1930s Immigrants from Germany

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Refugees Come to America


         The Jewish refugees who were fortunate enough to receive an American visa and an affidavit of support were faced with yet another obstacle before they could come to the United States. That was the fare on an ocean going vessel. In 1938 and most years during the 1930’s the cost of traveling from a European port to New York city on an ocean liner was about $188. That translated to $3,082 in 2013 money. In view of the impoverishment of the German Jews by Nazi decrees, the refugees needed the help of American residents or charitable organizations to pay for that travel. Evidently, even two travelers became quite expensive and families of four would have cost upward of $12,000 in 21st century funds. For that reason a number or American relatives and friends were willing to allow one person of a family to come to the United States but were seldom in a position to bring whole families to America. This means that a good number of refugees came to the United States alone with the intent of securing the necessary documents and money from American citizens so as to bring their families to the United States later. Yet, “later” often meant that the families thus left behind had already been deported before any help could be arranged.

     It was therefore left to American charitable organizations to provide the refugees with affidavits of support and travel expenses which in many cases also included staying in a hotel outside of Germany while waiting for a ship to take them across. Before the German invasion of the Low Countries and France, many refugees had to stay in Rotterdam, Antwerp or other ports until they could be accommodated. This required the American charities to pay for room and board in foreign places for weeks and sometimes for months. Therefore American Jewish organizations collected money from the Jewish community for such a purpose.

     Over the years since the 1930’s two versions of the American Jewish involvement in helping the German Jews have occupied the Jewish community. One view of the efforts of American Jews on behalf of the German Jews is the contention that American Jews collected large sums of money to help their German brethren. The other view is that Jewish organizations were more interested in “lining their own pockets” than helping the refugees who came to the U.S.A.  destitute.

     For example, on September 5, 1933 The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee raised $1,092,768 to aid destitute German Jews. Shortly thereafter the American Jewish Congress announced a four point program to help the German Jews and on November 5, 1933, Rabbi Jonah Wise, Chairman of the “German Relief Fund” announced that $1,226,346 had been raised to aid those Jews who could not leave Germany; to help Jews who have immigrated to the United States and other lands; to aid organizations dealing with migration of Jews and to the help the Polish Jews forced out of Germany adjust to their native land.   

     On May 27, 1933 a protest rally against Nazi policies against Jews was conducted in New York City which was attended by 250,000 people. This was organized by the American Jewish Congress. On June 28, 1934 the New York Times reported that $704,000 had been collected by the United Jewish Appeal to aid German Jews with a view of eventually raising $1,200, 000 for that purpose. In 1936, three years after the Nazi government had been in power, 3, 874 German Jews had been helped by money collected by the American Jewish community even as the Joint Distribution Committee sought to raise another $1,500,000 for the relief of German Jewish immigrants.

     Then, on February 22, 1937 the New York Timers reported that 8,831 Jews had been helped by the Join Distribution Committee to emigrate from Germany during the first ten months of 1936.

    Innumerable other efforts were made by private individuals and organized charities to help the German Jewish refugees. Nevertheless, a good number of German Jewish immigrants and others claimed that  a considerable part of the money so donated was spent on outsized salaries for “executive directors” and other charity politicians many of whom required great amounts of travel expenses as they rushed from conference to conference. These conferences involved important people nationwide who needed to eat in expensive kosher restaurants and bring with them numerous associates and assistants thereby abandoning many a German Jew to his fate.

    The use of charitable funds by charity politicians is best recognized by looking at some of the remarkable salaries collected by “executive directors” and others in 2012. Considering that the President of the United States earns $400,000 a year it is astonishing that the Executive of the St.Louis Jewish Federation collects $843,122 annually and that the Jewish Federation of North America and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Ohio pay their executives more than $600,000 while salaries exceeding $400,000 and $300,000 are common among employees of these charities. 

     The reason for these excesses are that wealthy contributors will grant such incomes to “executives” because they are incessantly praised and given publicity in return. This means that those who understand how to be a sycophant to large contributors can become rich as charity managers even if such greed excludes those most in need from the help they deserve. These conditions existed in the 1930’s and exist now although it would be a gross exaggeration to claim that all charities are so used. In fact, even in the 1930’s some effort was made to help some German Jews.

     As the persecution of the German Jews grew in intensity, some Jewish organizations in the United States made an effort to support the immigration of at least some of the victims of Nazi brutality. For example, in 1935 the Federation of Temple Brotherhoods and the Union of Hebrew Congregations passed a resolution to the effect that they were willing to help some of the German Jews establish themselves in the United States. Such resolutions were common at that time although they were seldom followed by actions.

     In general, American Jews ignored the persecution of the German Jews beginning with the appointment of Hitler as chancellor of Germany. Louis Marshall, the president of the American Jewish Committee, an organization claiming to represent American Jews generally, dismissed the importance of the German Nazis and called them the German Ku Klux Klan. He even claimed that the Nazi plans would never be carried out. 

