Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

Kennedy, David M.

Oxford University, 1999

413 - 414, 417

In the 1930s, as the crisis for Jews deepened in Germany, the United States remained inhospitable to desperate Jewish refugees. The Nazis had decreed that no Jew leaving Germany could do so with more than $4, “essentially pauperizing any Jew trying to leave the country.” Meanwhile, the United States had strict “immigration statutes,” which “forbade issuing visas to persons ‘likely to become a public charge.’” President Hoover ordered officials to apply this statute strictly. The broader difficulty was in America’s general stinginess where immigration was concerned. The National Origins Act of 1924 had “imposed a ceiling of 150,000 immigrants per year, with quota allocated by country on the basis of a given nationality’s proportional presence in the census of 1920.” There was no provision for asylum for refugees. And America was in the Great Depression. Allow more poor people in the door? Out of the question. A nation of immigrants wanted to squeeze the flow of new immigrants down to a trickle. President Roosevelt helped the situation modestly after Germany invaded Austria. He merged German and Austrian quotas and ordered the “special expediting of Jewish visa applications.” This move allowed 50,000 imperiled Jews to immigrate to the U.S. in the two years following Germany’s invasion of Austria. But America’s heart remained cold. (P. 417) Even after Kristallnacht, when Americans were polled about whether Congress should open the country’s doors to a larger number of immigrants, “85% of Protestants, 84% of Catholics, and an astonishing 25.8% of Jews answered no. Americans might extend their hearts to Hitler’s victims, but not their hands.”