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Were there restrictions on German refugees entering the US during World War II?


It is known that many Germans (especially Jews) migrated to the US during WW2.

Now, I was wondering about the formal requirements for refugees to be admitted into the US at that time. Was any German citizen able to move to the US or were there severe restrictions?


With very few exceptions, immigration into the United States had been largely shut down by the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924. Nearly all the European refugees who came to the United States before 1941 did so illegally, sneaking into the country, usually through Canada, or by overstaying specialized visas, such as visas granted to journalists. After December 1941 all of Europe and the United States was heavily militarized and it was very difficult to cross borders at all, even illegally, so anyone who failed to get out before that time was likely to be stuck unless they were rich and very resourceful.


Were there restrictions on German refugees entering the US during World War II? - History

Gradually during the late 19th and early 20th century, the United States imposed additional restrictions on immigration. In 1882, excluded people were likely to become public charges. It subsequently prohibited the immigration of contract laborers (1885) and illiterates (1917), and all Asian immigrants (except for Filipinos, who were U.S. nationals) (1917). Other acts restricted the entry of certain criminals, people who were considered immoral, those suffering from certain diseases, and paupers. Under the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907-1908, the Japanese government agreed to limit passports issued to Japanese in order to permit wives to enter the United States and in 1917, the United States barred all Asian immigrants except for Filipinos, who were U.S. nationals. Intolerance toward immigrants from southern and eastern Europe resulted in the Immigration Act of 1924, which placed a numerical cap on immigration and instituted a deliberately discriminatory system of national quotas. In 1965, the United States adopted a new immigration law which ended the quota system.

During the 20th century, all advanced countries imposed restrictions on the entry of immigrants. A variety of factors encouraged immigration restriction. These include a concern about the impact of immigration on the economic well-being of a country's workforce as well as anxiety about the feasibility of assimilating immigrants of diverse ethnic and cultural origins. Especially following World War I and World War II, countries expressed concern that foreign immigrants might threaten national security by introducing alien ideologies.

It is only in the 20th century that governments became capable of effectively enforcing immigration restrictions. Before the 20th century, Russia was the only major European country to enforce a system of passports and travel regulations. During and after World War I, however, many western countries adopted systems of passports and border controls as well as more restrictive immigration laws. The Russian Revolution prompted fear of foreign radicalism exacerbated by the Russian Revolution, while many countries feared that their societies would be overwhelmed by a postwar surge of refugees.

Among the first societies to adopt restrictive immigration policies were Europe's overseas colonies. Apart from prohibitions on the slave trade, many of the earliest immigration restrictions were aimed at Asian immigrants. The United States imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. It barred the entry of Chinese laborers and established stringent conditions under which Chinese merchants and their families could enter. Canada also imposed restrictions on Chinese immigration. It imposed a "head" tax (which was $500 in 1904) and required migrants to arrive by a "continuous voyage."


Were there restrictions on German refugees entering the US during World War II? - History

Between 1933 and 1939, Jews in Germany progressively were subjected to economic boycott the loss of civil rights, citizenship, and jobs incarceration in concentration camps and random violence.

Forcibly segregated from German society, some Jews turned to and expanded their own institutions and social organizations, but many chose to flee Germany. At first, the German government encouraged Jews to emigrate and placed few restrictions on what possessions they could take. Gradually, however, the Nazis sought to deprive Jews fleeing Germany of their property by levying an increasingly heavy emigration tax and by restricting the amount of money that could be transferred abroad from German banks.

By March 1938, Germany had annexed Austria (Anschluss) incorporating it into the German Reich. Nazi treatment of Jews in Austria immediately following the Anschluss was particularly brutal, and an office soon was established to facilitate the swift emigration of Austria's Jews.

Following Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass"), the state-organized pogrom of November 9-11, 1938, the German government confiscated most of the remaining Jewish-owned property and entirely excluded Jews from the German economy. Emigration increased dramatically as most Jews decided that there was no longer a future for them in Germany thus, individuals and entire families became refugees.

In 1933, close to 600,000 Jews were living in Germany and 185,000 were in Austria. By 1940, close to half of these Jews had fled to other countries. More than 100,000 German-Jewish émigrés traveled to western European countries, especially France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Approximately 8,000 entered Switzerland and 48,000 went to Great Britain and other European countries.

About 90,000 German-Jewish refugees were able to immigrate to the United States and 60,000 to Palestine, which was then under British Mandate. An additional 84,000 German-Jewish refugees immigrated to Central and South America, and because the Japanese-controlled city of Shanghai in China did not require visas or certificates of good conduct from Jewish immigrants, 15,000-18,000 Jews found refuge there.

