Frances Perkins and the German-Jewish Refugees, 1933-1940.
American Jewish History March ,
Shall we refuse the unhappy
fugitives from distress that hospitality which the savages of the
wilderness extended to our forefathers arriving in this land? Shall
oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?
Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address(1)
When President Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins as Secretary of
Labor in 1933, the news was greeted with suspicion. Never before in the
history of the United States had a woman been appointed to the cabinet.
Moreover, the fact that she was the first Secretary of Labor outside
the trade unions aroused resentment in labor and industrial circles.
Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis may have been convinced that
"no man or woman in the United States was so well qualified" for that
position, but many in the media and Congress expressed doubts as to
whether Perkins was capable of meeting the challenge of America's
serious labor unrest and economic upheaval.(2) Perkins loyalist Charles
E. Wyzanski, Jr., a solicitor general at the Labor Department, noted
that congressmen did not like to listen to long lectures about the need
for reforms from a woman who seemed to them "a combination of their
mothers, teachers, and blue-stocking constituents," especially when she
had failed to develop a strong supporting constituency on Capitol Hill,
among industrial officers, or in union circles.(3)
Upon her death in 1965, the Times of London praised Perkins as "one of
the chief architects of the New-Deal," a woman of "true sense of
justice and humanity." The New York Times on the same occasion observed
that "through all the strikes, peaks of unemployment, technological
relocation and mobilization for the war, Miss Perkins presided
efficiently and with restraint, withstanding repeated private and
public attack."(4) In fact, she had gained her reputation as Industrial
Commissioner already in the late 1920s while serving under Governors
Smith and Roosevelt in New York. Perkins's efforts to secure safety
measures to avoid factory fires and her humanitarian approach to human
suffering, helped prepare her for a prominent role in the New Deal.
Deeply committed to the goal of a governmental social security system
to meet the requirements of the unemployed, the infirm, the aged and
the dependent, she spearheaded enactment of the Social Security Act of
1935, her greatest single contribution to American society. Wyzanski
I never met a person, who equaled her firm adherence to principle. Her
determination to follow the public interest and not a selfish, least of all
an egotistical, interest, and her unswerving loyalty to her superiors, her
colleagues, and her subordinates, so long as each was true to the best in
himself as his own vision saw the best.(5)
Labor historian C. E. Daniel, who considered Perkins the
outstanding Secretary of labor in the whole history of the country,
remarked, "It is hard to think of any [New Deal] accomplishments
related to labor that don't reflect the contributions of Frances
Perkins."(6) An aristocratic progressive who retained her maiden name
after marriage, Perkins remained a product of the nineteenth century
with a Puritan social ethic.(7)
Perkins's firm stands on what she considered "just causes" was
especially evident on the issue of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.
No one could intimidate her or deflect her from following "the command
of duty," even if that meant facing animosity and criticism from the
Department of State; as she put it, "Immigration problems usually have
to be decided in a few days. They involve human lives. There can be no
delaying."(8) Humanitarian needs were indeed pressing. Hitler began his
reign of terror immediately upon ascending to power in January 1933.
German Jews were soon stripped of their civil rights and were unable to
obtain passports from their government. Few visas were being issued by
the State Department, which adhered strictly to the provisions in U.S.
immigration law barring entry to those deemed "likely to become a
public charge." U.S. consuls in Nazi Germany were consistently and
systematically using various means to deny emigration visas to
desperate German Jews, who became refugees in their own country.(9)
President Roosevelt, moreover, refused to consider relaxing America's
tight immigration restrictions. From his first days in office, FDR was
kept informed as to what was happening to Jews in Germany, but in view
of his domestic political problems, America's economic difficulties,
the anti-alien climate in Congress, and popular opposition to the
prospect of "a flood" of Jewish newcomers, FDR preferred to follow the
advice of conservative officials in the Department of State, to whom he
gave a free hand on immigration matters despite their harsh and
sometimes even antisemitic attitudes concerning refugee policy.(10)
Although secondary to the Department of State in visa affairs, the
Department of Labor was until 1940 in charge of immigration and
naturalization issues, and it soon emerged as a prominent factor with
respect to the German- Jewish refugee issue.(11) Concerning the
policies and procedures of obtaining immigration visas, Perkins
articulated strong humanitarian sentiments despite the fact that her
department's pressing priorities lay in issues such as public works,
minimum wages, maximum hours, unemployment insurance, and other social
welfare needs.(12) Even within the field of immigration there were
serious problems, including the need to reorganize the service,
eliminate corruption, and hire better qualified staff.(13)
Nevertheless, the desperate conditions of German Jews under the Nazi
regime moved Perkins to help. Beginning in April 1933 Perkins made it
her cause. She stood alone in Roosevelt's cabinet as an advocate for
the liberalization of immigration procedures, boldly confronting the
Secretary of State and his deputies when trying to find ways and means
to enable the entry of as many Jewish refugees as possible into the
United States. At a cabinet meeting on 18 April 1933, for example, she
advocated a new executive order to bypass President Hoover's 1930
executive order requiring strict adherence to the aforementioned
"likely to become a public charge" clause. Her suggestion, had it been
accepted, would have enabled the admission of many more German Jewish
refugees. It should be emphasized that the immediate hardship Jewish
refugees faced was not the availability of quota numbers--during the
years 1933 to 1939 the German quota was never filled. The main
difficulty had been the implementation of Hoover's order by U. S.
consuls in Germany. A modification of that order, or its cancellation,
could have made a major difference. Yet both Secretary of State Hull
and his undersecretary, William Phillips, refused to recognize any
connection between Hoover's order and the low percentage of refugees
admitted. They succeeded in persuading Roosevelt that since the German
quota was unfilled there was no need for further action.(14) Perkins
vainly tried to combat their influence, even threatening to unleash
Jewish pressure if no action was taken. She reminded Phillips that the
right of asylum was based on American tradition, and it was up to her
department, not State, to decide whether such admission would affect
economic conditions in the United States.(15)
An ally of Perkins's efforts was Judge Julian W. Mack of the U.S.