     It is also significant that Irving Howe in his famous book, World of Our Fathers, which discusses the immigration of the European Jews from 1891 until the 1970’s the German Jews of the Nazi era are not mentioned even once. This is also true of most books about Jewish immigration or Jewish history generally written by American Jews of eastern European descent.

     The most prominent American Jews reacted to the Nazi persecutions by demanding inaction on the grounds that the Nazi persecutions were a German internal problem allowing no outside interference. These Jews also claimed that Protestants and Catholics were also targeted by the Hitler government and that protests by foreign Jews would make things worse for the German Jews. These “leaders” insisted that Jews must not make noise in behalf of other Jews and that the best means of dealing with the German Jewish issues was to rely on private, “behind the scenes” manipulation of contacts with important American government officials.

     Evidently, the wealthy Jews who claimed to speak for American Jews in general were elitists who cared far more for maintaining their contacts with the gentile upper class and with government officials than they cared for the survival of the German Jews. Associated in the American Jewish Committee, they resented and hated the members of the American Jewish Congress whom they despised as representatives of “the masses” and whom they viewed as loud and crude agitators. This attitude on the part of the elite became most visible when the American Jewish Congress called for a boycott of all German imports. That boycott was supported by the Jewish War Veterans and the Jewish Labor Committee but denounced by the American Jewish Committee.

     In sum, it is not unjust to record that the so called leadership among the Jews of the United States abandoned the German Jews although there were individuals who did indeed furnish affidavits of support and travel funds to the few fortunate to escape the Nazi horrors.

      About 100,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria were allowed entry into the United States and a few children without families were also admitted. These German speaking Jews differed in several ways from the immigrants of other ethnic origins who had come to the U.S. before and after the 1930’s.

     While immigrants of all ethnic groups who ever came to America were usually poor, the German Jews were destitute. This means that the German Jews had been robbed by the German government and, after 1935, literally came without any money whatever. This made these refugees utterly dependent for food and shelter on anyone willing to help. Some had relatives and some had friends willing to do so. The majority depended on charitable organizations such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

     The German Jews who came to America during the 1930’s differed in several ways from other immigrants and particularly from the Eastern European Jews who had come to the United States between 1891 and 1924. The German Jews often came alone and without families which they were forced to leave behind because they could not meet the requirements of the U.S. consulates and did not receive a visa. Many Jews believed that if the man in the family, the father, would go first, he could either persuade an American to furnish the necessary affidavits or he could earn enough to do so himself. These Jews did not know that before long their families in Germany would be deported and murdered. Indeed a few did succeed in bringing their families to the U.S. before the deportations began, but these were very few. Furthermore, those who did bring immediate family with them were still devoid of parents, grandparents and other relatives and friends. In earlier years the Jews from eastern Europe brought entire families with them.

     The German Jews of the 1930’s were unable to ever visit their homeland again or see their relatives in Germany as was customary among so many other immigrants. While the Jews from Poland and the Russian empire visited their relatives before the invasion of Poland by Germany on September 1, 1939 this was impossible for the German Jews who could not even reach their families by mail. This meant that the German Jews were cut off from their roots and their culture. Because German Jews did not speak the Yiddish or Jewish language, they were also outsiders among the American established Jews. More than eighty percent of American Jews are of eastern Yiddish speaking descent. In the 1930’s many still spoke that language or were children of those who spoke Yiddish as their first language. This failure to speak Yiddish indicated a considerable rift between the American and German Jewish communities. American Jews viewed the use of German as a form of arrogance on the part of the newcomers.

     It is well known that the structure of language affects the ways in which its speakers conceptualize the world. This insight is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which holds that language determines thought. Language also determines cognitive categories. A great deal of research has shown that it is therefore certain that people who do not speak the same language will also exhibit conduct or behavior which will appear outlandish if not obnoxious to those whose language is otherwise. Precisely this led to the American Jewish opinion that German Jews were arrogant, opinionated and were therefore to be rejected.

     American Jews also rejected the behavioral and ideological culture of the German Jews and complained that the German Jews were ungrateful and critical of those attempting to help them. Thus, the German Jewish refugees became the target of a great deal of hostility by the American Jewish community who could not or would not recognize the traumatic experiences of the immigrants. 

     Some personal experiences as related by German Jewish immigrants during the 1930’s will illustrate this rejection.

     A former lawyer from Vienna, Austria managed to come to New York after the invasion of that country by the German army on March 15, 1938. On arrival he was assigned the job of “houseman” in a Jewish fraternity house. He was responsible for numerous chores within the fraternity house for which he was paid a minimum. He was constantly insulted, humiliated because he spoke an accented English and ridiculed because of his beard.  Since his only child had been murdered in Europe and his wife suffered a crippling disease a minimum of compassion might have been in order. Instead his life was made miserable until he succeeded in gaining an academic appointment, leaving his tormentors behind.

     Three refugee children, having recently arrived in a small town with a Jewish community, were invited by a wealthy man to come to his house for some candy. When the children arrived, the rich man showed them some gum and some hard tack lying on a table. The children grabbed the candy and the gum but the rich man shouted that they were to take only one piece, either the gum or the hard tack, but not both. Then he said in Yiddish, “Shane is dos Zigeuner lebben , ze woll’n nur nemen un gor nix gebben” or “Beautiful is the life of gypsies, they only want to take but not give anything”. This was sung to a ten year old who had starved for years and was barely able to eat as her father earned a minimum slaving in the dairy cooler at the rich man’s business.