As the number of people fleeing Nazi persecution increased, more and more countries refused to accept refugees, and by 1939 the number of havens available to Jewish refugees dwindled. Switzerland feared that massive numbers of German Jews would cross their border, and the British government continued to restrict Jewish immigration to Palestine. Unfortunately, by 1940, emigration from Nazi Germany became virtually impossible, and in October 1941 it was officially forbidden by the German government.

THE UNITED STATES AND THE REFUGEE CRISIS
  1. Visa Application (five copies)
  2. Birth Certificate (two copies quotas were assigned by country of birth)
  3. The Quota Number must have been reached (This established the person's place on the waiting list to enter the United States.)
  4. A Certificate of Good Conduct from German police authorities, including two copies respectively of the following:
    • Police dossier
    • Prison record
    • Military record
    • Other government records about the individual
    1. Affidavits of Good Conduct (required after September 1940)
    2. Proof that the applicant passed a Physical Examination at the U.S. Consulate
    3. Proof of Permission To Leave Germany (imposed September 30, 1939)
    4. Proof that the prospective immigrant had Booked Passage to the Western Hemisphere (required after September 1939)
    5. Two Sponsors ("affiants") close relatives of prospective immigrants were preferred. The sponsors must have been American citizens or have had permanent resident status, and they must have filled out an Affidavit of Support and Sponsorship (six copies notarized), as well as provided:
      • Certified copy of their most recent Federal tax return
      • Affidavit from a bank regarding their accounts
      • Affidavit from any other responsible person regarding other assets (an affidavit from the sponsor's employer or a statement of commercial rating)
      FRANCE

      During the 1930s, many German Jews and other refugees fled from Nazi Germany to France. By 1939, France imposed restrictions on Jewish immigration and set up internment camps for refugees. There were more than 300,000 Jews in France when German troops invaded the country in June 1940.

      Under the terms of the armistice between France and Germany, northern France remained under German occupation. Southern France, which was not occupied by the Germans, was governed by an exclusively French administration based in the town of Vichy. The Vichy regime publicly declared neutrality in the war, but actually was active in passing antisemitic legislation and cooperated with Germany in the deportation of Jews from France.

      Jews were excluded from public life, and were removed from the civil service, the army, professions, commerce, and industry. In July 1941, the Vichy government began an extensive program of "Aryanization," and confiscated Jewish-owned property for the French state. Many Jews became destitute and foreign Jews were particularly vulnerable as thousands were deported to internment camps.

      Refugees fleeing southern France had to maneuver through a bewildering and often insensitive bureaucracy. The Vichy regime required that a potential emigrant have a valid entry visa for their destination country, reserved passage on a ship out of France, or a transit visa for a country bordering France (usually Spain, through which refugees traveled to Portugal). In order to secure transit visas, a refugee must have first secured passage on a ship from his or her point of embarkation. Reservations for passage on a ship were commonly valid for no more than three weeks. Within that time, an individual had to secure a transit visa from one or more foreign consulates. Only when a refugee had completed these steps would the French consider his or her application for an exit visa. Often, by the time one set of papers was approved, validation of another had expired.

      French authorities shared applications for exit visas with the Gestapo, and Vichy police had authorization to arrest foreign Jews without cause and place them in internment camps. Under Article 19 of the Franco-German armistice, French authorities pledged to "surrender on demand" any refugees that the Nazis sought for political or racial reasons.

      For refugees imprisoned in French internment camps, it was nearly impossible to navigate the visa application process, especially within the required time span. Many sought means of illegal emigration rather than approach the authorities in hope of receiving visa approval. By the end of 1941, most legal avenues of escape were closed, and by the summer of 1942, the Nazis began large-scale deportations of Jews from France to killing centers in occupied-Poland, primarily to Auschwitz.

      Throughout the summer and fall of 1942, French police rounded up Jews, mainly those without French citizenship, in both the German-occupied and Vichy-governed zones. Throughout France, Jews were assembled in camps and then loaded onto cattle cars. They were deported first to the Drancy transit camp (northeast of Paris), which became the main center for deportations from France. During that year over 60 transports (carrying more than 40,000 Jews) left Drancy, mainly for the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center.

      German and Italian forces occupied the southern zone of France in November 1942, and having won the cooperation of Vichy authorities in the deportation of foreign and stateless Jews, German authorities began deporting Jews with French citizenship. Thousands of French Jews went into hiding and some joined partisan units to fight the Germans. Others escaped to nearby neutral countries (such as Spain or Switzerland), or sought protection in the Italian-occupied zone. Until the Italian surrender on September 8, 1943, Italian civilian and military authorities generally assisted Jews wherever they could.