Circuit Court, a leader of the American Jewish Congress and an expert
on immigration. In the spring of 1933 he came across a long-overlooked
provision of the Immigration Act of 1917 which allowed the Secretary of
Labor to accept a bond as a guarantee that a potential immigrant would
not become a public charge. Max Kohler, a consultant to the American
Jewish Committee on immigration, concurred that the provision could
open the door for German-Jewish refugees who had been barred admission
into the United States on the basis of the public charge clause.(16) At
a meeting with Jewish officials in Washington on 22 September 1933,
Perkins pledged "that she herself is prepared to accept the
responsibility--if legal--to bond German refugees."(17a) But Kohler
soon had second thoughts. He warned it was very important to make sure
that no newly arrived Jewish refugees should become public charges as
"that would queer all our efforts."(17b) Some Jewish leaders held a
view similar to that of the State Department --although for different
reasons--that masses of Jewish immigrants could cause an inflammation
of domestic antisemitism.(18)
Three refugee-related matters were on the Secretary of Labor's agenda.
The most urgent was to prevent State's systematic abuse of the "likely
to become a public charge" clause. Perkins sought legal authority to
permit a bond in advance of the immigrants' arrival in the United
States as a guarantee that the potential immigrant would not become a
public charge. Also under consideration was a plan to bring 250
German-Jewish children into the United States, another to prolong the
stay of German-Jewish visitors who were already in the United States.
The Issue of Bonds
The issue of bonds was legally complicated. The point of contention was
Section 21 of the Immigration Act of 1917, which the Departments of
State and Labor interpreted differently. The disagreement over
public-charge bonds led to a legal battle between the two departments
and personal animosity between Perkins and State Department officials
with each side trying to win the president's favor.
Two main questions were raised. First, whether the bonding procedure,
already contained in Section 21 of the Immigration Act of 1917, was
meant to cover more than occasional hardship cases and whether it was
intended to operate only after arrival at U.S. ports with an immigrant
visa, as the Department of State argued, or if it could be done before
the consul reached his conclusions, with the discretion to decide given
to the Department of Labor. Second, whether the Immigration Act of 1924
invalidated Section 21 of the Immigration Act of 1917. Section 21
stated that "any alien liable to be excluded because likely to become a
public charge or because of physical disability other than tuberculosis
in any form or a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease may, if
otherwise admissible, nevertheless be admitted in the discretion of the
Secretary of Labor upon the giving of a suitable and proper bond or
undertaking, approved by said Secretary"(19)
It should be emphasized that the section did not expressly state that
an alien must be at America's shores before the Secretary could take
action. Taken at face value, the statute seemed to allow the Secretary
of Labor to act before or after the alien arrived. Moreover, the
Department of Labor regulation applicable to that section provided that
after such bond had been disposed the Department of Labor "may in its
discretion authorize the admission of such alien."(20)
An opinion prepared for Perkins by Labor Department Solicitor Charles
Wyzanski, Jr., argued that this rule, or one similar, had existed ever
since there was a possibility that an alien would find himself rejected
while still abroad on the ground that he was likely to become a public
charge.(21) In his opinion the history of Section 21 indicated the
"propriety of accepting bonds" for aliens not yet in the United
States.(22) Thus, Wyzanski concluded, since the Secretary of Labor had
been authorized by Congress to remove the "public charge" bar by
accepting a bond, she could legally declare that the alien was no
longer inadmissible so far as the public charge ground was concerned.
An alien for whom bond had been accepted, even though the consul may
have believed that he was likely to become a public charge, was, if
otherwise inadmissible, entitled to a visa.(23)
The Department of State refused to accept this interpretation. It held
fast to the policy that the law did not permit the Department of State
or the consuls abroad to accept a bond before a visa had been granted.
Moreover, State did not believe that posting such a bond "is merely by
itself adequate to meet the public charge requirements of the law."(24)
Richard W. Flournoy, Jr., legal adviser to the State Department, argued
that "no immigration visa shall be issued to an immigrant if it appears
to the consular officer, from statements in the application, or in the
papers submitted therewith, that the immigrant is inadmissible to the
United States under the immigration laws" and "when the provision of
Section 21 of the Act of February 5, 1917, concerning admission under
bond was adopted, Congress had in mind only cases of aliens who should
have arrived at ports of entry in the United States and should have
been denied admission by the immigration authorities upon the ground
that they appeared to be likely to become public charges."(25) Flournoy
also pointed to the rules and regulations for the enforcement of the
Immigration Act of 1924, which includes a note (48) about bonds:
Consular officers are not authorized either to require or to accept bonds
in immigration cases. The question of bond does not, therefore, arise until
after an alien has received a visa and actually arrives at a port of entry
to the United States.(26)
In his opinion the principal object of the 1924 act was to
prevent hardships and expenses from aliens who faced denial of entrance
at ports. Therefore, he concluded, the bonding procedure could not be
made to fit into the framework of the existing law. In Flournoy's view,
not only did Section 21 of the 1917 act make no reference to the case
of an alien who was in a foreign country when the bond was offered, but
the proposed procedure would oblige the consul to accept the ruling of
the Secretary of Labor, notwithstanding the consul's finding. Moreover,
the law did not request the approval of the Commissioner General with
regard to facts outside the United States. That was left to the
discretion of the consul abroad. The procedure of bonds in the manner
recommended by the Secretary of Labor would violate the language and
meaning of the 1924 act. It would deny the legal requirement that
granted the issuance of a visa solely upon the exercise of a consul's
judgment and discretion, and "the double check provided by the Act of
1924 would be made ineffective."(27)
Although it was agreed that the two departments send a joint request to
the Attorney General to decide on the proper interpretation of the laws
on the issue of bonds, the Secretary of Labor sent a request along with
her solicitor's opinion directly to the Attorney General.(28) The
Attorney General was asked for his opinion on three issues: Was the
Secretary of Labor authorized to accept in advance of an alien's
arrival a public charge bond? Was the Secretary of Labor required to
exercise this power in behalf of those aliens whose applications are
made first, or has the Secretary of Labor discretion to make selections
regardless of chronological order? And was the Secretary of Labor
authorized to recommend to the Secretary of State a regulation which
denied the consuls the discretion to refuse to issue a visa to that
alien on the ground that he was likely to become a public charge?
