Doorway to Thousands
of Jewish Refugees

From Shanghai China



On June 2nd, 1997 the United States Postal Service released a 20 cent and 50 cent postcard in connection with the Pacific 97 World Stamp Exposition. Both postcards fittingly depicted the Golden Gate Bridge, an engineering marvel of steel and concrete, and the symbol of San Francisco.

The 50 cent postcard, illustrated in Figure one, has a hand painted cachet designed by Herbert Nikirk that shows the famous bridge and a statue of the man who built the bridge, Joseph Baermann Strauss, to be discussed later in the article.

As Jewish refugees from Europe entered the harbor of New York City, one of the most important icons of America that greeted them was the Statue of Liberty. A stamp from San Marino illustrated in Figure two, shows refugees waving at this famous Statue. Similarly, when refugees from Shanghai saw from on board the ship during day break a thin illuminated line stretching across the bay, they knew that they were approaching the Golden Gate Bridge. It was their first look at the bridge from several miles away, the doorway to America and a new life, at least for seventy-five from a large contingent of Shanghai Jewish refugees. The arrival of the refugees was illustrated in a Jewish newspaper (June, 1950) in Figure three. The ship they were sailing on, General Gordon, shown in Figure four, came from Shanghai where twenty-thousand Jews from Europe found refuge from Nazi persecution during WWII. Most of those refugees sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge between the years 1946 to 1949 before they settled in California or continued to a different state or country for their final destination. A third class ticket for traveling from Shanghai to San Francisco is illustrated in Figure five.

A card that was to be presented to the Immigration Inspector in order to expedite disembarkation upon arrival in San Francisco is shown in Figure six.

As refugees were sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, they knew little about the history of the bridge and less about the man behind the bridge.

The only way to get across the bay before the bridge was build was by ferry or sailboat as illustrated on an early US commemorative stamp in Figure seven.

In the 1920s, a Jewish engineer and bridge-builder, Joseph Strauss became convinced that a bridge should be constructed across the Golden Gate. He became the major force behind the construction of the bridge facing a lot of opposition from various groups to embark on the project. Except for the financial cost of the bridge, it was later learned that many of the reasons to the opposition were unfounded His idea was also challenged for a variety of practical reasons including winds of up to sixty miles per hour, and strong ocean currents sweeping through the rugged canyon below the surface. In spite of all the obstacles, Strauss was willing to gamble that his bridge could withstand such destructive power. He continued to push for the bridge until this major undertaking came to fruition when voters approved thirty-five million dollars in bonds to construct the bridge.

He completed the twenty-seven million dollar bridge in 1937, a year before his death, with a record span of 4,200 feet. It was the longest bridge in the world until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was built in the 1960s.

The Golden Gate Bridge was opened to pedestrian traffic on May 27 of that year and to vehicular traffic the following day.

Joseph B. Strauss was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on the 9th of January, 1870. His mother a pianist and his father a writer and printer, Joseph chose to become an engineer and bridge-builder.

On a personal note, yours truly recalls vividly the early morning when I sailed at the age of twelve under the Golden Gate Bridge on the same ship mentioned above but during an earlier year. Being a youngster that survived the war in Shanghai China, it was suggested to me by fellow passengers to throw a penny into the water when the ship is under the famous bridge because this would bring good luck in the future. Perhaps the investment of that penny paid off on yours truly.