Research shows the family of Anne Frank, the Jewish diarist who died in the Holocaust, tried to emigrate to the US but were thwarted by America’s restrictive immigration policy and the outbreak of World War II.
The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum said on Friday that documents indicate Anne’s father Otto tried twice to collect the papers needed to obtain visas for the US.
He later also appears to have applied for a visa to Cuba.
However, the Frank family’s escape efforts were in vain. Eventually they went into hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam on July 6, 1942 – exactly 76 years ago.
“I am forced to look out for emigration and as far as I can see USA is the only country we could go to,” Otto Frank wrote to a friend in the US in 1941.
His efforts to get the family to the US likely started as early as 1938 – a turbulent year in which Nazi Germany annexed Austria and part of Czechoslovakia and terrorised Jews throughout Germany in the violent Kristallnacht pogroms.
Otto Frank wrote in his 1941 letter he had filed an application at the American consulate in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam in 1938.
He mentioned that “all the papers have been destroyed there,” because on May 14, 1940, while the Frank family was still on a waiting list for possible visas, the American consulate was devastated during German bombardment and all papers were lost.
Even without the loss of their visa application, it would have been difficult for the Franks to emigrate to the US. With hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge in the US each year by the time war broke out in 1939, Washington was issuing fewer than 30,000 annual visas.
The processing of a visa application also lasted several years and included a huge amount of paper work, affidavits from relatives or friends in the US.
Even with all these demands fulfilled, applicants could still be turned down.
A renewed attempt in 1941 to get the family to the US failed because all American consulates in Germany-occupied Europe, including the Netherlands, were closed by the Nazis.
A visa application to Cuba that same year also never came through.
While the Franks were not explicitly denied visas by the American consulate, “their efforts were thwarted by American bureaucracy, war and time,” the historians wrote.
“All their attempts failed, so going into hiding was their last attempt trying to get out of the hands of the Nazis,” said Annemarie Bekker from the Anne Frank House.
The family hid for more than two years and it was then that Anne wrote her famous diary. On August 4, 1944, they were discovered and ultimately deported to Auschwitz.
Only Anne’s father Otto survived the war. Anne and her sister died in Bergen-Belsen camp. Anne was 15.
After the war, Otto Frank had his daughter’s diary published, and it went on to become a symbol of hope and resilience that has been translated into dozens of languages.
The house where the Franks hid was turned into a museum that is one of Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attractions.