Three weeks later the Department of State followed with similar
questions and a memorandum prepared by the Legal Adviser of the
Department of State.(29) Assistant Secretary of State Wilbur Carr urged
firm adherence to the department's policy, stressing that in view of
the interpretation given the law since 1924, the department "has no
sound basis on which to change its position in favor of a different
construction of the law." He added, however, that he did not oppose any
proper effort to obtain an authoritative construction of the law: "If
the Attorney General determines the existing interpretation to be
wrong" the Department of State should accept it at once.(30)
Attorney General Homer Commings turned over the requests to his
assistant, Alexander Holtzhoff, who found Labor's argument convincing.
The formal opinion signed by the Attorney General and delivered to the
Secretary of Labor on 26 December 1933, complimented Labor's "excellent
memorandum," authorizing Perkins to proceed on all three points. He
confirmed her right to accept bonds prior to the alien's arrival and
select beneficiaries of the bond proceedings regardless of
chronological order of application, and he also approved Labor's
requested change in the Consular Regulations. However, he did leave
some discretion to the consuls. When the consul had reason to believe
that "the alien is inadmissible to the United States for some reason
other than the likelihood of his becoming a public charge," he had to
act upon the law which prohibited the issuance of immigration visa in
The Attorney General's ruling sparked hostile reactions from prominent
Visa Division officials in the State Department, who raised not only
legal doubts but also gave vent to antisemitic sentiments. C. Paul
Fletcher, a division officer, warned that when "ships begin to arrive
in New York City laden with Jewish immigrants," the "sleeping" State
Department would be blamed for betraying the interests of the United
States.(32a) Another division officer argued that since the attorney
general's opinion had been requested and obtained solely "to facilitate
the admission ... of aliens of the Jewish race, there existed a grave
risk that Jews would flood the United States":
Experience has taught that Jews are persistent in their endeavors to obtain
immigration visas, that Jews have a strong tendency, no matter where they
are, to allege that they are the subjects of either religious or political
persecution, that Jews have constantly endeavored to find means of entering
the United States despite the barriers set up by our immigration laws ...
unrestrained acceptance of bonds of Jewish aliens would soon develop the
common understanding that for some reason the immigration laws of the
United States operated to admit nothing but Jews ... I am convinced that
should the public suddenly learn that this control was simply taking over
the Jewish population of European countries, there would be a great deal of
objection ... Moreover ... Jews so admitted could gradually effect the
admission of thousands of other Jews under the first and second preference
and nonquota provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924.(32b)
The anti-Jewish undertone and familiar antisemitic stereotypes
reflected the common view of Jews among Visa Division officials. Some
of them wanted prompt action. Eliot Coulter, later promoted to Visa
Division Chief, urged bringing the matter at once to the attention of
the House Committee on Immigration to consider a reduction of the
quotas and to inform the president, who "probably would make a
recommendation to Congress.(33) When there was no legal means to bypass
the Attorney General's opinion, the Department of State made sure the
public knew that the procedure of bonds was entirely the responsibility
of the Department of Labor and that "consular officers will not
undertake independent investigation" with regard to such cases.(34)
The two departments agreed that the Department of Labor would prepare
new regulations to be delivered by the Department of State to the
consuls abroad in accordance with the Attorney General's ruling. The
Department of Labor, however, was slow in formulating such
instructions.(35) As late as August 1934 they were still not ready.(36)
Only in the summer of 1935, upon receiving a draft of the regulations
from the Department of State and following the advise of Wyzanski, the
Secretary of Labor recommended these regulations for the guidance of
American consuls abroad, prepared by the Department of State and the
Immigration and Naturalization Service.(37) The delay seems to have
been due to Commissioner MacCormack's second thoughts concerning the
advisability of promoting the new procedure. Discussions between
MacCormack and several liberal groups concluded with a general
agreement that advance bonds should be limited to certain arbitrarily
chosen favored classes, principally immediate relatives, political and
religious refugees, and children under the age of 16. They also decided
that such bonds should as a rule be filed only after the application
had been made at the consulates, except in cases of children under i6
and of certain cases of particular hardship.(38)
It is difficult to evaluate clearly Commissioner MacCormack's attitude
to the question of bonds. At first he cooperated with the Secretary of
Labor, but at the same time tried to convince Jewish leaders that
masses of Jewish refugees would arouse antisemitic agitation that could
force Congress to consider reducing immigration.(39) Moreover, in a
meeting with Carr in July 1934, he went so far as to express Labor's
willingness to reduce as the quotas by 40 percent or more.(40)
Wyzanski, too, was unsure if bringing in a significant number of
immigrants was advisable. He was worried about the possible political
repercussions. The president, the Secretary of Labor, and Commissioner
MacCormack were already being criticized by restrictionist and
patriotic groups for allowing any immigrants into the country.(41) As a
Jew, Wyzanski was particularly worried about antisemitic propaganda. In
a speech to the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society in February 1934,
Wyzanski argued against using the bond procedure on a large scale. To
