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No one has more succinctly or aptly described the process a person had to go through in order to come to the United States than journalist Peter Wyden did in 1987, when he explained his family's determination to flee Germany in the 1930s:

"the language in the house changed. Our future had come to depend on three new guideposts: 'the quota' -- [which was] the total number of German refugees permitted to enter the United States under the miserly immigration laws; 'the affidavit' -- the document from an umpteenth cousin . . . guaranteeing that he would support us if we became destitute; and 'the visa' -- which would be our stamped admission ticket into the promised land."

Those "stamped admission tickets," the visas, were woefully hard to get. In 1930, as the financial depression deepened, President Herbert Hoover ordered the Department of State to to provide him with a report concerning the impact of immigration on the ongoing Great Depression. In this report, given to Hoover in September, 1930, the State Department recommended that immigration visas be restricted more severely. The report argued:

where there is not any reasonable prospect of prompt employment for an alien laborer or artisan who comes hoping to get a job or live by it, the particular consular officer in the field to whom application for a visa is made (upon whom the responsibility for examination of the applicant rests) will before issuing a visa have to pass judgment with particular care on whether the applicant may become a public charge.

The report urged the president to permit consular officers to refuse to issue visas in such cases.

After receiving this report, Hoover issued an executive order to all consulates that "if the consular officer [in any country] believes that an applicant [for a visa] may probably be[come] a public charge at any time, even … a considerable period [after] his arrival [in the United States] he must refuse the visa." The directive offered no guidelines for making a distinction between applicants who wanted to come to America "hoping to get a job" and those who could be fleeing political or religious persecution.

Within months of this order, the number of visas issued for immigration to American dropped to about one-fourth of the number that had been issued in previous years. The order was maintained during the Roosevelt administration, and throughout the 1930s. American consuls also rejected thousands of visa applications because of technical flaws in the applications, procedural difficulties, minor details, any number of excuses.

This tendency was almost certainly compounded by the kind of foreign service officer who worked in the consulates in the 1930s and made the decisions regarding visa applications. They were invariably men who came from middle-class or upper middle-class families and had attended well-respected universities, primarily in the eastern part of the United States (a degree from an ivy league school was almost the norm). Their family history in America usually extended back four or five generations, or longer. Many of them had belonged to societies in college and clubs in private life that routinely excluded Jews from possible membership. Many scholars since the Holocaust have believed that with this type of background, at least some consular officials rejected visa applications out of prejudice.

Breckinridge Long, Assistant Secretary of State, supervised the process through which consulates issued immigration visas. He probably had more influence on the process than any other single individual. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Long was part of distinguished families in the history of North Carolina and Kentucky. He was part of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party, especially so where immigration was concerned; as he noted in his diary in September 1941: "I believe that nobody, anywhere has a right to enter the United States unless the United States desires." He was also convinced that many of the immigrants from Germany were in fact spies for the German government, which used "visitor's visas to send agents and [subversive] documents through the United States." Knowing this attitude of their boss, it is a small wonder that many of the consulate personnel refused visas for any number of specious reasons.

In was in this atmosphere that relatives of Herman Stern began in 1935 to seek refuge the United States. For an example of

Sources: Henry L. Feingold, The Politics of Rescue (1970); Martin Weil, A Pretty Good Club: The Founding Fathers of the U.S. Foreign Service (1978); Peter Wyden, Stella (1992); David Wyman, Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis (1968); Public Papers of the Presidents: Herbert Hoover, 1930 (1976); The War Diary of Breckinridge Long (1966).
Documents from the "Goldschmidt" file, Herman Stern Papers, Libby Manuscript Collections, University of North Dakota.
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