The Holocaust and the Allies: Immigration


Figure 1.--These two German girls were among the 900 German Jewish refugees aboard the "St Louis". Here we see them departing Havana after the refugees were boy allowed to deboard. They were denied entry to the United States in June 1939 and had to return to Europe. Their names were Renate and Innes Spanier. Somehow they survived a NAZI concentration camp and after the War were able to finally enter America.

The Great Depression during the 1930s caused many countries, including the United States, to limit immigration. NAZI policy at the beginning was not set out to murder millions of Jews. The NAZIs were intent on stripping Jews of all their assetts and driving them penniless out of the country. Few Jews wanted to laeve Germany when the NAZIs seized power in 1933. Gradually more Jews began attempting to leave, especially after the Nuremberg Race Laws were decreeed (September 1935). After Kristallnacht, a panic set in among the Germany community (November 1938). Jews were essentially free to leave Germany as long as theu did not take any valuables and had a visa to enter another country. The problem for German and Austrian Jews was obtaining a visa. Anti-semitism and the job shortages created by the Depression in many countries, including the United States, created severe bars to immigration. Thus obtaining visas were very difficult. Jews were thus trapped in Germany when in the months leading up to the War. One of the most tragic incidents was the liner St Louis which left Hamburg with 927 Jewish refugees in May 1939 for New York. The United States refused to allow them to enter. Cuba allowed 22 to land, but refused entry to the rest. An appeal to President Roosevelt was unanswered. Other countries also refused to accept the refuggess. Finally the St. Louis returned to Europe and the refugees were landed in Antwerp on June 17. More than 600 were accepted by Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Within months these countries overrun by the NAZIs. No one know for sure, but about 240 of these refugees are believed to have survided. Britain accepted 288 which did survive. The St. Louis reffugees were some of the last Jews to escape Germany. The NAZIs stopped allowing Jews to emmigrate. Some of the last Jews to get out of Germany were the children broughtout through the Kindertransport.

The Depression

The Great Depression during the 1930s caused many countries, including the United States, to limit immigration. The United States had already limited immigration after World War I in the 1920s, establishng national quotas. Religion was not a factor, although State Department personnel sometimes let their personal prejudices affect their decessions. The seriousness of the Depression in America made any effort to revise emmigration laws politically impossible. Labor was always concerned about immogration and added to the anti-immigrant attitudes of conservastive Americans, immigration was not an issue which could be addressed diring the New Deal. Tragically the Depression which helped bring Hitler and the NAZIs to power in Germany also acted to limit their ability to seek have in other countries.

Zionism

Zionism is the Jewish national movement seeeking the return of the Jewish people to their Biblical homeland. This involved both political and spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, orthodox and reform, joined the Zionist movement and worked for the creation of Israel. The term "Zionism" was coined in 1893 by Nathan Birnbaum. Only a small minoriy of German Jews were commited to Zionism in 1932. German Jews were some of the most assimilated in Europe. Under Bismarck they had received full civil rights. Most Jews saw themselve as Germans and a part of the national fabric. The majorJewish organizations, while not oposed to a Jewish homeland, did not promote Zonism as many felt that it would weaken the Jewish oresence in Germany. [Heim] German Jewish attitudes began to change after the NAZI takeover. In particular some parents began to see Plestine as a possible option for their children.

NAZI Emmigration Policy

NAZI policy at the beginning was not set out to murder millions of Jews. The NAZIs were intent on stripping Jews of all their assetts and driving them penniless out of the country. At first few German Jews wanted to leave their country, even after the NAZIs seized power in 1933. Gradually more Jews began attempting to leave. At first most thougt things could not ger worse. But every month brought some new NAZI action or degree. People lost their jobs. Children were asulted in school.