Perkins he suggested a limit of 500 immigrants per month from Germany,
with only half using public charge bonds.(42) However, when Attorney
General Cummings asked Perkins if she had any objection to publication
of the decision on public charge bonds, Wyzanski favored publication if
only to show that the Department of Labor, which sponsored it, did not
object to publicity.(43)
Perkins, alone against her own advisers' opinions, urged entertaining
applications for bonds for the full German quota of 25,957. She fully
identified with the suffering refugees. Referring to Roosevelt's
statement at the 18 April 1933 cabinet meeting, she stressed that
German immigrants had contributed before and that admitting them would
eventually aid the economy. On a practical level, however, little was
achieved. Although the American Jewish Committee reported in January
1935 that there had been an increase in the number of visas granted to
German-Jewish applicants due to the Department of Labor and the ruling
of the Attorney General, it nevertheless admitted that the new ruling
would facilitate the entry of only those "desirable persons" who
otherwise would have been excluded. The report acknowledged there had
been no increase of the existing quota limit "because of the continuing
Jewish leaders themselves disagreed as to how warm a welcome America
might offer German-Jewish refugees. After a visit to Washington, Julian
Mack reported finding widespread fear that any large-scale immigration
would increase antisemitism and would lead to extremely adverse
congressional action, "especially if ... it would result in the entire
German quota being filled" by Jewish refugees.(45) American Jewish
leaders were always cautious not to accuse the administration or
Congress. They kept insisting that they were aware of the economic
situation in the country and would not do anything to jeopardize the
welfare of their fellow citizens.(46)
MacCormack preferred to ignore the bond procedure.(47) In an informal
breakfast conference with Judge Mack, Dr. Henry Moskowitz, and Cecilia
Razovsky, the Jewish representatives asked what disposition had been
made of the decision by the Attorney General. MacCormack replied that
since visas were favorably handled, there had been no urgency to
practice the bonds measure. He added that he was opposed to initiating
the question of the posting of bonds not only because the time was not
favorable for such consideration but because any effort on the part of
the Labor Department would be frustrated by patriotic organizations and
would strengthen the existing prejudice against the Labor Department,
particularly against the secretary and himself. He pointed out that one
patriotic publication had even advocated the impeachment of the
secretary and himself for their attitude towards immigrants. "It would
be a boomerang ... we would be killing a sparrow with a siege gun," he
argued.(48) MacCormack preferred to postpone any decision on the
bonding procedure, explaining that he was "a person with a single track
mind." Since all his time and attention were devoted to a new
legislative program on the issue of deportation, it was undesirable to
aggravate an entire bloc of Southern congressmen who constantly opposed
any liberalization of immigration procedures.(49) The fact that Perkins
herself, previously a champion of the bonds proposal, refrained from
pushing forward with the bond issue even after the State Department
expressed its readiness to transmit new instructions to the consuls,
suggests she may have been influenced by other quarters--perhaps by the
president, whose opposition to increasing immigration was well
The Department of State, which continued to object to the use of bonds
for German-Jewish refugees, seems to have taken advantage of Labor's
reluctance to press the issue. Two statements in 1937 indicated that
the State Department was having its way after all: Visa Division Chief
Simmons asserted in September that no alien immigrant "may be admitted
at a United States port of entry without having previously obtained a
consular Immigration visa," and in November Simmons explained to
Congressman Jerry J. O'Connell that "the question of bond does not
arise until an alien has obtained his visa and has arrived at a port in
the United States."(51)
The Plan to Bring German Jewish Children to the U.S.
A more promising avenue was the possibility of bringing to the United
States 250 German-Jewish children with the use of bonds. Jewish leaders
believed the plight of children would arouse less antagonism, perhaps
even some sympathy; since children would not compete with other
Americans for jobs, they might more readily gain admission. Moreover,
the Secretary of Labor, who had the legal authority to accept bonds for
unaccompanied children without invoking the public charge clause, was
"sympathetic to the idea."(52)
The executive board of the American Jewish Committee discussed the plan
at its meeting on 1 September 1933, and the Joint Council on German
Jewish Persecutions, consisting of representatives of the American
Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and B'nai B'rith,
appointed a subcommittee to deal with aiding German-Jewish children. At
its meeting on 26 October 1933, the council decided to inquire about
the possibilities both in government and among Jewish families in the
United States and Germany. Noting the antisemitic climate in the United
States, all agreed to pursue the matter with discretion.(53) The
discussions dragged on; it was only a year later that a substantive
plan began to take shape.(54) At that point the effort to bring the
children was adopted by a relief organization, the German Jewish
Children's Aid, Inc. The only departure from normal immigration
procedure would be that the corporation would provide a $500 bond for
each child to ensure that none of those children would become a public
charge.(55) This provision had nothing to do with the advance posting
of bonds for adults since the Secretary of Labor had a statutory right
to accept such security for unaccompanied children.(56) Commissioner
MacCormack agreed to cooperate, but asked that no children be admitted
before 1 June 1934.(57) But in July, MacCormack reversed himself on one
of the key points of his informal agreement with the Jewish leadership.
