tv German Jews and U.S. Refugee Policy 1930s-40s CSPAN August 6, 2019 11:28am-12:30pm EDT
8:00 eastern on c-span3. more american history tv now with author and journalist michael dobbs on his book "the unwanted: -- america, auschwitz and a village caught in between" which tells the story of jewish families from the french/german border and efforts to flee nazi persecution by obtaining u.s. visas. this is about an hour. >> if everyone will take their seats, we'll get started. good evening. i'm marvin pichker, director of the jewish museum of maryland. it's my pleasure to welcome you to tonight's program with michael dobbs, author of the new book "the unwanted." we are delighted to be joined by the viewers of c-span. tonight's program is part of baltimore's spring of remembrance, a collaboration of museums and theaters in the city to inspire the community to think about the contemporary relevance of the events that led
to the holocaust through exhibits, performances and lectures. in the next room you'll find the exhibit "stitching history from the holocaust" developed by our colleagues at the jewish museum of milwaukee. it tells the story of the family who escaped from nazi-occupied prague via an impassioned plea. the request failed. the stranauds perished but the design survived and today has been brought to life as testimony to some of what america lost when we decided that these desperate souls were unwanted. as we will hear this evening, the case of the strenads was no case unique and it wasn't just the haters compliceit in the murder of the innocent. mr. dobbs' talk is part of the shapiro lecture series made possible by the generous bequest of gloria l.shapiro. i want to thank our two program
partners tonight. the united states holocaust memorial museum. here to introduce mr. dobbs is a holocaust museum's mid-atlantic regional director, andre avril. please welcome. >> thank you, marvin. my name is andres abrill. a pleasure to be here. i have occasion to get to baltimore and to speak to many groups and to work often with the jewish museum of maryland and others in the commune ut. thank you for having me. outside of the museum's building in washington, d.c., there's a large wall hanging as you leave the museum. it captures what animates our work every day. the next time you witness hatred, think about what you saw. the next time you see injustice, think about what you saw. the next time you hear about
genocide, think about what you saw. the museum's work centers on memory, education and action. we best honor those who perished by learning the lessons of the holocaust and empowering visitors to think critically about their roles and responsibilities as citizens in a democracy today. well before the holocaust museum was founded in 1979, the president's commission on the holocaust mandated that the museum confront our nation's role in responding to events in europe during the 1930s and 1940s. the museum touches on these issues in many ways but most recently, through a groundbreaking educational initiative, americans and the holocaust which includes an immersive new special exhibition. we asked visitors to step into
the life of the united states of normal americans during the 1930s and '40s without the benefit of hindsight. and to explore the pressures and motivations that influenced americans' responses to the growing nazi threat in europe. we hope the experience also inspires visitors to think about their roles and responsibilities in protecting democracy today. tonight we are thrilled to be able to introduce to you a new aspect of the americans and the holocaust initiative with the book called "the unwanted: america, auschwitz and a village caught in between" written by michael dobbs. during this evening's program, michael will introduce you to the jewish residence of kippenheim on the edge of the black forest and the'ders of the u.s., germany and france whose actions had a direct impact on the fates of these families.
by publishing this book in association with kinopf, they're helping readers understand the human impact of these american responses on the mothers, fathers and children caught in the crosshairs of nazi brutality. as they desperately sought to obtain an immigration visa. so it is now my pleasure to introduce the author of "the unwanted," michael dobbs. he's a writer and researcher with the u.s. holocaust memorial museum. a longtime "washington post" reporter working as a foreign correspondent around the world. he's also written many, many books, including "six months in 1945" from world war to cold war. and one minute to midnight about the cuban missile crisis. delighted to be here and delighted to welcome michael dobbs. [ applause ]
>> thank you very much, andres and marvin, for your kind remarks. so perhaps i should tell you a little bit about the title and subtitle. actually finding a title was very difficult because you have to compress the entire theme of 300-page book into two or three words. but eventually after much consideration, we decided to go with the title "the unwanted." and the inspiration was the signs that appeared all over nazi germany saying -- "jews are unwanted here." and the question was, of course they were -- jews were unwanted in their own homeland of germany, even though they represented actually about half a percent of the population. when hitler came to power, there were 520,000 jews living in germany.