     A recent arrival from the Nazi horrors attempted to enter a synagogue on Rosh Hashonah, two weeks after landing on the docks of Hoboken, N.J.   Because he knew no English and because he had never experienced the need for a ticket to enter a Beth Hatefillah, he assumed he could just walk in. Arrived at the door he discovered that a table had been placed across the synagogue door. Behind it sat a large lady who demanded the newcomer produce a ticket of admission. Knowing no English the refugee did not understand the demand. Just then he saw someone wave a ticket and walk in. He still didn’t understand what was involved but by then the ticket taker told him “you need a ticket to get into a theater and you need a ticket to get in here”. He recognized that he was not wanted and spent the day in the park. Later, a friend of his boss where the refugee was washing dishes told him that he should have made advance arrangements to get into “shul” without a ticket. This shows the utter inability of American Jews generally to understand even a minimum of what a refugee really faces. Why would someone who could not speak English and did not know that tickets are sold to enter a synagogue make “arrangements”?. It can be said with certainty that the American Jewish community had no sympathy for the German Jewish newcomers and assumed that anyone who had just arrived was as accustomed to American life as anyone born in the U.S.A.  No concessions were made for those who had survived the horrors that Nazi rule implies. Instead, the refugees were greeted with resentment and rejection. There were nevertheless some American Jews who spent extraordinary amounts of money and time to rescue some German Jews. These were the few whose conscience led them to do what the major Jewish organizations refused to do.

     The rejection of the Jewish immigrants by the American Jews was particularly painful to the adolescents who arrived at an age when others attended high school. This is an age at which meeting the “opposite sex” becomes important. Yet, the newcomers had little money and usually no car so that American Jewish youngsters derided their poverty, refused to date them, ridiculed their foreign accents and excluded them from their social life.  

     It is significant that the German Jewish newcomers settled in the Washington Heights area of Manhatten and not among the other Jews then so plentiful in the city. In fact, by the 1970’s the now old German Jewish immigrants founded their own old age home.

     These annoyances may well have faced immigrants of other times and other ethnic groups. However, the German speaking Jews differed radically from all others who had come here before because they came alone or in nuclear families so that they had no support from the larger ethnic enclaves which greeted the eastern European Jews of the 1891-1923 era. The Geman Jews were alone because they were too few outside of New York City where the majority of the 100,000 German speaking Jews had settled.

      At the height of the German Jewish immigration to New York City the New York  German Jews organized the “German Jewish Club of New York City” and in 1934 founded a German newspaper called “Aufbau” or “Reconstruction”.  Because “Aufbau” also circulated in Israel, South America and some parts of Europe it reached 100,000 readers at one time. This weekly tabloid ceased publication in 2004 as the number of German speakers among American Jews is minimal. Nevertheless, the name “Aufbau” has been continued by a group of Swiss Jews who are publishing a monthly magazine in the German language for the German speaking Jews of Switzerland, Austria and Germany which now hosts over 100,000 Jews who are mainly immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. 

.     In 1955 the German Jews of New York City founded the “Leo Baeck Institute”. The institute is named after a Berlin rabbi who is called “the last leader of the Jewish community in Germany under the Nazis.”  Leo Baeck was one of the few who survived the concentration camp of Theresienstadt. He came to the United States after first settling in London, England. In America he taught at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Later he was elected chairman of the World Union of Progressive Judaism and became the first president of the institute named after him.

     The institute now has offices in New York, Jerusalem, London and Berlin and has collected a vast number of books, journals, pictures, personal recollections and other material concerning the history of German speaking Jewry.


     Prior to the Nazi takeover of the German government on January 31, 1933 the Jewish population of Germany were citizens and Germans by birth and nationality. Therefore it would normally have been expected that the Jewish Germans who came to the U.S.A. during the 1930’s ,might have found some affinity with the German immigrants already in the country. These Germans were of course in the main Christians. The perception of the German Jewish immigrants who came between 1933 and 1941 may be gleaned from the German-American newspapers of those days. These ethnic publications were largely the same in content all over the United States because they derived their stories from the same national sources no matter were they were published.

     Fifteen German American newspapers represented the views of the majority of German-Americans during the 1930’s because the fourteen communities in which they were published contained the vast majority of German-Americans at that time. These fifteen German newspapers were: Die Omaha Daily Tribune;Die Welt Post of Lincoln, Nebraska; Der Baltimore Daily Correspondent; Die Kansas City Presse; Der Toledo Express; Der Colorado Herold; Die Deutsche Volkszeitung of New York; Der New York Herold; Der Wächter und Anzeiger, Cleveland; Die Chicago Abendpost; Die Cincinnati Neue Freie Presse; Die Westliche Post of St.Louis; Die Detroit Abendpost; Das California Journal; Der Buffalo Volksfreund.  Note that these newspapers mixed German and English in their names.   