When Cecilia Razovsky of German Jewish Children's Aid came to meet him
in Washington to work out details, she was told he was too busy to see
her and had instead sent his deputy, I. F. Wixon, who was against the
plan from the start. Much to Razovsky's dismay, MacCormack proposed a
temporary visitor status for the children instead of the permanent
immigration visa as had been previously agreed.(58) Max Kohler of the
American Jewish Committee was furious: "I consider MacCormack's
modification absolutely unsuitable, a grave violation of our
understanding with him and likely to do more harm than good."(59) The
German Jewish Children's Aid group continued with the necessary
preparations, choosing the children, raising funds, and completing the
arrangements abroad and in the United States to make sure that the
children could leave as soon as possible.(60)
The change from permanent to temporary visas also created confusion in
the Department of State despite the fact that officials there never
liked the plan at all. Now they were aggravated because MacCormack had
not consulted them, which they considered another attempt to bypass
Legally the children could not be classified as visitors or even
students since they hoped to stay longer. Visa Division officials
feared that in such a case the responsibility would be shifted to the
consuls abroad, who would have to confirm the children's statements
about a brief stay, knowing them to be untrue.(61) In a meeting with
Visa Division Chief Simmons, and after pleas from Professor
Chamberlain, Judge Mack, and Cecilia Razovsky, MacCormack eventually
agreed to alter the requirement from placing bonds in advance to
requesting them only upon arrival, if necessary.(62)
It should be stressed that beyond State's legal objections, the
department also feared "possible future criticism of this action on the
part of patriotic and restrictionist groups, should knowledge of the
matter come to their attention." State therefore made sure that it
should act only as a transmitter of information given by the Department
of Labor to the consuls in Germany.(63) In other words, only the
Department of Labor would be responsible. If the matter were handled in
that way, Simmons concluded, there would "be very little justified
criticism on the Department of State."(64) After revisions in
accordance with the State Department's terms, the final form was
presented to Professor Chamberlain on 28 August 1934.(65) Its main
paragraphs included a confirmation of the children's immigrant status,
a written guarantee by German Jewish Children's Aid to place the
children in proper homes, to make sure they would not become public
charges, and to ensure they would attend school until at least the age
of 16. The organization was also responsible for the administrative
arrangements in the United States to ensure that traveling expenses of
the children from Germany to the United States were defrayed from a
fund formed by subscriptions from individuals and distribute by an
individual acting as their agent. It was also agreed that each
individual applicant be found by the examining consular officer to
qualify for admission to the United States under the immigration law,
with due consideration given to the information and findings received
by him from the Department of Labor.(66)
The German Jewish Children's Aid agreed to all the terms, and the first
10 children arrived in New York on 9 November 1934.(67) But this was
not the last bridge that had to be crossed. Although the parties tried
to operate in full discretion, the arrival of the children was
published, and soon the American Coalition of Patriotic, Civil and
Fraternal Societies was blasting the Department of Labor for its
cooperation in the "systematic importation of indigent alien
children."(68) Its spokesman, Captain John B. Trevor, called for a
congressional investigation to examine if there had been a violation of
the immigration laws. The State Department was bombarded with phone
calls complaining that "international sentimentality runs riot and
governs ... the immigration laws of the United States."(69) Trevor even
spread rumors that the children came from Communist families.(70)
Another unexpected difficulty arose when it proved impossible to find
enough homes. Evidently no one had contemplated the possibility that
finding 250 Jewish homes in the United States would constitute a
problem. As a result, from November 1934 to the end of April 1935 only
about 100 children were admitted, and even for them the German Jewish
Children's Aid had to provide each family with $500 annually to help
support the child they housed.(71) It was lack of resources and the
insufficient number of families willing to take in the children that
brought the plan, a year later, to its end. In June 1935 the German
Jewish Children's Aid asked the German children's committee to stop
sending the children, although 30 more arrived in September.
Nonetheless, Frances Perkins did not give up. In December 1937 and
September 1938 she ordered the new commissioner, James Houghteling, to
renew efforts to continue the plan.(72) The Secretary of State said he
had no objection.(73) However, in November the commissioner asked the
Department of State to take upon itself the finding in advance of the
alien's arrival; "it would be preferable to have the Technical Advisers
stationed at Stuttgart and Berlin pass upon the admissibility of the
children sought to be brought to the United States under the
arrangement made with the German Jewish Children's Aid, Inc." That
brought the old animosity between the two departments to a head. The
Visa Division considered such a request an attempt to back away from
the cases that might arouse criticism.(74) In a polite and detailed
letter to Frances Perkins, Assistant Secretary of State George
Messersmith contended that the proper procedure "would appear to be to
have the cases of the Jewish children presented to our consular
officers in the same manner as that of other applicants for immigration
visas."(75) The Secretary of Labor nevertheless continued encouraging
her department to find procedures that would safeguard "as fully as
possible the welfare of children unaccompanied by their parents." A
July 1939 report by the commissioner indicated that the department had
urged the German Jewish Children's Aid to find child-caring agencies in
various communities in the United States. After such arrangements are
made, he stated, "Many more children could be cared for in the same
Perkins now began to explore the idea of legislation to permit a set
number of children under 18 to enter outside the quota system; this
concept was later embodied in the Wagner-Roger Bill, which failed in
Congress in mid-1939. She also suggested an additional quota for Alaska
that would help refugees.(77) These initiatives were blocked by
opposition within the Labor Department and by Congress.(78)
In the end, a well-organized plan that could have saved many Jewish
children in Nazi Germany ended with only approximately 400 children
rescued because of lack of money and Jewish interest.(79) In this case,
as in the matter of the bond procedure, Frances Perkins's good will and
efforts fell on deaf ears. The plan to bring German Jewish children was
in large measure an American Jewish failure.(80)
Prolonging the Stay of Visitors Already in the United States
Looking for means to enable more refugees to come into the United
States, Perkins had consulted Commissioner MacCormack as early as the
spring of 1933 with a plan to use temporary status for German Jews.