but they were -- it was made clear to them very quickly they were unwanted in germany. the question is, were they wanted anywhere else. and this is one of the themes that our exhibit, americans in the holocaust looks at. the question of refuge and whether or not the u.s. government provided refuge to jewish refugees fleeing nazi persecution in europe. overwhelmingly, german jews wanted to come to america. they had connections with america. many of their loved ones, relatives, had already come to america. so america was their number one priority. second was probably emigrating to palestine. i look in this book at the fate of the jewish community of a
single village. a village called kippenheim on the edge of the black forest. and some of the families that i look at, focus on in the book, succeed in making it to america. and others don't. and in many cases, the fate of the people who didn't make it to america was that they ended up in auschwitz which explains the subtitle of the book. so the question is, why? why did some people end up in auschwitz and others end up in america? this was a question that obsessed me as i did the research for this book. the simp lift answer to that question is whether they succeeded in obtaining what the american journalist dorothy thompson called a piece of paper with a stamp in it that, according to thompson, could mean and very often did mean the difference between life and death.
dorothy thompson had been one of the first american journalists to report from nazi germany. she interviewed hitler. and in 1938, as the refugee crisis was growing, she could see the consequences. and already in 1938, she writes that it's a fantastic commentary on the inhumanity of our times that for thousands and thousands of people, a piece of paper on a stamp on it is the difference between life and death. i wanted to dive into the lives of the people who were trying to obtain these stamps. and i also wanted to describe the decision making, the policymaking that went into whether or not you were issued with these life-saving visas. now quite a few books have been written about u.s. immigration and refugee policy during this
period. but as far as i know, none of the books that sort of focused on the debate that was taking place in washington and the united states, the political, rather bureaucratic debate. and they don't connect this debate to the fates of individual jews trying to reach the united states. so that's the purpose of my book is to describe what was happening in washington but also relate it to the lives of people trying to get to the united states. and i wanted -- i'm a former journalist and journalists have a tendency to try to personalize things to give concrete examples. i wanted to focus on the experiences of a single german jewish community, and i ended up choosing a place called kippenheim on the edge of the
black forest, just across the rhine river from alsas which had a -- jews had been living in this village for 200, 300 years in some cases. they were brought to the area by -- allowed to settle in the area by the rulers of barden, one of the german principalities. and the purpose was to supply the armies of barden. germany didn't even exist at that time. to ply the armies that were defending the holy roman emperor against france across the rhine river. so these are three photographs that illustrate jewish life in kip beheim between 1933 when hitler comes to power and 1938.
the first photograph, the top left-hand corner is a photograph of a wedding of a family called valfa. max valfa was a cigarette, cigar manufacturer, distributor, rather. and this is his daughter who is being escorted to the synagogue in kippenheim. just a week or two weeks before hitler came to power in january of 1933. and you can see it's a perfectly normal scene. peaceful procession through the street. people are looking respectfully at this jewish wedding. there's even a german policeman who is keeping order in the village. just two years later, the photograph down below, the brown shirts have arrived in kippenheim. and holding demonstrations.
in this case, with a -- the kip b kippenheim band. but you see them, they're looking through the window. so although there's menace in this photo, the jews who are living in the house, next to where the demonstration is taking place, are looking peacefully through the window and actually enjoying the rousing music. this is before they understand and really grasp what the -- the lyrics to the music which in many cases were death to jews or there was a famous song that the stormtroopers used to sing about jewish blood. but the third photograph here,
november 1938, just three years later, of course it's the peak of persecution. not the peak, but the time when harassment turned to physical violence. as in other german/jewish communities, all the jewish men of kippenheim were rounded up and sent to the dachau concentration camp. the synagogue was destroyed. actually, it wasn't burnt down because there were christian houses next door, and there was instruction not to burn down synagogues that were right next to christian property. but the interior of the synagogue was destroyed by hitler youth members and actually on the left-hand side of the photograph you can see little boys, probably teenagers looking for shattered pieces of crystal in the -- amid the
wreckage of the synagogue. so in other words, it just took five years between 1933 and 1938 for a peaceful community to become the target of horrific violence. and it was at crystal -- there was debate about this, but any doubt that jews had, the jewish community of kippenheim had about whether they should emigrate from germany, they were all resolved and swept away after crystal. in order to survive they had to get out of germany. so just to say a few words about how i came to choose this particular village among all the other german jewish communities. i hadn't really understood that
before the deportations began to the east in 1941 and 1942, there were deportations to the west. and the nazi leader of bardem decided a few months after the fall of france in 1940 -- november of 1940 -- that he would expel his entire jewish population and dump them across the border in france. 6,500 jews were rounded up overnight, taken to local train stations and taken by train to unoccupied france, the southern part of france and dumped in a concentration camp in a camp in the shadow of the pyrenees. now this posed a challenge
because when the jews arrived in fran france, they immediately turned to the united states and said to the u.s. government that they noted that fdr had talked a lot about resolving this -- tackling this refugee crisis, and they should be willing to put -- to take action to support the rhetoric and accept their fair share of the jews that had been expelled from nazi germany. but the state department recommended fdr that he turn the french request down. the reason given was that if the german government succeeds in expelling, deporting this group of jews, they will try the same trick in other parts of germany. they will repeat ethnic
cleansing. ethnically cleanse this part of germany. they'll ethnically cleanse other parts of germany. of course with hindsight, we can now say that it would have been a good idea had they been all allowed to expel all their jewish population, but we didn't know this at the time because this is before the death camps had been created. so fdr essentially supported the state department in refusing to allow -- refusing to accept the french request to allow these jews to emigrate to america. but i thought for the purpose of my book, this is an interesting case study because even after they arrived in france, they couldn't all go as a group to -- as a group to the united states. they had still for the most part applied for u.s. visas.
