On Immigration

On Immigration

I'm old enough to remember the flood of immigrants who made it out of Germany when the Nazis took control of that country and most of Western Europe during World War II. I also remember those who didn't make it out. Then there were those who fled Hungary during the "uprising" when the Soviet Union took over that country and most of Eastern Europe in the 1950s.

The talent of the people who came here had a positive impact on this melting pot we call America. They were responsible for developing new technology and added a certain zest to the areas where they settled. Among other things, they also introduced us to all kinds of food we had never tasted before.

I don't know what the solution is to our current immigration "problem." It's above my pay grade. But I do know that immigration has been a plus for this country of immigrants from the very beginning (although native Americans might want to dispute that statement).

Here are a few cases in point. Award-winning chef, author and the owner of fine restaurants that have borne her name, Susanna Foo came to this country from Taiwan in 1967 not to pursue a career in the culinary arts, but to earn her M.A. in library science at the University of Pittsburgh. She moved to Philadelphia in 1979 with her husband, E-Hsin, and, after joining his family's restaurant business, opened their second restaurant, Hunan, in center city Philadelphia. Eight years later, after attending the Culinary Institute of America, Susanna and her husband opened their own restaurant in center city, Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine, and later opened Susanna Foo Gourmet Kitchen in Radnor Township in the city's suburbs. As the saying goes, "The rest is history."

What most people don't know is that Susanna's father was one of the youngest generals in Chiang Kai-shek's army and, when Mao's Red Army took over China, he fled with his family to Taiwan, where Susanna grew up and began her "education" in Chinese cooking.

Charles Chen followed a similar but different course to America than Susanna Foo. Chen learned the "art" of acupressure from his grandfather, a renowned doctor in Shanghai. While studying medicine in 1969 during the Cultural Revolution, he was ordered to go to the villages in Jiang Xi Province to tend to the people there. He still remembers being a "barefoot doctor," the name given to those who were transported from village to village on the back of a bicycle. 

Later, with the aid of a friend of the family, Chen came to Philadelphia in 1982  and worked in her restaurants for 11 years. Over the course of those years he learned the restaurant business so well that he launched his own successful family-run restaurant, Charles Plaza, at 234 North 10th Street in Philadelphia. While his family handles the restaurant during the day, Chen provides relief through acupressure to those with back and other pains. Anyone who has ever gone to Charles Chen with pain problems will attest to his skill. I'm one of them.

Then there is Andy Grove, born in Hungary, who survived both the Holocaust and the Soviet invasion of his homeland to become the chairman and CEO of Intel, one of America's foremost technology companies.

Born Andras Istvan Grof in Budapest in 1936, he escaped to Austria with three other students in 1956 and arrived in Brooklyn, penniless, along with 1,714 other Hungarian refugees aboard the military transport General William G, Haan on January 7, 1956. It was while studying chemical engineering at tuition-free City College of New York ( CCNY) that he changed his name to Andrew S. Grove. He later "repaid" CCNY  by endowing the Andrew S. Grove School of Engineering with a gift of $26 million, the largest donation the school had ever received.

After graduation he again took advantage of tuition-free education at the University of California at Berkeley, where he completed his graduate work in engineering. He joined Intel when it was founded in 1968 and became its CEO in 1987. His is one of the great success stories of what immigrants have contributed to America.

Finally, there is Felix Zandman, the brilliant scientist-entrepreneur whose Vishay Intertechnology reshaped the electronic component  industry. A native of Grodno, Poland, Zandman's life turned upside down in 1943 when German troops destroyed the ghetto and his family in Grodno. He was 15 years old at the time. He escaped to the home of a woman his grandmother had helped and asked her to shelter him for "just one night." At the risk of death for her entire family, Janova Puchalski, her husband Jan and their three daughters hid Zandman, his Uncle Sender and three others for 17 months in a pit under the floorboards of their home. It is a tale to rival any that came out of the horror of World War II.

After the war Zandman attended the Sorbonne in Paris and earned a doctorate in physics. He came to the U.S. in 1956 and in 1962, using technology he had patented, he founded Vishay in Malvern, Pa., and named the company after the village in Lithuania where his grandmother was born. But he never forgot the Puchalski Family. In 1987, he brought Janova's daughters to Israel where they were honored at the Yad Vashem memorial as "righteous persons" who had saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust. In 2011, the year he passed away, Dr. Zandman's company was a member of the Fortune 500 and employed more than 22,000 people worldwide, including Janova Puchalski's grandson.

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Zandman and I asked him what he had learned from his experiences. He said, "Each of us behaves according to his conscience and his history. I have found that one of the most important things in life is to do the right thing. If I can help the next fellow, I know it comes back. The idea of being just and helpful has helped me all along. If you think I've done it all myself, I haven't. It's a chain — a long chain of one person helping another." 

Beau Weisman, Editor