Anne Frank’s Family Tried to Escape to U.S. but Were Stopped by Tight Restrictions on Immigration

Attempts by Anne Frank’s father to escape the Nazis in Europe and travel to the United States were complicated by tight American restrictions on immigration at the time, one of a series of roadblocks that narrowed the Frank family’s options and thrust them into hiding, according to a new report released on Friday.

The research, conducted jointly by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, details the challenges faced by the Frank family and thousands of others looking to escape Europe as Nazi Germany gained strength and anti-refugee sentiment swept the United States.

Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was never outright denied an immigration visa, the report concludes, but “bureaucracy, war and time” thwarted his efforts.

In order to obtain a visa, Mr. Frank would have had to gather copies of family birth certificates, military records and proof of a paid ticket to America, among other documents, and be interviewed at the consulate.

In one instance, an application that Mr. Frank said he submitted in 1938 languished in an American consulate in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, amid a swell of similar applications and was lost in a bombing raid in 1940. Mr. Frank wrote to a friend that the extensive papers he had gathered as part of a visa application “have been destroyed there.”

In 1941, as Mr. Frank was again attempting to navigate the matrix of paperwork and sponsors necessary to immigrate, the United States government imposed a stricter review of applications for visas, grew suspicious of possible spies and saboteurs among Jewish refugees, and banned applicants with relatives in German-occupied countries.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned at the time that Jewish refugees could be “spying under compulsion,” and the report states that “national security took precedence over humanitarian concerns.”

Mr. Frank had sought help from an influential friend, Nathan Straus Jr., who was the head of the United States Housing Authority, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s and the son of a Macy’s co-owner. Despite Mr. Straus’s connections, Mr. Frank wrote to him that “all their efforts would be useless” given the immigration climate, the report states.

“We wanted to learn more about the process in itself and what documentation an applicant (e.g. Otto Frank) had to produce,” said Gertjan Broek, a researcher with the Anne Frank House who worked on the latest findings. “In the report, we point out how complex and tedious the process was and how the bombing of the Rotterdam consulate disrupted things.”

The report was released 76 years after the Frank family went into hiding on July 6, 1942. Researchers drew on dozens of pages of correspondence between Mr. Frank and friends, much of which was first made public in 2007, as well as records involving United States immigration policy.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Mihir Zaveri