and when they got to the camp in france, they continued their quest for american visas. there was a u.s. consulate in marseille and they started writing letters to the consulate in marseille, transferring their previous applications from stuttgart to marseille. so why did -- i mean, there are about 500 jewish communities in this part of germany in barden. but i decided to focus on just one of them. and i chose kippenheim largely because we have photographs of this deportation. there are very few photographs of deportations of jews from germany. but what makes these photographs remarkable is that not only do you see here jews being led out of their house, put on a truck to be taken to the railway station, but because kippenheim is a fairly small place. we know who these people are. this is the maier family.
siegfried maier, the man at the back of the line here, was a -- he began as a peddler but then became a tradesman. quite a successful tradesman. his wife is already on the truck together with his oldest son. this is his mother and father. and thises should son, a man called kurt maier who was 10 years old at the time. so i saw this photograph. we can even trace where the route of the truck as it went around the village collecting jewish families. when i saw this photograph, i wondered, you know, what became of these people? this is another photograph just around the corner at the -- outside the home of the cigar distributor max valfer. and this is max valfer there behind his wife fanny valfer as
they're being put on the truck to be taken to the railway station. you see it's a normal day. this is all happening at about 10:00, 11:00. they were given a couple of hours to pack their bags. they were -- in principle, they were allowed to take two suitcases each. it's a -- there's a cow you can see in the background here being led through the village. it was a very rural community. many jews from the village were cattle dealers. this is an ss man here. so i wondered what happened later to max and fanny and what happened to the maier family and how were their fates connected to this debate that i talked about that was happening over the -- across the ocean in the united states.
now this is october 1940. i said november. it's october 1940. i just want to sort of give the historical historical context, they had envaded and france fell within a couple of weeks. the fall of france creatinged in the united states, had immediate impact in the united states because people are asking how come this country with a strong army fell so quickly. the answer given was the presence of nazi agents behind french lines. and the idea of nazi agents first coming into countries like france, scandinavian countries and then threatening the united
states was spread through american public opinion extremely quickly. the fbi in june of 1940 after the fall of france received about 3,000 telephone tips a day about the presence of nazi agents. people were calling up the fbi. they had some german in the street. they suspected they had a perfectly respectable german family or perhaps german jewish family and they were reported to the fbi. this led to a climate in the u.s. where legitimate national security concerns became a phobia about enemy agents coming into the country. a man called breckinridge long was the assistant secretary of state. he issued instructions in the summer of 1940 that if there was any doubt whatsoever concerning the alien, he instructed u.s.
consu consuls in europe to reject the visa application. this was the background to decision making about accepting refugees at the time when this deportation to france took place in october 1940. the fear of nazi agents went all the way to the top, to fdr. in the first world war, fdr had been assistant secretary of the navy. he had experienced actually successful attempts at sabotage during the first world war. there's a huge explosion of ammunition dump right across statue of liberty in new jersey which succeeded in partially destroying the statute of liberty. roosevelt felt that the germans would probably try the same thing again in the second world war. actually at about the time when
the german army marched into france, roosevelt in a public speech links the question of refugees to the question of nazi agents and says the refugee has got to be checked, because, unfortunately, among the refugees there are some spies as has been found in other countries. he's talking mainly about france and scandinavia, norway. eleanor roosevelt had a different idea. the dynamic between eleanor and fdr is one of the themes i explore in this boom -- book. she warned about being swept away about fifth columnists. are we going to keep our head, she asks at the same time her husband warning of the threat not posed by all refugees but some refugees.