      The last deportation from France to the killing centers in the East occurred in the summer of 1944. By then, about 75,000 Jews (25 percent of the Jews in France), primarily refugees from other countries, had been deported. Although several transports were sent to Majdanek and Sobibor, the majority were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most of the deportees were killed.

      BELGIUM

      Germany invaded and occupied Belgium in May 1940. At that time, more than 65,000 Jews lived in Belgium, primarily in Antwerp and Brussels 90 percent of them were refugees and immigrants. In the summer of 1940, some German Jews and political refugees in Belgium were deported to camps in southern France, such as Gurs and St. Cyprien.

      German military authorities instituted anti-Jewish laws and ordinances in Belgium that restricted the civil rights of Jews, confiscated their property and businesses, and banned them from certain professions. Jews were isolated from their fellow countrymen and were forced to wear a yellow star on their clothing.

      Initially, Belgian Jews were rounded up for forced labor. In late July 1942, the German Security Police and SD officials ordered Jews to report to the Mechelen camp, ostensibly to be sent to work camps in Germany. Few Jews voluntarily reported to the camp and the personnel of various German military and police agencies began arresting Jews throughout Belgium and interning them in Mechelen. From there they were deported to killing centers, mostly Auschwitz-Birkenau.

      Between August and December 1942, two transports with about 1,000 Jews each left the Mechelen camp every week for the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Between August 1942 and July 1944, 28 trains carrying more than 25,000 Jews left Belgium, primarily for Auschwitz via Mechelen.

      The arrests of Jews and the beginning of deportations met with increasing resistance in Belgium. About 25,000 Jews avoided deportation by hiding from the German authorities or fleeing to neutral Switzerland, Spain, or Portugal via the unoccupied zone in southern France. The Belgian civilian administration refused to cooperate in the deportations, leaving the German military police to carry out the deportations largely without assistance from the Belgians.

      In 1942, the Jewish underground destroyed the registry of Belgian Jews, hindering deportations. There were many escapes from deportation trains and in mid-April 1943, the Jewish underground, together with the Belgian resistance, derailed a train carrying Jews from the Mechelen camp to Auschwitz. Most of the Jews on that transport were captured and later deported.

      .

      THE NETHERLANDS

      In May 1940, Germany invaded and occupied the Netherlands. The Dutch civilian administration continued to function, under German control, but Queen Wilhelmina and her government fled to Great Britain. German policy in the Netherlands was determined by the Reich Commissar for the Occupied Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who actively promoted anti-Jewish measures and insisted on strict compliance with them. Between 1940 and 1942, Seyss-Inquart instituted anti-Jewish laws and ordinances that restricted the civil rights of Jews, confiscated their property and businesses, and banned them from certain professions. Jews were isolated from their fellow countrymen and were forced to wear a yellow star on their clothing.

      In January 1941, Seyss-Inquart ordered all Jews to report for registration more than 140,000 responded. German authorities then required all Dutch Jews to move to Amsterdam, the country's largest city. Stateless and foreign Jews who had entered the Netherlands during the 1930s were sent to the Westerbork transit camp.

      In early 1942, the German police sent more than 3,000 Jews to forced labor camps in the Netherlands, and in late June 1942, German authorities announced that Jews would be deported to labor camps in Germany. In reality, they were concentrated in Westerbork and then deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor killing centers in occupied Poland.

      The majority of Jews sent to Westerbork remained there only a short time before they were deported. However, Westerbork did have a resident population of Jews who worked in the camp and were thus exempt from deportation. Many worked in the camp hospital, which was exceptionally large. Others worked in the camp administration, workshops, fields and gardens, and in construction projects around the camp. This population of "privileged" prisoners was made up primarily of German Jews who were among the first to be imprisoned in the camp.

      Dutch police guarded Westerbork, where conditions were relatively good in comparison to transit camps elsewhere in western Europe. The Dutch provided the camp with supplies, and the prisoners had adequate food, clothing, housing, and sanitary facilities. Nonetheless, the barracks were extremely crowded, and prisoners lived in constant fear of weekly deportations to killing centers.

      Dutch churches protested to the German occupation authorities about the deportations, but the protests had little effect, since the Dutch civilian administration cooperated with the German SS and police. The Dutch police, with few exceptions and with assistance from Dutch Nazis, participated in roundups of Jews. In little more than two years, more than 100,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands only 5,200 survived. Less than 25 percent of the 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands in 1940 survived the war. Almost all the survivors were hidden by Dutch neighbors or strangers.

