tv German Jews and U.S. Refugee Policy 1930s-40s CSPAN July 30, 2019 11:21pm-12:24am EDT
more american history tv with author and journalist michael dobbs on his book, "the unwanted" which tells a story of jewish families from the french and german border. hosted by the jewish museum of maryland. this is about an hour. >> if everyone will take their seats, i am the director of the jewish museum of maryland. it is my pleasure to welcome you to tonight's program with michael dobbs author of the book, "the unwanted". we are delighted to be joined by the viewers of c-span. tonight's program is part of baltimore's spring of remembrance. collaborations, a collaboration of remembrance.
in the next room, you will find the exhibit with history from the holocaust developed by our colleagues of the jewish museum in milwaukee. it tells of a family who attempted to escape fromoccupied prague. their request filled in the parish. they have been brought to life again as testimony to some of what america lost when we refuse to feed desperate souls who were unwanted. it was not just the haters complicit in the murder of the innocent mr. dobbs' talk is part of the series made possible by the generous request of gloria l shapiro. i want to thank our partners tonight, the library in the united states holocaust memorial museum. here to introduce mr. dobbs as
the holocaust museum's mid- atlantic director, andre -- andrew abril. >> thank you, marvin. my name is undress a brill. -- andrew abril. thank you for having me. outside of the museum's building in washington dc, there is a large wall hanging as you leave the museum. it captures what animates our work every day. the next time you witness hatred, inc. about what you saw. the next time you see injustice, think about what you saw. the next time you hear about genocide, think about what you saw. the museum's work centers on
memory and action. we best honor those who perished by learning the lessons of the holocaust and empowering visitors to think critically about their roles and responsibilities as citizens in a democracy today. well before the holocaust museum was founded in 1979, the president's commission on the holocaust led by the late a leave easel -- elie weisel. this is a groundbreaking initiative which includes a new, special exhibition. we ask visitors to step into the light, life of normal
americans in the 1930s and 40s without the benefit of hindsight. and to explore the pressures and motivations that influenced american's responses to the growing -- nazi threat in europe. we hope your experience inspires visitors to think about roles and responsibilities in protecting democracy today. tonight, we are thrilled to be able to introduce to you a new aspect of the americans in the holocaust initiative with the book, "the unwanted" written by michael dobbs. during this evening's program, michael introduce you to the jewish residents of kip and chaim. a small german village on the edge of the black forest and the leaders of the u.s., germany and france whose actions had a direct impact on the fate of these families. by publishing this book, the museum is seeking to help
readers understand the human impact of these american responses on the mothers, fathers and children caught in the crosshairs of nazi brutality. it is now my pleasure to introduce the author of "the unwanted", michael dobbs. he is a writer my researcher with the holocaust memorial museum and a longtime washington post reporter working as a foreign correspondent around the world. he has also written many books including six months in 1945 from world war to cold war. and then one night. about the cuban missile crisis. i'm delighted to welcome michael dobbs. >> thank you very much for your kind remarks.
perhaps i should tell you a little bit about the subtitle. actually, finding a title was very difficult. you have to compress the entire theme of a 300 page book into two-three words. the inspiration was the signs that appeared all over nazi germany. jews are unwanted here. the question was, of course they were unwanted in their own homeland of germany. even though they represented actually about half the population. there were about 520,000 dues living in germany but they were unwanted there.
