do know that Max Rohr became a naturalized U.S. citizen on April 26, 1946 in Los Angeles, California. Fanni Rohr passed away Nov. 28, 1990 in Los Angeles.
Andrea Fish Bradley (Stanford ’82, UCLA Law School ’85) is a former corporate securities lawyer who now resides in central New Jersey with her family. Andrea has been a member of her local school board since 2004 and is active in local arts, sports and religious organizations.
Asama Maru 1931
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