     During the first two years of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, i.e. from 1933-1935 the German-American press did not mention the refugees from that oppression. This silence was evidently motivated by the unwillingness to acknowledge the Jewish nature of the newest migration of Germans to America.  Then, beginning in 1935 brief articles appeared in German-American publications to the effect that 110,000 persons had left Germany since 1933 of whom 90,000 were Jews and that 90,000 “Aryans” of the 19 million Germans then in the U.S. had returned to Germany because the German government promised them a job if they returned to the “Vaterland” (Fatherland).

     In February of 1936 a Dr. Schmidt published a widely reprinted article in the magazine Arbeitsmann. Here Schmidt claimed that the emigration of 13,000 persons per year from Germany to the United States was all Jewish and that therefore this could not be viewed as a true German migration. Schmidt compared this migration to the emigration of 123,000 Germans who left Germany in1923. Schmidt called that emigration and  insult to “the Reich”. 

     By 1938 the German-American press began to publish statistics concerning the emigration of people from Germany, always distinguishing between Germans and Jews. These accounts were reproduced from the official emigration statistics published by the German government which showed that in the first quarter of 1936, 2,522 persons left Germany for “overseas.” Of these 70% had moved to the United States. This figure was sharply increased when in 1939, 19, 452 people left Germany for the United Stastes. The German papers concluded that only 3,392 emigrants were Germans, the others were all Jews. Evidently, the German –American community agreed with the Nazi ideology that Jews could not be Germans even if born in Germany with ancestors dating to the first century. This was long before the Siberian tribes settled in the area the Romans called Germania. At that time Jews participated in founding the Roman city of Cologne or Köln, then known as Colonia Agrippina. Agrippina was the wife of the emperor Claudius.

     Finally, in 1941, just before the entry of the United States into the second world war the German-American press reported that in fiscal 1940-1941, ending on June 30, 1941 25, 891 persons had emigrated from Germany to the United States and that of these all but  2,154 were Jews. Despite these statistical reports not one word was said about the persecution of the German Jews, the reasons for their coming to the U.S. or the problems of adjustment to a new culture etc. A curtain of silence followed these statistics even among the German-American newspapers which were not in favor of the Nazi regime but who were afraid of losing circulation if they were to criticize the German government or its policies. The German-American press catered to those Germans who had come to the U.S. during the years coinciding with the accession of Hitler and therefore were careful not to feature Jewish immigrants or to write anything favorable concerning Jews.

       Evidently, 85% of German immigrants to the U.S.A. during the 1930’s were Jews or were considered so by Nazi supporters. It was indicative of the most common opinion among German –Americans that the German newspapers in the U.S. never mentioned the Nazi outrages then taking place overseas. The German-American press not only failed to sympathize with the Jewish immigrants from their mutual homeland, but also made innumerable negative comments concerning American Jews. Moreover, the German-American press approved and supported the anti-Jewish legislation decreed in Germany on an almost daily basis. In an unsigned editorial called “Übersicht der Entwicklung des Dritten Reiches,” (Overview concerning developments in the Third Empire”)  the “Buffalo Volksfreund” called the removal of all Jews from the economic life of Germany “right and respectful of German tradition”. 

     On July 23, 1934 the Buffalo Volksfreund published an editorial “The Truth About the German Jews.” Here we learn that Jews are foreigners in the German “Volk” and that they have established themselves in positions of influence in Germany by “elbowing” themselves into good positions in the German universities. Thus, the paper reported that in 1932, before the Nazi takeover, at a time when less than one percent of Germans were Jewish, the faculties of German universities were staffed disproportionately by Jews. Jews, the Volksfreund argued held 45% of the faculty positions in the Berlin University  medical school, and that at the University of Breslau 48% of Law professors were Jewish while 45% of the medical faculty and 25% of the Philosophy faculty were also Jewish.

     Likewise at the University of Göttingen 47% of the law professors and philosophy faculty were Jews and 25% of mathematicians were Jews. At the University of Königsberg twenty five percent of the medical faculty was Jewish, fourteen percent of the legal faculty was Jewish and seven percent of the philosophy faculty was Jewish.

     This participation of Jews in higher education in Germany was viewed as offensive by the German-American press who complained that “the Jews elbowed themselves into these positions”.

     Even the most atrocious conduct of the Nazi party in Germany was praised by the German-American press in the 1930’s. For example, the song “……until Jewish blood squirts from the knife….” (Wenn’s Judenblut vom Messer spritzt) was hailed as righteous sentiment by the German-American press. That group of newspapers was also happy that the “World League Against Anti-semitism” lost a case in the International Court in Cairo, Egypt in 1936 regarding an anti-Jewish brochure which the court found was “not offensive”. In that same year, 1936, the famous German-Jewish novelist Arnold Zweig was deprived of his German citizenship because he was a Jew. The German-American press commented that Zweig and other Jews had “damaged the interests of the Reich” and that therefore Jews were rightly deprived of their citizenship.