      .


      The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies

      In the summer of 1942, the SS Drottningholm set sail carrying hundreds of desperate Jewish refugees, en route to New York City from Sweden. Among them was Herbert Karl Friedrich Bahr, a 28-year-old from Germany, who was also seeking entry to the United States. When he arrived, he told the same story as his fellow passengers: As a victim of persecution, he wanted asylum from Nazi violence.

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      But during a meticulous interview process that involved five separate government agencies, Bahr's story began to unravel. Days later, the FBI accused Bahr of being a Nazi spy. They said the Gestapo had given him $7,000 to steal American industrial secrets—and that he'd posed as a refugee in order to sneak into the country unnoticed. His case was rushed to trial, and the prosecution called for the death penalty.

      What Bahr didn’t know, or perhaps didn’t mind, was that his story would be used as an excuse to deny visas to thousands of Jews fleeing the horrors of the Nazi regime.

      World War II prompted the largest displacement of human beings the world has ever seen—although today's refugee crisis is starting to approach its unprecedented scale. But even with millions of European Jews displaced from their homes, the United States had a poor track record offering asylum. Most notoriously, in June 1939, the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, were turned away from the port of Miami, forcing the ship to return to Europe more than a quarter died in the Holocaust.

      Government officials from the State Department to the FBI to President Franklin Roosevelt himself argued that refugees posed a serious threat to national security. Yet today, historians believe that Bahr's case was practically unique—and the concern about refugee spies was blown far out of proportion.

      In the court of public opinion, the story of a spy disguised as a refugee was too scandalous to resist. America was months into the largest war the world had ever seen, and in February 1942, Roosevelt had ordered the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans. Every day the headlines announced new Nazi conquests.

      Bahr was “scholarly” and “broad-shouldered,” a man Newsweek called “the latest fish in the spy net.” Bahr was definitely not a refugee he had been born in Germany, but immigrated to the U.S. in his teens and become a naturalized citizen. He returned to Germany in 1938 as an engineering exchange student in Hanover, where he was contacted by the Gestapo.

      At his preliminary hearing, the Associated Press reported that Bahr was “nattily clad in gray and smiling pleasantly.” By the time his trial began, he had little reason to smile in a hefty 37-page statement, he admitted to attending spy school in Germany. His defense was that he'd planned to reveal everything to the U.S. government. But he sad he'd stalled because he was afraid. “Everywhere, no matter where, there are German agents,” he claimed.

      Comments like these only fed widespread fears of a supposed “fifth column” of spies and saboteurs that had infiltrated America. U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle said in 1942 that “every precaution must be taken. to prevent enemy agents slipping across our borders. We already have had experience with them and we know them to be well trained and clever.” The FBI, meanwhile, released propaganda films that bragged about German spies who had been caught. “We have guarded the secrets, given the Army and Navy its striking force in the field,” one film said.

      These suspicions were not only directed at ethnic Germans. “All foreigners became suspect. Jews were not considered immune,” says Richard Breitman, a scholar of Jewish history.

      The American ambassador to France, William Bullitt, made the unsubstantiated statement that France fell in 1940 partly because of a vast network of spying refugees. “More than one-half the spies captured doing actual military spy work against the French Army were refugees from Germany,” he said. “Do you believe there are no Nazi and Communist agents of this sort in America?”

      These kinds of anxieties weren't new, says Philip Orchard, a historian of international refugee policy. When religious persecution in the 17th century led to the flight of thousands of French Huguenots—the first group ever referred to as “refugees”—European nations worried that accepting them would lead to war with France. Later, asylum seekers themselves became objects of suspicion. “With the rise of anarchism at the turn of the 20th century, there were unfounded fears that anarchists would pose as refugees to enter countries to engage in violence,” Orchard says.

      These suspicions seeped into American immigration policy. In late 1938, American consulates were flooded with 125,000 applicants for visas, many coming from Germany and the annexed territories of Austria. But national quotas for German and Austrian immigrants had been set firmly at 27,000.

      Immigration restrictions actually tightened as the refugee crisis worsened. Wartime measures demanded special scrutiny of anyone with relatives in Nazi territories—even relatives in concentration camps. At a press conference, President Roosevelt repeated the unproven claims from his advisers that some Jewish refugees had been coerced to spy for the Nazis. “Not all of them are voluntary spies,” Roosevelt said. “It is rather a horrible story, but in some of the other countries that refugees out of Germany have gone to, especially Jewish refugees, they found a number of definitely proven spies.”

