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)