How welcome were the Frank family?

Anne, Edith and Margot Frank, shortly before they leave Frankfurt am Main, March 1933.
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After Hitler became Reich's Chancellor of Germany, tens of thousands of German Jews leave their fatherland in search of a better life. A great many go to neighboring Holland; the Franks too. How did the Dutch government react to these newcomers and what consequences did this have for their rights of residency? A glance at the registration cards in the registration office and the register of foreigners gives new information regarding the residence position of those in hiding in the secret annex.

'We too might move on'

An exhibition from 2012 on the futile attempts to flee the Netherlands of the Frank family, the Van Pelses and Fritz Pfeffer.


From Germany to the Netherlands

The flight of the Frank family, the Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer.


On January 30, 1933 Hitler becomes Reich's Chancellor of Germany. He now gets the chance to put into practice his ideas from "Mein Kampf". After the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933 he abolished the most important civil laws. This is followed by special regulations, the so-called Aryan declaration - the Berufsverbote - that makes it impossible for Jews to continue in the most important professions. Because of these regulations and the boycott of Jewish shops, doctors and lawyers on April 1, 1933, tens of thousands of Jews leave Germany. In 1933 51, 000 emigrate, 4,000 of them to the Netherlands.

"For economic reasons"

On Otto Frank's registration card at the office to register foreigners it appears that he registered on August 16, 1933. The card states that he is a merchant, has German nationality and a member of the Jewish/Israelite denomination. On his family card from the registration office it states that he left Germany "for economic reasons". Otto has often been to the Netherlands before on business and has sufficient (borrowed) capital and knowledge to set up his own business. First he lives on the Stadionkade but moves to the Merwedeplein on December 6, 1933. According to his card at the Register of Foreigners his wife Edith and their children Margot and Anne are registered at this address a day later. In fact, Anne only arrived in Amsterdam in February 1934. In her diary she writes "Margot went to the Netherlands in December and I went in February, where I was put on the table as a birthday present for Margot."Otto and Edith have sufficient funds and possess a German passport, which enables them to claim a legitimate stay in the Netherlands. In 1926 the compulsory visa for the movement of people between the Netherlands and Germany was abolished.

A wave of refugees

In 1933 the Aliens' Act of 1849 is still valid. the entry regulations are simple; foreigners need to have sufficient funds and valid papers. Everyone is welcome. The term refugee does not exist at this time. the developments in Germany cause the Dutch government to be concerned. Can they expect a large wave of refugees? To protect the labor market the Dutch government approve a new law on May 16th, 1934. Foreigners can only work if they have a permit. Because of this it is virtually impossible for refugees to find employment. The worry about waves of refugees results in a government order of May 30th 1934. this order states that refugees with German nationality should be discouraged as much as possible by only being permitted a short stay. Only those whose lives would be threatened by returning would be allowed to stay but only temporarily. One of the reasons for this restrictive government policy was that the arrival of too many Jews could lead to manifestations of anti-Semitism against Dutch Jews. Because of this attitude many Dutch Jews agree with this order something also recognizable in migrants today. It is of course questionable whether fear is the cause of anti-Semitism or today's xenophobia.

Just in time

Comparable to government pronouncements today regarding refugees' homelands the diplomatic services in Berlin inform the Dutch government about the situation of the Jews in Germany. At the beginning of April 1933 the diplomats state that the German Jews lives are not being threatened but are facing social ruin. Because of this many refugees are unable to convince the authorities of a danger to their lives, because of this the right to ask for asylum is a complete illusion. It appears that Otto Frank's family had settled in the Netherlands just in time.