so what's happening in the united states families i focus on arrive and focus on american visas, continue the quest for american visas. their experience is summed up by an american relief worker called varrian fry who was in marseille at the time trying to rescue endangered cultural figures. he saw what was happened in the consulate, not just u.s. but other consulates in marseille. this was photograph from our holocaust museum archives of the crowd of visa seekers outside the u.s. consulate in marseille in 1941. he wrote, the visa rigamarole is inhuman. it's almost killing the refugees. they have to wait in corridors and lines over and over again until their very souls must be
shriveled and shrunk by the experience. we also have testimony from the valfords because when they got to the camp, they were permitted to correspond with their families in europe or the united stat states. we have some letters from fanny and max to their children. first, there's a letter that talks about difficult portation from kippenheim. i packed so much, writes fanny, in two hours, most of it, the herron -- the gentleman, it's her way of describing ss threw back into the house. no linen, no clothes, none of the things your dear papa and i had acquired over the years. when she arrives she writes, we
have become beggers. i still cannot grasp we have become so poor and helpless. my eyes hurt from crying. kind, sweet children, do not forget us. go to the jewish committee over there -- she means in the united states -- and do all that is ne necessary so we get relief from the mess we're in. i write about other families in the book but for the purposes of this i'm going to describe what happened to two families, the meyers and falfas. the meyer family you can see back in kippenheim they had a car. life was pretty good for them. this is gurs at the bottom of the screen. what everybody remembers about gurs is mud and rain particularly in the winter of
194 1940." there's a woman in the mud outside the ram shackled huts where everybody had to live. the maiers were lucky because they had applied for u.s. visas three or four years before hand. their quota numbers had become due. they were even approved before they were deported from grerman. when they got to gurs with an organization hias. they have been in the news because a synagogue associated with them was attacked. they were the main agency trying to help jewish families get out of france and get to the u.s. with their help and money from the united states which was
enough money for the transatlantic passage. they got to the united states on a long, rather circuitous route that took them to morocco and casablanca so they got out of gurs. so they were among the lucky ones. the fate of the other family was very different. they came very close to receiving american visas on several different occasions, but each time when it seemed that their visas were about to be approved, something would happen. and they wouldn't be issued the visas. for example, they were told to report to the u.s. consulate in marseille on december 8th, 1941. their visas had been approved back in washington. the previous day, of course, pearl harbor had been bombed and the united states found itself at war with nazi, germany.
they showed up at the consulate and said, we can't issue the visas right now, there's an emergency. there will have to be further checks. they won't reject visas but told they have to have further checks. we actually have a letter from fanny to her children after this saying when i first arrived after pearl harbor we expected to leave for the u.s. after four weeks. it didn't work out this way. now we must wait until it's our turn. we have nothing to do but suffer. fanny was more patient than her husband. she tried to sort of remove herself from this daily struggle to get visas while her husband was going every day or every other day either writing or
going personally to one of the consulates or writing to the organization to try to get out. in the meantime in the u.s. to review all these applications it effectively put on hold, the u.s. government created an interdepartmental visa review committee with representatives from different agencies, fbi, department of war, office of naval intelligence, state department and justice department. they would meet in washington. they would invite the relatives demonstrate na their loved ones trying to get out were not threats to u.s. international security. it was the onus on the relatives to prove that their friends or
relatives back in france were not nazi agents rather than the other way around. but in any event in july of 1942, these visa review committees approved a visa for max and fanny. but the tragedy was in august of 1942, just a couple of wiesberger after their visas had finally been approved in washington, german policy changed. they now started -- they didn't allow people to immigrate. the policy now was annihilation, beginning with the jewish -- jews who ended up in france. the policy, the french began handing over foreign jewish
internees to the germans beginning with max and fanny valfer among first to be deported from a camp near marseille to the transit camp near paris and subsequently to auschwitz at the very time when they had finally reached the front of the line for american visas. we have a letter from fanny -- max and fanny's son, carl, who lived in chicago. he had gone to washington to plead the case of his parents. when he learned this visas had been approved, he wrote to his parents in france and said, i see you, my dears, trying to keep the tears from your cheeks. keep your heads high. god willing, you will soon be able to set foot in this wonderful country.
