Jewish Immigration, Part 1: Quotas & Suspicion

Jewish Immigration, Part 1: Quotas & Suspicion

This is Day 8 of the Family History Writing Challenge, 2018

One of the key sources of information I have about Bertha and Adolph Schweitzer is the form they filled out in an attempt to leave Vienna. While I gather information on and interpret this document in the search for the identities of my great aunt and uncle, I’m going to take a brief digression into the general question of Austrian Jewish entry into the United States during the Nazi era. What with the current tightening of immigration laws–and suspicion of immigrants–it’s a frighteningly timely topic.

A Squeeze Play

The Nazis wanted the Jews to leave Austria; they also wanted their assets. Ironically, as a result of the confiscation of Jewish property and wealth in the form of “exit taxes,” many Jews couldn’t afford to exit. That was the case with my grandparents, Hermann and Ernestine Rosenbaum, who could only gather enough money for one boat passage to the U.S.

Rosenbaum family, Summer 1938, probably the last family picture taken together

Naturally they sent their only child, my mother Rita.

American Restrictions on Immigration

The fact is, even if the Rosenbaums had been left with enough money to pay for their passage, there is a good chance a family of three would not have been able to enter the U.S. There were strict restrictions on immigration in general and Jewish immigration in particular:

In late 1938, American consulates were flooded with 125,000 applicants for visas, many coming from Germany and the annexed territories of Austria. But national quotas for German and Austrian immigrants had been set firmly at 27,000.

Immigration restrictions actually tightened as the refugee crisis worsened. Wartime measures demanded special scrutiny of anyone with relatives in Nazi territories—even relatives in concentration camps. At a press conference, President Roosevelt repeated the unproven claims from his advisers that some Jewish refugees had been coerced to spy for the Nazis. “Not all of them are voluntary spies,” Roosevelt said. “It is rather a horrible story, but in some of the other countries that refugees out of Germany have gone to, especially Jewish refugees, they found a number of definitely proven spies.”

Sound familiar? I can’t help but wonder how many of them were “definitely proven spies.”

Be that as it may, those who wanted to enter the U.S. had to have a sponsor who would write an affidavit of support saying that they would vouch for them financially — so that they would “not become public charges,” as one current U.S. immigration form puts it.

Tomorrow: Sponsorship quandaries and family feuds.

2 Responses to Jewish Immigration, Part 1: Quotas & Suspicion

  1. Elaine Schmerling says:

    Wow. The comparison, and state of immigration in this country now, are frightening. The only thing I am hopeful about is that we can change for the better one day (can’t be soon enough for me).

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Hear, hear! The more I write about these topics, the more terrified I get. Current events are eerily similar in so many ways.

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