      Here and there, skeptics objected. As the historian Deborah Lipstadt points out in her book Beyond Belief, The New Republic portrayed the government’s attitude as “persecuting the refugee.” The Nation didn’t believe that the State Department could “cite a single instance of forced espionage.” But these voices were drowned out in the name of national security.

      America's policies created a striking dissonance with the news from Nazi Germany. In the Australian newspaper The Advertiser, above an update on Bahr's trial, a feature story put the refugee crisis in chilling context: “About 50,000 Jews from the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and from Berlin, Hamburg, and Westphalia have been dumped by the Nazis at Terezin.” Until the very end of 1944—by which time photographs and newspaper reports had demonstrated that the Nazis were carrying out mass murder—Attorney General Francis Biddle warned Roosevelt not to grant immigrant status to refugees.

      Bahr “appeared weak” as he finished his testimony in August 1942. At the defense table, “he collapsed for a few minutes with his head in his hands.” On August 26, the jury reached a verdict: Bahr was guilty of conspiracy and planned espionage, a conviction that could warrant the death penalty.

      The next day, Bahr's birthday, his wife announced that she planned to divorce him.

      The case of Herbert Karl Freidrich Bahr fascinated the public for months, and with good reason it showed readers a very real case of attempted spying, carried out with an utter disregard of its impact on innocent refugees. The question was what Americans should do with this knowledge.

      Government agencies like the State Department used spy trials as fuel for the argument against accepting refugees. But late in the war, government whistleblowers began to question this approach. In 1944, the Treasury Department released a damning report initialed by lawyer Randolph Paul. It read:

      “I am convinced on the basis of the information which is available to me that certain officials in our State Department, which is charged with carrying out this policy, have been guilty not only of gross procrastination and wilful failure to act, but even of wilful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler.”

      In an interview, Lipstadt says that the State Department’s attitude was shaped by wartime paranoia and downright bigotry. “All those things, they feed into this fear of the foreigner,” she says. It was thanks to the Treasury Department’s report that Roosevelt formed a new body, the War Refugee Board, that belatedly accepted tens of thousands Jewish refugees. But by that time, millions of Jews had already died in Europe.

      Bahr lived to tell his tale. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. It's not clear whether he lived long enough to be released, but in 1946, after the war ended, he did make headlines again. The FBI called him to the stand in the trial of another accused spy. Once more, he told a rapt audience about spy tricks he learned from the Gestapo. Then he was sent back to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

      With politicians in the U.S. and Europe again calling for refugee bans in the name of national security, it’s easy to see parallels with the history of World War II.

      Lipstadt and Orchard think that although today’s refugee crisis isn’t identical to mass migration in World War II, the past could still offer lessons for the future. They say that this time around, governments should be careful not to rush quickly into new policies. “Simplistic kinds of answers—close all the doors to refugees, or welcome everyone—are dangerous, and ultimately counter-productive,” says Lipstadt.

      Orchard highlights a related worry—“that we'll see short-sighted policies adopted that have real lasting effects.” He believes governments have historically succeeded at screening for refugees, which suggests that national security isn't at odds with welcoming them.

      According to Breitman, the government, the media, and the public all share blame for the backlash against Jewish refugees during World War II. “I think the media went along with the fears of security-minded people,” he says. Among hundreds of thousands of refugees, there were only a handful of accused spies.

      But that didn't stop them from making headlines. Says Breitman: “It was a good story.”

      About Daniel A. Gross

      Daniel A. Gross is a freelance journalist and public radio producer based in Boston.


      The United States and the Holocaust

      The images are indelibly etched into our collective memory: slave laborers with protruding ribs piles of hair and bodies heaped like kindling. During World War II Nazi Germany and its allies systematically exterminated approximately six million Jews during World War II. No more than 450,000 to 500,000 Jews survived World War II in German-occupied Europe.

      Despite efforts by retreating Nazis to destroy incriminating evidence, meticulous German records allow us to document the number of people killed. In 1943, Heinrich Himmler, a top Hitler aide, stated that "we have the moral right. to destroy this people," and called the extermination program "a glorious page in our history."

      The Nazis operated six death camps in Eastern Europe between December 1941 and the end of 1944: Chelmno, Belzek, Majdanek, Treblinka, Sobibor, and Auschwitz. At Auschwitz in Poland, gas chambers and crematorium ovens killed 20,000 victims a day. Zyklon B crystals were injected into gas chambers by small openings in the ceiling or on the side. Altogether, 1.6 million people were killed at Auschwitz--1.3 million were Jews, and 300,000 were Polish Catholics, Gypsies, and Russian prisoners--and their ashes were dumped in surrounding ponds and fields. The ashes of about 100,000 people lie in a small pond near one of the crematories.