MacCormack was concerned that such temporary admission would eventually
be converted into permanent stay. After granting admission to the
refugees on the grounds of racial or religious persecution the United
States could hardly force them to return to the oppressive land from
which they had fled. "Temporary refugee means in effect permanent
admission," he argued.(81) The Secretary of Labor opted to set aside
the idea and proceed with the aforementioned bond proposal. Later that
summer, however, MacCormack informed Dr. Isador Lubin, Chief of the
Bureau of Labor Statistics, that the Department of Labor had adopted a
liberal policy with reference to extending the visitor's permits of
German Jews already in the United States and would continue to do so,
probably without seeking a legal opinion.(82) This practice blunted the
defeat of two bills introduced by Representative Samuel Dickstein in
early 1934 calling for a two-year extension of temporary admission into
the United States in the cases of aliens who could prove to the
Department of Labor that they were in the country as a result of
religious or political persecution.(83)
By 1938 the plight of European Jewry was back in the headlines. The
German occupation of Austria (Anschluss) in March with its accompanying
persecution of Austrian Jews and the nationwide German pogroms of
Kristallnacht in November shocked American public opinion. There were
fresh calls from the Jewish community and beyond for humantarian
intervention.(84) Perkins, again defying the furious opposition of the
State Department, proposed that American consuls abroad adopt a more
flexible approach in granting visitor's visas to people who could not
meet the requirement of returning to Germany and that the president
should extend the stay of such visitors in the United States until the
situation in Germany improved. A typical objection, this from a Visa
Division expert in October 1938 and supported by the department's legal
adviser, argued that "a political refugee would not seem to be properly
classified under the Act (Immigration Act 1924, Section 3 ) as a
nonimmigrant visitor." He added, however, that the administrative
definition of a temporary visitor within the meaning of section 3(2)
could be changed "by the Secretary of State, upon the recommendation of
the Secretary of Labor, provided the Secretary of State should concur
in such recommendation."(85) In other words, the opinion confirmed that
the president had the authority to waive the requirement for passports
and visas for nonimmigrants.(86) But when the Department of State
received confidential information to the effect that the Secretary of
Labor intended to urge the president to extend the visitor's visas of
German nationals, it reacted swiftly. Officials in the Department of
State were appalled at the possibility of the "complete breakdown of
our whole visa practice" and warned:
If German refugees should be permitted to come to the United States as
non-immigrants ... the quota restriction would become a farce. No one will
bother about getting a quota visa. Once the refugees were in the United
States, we would have to keep them, since they could not be returned to
their countries of origin ... thus, they would have gained permanent
admission ... without immigration visas and without quota restrictions.(87)
In a strictly confidential letter to the Secretary of State,
Assistant Secretary Messersmith revealed Labor's plan to extend the
stay of temporary visitors and warned that the Secretary of Labor
intended to recommend it to the president. Messersmith urged the
Secretary of State to take rapid action, emphasizing that if approved
by the president the plan would have serious effect. Even "if a
loophole in the law could be found, it would be contrary to the spirit
of our immigration laws" and must be prevented.(88) In December
Messersmith argued that the president had no such discretion under the
law and reiterated that any action to extend visitors' stays
indefinitely "would have the effect of breaking down our whole
immigration practice."(89) In a telephone conversation a few days after
Kristallnacht, Messersmith advised the Secretary of Labor that the
State Department strongly opposed her "illegal" proposal for an
executive order: such an order "would make possible the extension of
stay of persons in this country on temporary visitors' visas to a
degree that would practically mean their remaining in this country
permanently."(90) The atrocities of Kristallnacht convinced President
Roosevelt to take at least some limited action to aid the refugees,
despite objections by the State Department. Since it was highly
undesirable from a political point of view to tamper with immigration
laws, and since he held legal authority with regard to visitors who
were already in the United State, he accepted Perkins's
In addition to her proposal to extend the stay of visitors and to
display greater flexibility in the granting of visitor's visas, the
Secretary of Labor also favored the granting of visitor's visas to
those waiting their turn for monthly allotment of quota numbers. In a
letter to Messersmith early in December 1938, Perkins suggested an
emergency procedure to enable such aliens to "to put up a bond or have
friends put it up for them, thus permitting [the aliens] to come in
promptly and take their place on the quota later."
Messersmith rejected her suggestion outright. Not only was it
unfeasible administratively and against the public interest, but it
would be "contrary to the law and could not under existing legislation
be considered." It would be impossible to grant visitors' visas to
persons whose declared intention was to remain in the United States, he
asserted.(92) Furious at the latest developments, Messersmith now
regarded the Secretary of Labor as "almost an element of danger,"
labeling her actions hysterical.(93) From a legal point of view
Messersmith's considerations were justified. If the basis for granting
visitor's visas was a declaration on the part of the applicant that he
intended to stay in the country only temporarily, then to grant
visitor's visas to aliens whose initial intention was to immigrate was
a clear violation of the law, or at least a subterfuge. Prolongation of
the stay of visitors already in the United States, while it represented
a significant bending of the regulations, could be acceptable, although
it might be, as Messersmith strongly argued, against the spirit of the
Despite the State Department's objections, FDR announced at a press
conference on 18 November 1938 that 12,000 to 15,000 visitor's visas
already granted to German-Jewish visitors would be extended for at
least six months. Up to then the policy had been to extend visitor's
visas for one to two months in special cases.(94) Since the law did not
specify how many six-month extensions could be granted, there was
ostensibly no limit to the number of times such visitor's visas could
be extended. The president explained that since Germany had cancelled
the visitors' passports as of 30 December 1938, and in view of the
dangers awaiting the returning visitors in Germany, "it could be a
cruel and inhumane thing to compel them to leave here in time to get
back to Germany ... I cannot, in any decent humanity, throw them
out."(95) The Department of State complied, albeit reluctantly, with
Roosevelt's decision. Messersmith conceded that the department could do
nothing with regard to people already staying in the United States on
visa permits, "whom we cannot well deport on account of what we know
would be their fate." Nevertheless, he remained strongly opposed to
this procedure on the possibility that it would become common
practice.(96) In a personal letter to Consul Geist in Berlin,
Messersmith lamented that "irrespective of what our feeling may be and
what the situation may be, we must carry through the law as it
stands."(97) Realizing that the State Department had lost the battle
for visitors already in the United States, the Visa Division decided to
limit the granting of visitor's visas to people still in Europe.