Nuremberg Race Laws (September 1935)

When the Nuremberg Race Laws were decreed (September 1935) the NAZIs were able to even more vigorously persue actions against Jews. Geman Führer Adolf Hitler at the Nuremberg Party Congress on September 15, 1935 announced three new laws that were to be cornerstones of German racist policies and the supression of Jews and other non-Aryans. These decrees became known as the Nuremberg Laws. They were decrees which in NAZI gErmany had the force of law forbidding contacts between Aryan Germans and Jews, espcecially marriage and srtipping Jewsof German citizenship. The first 1935 decree established the swastika as the official emblem of the German state. The second established special conditions for German citizenship that excluded all Jews. The third titled "The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor" prohibited marrige between German citizens and Jews. Marriages violating this law were voided and extra-marital relations prohibited. Jews were prohibuted from hiring female Germans under 45 years of age. Jews were also prohibuted from flying the national flag. The first three Nuremberg Laws were subsequently supplemented with 13 further decrees, the last issued as late as 1943, as the NAZIs constantly refined the supression of non-Aryans. These laws affected millions of Germans, the exact number depending n precisely how a Jew was defined. That definition was published November 14, 1935. The NAZIs defined a Jew as anyone who either 1) had three or four racially full Jewish grandparents, 2) belonged to a Jewish religious community or joined one after September 15 when the Nuremberg Laws came into force. Also regarded as Jews was anyone married to a Jew or the children of Jewish parents. This included illegtimate children of even the non-Jewish partner. There appears to have been no serious public objection to these laws. [Davidson, p. 161.]

Kristallnacht (November 1938)

Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass" was a vicious NAZI pogrom directed at NAZI Jews. A Polish-born Jewish Jew, Sendel Grynszpan, wrote to his soon describing how he had been expelled to Poland and mistreated. His son Herschel was a 17-year old boy stranded in Paris. Disdraught by his parents' treatment, he shot the Third Secretary of the German Embassy, Ernst vom Rath. As a reprisal, Hitler personally approved a massive assault on Germany's Jews in their homes and attacks on Jewish stnagoges. The attacks began eary on November 8. Members of the Gestapo and other NAZI organizations such as the SA and the Labor Front were told to repprt to the local NAZI Party office and were given their instructions. They then moved out ramsacking Jewish shops and synagoges and setting firm to them. Groups of NAZIs broke into Jewish homes, looting them and destroying property that they did not want. Pets were killed. About 30-100 Jews were killed. About 20,000 mostly men were dragged off to the Buchenwald, Dachu, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. The orgy of violence exceed even what the NAZIs had palnned. This was of copncern because the NAZIs hoped to eventually seize the property. The Jews were thus required to repair the danage to their shops and homes. When the NAZIs realized that Jewish property was insured, Goering issued a decree requiring that insurance payments made to the German Government. An additional 1 billion mark fine was imposed on Germany Jewish community.

Desperation

Kristallnacht convinced most Jews that they had to leave Germany. Many Jews had already left Germany. One estimate suggests that about 180,000 of the approximately 500,000 had left by 1938. Fiven the abuse and descrimination, this seems a realtively small number. After Kristallnacht, a panic set in among the Germany community and most Jews were now desperate to leave Germany. The problem was that the many actions taken by the NAZIs had increasingly impoversished Germany Jews, making immigration increasingly difficult even if a visa could be obtained.

Table 1.--Germany*. Unaccompanied Jewish child emmigrants, 1934-45
……Destination…………................Number................

  • Britain ….....……………..... 10,000**
  • Palestine ….....…………….... 4,000
  • Netherlands ….....………....... 1,500
  • Switzerland ….....……….... 1,000-1,500
  • America ….....…………..... 1,000-1,200
  • Belgium …....……………...... 1,000
  • France …...……………….. 300-400***
  • Denmark …...……………........ 320

  • TOTAL …...…………... 15,000-18,000

* Including Austria (1938) after the Anchluss and Czecheslovakia after Munich (1938)
** Primarily the Kindertransport children.
*** The French numbers seem suprisingly low, but Dr. Heim points out that France had a massive refugee problem as a result of the Spanish Civil War. In addition Dr. Heim said many more Jewish families entered France legally and illegally than was the case of Britain.
Source: Susanne Heim, Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, Berlin Germany.

Visas

Jews were essentially free to leave Germany util mid 1939, as long as they did not take any valuables and had a visa to enter another country. Even a few days before the War began in September some managed to get out. The problem for German and Austrian Jews was obtaining a visa. Anti-semitism and the job shortages created by the Depression in many countries, including the United States, created severe bars to immigration. Thus obtaining visas were very difficult. Jews were thus trapped in Germany when in the months leading up to the War.