      As early as June 1942, word reached the United States that the Nazis were planning the annihilation of the European Jews. A report smuggled from Poland to London described in detail the killing centers at Chelmno and the use of gas vans, and it estimated that 700,000 people had already been killed.

      Anti-Semitism fueled by the Depression and by demagogues like the radio priest Charles Coughlin influenced immigration policy. In 1939 pollsters found that 53 percent of those interviewed agreed with the statement "Jews are different and should be restricted." Between 1933 and 1945 the United States took in only 132,000 Jewish refugees, only ten percent of the quota allowed by law.


      Fortunately more women were still able to emigrate to the U.S.

      Only a small percentage of scholars received official aid from the Emergency Committee, but thankfully a few more were able to make their way in the U.S. through a loophole in the law. According to Smithsonian Magazine, if a professor received an offer to work at a university, he or she was allowed to immigrate on non-quota visas. "With the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Emergency Committee began collecting resumes and CVs from European scholars seeking work in the U.S. and tried to place them in American universities," per the Smithsonian.

      The Emergency Committee worked closely with universities to secure teaching positions for some of the women scientists who applied for aid. The way it worked is that when they needed to fill a position, universities suggested to the committee the names of foreign-born scholars who had applied for a job. But for the many women who were waiting for an answer, this could be a long and excruciating wait. "Ultimately, universities decided which scholars were, quote, 'worth saving,' in the unfortunate phrase of the time, and the State Department decided whether they were to be saved," writes professor and journalist Laurel Leff in her 2019 book, Well Worth Saving: American Universities' Life-and-Death Decisions on Refugees from Nazi Europe, via Lady Science.


      Trump, FDR, and the Plight of Refugees under Immigration Controls

      Republican President Trump’s use of tear gas to prevent foreign citizens from entering the United States to claim refugee status under U.S. law brings to mind that Democrat President Franklin Roosevelt did the same thing in the 1930s.

      Roosevelt, of course, is widely known among both Republicans and Democrats as a great humanitarian and a lover of the poor, needy, and disadvantaged. Unfortunately, those traits did not manifest themselves in FDR’s decision to use America’s system of immigration controls to prevent German Jews from entering the United States during the Adolf Hitler regime.

      Let’s first place things in a historical context.

      The United States was founded as a limited-government republic, which is a governmental structure that is completely opposite to a national-security state governmental structure, which Americans live under today. Under the republic type of governmental system, there was no Pentagon, military-industrial complex, CIA, or NSA.

      That was how our American ancestors wanted it. If they had been told that the Constitution was going to bring into existence a national-security state, there is no doubt that they never would have approved the Constitution, which brought the federal government into existence. They would have chosen to continue operating under the Articles of Confederation, a type of governmental structure in which the federal government’s powers were so weak it didn’t even have the power to tax.

      Under the republic form of government, the federal government had a small army, one that was sufficiently large to win wars against the Native American tribes but certainly nowhere near large enough to embroil the United States in foreign conflicts in Europe and Asia.

      That was fine with the American people because they desired a foreign policy in which the U.S. government did not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” That was the title of a speech that John Quincy Adams delivered to Congress on the Fourth of July, 1821, in which Adams summarized the founding foreign policy of the United States.

      Adams pointed out that there are lots of monsters in the world — brutal tyrants and dictators, oppression, famine, wars, criminals, and revolutions. But, he said, the U.S. government would not go abroad with military forces to save people from these monsters.

      However, the United States also had a highly unusual policy with respect to immigration, one that sent the following message to people all over the world: If you are suffering from tyranny, oppression, or starvation and you are able and willing to escape, know that there is one place in the world where you can freely come and be certain that you will not be forcibly returned to your monstrous conditions.

      America’s open-immigration policy was, needless to say, one of the most radical policies in world history. Other countries around the world took the opposite position, the position that the United States takes today, one that entails strict governmental control over who enters the country.

      America’s system of open immigration lasted for more than 100 years. It is impossible to estimate the number of refugees whose lives were saved because of it. I would venture to say that many Americans today are alive because of that 100-year policy of open immigration.

      That’s why the French gave the United States the Statue of Liberty — to honor America for its radical policy of open immigration.

      That’s not to say there wasn’t prejudice against many of the immigrants. Italians. Germans. Irish. Poles. And more. They all suffered the insults and mistreatment from Americans who felt that they were polluting American culture with their foreign languages, customs, traditions, and beliefs. Despite the prejudice, however, the policy of open immigration remained in existence.