actually, as far as we know they didn't receive that letter. it was returned to the united states. so what happened to these 6,500 deportees, from badden. roughly half ended up in auschwitz including the valfers. 25%, including the grandfather of the maier family died in the french camps in the atrocious conditions of gurs and other french camps. some managed to hoid out and survive the war. about 12%, including the maier, except for the grand father, emigrated mainly to the united states. not only to the united states but mainly to the united states.
what determined whether you survived or whether you didn't, sent to a place like auschwitz. you can't reduce it to a single factor but i've tried to list factors here. one is the date of your immigration application, before or after august 1938. august 1938 turned out to be a watershed because it was the period when the persecution of the jews in germany started to become much more dramatic and people who thought they could hang on decidedette wasn't possible. the waiting list for immigration to the united states became unmanageable after 1938. the valfer parents in contrast to their children applied after august 1938, september of 1938. responsers and support networks in the united states were very important, because you needed an
affidavit from a relative to get an immigration visa. that was connected to the question of education and wealth. by and large it was better educa educated, people with resources to leave. younger started to leave. the valfer family, their children had left earlier. women by and large were more anxious to leave than men. in the valfer it was fanny valfer had the idea of leaving. her husband thought they could hang on longer. he had more reason to stay than
his life. the quota turned out to be a large quota, 27,000 people were allowed to emigrate from germany to the united states each year, which was much more than the quotas for east european countries. german jewish survival rate is higher than the survival rate of jews from east european countries. deportation to gurs gave people paradoxically a second chance at immigration because borders of germany were closed at this point. this all feeds into the attitud attitudes. this feeds into the u.s. immigration fears at the time. i found a direct connection between national security scares in the united states, particularly after the fall of
france in june of 1940, and the fates of individual jewish families. the attitude of individual consuls greatly. some were sympathetic. others weren't sympathetic at all. hostile. finally luck. had the valfers been invited to u.s. consulate in marseille a few days earlier, the previous week, they probably would have been issued visas and gotten out of france. but just a chance -- a matter of a couple of days meant in their case the difference between life and death. or the question of one of the valfer children was on board the st. louis and they were turned back from cuba. they weren't allowed to come to the united states. they went back to -- they were sent to europe and they were distributed among different european countries.
this family ended up in the uk, in england. as a result, practically everybody who ended up in the uk surviv survived. many of their friends, who were admitted to france or belgium or the netherlands didn't have the same good fortune. luck also plays a role. so i thought i would just end by telling you about curt maier. he's the boy in the picture here, the 10-year-old boyurt ma. he's the boy in the picture here, the 10-year-old boykurt m. he's the boy in the picture here, the 10-year-old boy being put on the truck with his family. another reason why i wrote this book was i had began to search for survivors. with google you can do anything these days. i put kurt maier into google and discovered he was a cataloger of german books at the library of congress in washington,
practically our next-door neighbor to the u.s. holocaust memorial museum. kurt is still very attached to kippenheim and the childhood he remembers in germany. he's invited to go back every year and talk in germany and gives talks to church and schools. one of the slides he shows is the photograph of the american visa with all the other stamps on it, including exit stamps from france. and i went with him to a school called anne frank down the road from kippenheim and kurt ended his talk like this, which seems a good point to end my talk. these stamps saved our lives, kurt said. if you were missing just one stamp, you could die. this was the most precious document i ever possessed.
