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Anne Frank’s Family Was Thwarted by U.S. Immigration Rules, New Research Shows

Anne Frank figure in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Amsterdam.

Attempts by Anne Frank’s father to escape the Nazis in Europe and travel to the United States were complicated by tight U.S. restrictions on immigration at the time, one of a series of roadblocks that narrowed the Frank family’s options and thrust them into hiding, according to a new report released Friday.

The research, conducted jointly by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, details the challenges faced by the Frank family and thousands of others looking to escape Europe as Nazi Germany gained strength and anti-refugee sentiment swept the United States.

Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was never outright denied an immigration visa, the report concludes, but “bureaucracy, war and time” thwarted his efforts.

To obtain a visa, Frank would have had to gather copies of family birth certificates, military records and proof of a paid ticket to America, among other documents, and be interviewed at the consulate.

In one instance, an application that Frank said he submitted in 1938 languished in a U.S. consulate in Rotterdam, Netherlands, amid a swell of similar applications and was lost in a bombing raid in 1940. Frank wrote to a friend that the extensive papers he had gathered as part of a visa application “have been destroyed there.”

In 1941, as Frank was again attempting to navigate the matrix of paperwork and sponsors necessary to immigrate, the U.S. government imposed a stricter review of applications for visas, grew suspicious of possible spies and saboteurs among Jewish refugees, and banned applicants with relatives in German-occupied countries.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned at the time that Jewish refugees could be “spying under compulsion,” and the report states that “national security took precedence over humanitarian concerns.”

Frank had sought help from an influential friend, Nathan Straus Jr., who was the head of the U.S. Housing Authority, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s and the son of a Macy’s co-owner. Despite Straus’ connections, Frank wrote to him that “all their efforts would be useless” given the immigration climate, the report states.

“We wanted to learn more about the process in itself and what documentation an applicant (e.g. Otto Frank) had to produce,” said Gertjan Broek, a researcher with the Anne Frank House who worked on the latest findings. “In the report, we point out how complex and tedious the process was and how the bombing of the Rotterdam consulate disrupted things.”

The report was released 76 years after the Frank family went into hiding on July 6, 1942. Researchers drew on dozens of pages of correspondence between Frank and friends, much of which was first made public in 2007, as well as records involving U.S. immigration policy.

Anne Frank’s diaries describing her time in hiding gave a voice to millions who died at the hands of the Nazis. She was eventually discovered and she died in a concentration camp in 1945, when she was 15.

Otto Frank was the only member of the immediate family to survive the concentration camps.

News about the Frank family continues to captivate the public, despite challenges in educating younger generations about the Holocaust.

“She has allowed millions of people, maybe hundreds of millions of people, to identify with persecution at the worst level,” said Richard Breitman, a professor emeritus at American University who has written about the family’s attempts to immigrate to the United States. “Any time there is a glimmer of new information, it’s a big story.”

The new research comes at a time when President Donald Trump’s attempts to curb immigration have been likened to those in the World War II era. Trump has repeatedly sought to justify letting fewer people into the country by arguing that criminals and terrorists could be among the immigrants and refugees seeking to enter.

Breitman underscored those similarities, pointing to debates over immigration policy today and after Sept. 11. Breitman said that as Frank was trying to get to the United States, the country was instituting an “extreme cutback” on immigration.

“It wasn’t just extremists and wackos who believed that there was a serious threat to the security of the United States in 1940 that justified an immigration cutback,” Breitman said. “You can fill in the rest of it after 9/11 and today.”

Broek said the researchers did not intend to highlight parallels.

“The Anne Frank House researches into the life of Anne Frank and her family, to tell her story as accurate as possible,” Broek said. “The attempted immigration is a part of that story too.”

© 2018 New York Times News Service