Overall regulations relating to the granting of visitors were not
liberalized. On the contrary, the State Department and its consuls
abroad adopted a stricter policy.(98) The Department of Labor,
nevertheless, "continued to permit refugees who entered the country on
visitors' visas to apply for further extensions and ... permission has
been granted where a showing was made that the visitor would be subject
to prosecution if compelled to return to Germany."(99)
The exact number of Jewish aliens who entered the United State between
1933 and 1940 on a visitor's permit and eventually acquired citizenship
was never confirmed officially since consular officers kept no
register. Given that the movement of aliens arriving on visitor's
permits seeking permanent residence grew from 1936 onwards, a
reasonable estimate of the overall number of such aliens for the years
1933 to 1940 would be between 20,000 and 30,000.(100)
The tragic years for Jews under Nazi occupation called for an emergency
solution. Because of its humanitarian tradition, its history of
granting asylum to the needy, and its rhetoric of freedom and
democracy--and because much of the rest of the world was closing its
doors--America in the 1930s was to German Jews the most sought-after
shelter. However, the Great Depression, with its millions of
unemployed, exacerbated the already widespread antiimmigration,
antialien, and often antisemitic public mood. Immigration laws and the
strict administration of those laws by the Department of State and its
consuls abroad, not to mention the president's inaction, ensured that
even the limited, authorized quotas would not be filled. Dorothy
Thompson wrote at the time, "It is a fantastic commentary on the
inhumanity of our times that for thousands of people a piece of paper
with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death."(101) The
plight of the masses of innocent people desperately seeking refuge
presented for the United States a serious moral dilemma, challenging
America's professed commitment to freedom and compassion. Secretary of
Labor Frances Perkins was an exception to the indifference and often
patronizing attitudes within goverment circles towards the suffering of
Jewish refugees.(102) Although Perkins was overwhelmed by the country's
many economic problems, including unemployment and the need to initiate
and advance social programs for workers, she never forsook her
humanitarian credo despite a constant barrage of criticism from cabinet
members, State Department officials, restrictionist congressmen and
patriotic and nativist groups.(103) The House Judiciary Committee even
considered impeaching her, although its investigation ultimately found
"a lack of any evidence to evade responsibility to enforce the law, or
of failure or neglecting or refusing to enforce the law against any
alien."(104) A congressional effort in 1940 to reorganize the
Department of Labor was motivated by hostility toward Perkins, as
Representative John Taber declared: "We are going to vote for this
reorganization plan because the President has not the patriotism nor
the courage to remove the Secretary of Labor, a notorious incompetent,
and one who for the last seven years had steadily and steadfastly
failed and refused to enforce the Immigration Law, and continuously
admitted and kept here those who were not entitled to stay."(105)
Perkins had to endure attacks for using her maiden name or the title
"Madam." She was even accused of fabricating her genealogy by the
American Vigilant Intelligence Federation, which in 1935 accused her of
fraud, revealing what it called "the truth about the Secretary of
Labor": that she was really Jewish and had been born Matilda
Watski.(106) The rumors provoked a series of inquiries from journalists
asking to see her birth certificate, school records, medical records,
and marriage license, among other things.(107) The "real" Frances
Perkins was an extraordinarily kind and generous person who stood up
valiantly against the forces of nativist restriction and antisemitism,
symbolizing traditional American values as she fought a lonely fight in
the cabinet and beyond on behalf of refugees from Hitler, a ray of
light in the deep darkness engulfing the victims of Nazi Germany.
(1.) Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 4 March 1801.
(2.) Cited in Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr., former legal advisor,
Department of Labor, "Obituary, May 15, 1965," Box 1, Folder 4D,
Perkins Papers, Columbia University, New York (hereafter PP-CU).
(3.) Times of London, cited in Wyzanski, "Obituary," p. 2.
(4.) Cited in Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, Summer 1965, Perkins
Papers, Connecticut College Library, New London (hereafter PP-CC).
(5.) Cited in Wyzanski, "Obituary," p.2.
(6.) Cited in Seth Stern, "Madam Secretary: The Frances Perkins Cornell Knew," Cornell Sun, 4 July 1994, 2.
(7.) See, for example, her firm stand on the issue of keeping her
maiden name. In a letter to Ruth Hale she argued that there was a legal
right to keep one's maiden name and concluded that "a woman is liable
for all obligations contracted in her maiden name," referring Miss Hale
to an attorney who had advised Perkins on the matter. Perkins to Ruth
Hale, 4 September 1918, Box 1, Folder N15, PP-CU.
(8.) Cited in Lillian Holman Mohr, Frances Perkins: That Woman in FDR's Cabinet (Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., 1979), 131.
(9.) Bat-Ami Zucker, In Search of Refuge: Jews and U.S. Consuls in Nazi
Germany, 1933-1941 (London, 2000). See also D. W. MacCormack,
Commissioner to Dr. Isador Lubin, Chief, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
Department of Labor, 23 August 1933, File 55817/273, PP-CC: "It appears
to me that the situation is not one depending on new legislation but on
the degree of rigidity in the enforcement of the consular regulations."
(10.) Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut, American Refugee Policy and
European Jewry, 1933-1945 (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987), esp.
Chapter 12; David L. Porter, The Seventy-Sixth Congress and World War
II (Columbia, MD, 1979). See also the letter from the "Committee Formed
to Eliminate Dickstein" to Division of Communication and Records,
Department of State, 3 April 1933, 150.626 J, National Archives,
Washington, D.C. [hereafter NA]: "The US is overrun with foreigners who
pay no taxes, contribute nothing to the welfare of the Country, who are
99% of the time the cause and effect behind racketeering, hold-ups,
kidnapping and murder, who are the case of the present low standard of
living, that it is adding insult to injury to insinuate that the bars
might be lowered to admit any more, particularly more JEWS, or KIKES,
whichever you like who never were of any good for this country except
to earn and hoard all its money." See also John B. Trevor, Chairman,
American Coalition of Patriotic Civic and Fraternal Societies, to the
president, 21 March 1933, 150.626J, NA; Freda Kirchwey, "Jews and
Refugees," The Nation 151 (20 May 1939), 577; "State Department Versus
Political Refugees," The Nation 153 (28 December 1940), 648-9; "A
Scandal in the State Department," The Nation 154 (19 July 1941), 45.
Tabitha Petran and William Walton, "Long Is Responsible for Refugee
Scandal," Foreign, 11 February 1941, 7: "At best Mr. Long's views are
anti-democratic. If he is not anti-Semitic himself, he has certainly
countenanced anti-Semitism in the administration of a problem for which
he is responsible."