it saved our lives. thank you very much. [ applause ] . >> i think we have time for a few questions. there's one caveat, since this is being filmed by c-span, they would like for you to wait for the microphone before you ask a question. thank you. >> thank you very much. why there was such a level of i don't want to say anti-semitism but dislike of europeans emigrating to the united states? >> since i understand the question, why was there such like of europeans or jews in the united states or both all together. in order to understand u.s. immigration policy at the time, you have to go back to the early
part of the 19th century. when the numbers of -- actually in the 19th century pretty much anybody could come to the united states. policies gradually became more and more exclusionary. the exclusions were directed against asians, chinese, but also against jews, although jews were not -- there was nothing in u.s. law that was -- you could say was directed primarily against jews because it wasn't a religious law. there were quotas for individual countries. so you have this paradox of the german quota because germans were considered north europeans. people weren't thinking of jews at the time, they were thinking of germans. so the german quota was quite generous where the polish quota was just a fraction. german quota. so there was particularly after the first world war there was a
xenophobic attitude in the united states which resulted in a very restrictive immigration law that was passed in 1924. a book has recently come out about the eugenics, some people according to this were considered precursor of nazi ideology. so some ethnic groups were considered superior and others inferior. that was part of the thinking behind the immigration law of the 1920s, which remained in effect until 1960s which was not changed until the new immigration law was adopted in the middle of the 1960s. so you had in the just anti-semitism but xenophobia,
hostility to anybody to seemed different. the people who arrived in the united states in the earlier part of the 19th century. >> have jews returned to kippenheim presently? are there any jews there new? >> there are no jews left in kippenheim. but a very interesting subject i deal with in my book is the whole question of what happened after the war, because as i showed you, the synagogue was destroyed. after the war it was turned into an agriculture warehouse. this is the agriculture warehouse here. the agriculture feed was stored inside the synagogue. you can still see some of the architectural features of the synagogue. but the rosette window here has been torn out.
actually, there was more destruction of the synagogue after the war than during the nazi period. at a certain point, the people started asking questions about what happened to all these jews who lived in our midst. this man is trobt krobert kries. he's jewish himself. there are no jews in kippenheim. he began writing letters -- began doing a lot of his own research, writing letters to former jewish residents of the village and inviting them back to germany. this took about 30 or 40 years for this historical amnesia to be dispelled. part of his movement to think again about these historical questions involved a campaign to
renovate the synagogue. they raised money partly from local sources, partly from one of the german jewish families, mandelsvertheimer. he was the richest man and had part of the reconstruction of the synagogue, donated funds to the synagogue. most of the funds came from within germany. and i thought this quote from robert kreiss was interesting her. i asked him why he did this. he explained this is not just jewish history we're talking about, it's our history, our german history. so beginning in the '80s, they began inviting people back. the synagogue is not a functioning synagogue, it's more like a cultural center but they
have had services in the synagogue but it's not a functioning synagogue. >> anybody else? >> you had a slide with dueling quotes from franklin and eleanor. franklin was -- was that a press conference? what was the context for him? what was the avenue eleanor had and can you speak more generally to their relationship? >> i think that was -- i'd have to check, but i think it was a speech that franklin gave at about the time of the fall of france. it might have been a press conference -- probably it was not a press conference with journalists but could have been a conference where they invited people to the white house and franklin would respond to questions. so i think -- at the time, the question of should refugees be
allowed into the united states given what was perceived as a national security threat, that was at the front of everybody's minds. that was his answer. as for eleanor's quote, that came from one of her newspaper columns. she used her -- she had a newspaper column called "my day" which was widely sippyndicated she widely talked about refugees in her newspaper column. that was one of her channels to influence u.s. policy. another channel was she had a direct line to the president. they didn't share a bedroom by this stage but they had neighboring bedrooms. under the marital arrangements, fdr -- there was a basket just outside fdr's room called the eleanor basket. their understanding was that if eleanor wrote a memo and stuck it into the basket asking franklin to do something, he would pay attention to that the
very next day. he wouldn't always agree with her suggestions or see people she wanted him to see -- in fact, he om did that part of the time, but she had certainly access to him. >> at what point did the united states government or roosevelt administration become aware of the death camps in germany? in other words, were they aware denying these visas they were sending people to the camps. >> they weren't -- they were aware terrible things were happening in germany as early as 1938, 1939, and u.s. diplomats, consuls reported back that the likely consequence of german policy was the extermination of the jews.
they didn't imagine it would take place in the way it did take place at the end with the actual construction of death camps. they thought more like sort of hunger or work camps like dachau, where the conditions were so terrible that people would die. i think the awareness of death camps probably in the course of 1942, about the time the valfers were being deported from france to auschwitz, then the first reports started coming out through germany, through switzerland and filtering back to the united states. so by august of 1942, september of 1942, they had a pretty good picture of what was happening in germany. i don't think they understood the scale of it, but they understood that essentially the german government had started a program of physical annihilation
by latter part of 1942. >> so they were aware when they denied the visas they were saying -- >> this is -- right. 1942. by the middle of 1942. the u.s. has now entered the war by this stage, of course. the u.s. entered the war in december of 1941. so in december of 1941, they knew a lot of people were likely to die as a result of german policy but they didn't know they were being physically exterminated in 1941. by the middle of 1942, particularly toward the end of 1942, they did understand that. by that stage it was very difficult to get from europe to
the united states. perhaps this lady right here. >> thank you. just wondering about your thoughts and feelings and watching the parallel in the country today in terms of the rise of xenophobia and anti-semitism and what's going on with refugees at our southern borders. >> some of the similarities and there are also differences. similarities, some of the rhetoric is very stlaimilar, th whole national security issue. you her echos of the debate in the 1930s. you hear echos today. some of the rhetoric is similar. people in 1940, there's a senator called senator reynolds saying we have to build a wall. he didn't mean a physical wall, he meant a paper wall.
