The controversy over the plight of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Europe and the United States incidentally sparked a debate on social media after some users circulated a claim that the Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family had sought asylum in the United States but were denied entry.
Annelies Marie Frank (June 12, 1929 — February, 1945) is one of the most famous Jewish victims of the Holocaust whose wartime diary, “The Diary of a Young Girl,” brought her posthumous fame when it was published after the war.
Some social media users sympathetic to the plight of Syrian refugees made a comparison with the plight of Jewish refugees who sought asylum in the U.S. during the war, saying that restrictive policy of the U.S. authorities towards Jewish refugees during the war made possible the death of Anne Frank and thousands of other Jews in the hands of the Nazis.
Although many dismissed comparison between Anne Frank and Syrian refugees fleeing the ongoing carnage in their country, documents discovered for the first time in 2007 revealed that Anne Frank’s father, Otto Rank, had, indeed, made desperate efforts in 1941 to secure asylum for his family in the United States.
According to the New York Times in an article published in 2007, nearly 80 pages of documents discovered in 2007 by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research reveal the details of the efforts by Otto Frank to escape with his family from the Nazi-occupied Netherlands to the United States.
According to Professor Richard Breitman, history professor at the American University, the documents give insight into the complicated and tortuous process that European Jews trying to flee Nazi terror had to go through to secure refugee status and gain entry into the United States.
With the discovery, scholars now understand better why thousands of Jewish children, such as Anne Frank and her sister, Margot, perished at the hands of the Nazis. The U.S. State Department imposed severe restrictions against European Jews seeking asylum in the U.S., and many were unable to scale the hurdles.
— Charles Adler (@charlesadler) November 24, 2015
According to Breitman, “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 [a] time of war.”
Among the documents discovered in 2007 were three letters Otto Frank wrote to a friend, Nathan Straus Jr., son of a co-owner of Macy’s department store and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.
In one of the letters to Straus, who was head of the U.S. Housing Authority at the time, Frank asked his friend to put up a $5,000 bond, saying, “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. It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance.”
As danger closed in on his family living in Amsterdam, Frank made desperate but unfortunately late efforts to move his family to the U.S. Historians say he may have succeeded had he made moves to leave with his family earlier.
During the months Frank struggled to obtain a visa for himself and his family, Straus contacted the State Department on behalf of his friend and appealed to the immigration authorities.
Relatives – brothers of Frank’s wife, Edith — living in the U.S. willingly provided affidavits of support for the family through their employer. Frank filled out application forms, but the authorities rejected the application.
— Cindy Waitt (@cindywaitt) November 21, 2015
After efforts to get into the U.S. directly failed, Frank turned his attention to gaining entry to the U.S. through Cuba. But the efforts failed eventually.
The tight restrictions against European Jews seeking entry into the U.S. at the time was further complicated by a decision to deny entry for all European refugees who still had close relatives in Germany or in Nazi-occupied territories. The decision was due to fears that the Nazis could hold relatives hostage and use them to blackmail refugees living in the U.S. and force them to spy for the Nazi regime.
New Documents Reveal Anne Frank’s Father Tried to Seek… https://t.co/rTAGURxEHB #annefrank
— Anis (@anissira) November 19, 2015
Otto finally obtained a single visa for himself to Havana in Cuba. The visa was granted and forwarded to him on Dec. 1. But Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S ten days later, and Havana canceled Otto’s visa.
The entire family was thus stranded in Amsterdam.
Anne Frank and his sister, Margot, eventually died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February-March, 1945. Their mother, Edith, had died of starvation in Auschwitz in January, 1945. Only Otto Frank survived. He worked to get his daughter’s diary published in 1947.
According to Breitman, had Frank been able to get his daughters out of the Netherlands, Anne Frank would likely be today a 77-year-old woman, living probably in Boston.
The tragic fate of the family prompted Anne Frank’s step-sister, Eva Schloss, to compare the plight of Jewish refugees during World War II and Syrian refugees today, saying, “You must not be selfish and you must share whatever you have and help in a desperate situation. They need help from you… This is history repeating itself.”
[Image via Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam/Wikimedia]