1939 — A Stamp in a Passport is the Difference between Life and . . .Posted: September 12, 2011
My mother, Elfriede, and my sister, Susanne, age 9, were still in Nazi Germany in the spring of 1939. My father, Johannes, had come to Philadelphia a few months earlier to prepare the way for them. In the intervening period, the Nazis continued to tighten the screws on the German population and threatened to plunge Europe into war. The pressure was getting extreme on the hundreds of thousands who wanted to leave the country. On June 22, Elfriede succeeded in getting a new passport that covered both her and Susanne.
The hardest part, however, was to get a visa allowing them to enter the United States. American law at that time permitted only 25,000 Germans to obtain immigration visas. In 1938 alone, over 300,000 Germans applied for visas, meaning that hundreds of thousands of people desperate to leave the country were denied admission to the United States. Liberal legislative efforts to expand the number of German refugees allowed into the United States were stymied by a coalition of Southern congressmen, anti-immigration groups, isolationists and antisemites (since many of those seeking admission to the country were Jews). The denial of entry to the U.S.doomed thousands who might otherwise have survived the Nazis.
Elfriede and Susanne were among the lucky ones. After months of struggling with visa applications and mind-numbing paperwork both in Germany and the United States, they were summoned to the office of the U.S. Consul General in Stuttgart on July 12, 1939. The last step in the application process was a physical examination, which both of them fortunately passed. When it was done, a clerk used a rubber stamp to imprint two immigration visa approvals on a page of the passport, using quota numbers 608 and 609. Vice Consul Boies C. Hart, Jr.’s signature and the embossed consular seal on each imprint made them official. Elfriede and Susanne now had had the chance to escape to safety and freedom, a chance denied to countless others.