the question is, where they unwanted anywhere else? this is one of the themes that are exhibit looks at the question of refuge and whether or not the u.s. government provided refuge to jewish refugees fleeing nazi persecution through europe. overwhelmingly, jus -- jews wanted to come to america. second -- first was wanting to come to america, second was probably immigrating to palestine. i look at this in the fate of a village on the edge of the black forest. some of the families that i
focus on in the book succeed in making it to america. others don't. in other cases, the fate of those who did not make it to america, they ended up in auschwitz. that explains the subtitle of the book. the question is why. whited some people end up at auschwitz and others in america? this question upsets me as i did the result, the research for this book the simplest answer to that question is whether they succeeded in obtaining what the american journalists dorothy thompson called a piece of a paper with a stamp. according to thompson it could mean and very often did mean the difference between life and death. dorothy thompson had been one of the most american
journalists to report from nazi germany. in 1938, the refugee crisis was growing. already in 1938, she writes, that it is a fantastic commentary on the and humanitarian of our time. i wanted to dive into the lives of the people who are trying to obtain these stamps. i also wanted to display the decision-making, the policymaking that went into whether or not you were issued with these life-saving visas. quite a few books have been written about u.s. immigration and refugee policy during this period. as far as i know, none of the books that were focused on the
debate that was taking place in washington and the united dates. the political and bureaucratic debate. they don't connect this debate to the fates of individual jews trying to reach the united states. that is the purpose of my book. to describe what was happening in washington ima but also relate it to the lives of people trying to get to the united states. i wanted, i am a former journalist and journalists have a tendency to give concrete examples. i wanted to focus on the experiences of the single german-tran22. i ended up choosing a place called kip and chaim on the edge of the black forest. had a, dues -- jews had been
living in this village in, for 300 years in some cases. they were allowed to settle. the preface was to supply the armies of baden. germany did not exist at the time. so, these are three photographs illustrating jewish life kippenhein when hitler comes to power the first photograph, the top left-hand corner is a
photograph of a wedding of a family. max was a cigarette and cigar distributor. this is his daughter who is being escorted to the synagogue in kippenhein just a week or two weeks before hitler came to power in january 1933. you can see it is a perfectly normal scene a peaceful procession through the seat, through the street. people are looking respectfully at this jewish wedding. there is even a german policeman who is keeping order in the village. just two years later, a photograph down below, the brownshirts have arrived in kippenhein. and holding demonstrations. in this case, with the kippenhein
firm. this demonstration is outside the house of one of the jewish residents of kippenhein. there looking through the window. the jews living in the house next to where the demonstration was taking place are looking peacefully through the window and actually enjoying, enjoying the music before they understand and really grasp the lyrics to the music which in many cases was death to the jews. there was a famous song that the storm troopers used to seeing about jewish blood. but they photograph here, november 1938, just three years later. of course it was the peak of
persecution, maybe not the peak but the time when harassment turned to physical violence. as in other german-jewish communities, all the jewish men were rounded up and sent, and their case to the dock how -- .child concentration camp. there was instruction not to burn down synagogues right next to christian property but the interior of the synagogue was destroyed by the youth members. on the left-hand side of the photograph, you can see little boys probably teenagers, looking for shattered pieces of crystal in the wreckage of the synagogue. in other words, it took just five years. between 1933 and 1938 for a
peaceful community to become the target of horrific violence. it was that night, there was debate about this before, but any doubts that the jewish community had about whether or not they should emigrate from germany, they were all resolved and swept away after this night. people understood very clearly that in order to survive, they had to get out of germany. so just to say a few words about how i came to choose this particular village among all the other jewish communities in germany. before i started researching, i had not really understood that before the deportations began to the east in 1941 and 1942,
there were -- to the west. the leader of baden decided after the fall of france in 1940 , november 1940 that he would expel the entire jewish population and dump them across the border in france. 6500 jews were rounded up over nine -- overnight and taken to local train stations. they were taken by train to the southern part of france and dumped in a concentration camp in france called the -- in the shadow of the pyrenees. this pose a challenge to u.s. policy because when the jews arrived and france, the french did not want them.
they immediately turned to the united states and said, they said to the u.s. government, the motive that fdr talked a lot about resolving, they said the u.s. should be willing to take action to support the rhetoric and accept their fair share of the jews that had been expelled from nazi germany. the reason given was that if the german government succeeds in expelling and deporting this group of jews, they will try the same trick in other parts of germany. they will repeat ethnic cleansing.
if they will ethnically cleanse this part of germany they will ethnically cleanse other parts of germany me. in hindsight, we could say it would have been a good idea if they were allowed to expel the entire jewish population. but we did not know it at the time. this was before the death camps had been created. so, fdr essentially did the state department in refusing to allow, refusing to accept the french request to allow these jews to emigrate to america. but i thought, for the purpose of my book, this was an interesting case study. because even after they arrived in france, they could not go as a group to the united states. they still, for the most part, applied for u.s. visas. when they got to the camp in france, they continued the request for american visas.
