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Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry as refugees to the U.S.

By Elahe Izadi


Many have noted the historical parallels between the current debate over Syrians seeking refuge in the United States and the plight of European Jews fleeing German-occupied territories on the eve of World War II.

Among the many who tried — and failed — to escape Nazi persecution: Otto Frank and his family, which included wife, Edith, and his daughters, Margot and Anne. And while the story of the family’s desperate attempts ending in futility may seem remarkable today, it’s emblematic of what a number of other Jews fleeing German-occupied territories experienced, American University history professor Richard Breitman wrote in 2007 upon the discovery of documents chronicling the Franks’ struggle to get U.S. visas.

“Otto Frank’s efforts to get his family to the United States ran afoul of restrictive American immigration policies designed to protect national security and guard against an influx of foreigners during time of war,” Breitman wrote.

The historian told NPR in 2007 that the documents suggest “Anne Frank could be a 77-year-old woman living in Boston today – a writer.”

Instead, she died at the age of 15 at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

[What Americans thought of Jewish refugees on the eve of World War II]

Otto Frank tried relatively late to obtain visas to the United States, a convoluted and ultimately doomed process laid bare in the nearly 80 pages of documents unearthed by the the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Even Frank’s high-level connections within American business and political circles weren’t enough to secure safe passage for his family.

“The story seems to unfold in slow motion as the painstaking exchange of letters journey across continents and from state to state, their information often outdated by the time they arrive,” the New York Times wrote after reviewing the YIVO documents. “Each page adds a layer of sorrow as the tortuous process for gaining entry to the United States — involving sponsors, large sums of money, affidavits and proof of how their entry would benefit America — is laid out. The moment the Franks and their American supporters overcame one administrative or logistical obstacle, another arose.”

Trying to get out
By 1941, the Frank family had already relocated from Germany to the Netherlands where, just a few years earlier, Otto Frank applied for visas to the United States — applications that were eventually destroyed, Frank wrote in a letter to his old college friend in the United States, Nathan Straus Jr.
“I am forced to look out for emigration and as far as I can see U.S.A. is the only country we could go to,” Frank wrote on April 30, 1941. “Perhaps you remember that we have two girls. It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance.”

Frank asked his friend to potentially put up $5,000 to cover a deposit for the visas. “You are the only person I know that I can ask,” Frank writes.
A photograph of Otto Frank, with his daughters Anne, center, and Margot, is displayed alongside yellow stars worn by Dutch Jews at an exhibit of letters and documents in New York. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
Straus was a connected man — the son of a Macy’s co-owner, the head of the U.S. Housing Authority and, according to the Times, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s. The YIVO documents show that Straus and his wife, Helen, became involved in the saga, appealing to the State Department and the Migration Department at the National Refugee Service.

Edith Frank’s brothers stepped in to help; they had already come to the United States and were willing to supply affidavits of support. Otto Frank was worried that his wife’s brothers, “as ordinary workmen around Boston,” wouldn’t have sufficient money to convince American immigration officials that they could support the Franks. Eventually, the brothers’ employer submitted affidavits in support of the family.

[Yes, the comparison between Jewish and Syrian refugees matters]

Otto Frank may have been successful had he tried to leave sooner, but, as New York University professor of Holocaust


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