The Van Pels Family

The Van Pels family who joined the Franks in the secret annex, also came from Germany. On June 26, 1937 they emigrated from Osnabruck to Amsterdam. The aforementioned boycott had proved disastrous for them because a fanatical nazi had hung photographs in his shop window of Aryans who shopped in Jewish shops. Because of this boycott father, Aron van Pels, had to sell his shop for next to nothing. Aron van Pels had the Dutch nationality when he settled in Germany and because of this his son Hermann van Pels, his daughter-in-law Gusti and grandson Peter were also Dutch nationals. They could settle in the Netherlands without any problems. In 1939 the Van Pels family moved to the Rivierenbuurt in Amsterdam and lived behind the Franks. The families became good friends and Hermann van Pels and Otto Frank later became business partners.

Unattractive alternative for escape

Between 1933 and 1938 about 25.000 German Jewish refugees arrive in the Netherlands. Most of them used the Netherlands as a stopover and travel on to other destinations. The Dutch government purposely want to be seen as an unattractive alternative for escape and have not only protected blue collar work from the refugees but also white-collar work. From April 1937 self-employed refugees find it virtually impossible to settle. In January 1938 discussions take place between the Ministries of Justice and Home Affairs. During these discussions Ministries discuss ways of further stopping the flow of immigrants. In a circular from the Justice Department on May 7, 1938 it is decided that in principal no further refugee would be allowed to enter the Netherlands. Every refugee would be seen as an undesired alien. Only proof of life threatening actions against them could save an alien. Despite protests from the social democrats, communists and liberals, the conservative government gets this law passed.

The Night of Broken Glass

On March 12, 1938 Austria is annexed, the so-called Anschluss. Austrian Jews look for a new homeland. On November 9, 1938 the Night of Broken Glass occurs. Nearly 200 synagogs go up in flames and 7,500 shops are destroyed and plundered. More than 100 Jews are murdered. the Nazis arrest 30.000 male Jews and deport them to concentration camps. But the Dutch immigration laws remain unchanged: the border remains closed.

Fritz Pfeffer and Charlotte Kaletta

Fritz Pfeffer was in hiding with the Franks and van Pels families in the secret annex. He came originally from Germany together with his catholic girlfriend, Charlotte Kaletta. He left Berlin after the Night of Broken Glass after having put this son Werner on a boat bound for England. At this time, England still accepted a small number of refugees, mainly children. Werner would now be known as an under age asylum seeker. Fritz and Charlotte remains in the Netherlands because he can work as a dentist. On their family registration card from the Registration Office it states that Fritz entered the Netherlands by train on December 9, 1939. the card states that he is a refugee, his occupation is dentist and that he wants to go to Australia. The Register of Foreigners does not permit him to stay permanently. His card states that he must "emigrate as soon as possible"

Married posthumously

Curiously it states on Fritz's registration card next to religion (Jewish) also the question whether he is Aryan or non-Aryan. this category is not mentioned on Otto Frank's card. Charlotte arrives in the Netherlands on December 29,1938, also by train. On her card she is registered as a political refugee. Her card also notes that (January 23, 1940) she is not permitted to live with Fritz Pfeffer. The Netherlands respected the Nuremberg Laws. The Laws passed in 1935 forbade marriage between Jews and non-Jews in Germany. Charlotte Kaletta married Fritz Pfeffer posthumously in 1953.

A question of luck

After the Night of Broken Glass there were still members of Otto's family in Germany. His mother-in-law lived in Aachen. Otto arranges for her to come to Amsterdam. Her emigration does not cause any problems. In her biography of Anne Frank the writer Melissa Muller states" It was pure luck that Rosa Hollander (and obviously an exception) was able to enter Holland in March 1939 and stay with her daughter. On her registration card Grandmother Holländer is registered as being a German national and that her son-in-law is responsible for her upkeep. this is dated April 7, 1939.