there was a u.s. consulate in marseille transferring their previous applications from stuttgart to marseille. there about 500 jewish communities in this part of germany. in baden. i chose kippenheim largely because we have autographs of this deportation. there are very few photographs of deportations of the jewish from germany. but what makes these photographs remarkable is, not only do you see here, the jewish being led out of their house and put on a truck to be taken to the railway station, but because kippenheim is a fairly small place, we know who these people are. this is the meyer family. securing meyer the man right in the back of the line, he began
as a peddler but then he became a tradesman. quite a successful tradesman. his wife is already on the truck together with his older son. this is his mother and father. and this is his son. he was 10 years old at the time. we can even trace the root of the truck as it went around the village collecting families. when i saw this photograph i wondered, what became of these people? there is another photograph just round the corner outside the home of the cigar distributor. this is max behind his wife fanny. there being put on the truck. there being taken to the railway station to be taken to
france. you say this is a normal day. it is all happening at about 10 am-11 them. they were given time to take their bags. they were given two suitcases each. there is a tower you can see in the background here. it was a very rural community. many of the jewish were dealers. i wondered what happened later to max and fanny and what happened to the meyer family and how would they stay connected to this debate that i talked about that was happening across the ocean in the united states. this is october 1940. i said november, it is october.
i just want to sort of give the historical context here. four were five months before, the german are many -- german army had invaded. before france created this, it impacted the united states. people are wondering how this country with a strong are many -- army fell so quickly. the idea, nazi agents coming into countries like france, scandinavian countries and then threatening the united states was spread through american public opinion extremely quickly.
the fbi in june 1940 after the fall of france received about 3000 telephone tips per day about the presence of nazi agents. they suspected perfectly respectable german-jewish family, they were reported to the fbi. this led to a climate in the united states where legitimate national security concerns became a phobia about any new agents coming into the country. the secretary of state issued instructions during the summer of 1940 that if there is any doubt whatsoever concerning the aliens coming he instructed the u.s. consul in europe to reject the visa application. this was the background to
decision-making about accepting refugees at the time when this deportation to france took place in october 1914. and the fear of nazi agents went all the way to to the top and fdr. fdr had been assistant secretary of the navy. he had experienced, successful attempts at sabotage during the first world war. there was a huge explosion of ammunition. right across from the statue of liberty in new jersey which succeeded in partially destroying the statue of liberty. and roosevelt felt that the germans would probably try the same thing again in the second world war. and actually, when the german army marched into france, roosevelt in a public speech links the question of refugees
to the question of nazi agents. the refugees have got to be checked because unfortunately among the refugees, there are some spies that have been found in other countries. he is talking mainly about france and scandinavia, norway. eleanor roosevelt had a friend idea. the dynamics between eleanor and fdr are one of the things i explore in this book. she talked about being swept away from the traditional defense of civil liberties. are we going to keep our heads she asked at about the same time her husband is warning of the threat posed not by all refugees but by some. so what is happening in the united dates when these families that i focus on arrive in france and start trying to apply for american visas, or to
continue their request for american visas. their experience is summed up by an american relief worker who was in marseille at the time trying to rescue endangered cultural figures. he saw what was happening in the consulate, not just the u.s. consulate, here is a photograph from the holocaust archives of the crowd of visa seekers outside the u.s. consulate in 1941. it was written that the rigmarole is inhuman. it is almost killing the refugees. they have to wait for recorders and lines over and over again until their shriveled and shrunk by the experience. we also have testimony from max
and family. they were permitted to correspond with their families in europe or the united states. we have some letters from fanny and max to their children. first of all there is a letter that talks about their deportation from kippenheim. most of it, the gentleman they're -- to back into the house. no linen. nothing that we had acquired over the years. when she arrives she wrote, we have become agurs. i cannot grasp that we have
become so poor and helpless. my eyes hurt from crying. kind of a sweet children. do not go and forget us. go to the committee there and do all that is necessary so that we get some relief from the mess we are in. so, i write about other families but for the purpose of this talk i am just going to describe what happens to the meyer family and max and fanny. the meyer family back in kippenheim had a car. life was pretty good for them. this is the town in france at the bottom of the screen. what everybody remembers is the mud and the rain in the winter of 1940. here is an old woman trudging through the mud outside these ramshackle huts were everybody had to live.