America

The first German Jewish refugee children arrived in America in 1934. The NAZI persecution of the German Jewish community and political opponents brought a wave of prominent individuals who made major contributions to America. Many described in gtaphic detail what was going on in Germany. There was long list of prominent individuals both from Germany and later the occupied countries that came to America, including Marlina Detrich, Peter Drucker, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, ??? Salard, Edmund Teller, and many more. These many destinguised individuals made great contributions to American arts, medicine, music, science, and many other fields. America is much the richer for their invaluable contributions. Others were just children when they emmigrated before and after the War, but would make valuable contributions of their own: Madeline Albright, Peter Drucker, Andy Grove, Henry Kisinger, Tivi Nussbaum, George Sorros, and others. The publicity certainly affected how Americans thought about Hitler. It did not, however, affect the strongly isolationist views of most Americans, it may in fact only strengthened them--at least at first. Also America and other countries had severe limitations on immigration, especially Jewish immigration. The Depression caused many countries to limit immigration, to save avaialble jobs for unemployed Americans. Anti-semitism was also a factor. After Kristalnacht, an effort was made to admit German Jewish refugee children, but it failed to pass. President Roosevelt was struggling at the time to gain support for his efforts to defeat the isolationists and assist the British and French which made an additional struggle on immigration virtually impossible.

Britain

The British Goverment in late 1938 also approved a special arrangement for children for which charitable organizations agreed to care and finance. This was the Kindertransport described above. After the declaration of War (September 1939), British officials interned German nationals in Britain and British colonies. Some of thoe German nationals in Britain were Jews. Even the Kindertransport youth who had reached 17 years (we need to confirm the age) of age. At first the Jews were interned with othervJews, some with NAZI orientation. The Germans were subjected to a vetting pricess, but many were held for some time. Some were deported to Canada where they were also held in internment camps. Pne German Jew describes his experiences. [Koch]

France

France had a massive refugee problem as a result of the Spanish Civil War. In addition Dr. Heim said many more Jewish families etered France legally and illegally than ws the case of Britain. [Heim]

(The) Netherlands

For many German Jews, the Netherlands looked like a safe haven. Anti-semitism was not widespread there. It was easy to get to as it bordered Germany. There were Jews alreadty there. And the language was similar to German. The flood of refugess was so great into the Netherlands that the Dutch had to stop taking in refugeees in 1939. Unfortunately for the Jews who thought they had found a safe haven, the Netherlands proved to be one of the deadliest countries for Jews in the Holocaust.

Palestine

The British like the Americans at least had an immigration quota for Palestine, but refused to raise it. Jewish organizations attempted to smuggle people into Palestine. The Royal Navy was ordered to intercept them, but rather than force them back to Europe, they were interned on of all places the small island of Maurutius in the Indian Ocean. Those Jews who made it to Palestine, if detected were added to the quota. Most of the unaccompanied children were taken in by the kibutzes.

The Evian Conference (1938)

There was some internationl pressure to do something about the refugee crisis. The Evian Conference was called by President Roosevelt in July 1938 to address the refugee crisis. Delegates from 32 countries in the summer of 1938, met at the French resort of Evian. President Roosevelt did not send a high-level official. He sent Myron C. Taylor, a businessman and close friend. Throughout the 9-day meeting, the different country delegates to express pladitudes and sympathy for the refugees. Virtually every country, including the United States and Britain, offered excuses for not letting in more refugees. The United States maintained in quota of 27,370 refugees annually, but did not offer to increase it. Many participants did not even offer any refugees admitance. Australia's chief delegate, Colonel White stated, "Under the circumstances. Australia cannot do more. Undue privileges cannot be given to one particular class of non-British subjects without injustice to others. It will no doubt be appreciated also that, as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one." [Proceedings, p 20.] Britain said that they would maintain their 20,000 refugee quota for Palestine. Only three countries offered an unlimited quota: Denmark, the Netherlands, and the Dominican Republic. [Gilbert, p. 220.] The flood of refugess was so great into the Netherlands that the Dutch had to stop taking in refugeees in 1939. I am not sure about Denmark and the Dominican Republic. I do know that at the time of the NAZI invasion in April 1940 that there were only a small number of Jews in Denmark, much smaller than in the Netherlands. Some have called the Conference Hitler's green light for the holocaust. [Shaw] The NAZIs were in fact pleased with the outcome. The German government released a statement indicating that how "astounding" it was that foreign countries criticized Germany for their treatment of the Jews, but none of them wanted to open the doors to them when "the opportunity offer[ed]. "Nobody wants them" claimed the German newspaper Völkischer Beobachter. Hitler lost no time in pointing out, "It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them ..." [Shalom, p. 21.]