     Praise was also heaped on Leo Kunschak leader of the Austrian Catholic Workers League who had organized a “march against the Jews”. These sentiments were augmented with an editorial which described the persecution of the Jews in Germany and Austria and concluded that the Jews had brought these brutalities upon themselves. The victims, said the German American editors, were themselves responsible for their fate as they had killed Jesus. Moreover, it was reported in the German-American press that the 250,000 Jews living in Austria were particularly obnoxious and deserved to be persecuted after the German army had invaded that country in 1938. Even the deportations of Jews to concentration camps were defended by the German-American press as necessary measures of self defense on the part of the German people.

     The German-American press also denounced American Jews such as Rabbi Stephen Wise for trying to get the Roosevelt administration to allow German Jews into the United

States. Furthermore, the Steuben Society, a German-American organization voted to condemn all reports of anti-Jewish actions and persecution of Jews in Germany. When American Jews refused to buy goods made in Germany, the German-American press demanded that their readers not buy anything from American Jews.

     That publication also complained that the Roosevelt administration let any German Jews into the country, even under the quota set by Congress. This complaint was coupled with the threat that the “Silver Shirts”, an American Nazi organization would no longer support the Democratic party if Jews were allowed to enter the country.  

     In 1934 the anti-Jewish campaign by German-Americans increased in intensity. Now the German-American press demanded that all Jews be expelled from all countries and that all Jews should be sent to live in Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa.

     When the president of Wesleyan University found it intolerable that the number of Jewish medical students exceeded the proportion of Jews in the American population, the German-American press praised him as an ally in the fight against the Jews.

     The German-American press did not hesitate to enlist religion as an ally in denouncing Jews. They quoted the New Testament which includes numerous anti-Jewish epithets and proclaimed that the Jews are the enemy of God. All this continued until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and Germany declared war on the United States on December 8 of that year.

     The German “race” laws were also defended by the German-American press. This included support for the prohibition of sexual contact between so-called “Aryans” and “non-Aryans” i.e. Jews. The San Francisco “California Journal” a German language newspaper, used the phrase, “German blood” and called the English a “race of brutal liars”. 

      The German-American press had only praise for Hitler and his policies. His atrocities were never mentioned. Instead Hitler was depicted as a man of peace who sought only to defend “the fatherland”. The fact that Hitler was not a German but an Austrian was suppressed. Hitler’s dictatorial conduct was defended and the National Socialists (Nazis) were labeled patriots. Hitler was called a Christian while the leaders of western Democracies were called “godless”. The German-American press also claimed that the Pope, Pius XII, approved of Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. This was probably true but cannot be documented.

     The German-American press also reprinted Hitler’s tirades in their entirety together with speeches of the German ambassador to the United States. Likewise the speeches of Herman Göring, the chief of the German air force and a violent Jew baiter were reproduced as was a speech by the French collaborator with Germany, Pierre Laval, warning England not to go to war with Germany. Furthermore, penalties for insulting the person of “Der Führer”, Hitler, were deemed appropriate as such insults compromised “the honor” of Hitler who had given Germany a “wise government”.

     The German-American press also had a lot to say about American foreign policy which they demanded should be skewed in favor of Germany. Thus, the president of the “Union of German Associations” (Verein Deutscher Gesellschaften) wrote that it was important the United States not change the Neutrality Act of 1937 and that the United States had no interest in defending England as that country had not yet paid its World War One debts. England was depicted as a war monger and all of the German aggressions were excused as blamed on the victims such as Chekoslovakia. The German-American press also claimed that the American people did not want to fight Germany for the sake of England. 

     The New York Herold, the Chicago Abendpost and the Buffalo Volksfreund, all German newspapers, praised Hitler for demanding that the Sudetenland be severed from Chechoslovakia and annexed by Germany because that area had a large German speaking population. These media also demanded, as did Hitler, that parts of Poland should be annexed by Germany because the German minority in Poland was being persecuted. These opinions reflected the views of the German consuls in the United States and predicted the end of Polish independence. On the invasion of Denmark by the German army the German-American press claimed that the Danes welcomed the Germans and that Danish life continued normal under Nazi rule. Similar excuses were made for the German invasion of Norway and France which Germany was forced to ivade lest the allies occupied these countries. 

     Even as all this pro-German propaganda was delivered by the German-American press, German immigrants and German-Americans also organized a Nazi party in the United States. This was authorized by the German “Deputy Führer,” Rudolf Hess, in 1933 when a German immigrant Heinz Spanknobel was appointed “Führer”  in the United States. Spanknoble organized a German-Americna “Bund” or Association which tried to model itself as the American arm of Hitler’s “Third Reich”. The “Bund” had only minimal support from the German-American population but made so much noise that the media viewed it as representing German-American sentiment in general. It never achieved a membership of more than 10,000 and consisted almost entirely of Germans who had entered the United States in recent years. The “Bund” attacked Jews, called all opponents Communists and received money from German authorities. The German consul in New York organized “Friends of the New Germany” a group which also had a good sized following in Chicago. Spanknobel and his followers demanded that German publications publish Nazi propaganda. When it was discovered that Spanknobel had failed to register as a foreign agent he was deported to Germany in October 1933.

