A news article in your Sept. 5 online edition (JTA.org, “Ken Burns’ PBS documentary ‘The U.S. and The Holocaust’ asks hard questions about how Americans treated Jews and immigrants during wartime”) stated that in a scene in Ken Burns’s upcoming film, Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, “tries to secure passage to America for his family but gets stymied by the country’s fierce anti-immigration legislation.”
America’s immigration system was indeed restrictive, but the main obstacle to the Franks reaching the United States was that the Roosevelt administration took a bad system and made it worse. In the year Otto was applying, 1941, the U.S. quota for German nationals (such as the Franks) was only 47% filled, meaning there were more than 15,000 empty quota slots; there was plenty of room for the Franks. The problem was that the Roosevelt administration actively sought to suppress immigration below the legal limits, by imposing extraneous requirements upon visa applicants and looking for any technicality to reject them.
To make matters worse, 1941 was also the year that President Roosevelt approved a new regulation barring all visa applicants who had close relatives staying behind in Europe, which would have provided additional grounds for disqualifying the Franks. The theory behind the new regulation – a theory that was never backed by any evidence – was that the Germans would take the relative hostage in order to force the immigrant to spy for Hitler. In effect, Anne Frank was denied admission to the United States because the Roosevelt administration feared she would become a Nazi spy.
Prof. Rafael Medoff, Director, The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, Washington, D.C.