      By the 1930s, all that had changed. By that time, the United States had adopted a policy of government-controlled immigration.

      Moreover, in the 1930s the Hitler regime rose to power in Germany and immediately made it clear that Jews were no longer welcome in Germany. What many people don’t realize, however, is that Hitler did not immediately begin killing Jews. The Holocaust wouldn’t come until the middle of World War II. In the 1930s, Hitler’s message to German Jews was: Leave because we don’t want you here. And he was willing to let them go instead of killing them.

      There was one big problem however: Officials around the world were as prejudiced against Jews as Hitler was. No government wanted them. That included the regime of Franklin Roosevelt, who had become president in 1932.

      Remember: Under America’s founding system of open immigration, Jewish refugees from Germany would have been free to enter the United States without needing governmental permission. Now, under America’s new system of government-controlled borders, they needed that permission before they could come in.

      Roosevelt refused to give the needed permission. He pointed out that under America’s new system of government-controlled immigration, which mirrored the immigration policy of all other countries in the world, America had a “quota system,” one that assigned a certain number of Germans who could enter the United States on an annual basis. The German Jews would just have to follow the law, stand in line, and wait for their number to be called as part of the annual quota assigned to Germany.

      That meant, of course, that Germany’s Jews had to remain in Germany, where most of them would later murdered in the Holocaust. If no country is willing to accept refugees from tyranny and oppression, it stands the reason that the victims must simply stay where they are and die.

      One of the biggest horror stories of Roosevelt’s regime and America’s system of immigration controls occurred with respect to what has gone down in history as the “Voyage of the Damned.” A ship named the MS St. Louis containing 937 Jewish refugees from Germany approach Miami Harbor in 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The Roosevelt regime said no. Like Trump’s policy toward Central American refugees, not one single Jew would be permitted to land in the United States. To make sure that no one jumped ship and make it into the United States, Roosevelt had the U.S. Coast Guard surround the ship and be prepared to capture and return to the ship any Jew who dared to break U.S. immigration law.

      Given that all other governments around the world took the same position, the ship captain had no choice but to turn the ship back toward Germany to return the Jewish refugees into Hitler’s clutches. Remember: This is what happens when no nation has an open-immigration policy — refugees who are escaping tyranny, oppression, or starvation are returned to their country of origin to die.

      At the last minute, some of the European countries agreed to take the refugees. Those who were accepted by countries on the European continent ended up dying anyway once Hitler successfully invaded France.

      But at least Roosevelt, like Trump, had succeeded in enforcing America’s system of immigration controls.


      1956-1957: Hungarian Escapee Program

      Following the rapid and violent 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet Union, thousands of Hungarians fled their homeland and sought refuge in Austria, which soon became overwhelmed by the influx of refugees. As a result, 36 nations, including the U.S., offered to help resettle the displaced Hungarians. The U.S. admitted 6,130 Hungarian refugees under the Refugee Relief Act of 1953.

      Additionally, over 30,000 Hungarians entered the U.S. under the attorney general’s parole authority (section 212[d][5] of the INA). INS officers examined these applicants in Austria and again when they arrived in the U.S., where they were temporarily held at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

      Two years later, on July 25, 1958, Congress passed a law allowing Hungarian parolees to become lawful permanent residents of the United States.

      This program set the precedent for using the attorney general’s parole authority to admit refugees to the U.S. and for Congress to later pass special legislation allowing the parolees to become lawful permanent residents. This process would be repeated on several occasions during the following decades.


      During World War I, U.S. Government Propaganda Erased German Culture

      This week marks the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I, a conflict that shattered empires and cost millions of lives. On the American home front, it made this country less culturally German.

      Today, when the question of loyalty of immigrants has again become contentious, what happened a century ago has special relevance. World War I inspired an outbreak of nativism and xenophobia that targeted German immigrants, Americans of German descent and even the German language.

      German-born Robert Prager was lynched in Collinsville, Ill., in 1918. Some Germans and German-Americans were attacked during World War I. Courtesy of Jeffrey Manuel hide caption

      German-born Robert Prager was lynched in Collinsville, Ill., in 1918. Some Germans and German-Americans were attacked during World War I.

      Courtesy of Jeffrey Manuel

      It was a remarkable reversal of fortune. Germans were the largest non-English-speaking minority group in the U.S. at the time. The 1910 census counted more than 8 million first- and second-generation German-Americans in the population of 92 million.

      There were still more German-American families that had been in the country longer, many since Colonial times. They were Catholics and Protestants, Lutherans and Mennonites, Jews and free thinkers of no religion at all.