     In March 1936 the Amerikanischer Volksbund was formed in Buffalo,NY. Fritz Kuhn, a German immigrant, was elected Bundleiter or “leader”. Kuhn was a veteran of the German army and a chemical engineer. Kuhn increased the membership considerably using such Nazi symbols as the “Sieg Heil” greeting and the swastika armband. He held pubic meetings with flags and military style bands and imitated Hitler by shouting slogans. However, Kuhn spoke poor English and made so poor an appearance that even the German ambassador to the United States called him “stupid, noisy and absurd.” Calling themselves “Germans in America” the organization predicted that Nazi ideology would soon rule the United States. About 25% of its members were German citizens and the others were almost entirely first generation Americans of Geman parentage. At their rallies, the “Bund” shouted German slogans and sang Nazi songs. They organized camps called “Camp Siefried” and “Camp Hindenburg” .

     The “Bund” also sponsored an American version of the “Hitler Youth” that taught children the German language, history and Nazi philosophy with emphasis on hating Jews. The members handed out “Aryan” pamphlets outside Jewish owned businesses and in a few instances engaged in violence against Jews. In 1936 they campaigned against Franklin D. Roosevelt whom they charged with being involved in a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy.

     In 1936 Kuhn and some of his followers traveled to Berlin to attend the summer Olympics. There he visited Hitler and had his picture taken with “Der Führer” thereby becoming the anointed “Führer” in America. By 1937 Kuhn bragged that he had 200,000 men ready to take up arms.  Later he even claimed to have 400,000 members although at the peak of his power, the “Bund”only had 8,500 members and about 5,000 sympathizers. The German ambassador to the United States, Hans Heinrich Dieckhoff wrote to his superiors in Berlin that Kuhn created antagonism to Germany in the United States and that his efforts would never succeed in convincing Americans to support the Nazi state.

     Although the United States has always had a large number of citizens of German descent, few had any connection to Germany after the beginning of the 20th century. Like all Americans, German-Americans could no longer speak the language of their grandparents and hardly any of them knew anyone in Germany. Assimilation had reduced the ethnicity of German-Americans to names only so that the Nazi antics in this country hardly interested them.

     Nevertheless, Kuhn continued his propaganda even in face of the refusal of Hitler and the German Nazi hierarchy to support him in any manner. Therefore, in March 1939, Kuhn held a rally in Madison Square Garden in New York attracting 22, 000 people. There he was flanked by a large portrait of George Washington and several American flags. He shouted Nazi slogans and attacked Franklin Roosevelt once more as being involved in a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy. He also called the “ New Deal” the “Jew Deal”. Fist fights broke out at this rally as the “Ordnungsdienst” , the military arm of the “Bund” fought with hecklers who had infiltrated the rally. 

     Consequently Kuhn was arrested and convicted of stealing $15,000 from the proceeds of the rally. He was then deported to Germany. Several of the “Bund” officials were also convicted of various offenses as the “Bund” disappeared with the entry of the United States into the second world war.

     Evidently, the German-Jews who had migrated to the United States from the same country as the other Germans could not feel comfortable in dealing with their erstwhile countrymen. Furthermore, the vast majority of German-Americans were not inclined to deal with Jews even if they were not necessarily Nazi sympatizers.


     Neither the Jewish community in America, nor the German community welcomed the German Jews who were fortunate in finding rescue in the United States. In addition, the German Jews of the 1930’s faced yet another obstacle to their acceptance in America. That was the Great Depression. The phrase “Great Depression” can best be understood by looking at the unemployment statistics for those years.

     In 1929, before the crash of the stock market, unemployment in the United States stood at 3.14%, a very low rate. By 1930 unemployment had risen to 8.67% and continued to rise for three years to a peak of 24.75% in 1933, the year in which Franklin Roosevelt became president. Unemployment declined slightly between 1934 and 1937 but increased again in 1938 when it stood at 18.91% of the labor force. It was not until 1941 that unemployment finally decline to 9.66% because the United States was producing some war materials for England. Only after the United States entered the second world war in December of 1941 did the depression finally come to and end. 

     These unacceptable unemployment rates contributed a great deal to the lack of approval faced by immigrants of all ethnic origins as these were deemed competitors for the few jobs then available.

          Jewish immigrants during the 1930’s faced yet another obstacle. In the course of the depression, a number of popular demagogues blamed “the Jews” for the misery experienced by the whole country. Chief among these was Father Charles Coughlin, a priest who conducted a weekly anti-Jewish radio broadcast with an estimated audience of forty five million. He also published a weekly tabloid called “Social Justice”. That publication reprinted the fraudulent Russian anti-Jewish text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which has been translated into all European languages and Arabic and has been used for over a century as a message of hate and destruction. Both in his radio broadcast and his publications Coughlin praised Hitler and threatened the Jewish community shouting” wait ‘till Hitler comes over here”. His weekly audience reached 49 million listeners and therefore made a considerable impression upon politicians of all parties.

     Caughlin received money from Nazi Germany and remained a popular rabble rouser until the United States entered the war against Germany in 1941.

