June 16th, 2006


Barriers to Jewish immigration


The United States Department of State

The Department of State was the U.S. government agency most directly responsible for dealing with the refugees seeking to escape Nazi persecution. It had the power to grant visas, formulate refugee policy, and deal with foreign governments and international agencies.

Between 1933 and 1941, as increasing numbers of Jews sought refuge outside of Nazi Germany, American consuls added severe restrictions to the already stringent U.S. visa regulations. With these restrictions, and in its opposition to increasing the number of refugees allowed into the United States under the quota system, the State Department reflected the prevalent public opinion on immigration restrictions.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. State Department interpreted existing immigration regulations and visa requirements in a highly restrictive manner. Fearing an infiltration of spies and saboteurs among the refugees, and wishing to protect the United States from people they perceived as ethnically and politically undesirable, officials in the State Department raised the barrier to refugees from Europe at precisely the time that they were desperately seeking a safe haven. By the time the United States had entered World War II in December 1941, the State Department had implemented new procedures that identified refugees in German-occupied countries as "enemy aliens" and required them to undergo a new, more extreme examination before being granted a visa. Refugees with "close relatives" living in German-occupied territory were denied entry to the U.S., ostensibly out of fear that they could be blackmailed into working as agents for Germany. By 1941 these policies had effectively prevented most refugees from immigrating to the United States.

Below is a list of items that were required by the United States government for all applicants seeking an entry visa during the 1930s and 1940s. (More specifically, the criteria represent those for German-Jewish applicants.)

1. Visa Application (five copies)
2. Birth Certificate (two copies; quotas were assigned by country of birth)
3. The Quota Number must have been reached (This established the person’s place on the waiting list to enter the United States.)
4. A Certificate of Good Conduct from German police authorities, including two copies respectively of the following:

o Police dossier
o Prison record
o Military record
o Other government records about the individual

1. Affidavits of Good Conduct (required after September 1940)
2. Proof that the applicant passed a Physical Examination at the U.S. Consulate
3. Proof of Permission To Leave Germany (imposed September 30, 1939)
4. Proof that the prospective immigrant had Booked Passage to the Western Hemisphere (required after September 1939)
5. Two Sponsors ("affiants"); close relatives of prospective immigrants were preferred. The sponsors must have been American citizens or have had permanent resident status, and they must have filled out an Affidavit of Support and Sponsorship (six copies notarized), as well as provided:

o Certified copy of their most recent Federal tax return
o Affidavit from a bank regarding their accounts
o Affidavit from any other responsible person regarding other assets (an affidavit from the sponsor’s employer or a statement of commercial rating)

Americans didn't like immigrant Jews


Popular American Opinion

The American people rejected increasing immigration. Even before the Great Depression, Americans overwhelmingly supported restrictive immigration quotas. The 1924 Immigration Act reflected popular sentiment that the United States had absorbed as many immigrants as it could and that further immigrants, with their poverty, their European quarrels, and there pro-labor or even pro-communist ideas, would only destabilize American society. The Great Depression, which had led to mass unemployment during the 1930s, exacerbated existing concerns, and politicians who favored continued restrictions on immigration built their argument around the high unemployment rates in America (In 1930, the unemployment rate was 8.9 percent; in 1932, 27 percent; in 1933, 25.2 percent; in 1935, 20.3 percent; in 1937, 14.5 percent; and in 1939, 20.1 percent).

In 1938, as unemployment was again on the rise, four separate polls indicated that between 71 and 85 percent of all Americans opposed increasing quotas to help refugees. Sixty-seven percent of Americans favored a halt to all immigration. During the 1930s, for the first time in U.S. history, those leaving the United States outnumbered those entering.

The American people rejected increasing Jewish immigration. Immediately following Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") in November 1938, 94 percent of a sample poll by the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago disapproved of Nazi treatment of Jews, but 72 percent were opposed to admitting a large number of German Jews into the United States. Even after Kristallnacht, two-thirds of the American public opposed the Wagner-Rogers bill that would have permitted 20,000 Jewish children (independent of the German quota) to enter the United States on an emergency basis. The bill was allowed to die in the Senate in 1939. Jewish leaders in America were deeply concerned about the dangers faced by German and Austrian Jews, but American Jewry, composed of disunited political factions, was unable to alter United States immigration policy.

Despite this generally gloomy history, it should be noted that the United States admitted 250,000 Jews between 1933 and 1945, and 115,000 Jewish refugees between 1940 and 1945.