The Tradegy of the St. Louis

One of the most tragic incidents was the liner St Louis which left Hamburg with 927 Jewish refugees for Havana and New York (May 1939). The United States refused to allow them to enter. Cuba allowed 22 to land, but refused entry to the rest. An appeal to President Roosevelt was unanswered. Other countries also refused to accept the refuggess. Finally the St. Louis returned to Europe and the refugees were landed in Antwerp on June 17. More than 600 were accepted by Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Within months these countries overrun by the NAZIs. No one know for sure, but about 240 of these refugees are believed to have survided. Britain accepted 288 which did survive. The St. Louis refugees were some of the last Jews to escape Germany. The Karliner family were some of the Jews returned to Europe. Only Herbert survived.

NAZIs Stop Emigration

The NAZIs in mid-1939 stopped allowing Jews to emmigrate.

Kindertransport (1938-40)

Some of the last Jews to get out of Germany were the children brought out through the Kindertransport. This was the transport of Jewish children out of Austria, Czecheslovakia, and Germany mostly during the summer of 1939. The British Government, horrified at the outburst of violence in Kristallnacht agreed to eased immigration restrictions for certain of Jewish refugees. Two charitable groups help organize the program: the British Committee for the Jews of Germany and the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany. Together these groups persuaded the British government to permit children under the age of 17 to enter Britain from Germany and German-occupied territories (at the time what used to be Austria and the Czecheslovakia). About 10,000 children were saved--the largest group of children to be saved from the NAZIs. Most were aided by Jewish charitable organizations, but Quakers and other groups also helped. The experience was traumatic for the children, especially the younger ones, who did not understand why they were being separated from their parents. The children had to say a final goodbye to their parents and families for a long train journey to England and numerous checks by NAZI authorities. Most were never reunited with their families who were murdered in the NAZI death camps. The older children were put up on hostels, many of the younger children were adopted.

Manhattan Project

Jewish and oher refugees fleeing the NAZIs made a major contribution to the success of the Manhattan Program. The NAZI campaign against the Jews began almost as soon as Hitler seized power in Germany. Even respected sientists were quickly dismissed from positions at universites and research institutes. Many of these individuals were able to emmigrte and take of their carrers Americ, France, and Britain. This significantly increased the pool of talented sientists available to the American atomic bomb program. Some of the vest known were Hans Beder?, Albert Einstein (German Jew), Enrico Fermi (Italian with Jewish wife), Leo Szilard (Hungarian Jew working in Germany), Edward Teller (Hungarian Jew working in Germany), and Eugene Wigner (Hungarian Jew working in Germany). Some authors believe that the dismissal of competent scientists and appointment of Party hacks was a major reason in the failure of the German bomb program. [Walker] Many of these nuclear scientists emmigrated early in the NAZI era when the NAZIs were primarily concerned with dismissing Jews from universities and other official positions. Fremi came much later and managed to escape with his wife when he was allowed to go to Sweden to accept a Nobel Prize.

Sources

Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p

Heim, Susanne. "Jewish emmigration and international refugee policy: The situation of children," Children and the Holocaust: Symposium, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 3, 2003.

Koch, Eric. Deemed Suspect: A Wartime Blunder (Goodread Biographies/Formac Publishing Company Ltd., 1980).

Proceedings of the Intergovernmental Committee, Evian, 6/15 July 1938, Verbatim Record of the Plenary Meeting of the Committee. Resolutions and Reports, London, July 1938.

Shaw, Annette. "The Evian Conference - Hitler's Green Light for Genocide," internet site 2002.

Shalom, Beth. Perspective, 1:1 (1998), p 21.

Walker, Mark. "The German Atomic Bomb" from "Heisenberg, Goudsmit and the German Atomic Bomb," Physics Today (January 1990).






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Created: December 30, 2002
Last updated: 7:53 PM 1/31/2012