the myers were lucky because they had applied for u.s. visas 3-4 years beforehand. they had even been approved before they had been deported from germany. so when they got to france, with a help, with the help of an organization. they were the main agency that was trying to help jewish families get out of france and get to the u.s. with the help of the organization, the, and also with the affidavits from their relatives who also supplied enough money for the transatlantic passage, they got to the united states on a long secured. it took them to casablanca and
morocco. they got out of france after a few months. they were among the lucky ones. the fate of the, of max and fanny was very different. they came very close to receiving american visas on several different occasions. but, each time it seems that their visas were about to be approved, something would happen. they would not be issued the visas. for example, they were told to report to the u.s. consulate in marseille on december 8 1941. their visas had been approved. they showed up, it was a monday. the previous day of course, pearl harbor had been bombed in the united states found itself at war with nazi germany. so they showed up at the consulate and they said, we can't issue the visas right now
, there is an emergency and they will have to be further checked. they weren't rejected but they were told we have to have further checks. and we actually have a letter from fanny to her children after this saying, when i first arrived here, this is an early 1942, a month or so after pearl harbor, we expected to leave for the united states after four weeks. it did not work out that way. now, we must wait until it is our turn. we have nothing to do but suffer. fanny actually was much more patient than her husband. she tried to sort of remove herself from the daily struggle to get visas while her husband was going every day or every other day or going personally to the consulates and writing,
and trying to do anything to get out. in the meantime, in the united states, to review all these applications on hold, the u.s. government created an interdepartmental visa review committee with different agencies including the fbi, the department of war, office of naval intelligence, the state department to the justice department. they would meet in washington and they would invite the relatives to essentially invite them to demonstrate that their loved ones back in france trying to get out were not threats to u.s. national security. it was the onus on the relatives to prove that their friends or relatives in france were not nazi agents.
in any event, in july 1942, the visa review committees approach the visas for max and fanny. the tragedy was that in august 1942, just a couple weeks after their visas had finally been approved back in washington, german policy changed and they now started, they did not anymore allow people to emigrate. the policy was annihilation. beginning with the jewish who had ended up in the countries germany had conquered including france. under pressure from the germans, the french began handing over their foreign jewish internees to the germans beginning with max and fanny.
they were amongst the first to be transported. first from a camp near marseille and then subsequently to auschwitz at the very time when they had finally reached the front of the line for american visas. we have a letter from max and fanny's son who lived in chicago. he had gone to washington to plead the case of his parents and when he learned that their visas had been approved, he wrote to his parents and friends and said, i see you trying to keep the tears from your cheeks. keep your heads high. god willing you will soon be able to set foot in this wonderful country. actually, as far as we know, they did not receive the letter. it was returned to the united states.
so what happened to these 6500 deportees that i talked about? roughly half ended up in auschwitz including max and fanny. 25% including the grandfather of the meyer family died in french camp's in atrocious conditions. about 12%, mainly young children, managed to hide out in france to survive the were. about 12% including the meyer family, except for the grandfather emigrated to the united states not only to the united states mainly to the united states. so what determined whether you survived or did not?
you cannot reduce it to a single factor but i have tried to list some of the factors here. one is the date of your emigration application. whether it was before or after august 1938. august 1938 turned out to be a watershed because it was the period when the persecution of the jews in germany started to become much more dramatic and people who thought they could hang on decided it was not possible. so the waiting lists became unmanageable after august 1938. max and fanny, in contrast to their children applied after august 30 eight. -- august 1938, september, actually.
this was connected to the question of education and wealth. by and large, it was the better educated people, those with resources who managed to leave. younger people were the first to try to leave as illustrated by max and fanny's family, their children. women by and large were more anxious to leave then men. fanny was the one who first had the idea to leave. he had sort of a good business, he felt he had more reason to stay than either his children or his wife. actually, the quote is, the german quota turned out to be quite generous. 27,000 people were allowed to emigrate from germany to the
united states every year which was much more than the quote is for east european countries. the german jews were favored over eastern european jews . as a result, the survival rate of the german-jewish is much higher than those from eastern europe. this all feeds into the attitudes of the u.s. consuls and policymakers and u.s. immigration policy at the time. national security, i found this direct connection between national security scares in the united states, particularly after the fall of france in june 1940 in the dates of individual jewish families. the attitude of individual
councils varied greatly. someone ought sympathetic at all. and finally, luck. had max and fanny been invited just a few days earlier the previous week they would probably have been issued visas and been able to get out of trance. a matter of just a couple days meant in their case the difference between life and death. one of the their children was aboard the st. louis. they were turned back from cuba and were not allowed to come to the united states. they were sent to europe and they were distributed among different european countries. this family ended up in the uk, in england. tactically everybody who ended up in the uk survived.
but, many of their friends who were admitted to france or belgium and the netherlands did not have the same good fortune. so luck also plays a role. >> another reason i wrote this book was that i began to search for survivors. with google, you can do anything these days. practically our next-door neighbor to the u.s. holocaust memorial museum. kurt is still very attached to