     Another popular American hero of the 1930’s was Charles Lindbergh who had flown a small ‘plane from New York to Paris in May of 1927. This was a tremendous achievement as no one had ever flown across the Atlantic before. Subsequently, Lindbergh became a Nazi sympathizer. Lindbergh visited Germany in 1936 where he attended the opening of the Olympics as the personal guest of Hitler’s closest adviser, the German air force commander Hermann Göring. Lindbergh returned to Germany two more times. On one of these occasions Lindbergh accepted a medal from Göring. The medal represented the highest civilian honor available at the time. After returning home Lindbergh made numerous speeches claiming that Jewish propaganda was pushing the United States into war against Germany. As late as 1941, shortly before the United States entered the second world war, Lindbergh traveled to Des Moines, Iowa and there gave a speech claiming that “the Jewish race” was the greatest danger to the United States as “the Jews” reputedly controlled all the media and even the U.S. government.

     Such ranting by a popular hero had a good deal of influence on the American public as did the activities of Henry Ford, another American icon who had developed the Model T car and made auto travel cheap and accessible.

     Ford was a Nazi sympathizer and a virulent Jew hater who published The Dearborn Independent, a newspaper devoted to religious hate. He also published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery attacking Jews and a book called The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. Ford was closely allied with Charles Lindbergh and other hate mongers. He was praised by the Nazi hierarchy and regarded as an ally by the Germans. His popularity enhanced his influence and he became supportive of other anti-Jewish agitators.

     Ford was praised by the German leader of the Storm Troopers, Heinrich Himmler as “one of our most valuable and important……..fighters”. Even Hitler spoke of Ford as his inspiration and told a newspaper that he keeps a picture of Ford on his desk. In turn, Ford received Kurt Ludecke, a representative of Hitler at home. 

     There were of course many Americans of lesser stature than Coughlin, Lindbergh and Ford who shared their views or who were indifferent to the Nazi assault on the Jews. A 1938 Gallup poll of public opinion after the events of “Kristallnacht” is instructive of the attitude of the American population towards the persecution of the German Jews. The question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the Nazis treatment of the Jews in Germany?” had these results: 5.6% approved; 82.2% disapproved and 6.2% had no opinion. The next question was: “Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live? That questions led to these answers: 21.2% Yes; 71.8% No; 7.0% No opinion. Yet another question asked by Gallup was: “Do you think the persecution of the Jews in Europe has been their own fault?” 10.9% answered “entirely”; 54.0% answered “partly” and only 35% not at all. Even the question as to whether the respondent would support a widespread campaign against Jews in the United States elicited “yes” from 11.7% of the respondents.     

     Anti Jewish sentiment was common in the United States during the 1930’s and throughout the war between 1941 to 1945. Hatred of Jews was expressed by politicians and by the “America First Committee” which had nearly one million members in 650 chapters across the United States and included prominent senators and members of Congress. Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota and Senators Burton Wheeler of Montana, Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin, William Borah from Idaho and Geroge Norris from Nebraska represented this organization in the Senate and many more were found in the House. These senators claimed that “the Jews” wanted to drive the United States into the war against Germany. These senators were all from the west and mid-west where anti-war sentiment was strongest since those living there believed they were defended by geography from any attack by Germany. Japan was given no consideration.

     The committee was funded by such wealthy citizens as H. Smith Richardson, chair of Vick Chemical Co., Robert E. Wood, president of Sears Roebuck, Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, and John F, Kennedy, later President of the United States.


          During the 1930’s and even the war years 1939-1945, the persecution of the German Jews and later the eastern European Jews was hardly noticed by the American public and even minimized by Jewish Americans. Although the German Jewish immigrants who came to the United States from 1933 to 1941 came to escape the horrors of the Nazi dictatorship, this was not understood in the United States. Consequently, these utterly impoverished and traumatized immigrants were treated with considerable disdain by the Jewish community, savaged by the German community and ignored by everyone else.

     Nevertheless, both American Jews and gentiles were well aware of the Nazi attack on the German Jews because this was published in almost all newspapers, particularly when on November 10-11, 1938 all synagogues in Germany and Austria were burned to the ground and a massive attack on Jewish property and some murders of Jews were reported.

     In the early days of the Hitler regime the concentration camps housed few Jews. The main occupants of these horror camps were communists, socialists, trade unionists, and all other opponents of the new government. Therefore, many Americans, including Jews, believed that the German Jews were only one segment of German society to be so regimented. Jews, it seemed, they were not singled out but were a part of the targeted population. Moreover, it was Nazi policy before 1939 to force Jews to emigrate. Therefore, numerous Jews who had been imprisoned in these camps were let go if they proved that they had the permission to enter a foreign country and leave Germany forthwith. It was only after the war prevented the emigration of German Jews that the slaughter began.

     Once the German armies had invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 the fighting rather than the fate of the German Jews or Polish Jews occupied the media. The murder of Jews was hardly noticed and seldom appeared in the newspapers of the day. The United States was not engaged in the war until December 7, 1941, more than two years after its beginning. Yet, hardly anyone mentioned the mass murders that then ensued in Germany and in Poland so that refugees who told about these horrors were accused of exaggerating their suffering. Many Americans viewed these recitations as propaganda designed to drag the country into the war.

