April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Part 2

(Continued from last week)

By the time of the Kristallnacht, the exhausted officials at the American consulate in Stuttgart were overwhelmed by the flood of desperate people standing in line waiting to see whether there was any news about obtaining a visa to the U.S. Most left disappointed since there was a quota and tons of documents to complete. As an example, during a 12-month period ending June 1938, out of 23,000 people who applied for Visas, 14,000 were denied due to unsatisfactory documents. My mother must have been one of them, although I have no recollection of it. My father had already left Germany in May 1939 on the infamous M/V St. Louis to Cuba and back. Therefore, the burden of obtaining the necessary papers fell on my mother.

FDR’s actions in this crisis were hindered by public opinion that showed that only 5% of Americans were in favor of raising the immigration quota. Moreover, by 1939, FDR was tired and listless and concerned mostly with his chances of being reelected. When the war started, he was naturally mostly occupied with winning the war and building a United Nations thereafter.

Two weeks after Kristallnacht, postcards started arriving from the men in the Dachau concentration camp, the first notification of what had happened to them. After another two weeks some of the men appeared at their homes but in such poor physical condition that many did not want to take their coats of. My father only after many years started talking to the family about what he had experience in the Buchenwald concentration camp. When subsequently writing and talking about my Holocaust story, I was never willing to include details of my father’s experience. I did not want to then, and I do not want to now. The horror is not for the ears and eyes of young children. I did relate in my story a description of my father’s homecoming almost a month to the day after having been arrested during Kristallnacht.

It was at that time, as related in the book, and as confirmed by my own memory, that a middle name had to be added to all Jewish men and women. “Israel” for men and “Sara” for women were added on all documents. It is worthy to note that in Germany very few people, Jew or non-Jew, had second or middle names.

In November 1938, Göring, as an “atonement” for the murder of the German diplomat, ordered the German Jews to pay a fine of 1 billion Reichsmark. All insurance payments for the destruction of synagogues and businesses went directly to the state. Businesses owned by Jews were sold to non-Jews for pennies on the dollar. That was nothing new to me since that was one of the conditions my father had to agree to, in order to be released from Buchenwald.

On the subject of fines assessed on the Jews, there also was the “Reich flight tax” of 25% on all personal belongings and a 100% tax on all personal belongings purchased after 1933. Any remaining funds were blocked, meaning they could not be taken out of the country.

The description in the book of several families being able to buy landing passes to Cuba is familiar and is also part of my Holocaust story. My father, but not my mother or sons, was able to buy such a landing pass. I am sure most readers are familiar with the story of the M/S St. Louis and what occurred when she arrived in Cuba.

After the start of the WWII the United States went through a period of “fifth column” scares, which resulted in more stringent rules by the U.S. for the issuance of visas to German refugees. On June 29, 1940 a telegram from Washington ordered consuls to reject all visa applications “if there is any doubt whatsoever concerning the alien.” This cable practically stopped immigration. It was during that period, with my father already in the U.S. after having gotten his visa in late 1939, through an unexplained miracle, that my mother was trying to get a visa for herself and the boys. The result of the new instructions was as expected. For the previous two years ending in June 1940, American consuls had almost completely filled the German quota of 27,370 slots.

The Stuttgart consulate had issued between 400 and 600 visas per month for most of the previous year. That number dwindled to 19 in July and two in August. How my mother had the strength to handle these problems all by herself has always been a mystery to me.

Dear Reader, it is at this point that I come to the part of the history that I had mentioned earlier. It is the part that I was not familiar with and assumed that it also was unknown to the majority. If I am wrong in that assumption, and it is only I who missed learning about what I will describe next week, I apologize.

(To be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

 

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