Overview

Research into Otto Frank’s attempts to emigrate to the United States

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July 6, 2018 — The Anne Frank House and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum present their report of their research into the attempts of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, to emigrate to the United States. Bureaucracy, war and time thwarted Otto’s emigration attempts.

On 6 July 1942, 76 years ago today, the Frank family went into hiding in the Secret Annex. After fruitless attempts to emigrate, going into hiding was the only remaining way to stay out of the hands of the Nazis. The Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer joined the Frank family in the Secret Annex shortly afterwards. Their attempts to emigrate had also failed. Today the Anne Frank House and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum present their report of their research into the attempts of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, to emigrate to the United States. Bureaucracy, war and time thwarted Otto’s emigration attempts, as well as those of many other Jews.

Consulate

“I am forced to look out for emigration and as far as I can see the USA is the only country we could go to.” Otto Frank wrote this on 30 April 1941 to his good American friend Nathan Straus in New York. Otto Frank had been working on his plans to emigrate to the United States since 1938. The immigration visa application, with all the necessary documents, had to be submitted to the American consulate in Rotterdam. In the Netherlands, only the Rotterdam consulate issued immigration visas. The consulate was destroyed during the bombardment of Rotterdam on 14 May 1940. That led to a laborious reconstruction of the waiting list, and all applications - including Otto Frank’s - had to be resubmitted.

Asylum policy

There were also obstacles from the United States: in the absence of an asylum policy, Jews seeking to escape Nazi persecution in Europe had to go through a protracted emigration procedure. There was limited willingness to accept Jewish refugees. Nevertheless, Otto Frank hoped to enter the United States with the help of his friend Nathan Straus, who had financial resources and political connections. Despite the efforts of Nathan and Otto’s two brothers-in-law in the United States, the emigration attempt was unsuccessful.

Changing circumstances overtook Otto: the Unites States closed all German consulates, whereupon Nazi Germany closed all American consulates in Germany and Nazi-occupied territory. Otto’s attempt to emigrate to the USA via Cuba also came to nothing. After the attack on Pearl Harbour and the suspension of transatlantic shipping traffic, travel to Cuba was impossible. Otto Frank decided to go into hiding with his family in the Secret Annex of his business premises on the Prinsengracht canal.

New findings

At the time of the discovery of letters and other documents of Otto Frank by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in 2007 various articles were published on Otto Frank’s attempts to emigrate to the United States. This new research by the Anne Frank House and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is based on the YIVO dossier and on new sources, both in the Netherlands and the United States. Otto’s emigration attempts were mapped out step by step in the context of the wartime developments in Europe and the United States. Although the United States had a far from generous policy with regard to Jewish refugees, it is clear that Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne Frank were not refused entry to the United States. Because of all the developments Otto’s immigration visa application to the American consulate in Rotterdam was never processed.

At the Anne Frank House we strive for a historically reliable, authentic and accessible presentation of the life story of Anne Frank in the context of the persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust. In this context we conduct research into Anne Frank and the other people in hiding in the Secret Annex. In 2015 we presented our research report on the last months of Anne and Margot Frank, and in 2016 we presented our research report on the arrest of the eight people in hiding. Now, together with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, we present our research report on Otto Frank's attempts to emigrate with his family to the United States.

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