     The years from 1939 to 1941 were indeed dramatic. German armies were victorious everywhere. France was defeated and almost all of Europe was dominated by the German military. There was a war at sea and England was fighting for its existence. All that occupied the news and Americans attention. The Jews were the last to gain any notice.

     Because the Germans made every effort to keep their murderous rampages secret, there were conflicting reports, if any, concerning the persecutions and mass murders. Some reported that thousands had been killed in one week while others claimed that far fewer victims were involved.

     Furthermore, a good number of reports concerning the massacre of Jews came from the Soviet Union, the feared communists whose reports were discredited for that reason alone. Normally, reporters check any story by gaining some verification from more than one source. That, however, became impossible after September 1, 1939 so that the anti-Jewish measures were viewed as mere rumor but not matters of fact. There were then still many editors working who had heard similar stories during the first world war only to discover later that these stories of German atrocities were greatly exaggerated. So these editors were not willing to be fooled a second time.

    Then there was and is the failure of such horror stories to remain interesting for long. The consumers of newspapers of that day, like TV watchers today, are easily bored unless something different and exciting occurs each day. The constant repetition that Jews were being persecuted became routine and finally interested only those who had direct knowledge of relatives still in Europe. These were the recently arrived German Jews and a few others.

     It is common for many people to avoid thinking about disturbing or frightening events. Therefore there were many Americans, including Jews, who wanted to avoid knowledge of the persecution of Jews by ignoring any such reports. Readers of magazines and newspapers sometimes wrote letters to the editors objecting to stories and pictures concerning the persecutions either because these pictures disturbed them or because they were indifferent if not supportive of the killing of Jews. In fact, the sheer magnitude of the mass murders made this nightmare unbelievable.

     Americans knew about the concentration camps but viewed them as housing political opponents of the regime, not extermination camps for Jews. Jews were therefore portrayed as opponents of Nazism or as passive victims, not heroic fighters for democracy. Subsequent events have shown that the Israeli Jews who have always fought for their lives are highly regarded in America while the European Jews, helpless victims were hardly noticed or, if noticed, were demeaned.

     Germany was portrayed by Hollywood and the media as an opponent of freedom in general but not particularly as persecutors of Jews. The Office of War Information which was charged with telling Americans “why we fight” did not deal with the persecution of Jews particularly because emphasis on the treatment of Jews was most unpopular in the U.S.A. inasmuch as anti-Jewish sentiment was as common in America as in all Christian countries. In fact, ever since 1933 when Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, those who viewed the Nazis as a threat made every effort not to emphasize the attack on the Jews lest the American public agreed with the haters that America was entering a war for the Jews and no one else.

     American Jews were accused of war mongering long before Pearl Harbor. It was for that reason that the Jewish dominated movie industry made no effort to produce movies regarding the fate of the European Jews. Instead, it was claimed that the Nazi regime was anti-Christian and that Catholics, Protestants and Jews were all subject to persecution. That was of course a lie since the Christian population of Europe enthusiastically participated in the persecution of the Jews and gladly stole their houses, furniture, clothes, money and other possessions down to the toys of Jewish children who had no means of defending themselves.         


     All of these conditions faced the Jewish refugees who arrived in the United States during the years beginning with 1933 and thereafter. These refugees were already emotionally destroyed by their experiences in Europe. They erroneously expected a warm welcome in America only to find that they were barely welcome. Like all immigrants the German Jews had to undergo the pains of assimilation which meant learning a new language, learning to understand American culture, dealing with poverty and the insults of reduced social class and facing an uncertain future for themselves and their children. It is therefore of interest to discover how the German Jewish immigrants of the first half of the 20th century dealt with these obstacles. That investigation reveals that some German Jews were exempt from these problems because they were academics who were able to translate their European achievements into American acceptance by entering American institutions of higher education who generally accepted them with far greater enthusiasm than was true of the vast majority.


     Jewish immigrants needed travel funds to reach the United States. Deprived of all their money and possessions these refugees were dependant on American aid to pay for their passage. Therefore considerable amounts of money were collected to help the German Jewish refugees although some say that a good deal of the money was wasted by paying excessive salaries to welfare bureaucrats. Some have accused the American Jews of the 1930’s to minimize the persecutions of the German Jews in favor of eating a expensive kosher restaurants.

     The German Jews who came to the United States in the 1930’s differed from earlier immigrants in that they generally came alone or with one or two relatives as the others had been deported. They could never visit their European friends and relatives again nor did they know anyone in the United States. They were destitute in that all their money and possessions had been stolen by their erstwhile neighbors. They had no support from the Jewish or German community so that they were “on their own.”

     At the time of their arrival in the U.S. the German community agitated in favor of the Nazi party even as other Americans favored the Germans and promoted anti-Jewish hatred. Moreover, the depression made life difficult for everyone and contributed to the rejection of the newly arrived Jews.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Assassination, Anarchy, & Terrorism (2012).

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