When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Karla Stept's family fled Vienna for Italy, where her parents and younger brother soon got visas to travel to New York. But Karla was 20, a young adult, and thus restricted by the U.S. immigration quota.
She could go to Argentina, but she didn't have the proper papers. With a forged passport, she got on a ship to Buenos Aires, only to be discovered by the captain en route.
The story of her arrival was one among many that friends and family shared Thursday at services to celebrate her 94 years. Ms. Stept, of Oakland, died Monday at Shadyside Hospital.
Her son, Peter Geiringer, said the captain granted Ms. Stept mercy because she resembled his own daughter. He told her he would set sail back to Italy in three days after arriving in Buenos Aires, and that if she got married before then, she could stay.
"She and my dad [Hans Geiringer] had been dating in Vienna, and his family made it to Argentina," he said. "So when my mom told him the deal, they got married within three days."
In 1958, the family moved back to Vienna, where Ms. Stept was widowed. She took a trans-Atlantic trip in 1960 to New York to rejoin her family. There, she built a career -- from clerk to vice president of sales and export -- at a division of Doubleday Books.
Her career influenced that of her granddaughter, Julie Hamilton, who was born in Pittsburgh in 1980. Mr. Geiringer said his mother took an early retirement to help raise her and, four years later, granddaughter Stephanie Geiringer.
"Even at 94," Ms. Hamilton said, "I would call her twice a week and we would talk about the books we were reading and we would send each other books."
Ms. Stept, who was active in the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and the Rodef Shalom Congregation, took adult learning classes at the University of Pittsburgh in her later years. She also took charge of building the library at Schenley Gardens, an Oakland assisted-living facility, by getting large-print books donated by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
"In the last three days, almost universally, the feedback we have gotten from talking to a gazillion people is what an inspiration she was," Mr. Geiringer said.
"She was always so positive, and no matter how she got knocked down in life, she got up."
In addition to Peter Geiringer, Ms. Stept was preceded in death by husbands Joseph Behr and Raymond Stept.
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.