The Unknown Safe Haven

Frank Shapiro investigates the options open to Jews who wanted to leave Nazi Germany prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, and considers why one possible route to safety was abandoned.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Nazi policy against the Jews included disenfranchisement of their civil rights and enforced emigration (judenrein). From Hitler’s installation in power in January 1933 and up to November 9th, 1938, the expulsion of the Jews was conducted in a relatively ordered manner. But the pogrom of Kristallnacht caused this orderly emigration to break down and panic erupted as Jewish leaders, among 30,000 Jews, were rounded up for the concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands of Jews now sought asylum abroad.         

Yet many possible destination countries had alien laws that caused the free Western countries wholly or partially to refuse to receive Jewish refugees. While some countries simply reinforced existing anti-immigration laws such as the 1905 Aliens Act in Britain, or the 1924 Immigration Act in the United States, others enacted new ones. Here and there allocations were reluctantly granted to individuals, but on the whole immigration was restricted to minuscule proportions. The Evian Conference on Refugees, which convened in France in July 1938 to resolve the refugee problem, petered out in a cloud of rhetoric.

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