so there are similarities. there are also big differences because -- then it was state persecution leading to an extermination campaign. that's not quite the same as what's happening on your southern border right now. so you can't say -- history does not repeat itself exactly. in fact, the director of the holocaust museum, sara brumfield wrote an introduction to my book. she quotes mark twain as saying, history doesn't repeat but it certainly rhymes. >> thank you. two-part question. can you talk about the sentiments in congress, whether the house or senate, both the republican and democratic side,
what their perspective was. the other thought, take someone like joseph kennedy jr., who seemed to be very antisemitic. you have very big political leaders of that sort that had influence on fdr -- had impact on the president's decision making toward congress. >> i'm not sure joe kennedy sort of had an impact on this particular policy of immigration and refugees. he was the u.s. ambassador to britain for most of the time. he certainly had views about policies toward nazi, germany. he didn't really weigh in on the refugee question. the first question was -- right, yeah. the debates in congress were very important and there was overwhelming majority against any relaxation in the immigration quota, one of the
things that happen during this period is there there's a bill to admit 20,000 refugee children into the united states in excess of the supporters. it had the strongest support of eleanor roosevelt. franklin kept quiet about it. but the opinion in congress was very much opposed. so this bill died in congress. so children can come here for quotas but willing to relax the quotas. this also pretty much congress reflected the state of american public opinion at the time. when opinion polls were taken and the question was should we admit more refugees, should we admit the children, there was usually majorities of 60, 70,
80%, even higher, against any relaxation of the immigration quotas even involving children right up through 1942 at least. perhaps we have time for one more question, or we can also wrap it up there. one question. yeah. >> you mentioned that you chose to focus -- one of the reasons you chose to focus on kippenheim, there was a prevalence of photographs and documentation of deportations. i was wondering if you know why there was this prevalence when this was a small rural town in other areas, this documentation is being destroyed or lost. >> yeah. that's a very good question. certainly goes to my motivation for choosing kippenheim as a focus of this book. i was amazed by the amount of information that was available. i'm beginning, for example, i
describe the book begins with a description of what happened in kippenheim. not germany but kippenheim on crystal nut. came from a wide variety of sources. the richest source was these letters. people kept letters for generations in attics and shoeb shoeboxes. and people still have these papers. in fact, one of the families that i write about, they have relatives who settled here in baltimore. unfortunately they were unable to be with us tonight. i got some very interesting documents, letters, from a baltimore family.
but court records -- the records of the state department, records of hias, the relief agency that tried to help jews get out. french records, the gurs camp, they still had individual records of all the people who were detained at gurs. so perhaps this is more than you would find typically for a typical german jewish community because these people consider actually because of the richness of their history and the fact of their deportation from germany to france, and in france although the conditions in gurs were terrible, they were able to write letters. that was certainly one of the reasons that attracted me to writing about this particular community. thank you very much. you've been a wonderful audience.
>> our thanks, mr. dobbs. i want to remind people the book is for sell in our book shop. you can acquire a copy, and mr. dobbs has agreed to sign them. thank you. thank you for coming. >> this is a special edition of american history tv. a sample of the compelling history programs that air every weekend on american history tv like lectures in history, american artifacts, reel america, the civil war, oral histories, the presidency, and special event coverage about our nation's history. enjoy american history tv now and every weekend on c-span3. here is a look at our prime time
schedule on the c-span networks. starting 9:00 p.m. eastern on c-span, a discussion on radicalization and what to do with citizens who have been radicalized. on c-span2, it's book tv with authors who recently wrote memoirs, joe biden, followed by house minority whip steve scalise and secretary of defense ash carter. on c-span3, a look at the 11th president, james polk. american history recalling experiences after invade yugoslavia in 1941. three years old at the time she was visiting her grandparents in a small croatian town and survived visiting a group of relatives and neighbors. this was part of the holocaust