Julius and Walter Holländer

Two of Otto Frank's bothers-in-law live in Germany, Julius and Walter Holländer. Julius flees to the U.S.A. For this he needs a sponsor from a family member already in the U.S.A. Julius has a cousin who helps him. In April 1939 he sails from Rotterdam to the U.S.A. Walter Holländer is arrested during the Night of Broken Glass and ends up in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In 1938, due to poor health he obtains permission to travel to the Netherlands. He is not received with open arms. Despite a sister in Amsterdam he only obtains temporary permission to stay until he travels further. He is placed in the Zeeburg internment camp in Amsterdam. These camps are to ensure that refugees do not integrate into the Dutch economy and encourage further emigration to other countries. Walter describes his situation as follows," In this camp we were shut up, were under the watchful eye of the police and it was not possible, not permitted, to do anything in order to earn money." With the help of his brother who was able to stand as sponsor for him he left on a boat for America on December 16, 1939

Illegal refugees

After the Night of Broken Glass more than 40.000 Jews try to obtain a visa for the Netherlands. Initially the Dutch government does not want to know about the situation. Eventually they give way and 7.000 Jews are permitted entry to the Netherlands. This entails them being placed in camps and not being free to go where they want. Before the war 2.000 illegal immigrants are able to enter the Netherlands without the necessary paperwork. The Communist Red Cross makes it their task to help these immigrants. On humanitarian grounds these immigrants cannot be sent back they are placed under military observation (in other camps). The reason for leaving for Germany is normally the same - fear of persecution. At least that is how it would be described today.

"We couldn't bear it"

In 1939 Otto and Edith Frank ask themselves if they should emigrate again. But to where? Not to Palestine because they have neither Zionist nor religious ambitions. Neutral Switzerland has closed its borders to Jews. Edith writes in a letter to friends in 1939," I believe that all Germany's Jews are looking around the world but can find nowhere to go." Otto and Edith consider going with the children to England but that plan does not comer to anything. Also a plan to allow the children to go without them does not materialize. "We couldn't bear being parted from the girls." when the possibility arises to emigrate to the U.S.A. there was too little time to arrange things and Hitler's invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940 made it impossible to leave the country anymore.

"Foreign elements"

In 1941 the total number of German Jewish refugees living in the Netherlands 15.174. Out of a total population 9 million it is not that many. Was it realistic for the Dutch government to fear " the further intrusion of foreign elements that were considered dangerous for the Dutch race." Eventually all German Jewish refugees lose their German citizenship as a result of the Elfte Verordnung zum Reichsburgergesetz of November 25, 1941. Otto Frank was the only person from those in the secret annex to survive the war. It was only on November 22, 1949 that he became a naturalized Dutch citizen.

Protection of rights

The events of the Second World War have lead to treaties against anti-Semitism, racism and apartheid. But also treaties in which the rights of refugees are humanely regulated. It was not only the Netherlands who refused to grant Jews asylum, most other European countries acted in the same way. Let us then when considering whether to restrict the rights of refugees, not forget the reasons why this protection of rights was made in the first place.

Peter R. Rodrigues & Henny Brandhorst - originally published in 2003.


Corrie K. Berghuis, Joodse Vluchtelingen in Nederland 1938-1940, Documenten betreffende toelating, uitleiding en kampopname, Uitgeversmaatschappij J.H. Kok: Kampen, 1990

Kathinka Dittrich en Hans Würzner (red.), Nederland en het Duitse Exil 1933-1940. Van Gennep: Amsterdam 1982

A.J. Hoekstra, Tussen vrees en vervolging, Van Gorcum: Assen 1982

L. de Jong, Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog, Deel 1 Voorspel, Martinus Nijhof: Den Haag 1969

Bob Moore, Slachtoffers en overlevenden, De nazi-vervolging van joden in Nederland, Bert Bakker: Amsterdam 1998

Melissa Müller, Anne Frank, Biografie, Bert Bakker: Amsterdam 1998

De Dagboeken van Anne Frank, Nederlands Instituut voor Oorlogsdocumentatie, Bert Bakker: Amsterdam 2001 

'We too might move on' On Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

The Frank family fled from to Holland in the 1930’s and later tried to find a safe refuge elsewhere. 


How welcome were the Frank family? Article on Jewish refugees in the 1930's

How did the Dutch government react to these newcomers?