      "During the 1850s, 900,000 — almost a million — Germans went to the United States," says historian Kenneth Ledford of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "That's at a time when the German population was only about 40 million."

      German-Americans often worshipped in churches where German was used. They could live on city streets or in towns with German names. And while many immigrants assimilated into the English-speaking mainstream, many others sent their children to German-language public schools.

      Ledford says cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago gave parents the option for their children in elementary school to receive their instruction in German as well as in English.

      "German was the lingua franca of the literary scene, of the entertainment scene, of the theaters," says Richard Schade of the University of Cincinnati. He says many cities were also home to German-language newspapers and clubs where German was spoken.

      Inside The Vacant Caverns Of St. Louis' Other Beer Baron

      The social life of the community was lubricated with the beverage Germans brought from the old country. Lager beer was drunk cold in beer halls. Beer put Germans on a collision course with the growing temperance movement. But the biggest collision ahead was over language. Before World War I, German wasn't just an ethnic minority language it was the most studied modern foreign language in America.

      Legal historian Paul Finkelman says in 1915 about 25 percent of all high school students in America studied German. But by the end of the World War I that had changed dramatically. German had become so stigmatized that only 1 percent of high schools even taught it.

      "During the war, there is an argument that if you learn German, you will become the 'Hun,' " Finkelman says, using the pejorative term for anyone from Germany. "And there was this notion that language was somehow organic to your soul. So if you spoke German, you would think like a German, you would become a totalitarian in favor of the kaiser."

      Parallels

      From Wristwatches To Radio, How World War I Ushered In The Modern World

      For the first three years of the war, the American people were divided over getting involved. When members of minority groups spoke against entering the war in support of Britain, including some, but not all German-Americans, their patriotism was questioned. They were disparaged as "hyphenated Americans."

      After President Woodrow Wilson took the country into war he said, "Any man who carries a hyphen about with him, carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic when he gets ready."

      Schade says this anti-German sentiment extended to internment.

      "Hans Kuhnwald, the concertmeister of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was interned the German language was forbidden the German-American press was heavily censored libraries had to pull German books off the shelves German-American organizations were targeted," Schade says, "and what happened, of course, is the German-Americans considered themselves to be good Americans of German extraction, several generations removed from the old country."

      History

      The Unsung Equestrian Heroes Of World War I And The Plot To Poison Them

      The demonization of German-Americans took its ugliest turn in Collinsville, Ill., which is now a suburb of St. Louis. On April 4, 1918, a German immigrant, Robert Prager, was lynched.

      Robert Stevens, vice president of the historical museum in Collinsville, says Prager's nationality wasn't the only thing that led to his murder. He was a socialist who worked at a local coal mine, and he was on the wrong side of the miners union. But that April night, Prager got on the wrong side of a drunken mob that accused him of spying for Imperial Germany.

      "They stripped him totally naked, and they put a rope around his neck, and they paraded him down Main Street, making him sing patriotic songs," Stevens says. "And they would take their beer bottles and break them in front of him. So he had to step on the broken beer bottles, cut his feet really badly."

      Lynching Of Robert Prager Underlined Anti-German Sentiment During World War I

      Prager professed his love for America and kissed the flag that his tormentors wrapped him in. Even so, he was taken to the edge of town to a hanging tree.

      "The group lowered him down quickly and, you know, break his neck," Stevens says. "They hollered, 'once for the red,' and they lowered him again, 'once for the white' and 'once for the blue.' "

      Pete Stehman, who grew up in Collinsville, says the townspeople didn't talk about Prager for decades, but over the years he became fascinated with the mob's crime and the town's silence. He has written a book about it.

      He says that when 11 men were put on trial for the lynching, they were all acquitted. And he points out that the local newspaper wrote about the verdict.

      Parallels

      At A Hefty Cost, World War I Made The U.S. A Major Military Power

      "The community is well convinced he was disloyal," the newspaper article read. "The city does not miss him. The lesson of his death has had a wholesome effect on the Germanists of Collinsville and the rest of the nation."

      Years later, in his memoir, the editor who wrote that article would call the trial "a farcical patriotic orgy."

      While historians differ on what effect this had on German-Americans, Frederick Luebke, author of Bonds of Loyalty: German-Americans and World War I, says "a few reacted by asserting their Germanness with new vigor." But he adds, "others sought to slough off their ethnicity as painlessly as possible."

      In the anti-German hysteria of World War I, the assimilation of German-Americans was accelerated. And being a hyphenated American would mean being suspect in nativist eyes for decades to come.