(11.) On 10 August 1933, the Bureaus of Immigration and Naturalization
were combined into the Immigration and Naturalization Service by
executive order. There were 22 principal divisions in the Washington
bureaus and 58 independent districts in the field; they were reduced to
6 main branches in Washington with responsible officers in charge of
each and 22 field districts. The INS was in charge of matters relating
to the status of aliens in the U.S. and to the deportation of undesired
aliens. See D. W. MacCormack, Commissioner of Immigration and
Naturalization, "The Spirit of the Service," Lecture No. 1, 12 February
1934, U. S. Department of Labor, Immigration and Naturalization
Service, Washington, D.C. In 1940 the INS was transferred to the
(12.) George Martin, Madam Secretary: Frances Perkins (Boston, 1970), 2.0-30, 34-7.
(13.) Her new Commissioner of Immigration, Scottish-born Colonel Daniel
MacCormack, had no previous professional contact with immigration
matters and lacked political connections, but Perkins recognized his
other qualities: in a letter to President Roosevelt in March 1933 she
wrote, "Col. MacCormack is a man of integrity and extremely practical,
as well as forceful in handling all administrative problems. He has a
sufficiently broad social point of view with regard to public policy
and has that inestimable quality of Drive combined with good will which
is so important to executive position." See Perkins to the president,
15 March 1933, Box 2, and File MC-13, PP-CU. Another loyal assistant
was her legal advisor, Charles E. Wyzanski, Jr., who was recommended by
Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.
(14.) On 13 September 1930 the Department of State, on President
Hoover's directive, ordered the consuls aboard "to pass judgment with
particular care on whether the applicant may become a public charge ...
If the consular officer believes that the applicant may probably be a
public charge at any time ... he must refuse the visa." (U.S.
Department of State press release, 13 September 1930, 176-7) See also
"Statement of Wilbur J. Carr, Assistant Secretary of State before the
Committee on Immigration of the House of Representatives," 12 March
1934, F. W. 150.01/2200, NA, p. 3: "The existing application of the
public charge clause is being continued under the present
administration and so long as that is done ... there is no chance of
any material increase in immigration." Also note Harry F. Ward,
Chairman, American Civil Liberties Union, to the president (signed by
34 prominent professors and ministers), 7 September 1933, p. 2: "The
greatest obstacle to the admission of these refugees is the executive
order of President Hoover's in the form of a news release issued on
September 8, 1930, under which the State Department warned consular
officers in view of the serious unemployment to take particular care
before issuing immigration visas. The warning had the effect
practically of stopping all immigration." See also Consul Raymond
Geist, Berlin, telegram, to Secretary of State, 2 February 1934,
150.626 J/56, NA.
(15.) Both Jay Pierrepont Moffat, chief of the Division of Western
European Affairs, and Assistant Secretary of State Wilbur J. Carr
commented on the matter in their diaries. See entry of 20 April 1933,
Diary of Jay Pierrepont Moffat, Moffat Papers, Houghton Library,
Harvard University, and Carr Diary, entry of 20 April 1933, Carr
Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
(16.) Max Kohler was appointed to the Joint Council, composed of
representatives of the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish
Congress, and B'nai B'rith, to advance the issue of German-Jewish
refugees. Max Kohler to Senator Alfred M. Cohen, 22 September 1933, in
Max Kohler Papers, 1888-1934, Box 1, American Jewish Historical Society
(hereafter AJHS), New York.
(17a.) Kohler to Cohen, 22 September 1933.
(17b.) Max Kohler to Eugene S. Benjamin, HIAS, 12 December 1933, Cecilia Razovsky Papers, Box 1, AJHS.
(18.) The 1934 annual report of the Executive Committee of the American
Jewish Committee for 1934 stated: "Our underlying principle continues
to be, as in the past, not to take any step or embark upon any project
which ... may in the slightest degree, directly or indirectly ...
weaken the position of Jews in the United States." American Jewish
Committee, "Draft of Annual Report of Executive Committee to be
submitted to Twenty-Eighth Annual Meeting, New York, January 6, 1935."
Felix Warburg Papers (hereafter FWP), Box 296/9, p. 1, American Jewish
Archives (hereafter AJA), Cincinnati.
(19.) Immigration Act, 5 February 1917, 39 Stat. 891, United States Criminal Code, Sec. 158.
(20.) Immigration Laws and Rules, 1 January 1939, Rule 13, Subdivision C.
(21.) Charles Wyzanski, Jr., "Opinion of the Solicitor of the Labor
Department on the Secretary's Right to Accept Bonds against Likelihood
to Become a Public Charge before Consuls Act on Applications for
Visas," memorandum to Frances Perkins, 3 November 1933, Volume 597:
x933, pp. 53-65, American Civil Liberties Union Archives, Mudd Library,
Princeton University (hereafter ACLU).
(22.) Wyzanski, "Opinion."
(23.) Wyzanski, "Opinion."
(24.) Acting Secretary William Phillips to Justice Proskauer, 5 August 1933, 150.626 J, NA, pp. 5-6.
(25.) Opinion by Legal Advisor, "Proposed Acceptance by the Secretary
of Labor of Bonds, under Section 21, Immigration Act of 1917, in Cases
of Aliens Denied Visas by Consuls upon the Ground That They Are Likely
to Become Public Charges," 5 October 1933, 150.01/2155 1/2, NA; Section
2 (f) of the Immigration Act of 1924, 43 Stat, 153; U.S. Code, Title 8,
(26.) Notes to Section 361, Consular Regulations, revised to 1 July 1932.
(27.) Opinion by Legal Adviser, "Proposed Acceptance," p. 14. See also
"Memorandum in Regard to the Requests of the Delegation Headed by Judge
Lehman Representing Various Jewish Organizations in Relation to
Facilitating the Immigration to the United States of Jewish Refugees
from Germany, 13 October 1933, 150.626 J/31 V2, NA.
(28.) See Wilbur Carr to William Phillips, 17 November 1933,
150.01/2155 1/2, NA; William Phillips to Judge Julian Mack, 17 November
1933, 150.01/2155B, NA. Secretary of Labor to the Attorney General, 4
November 1933, 150.01/2151 1/4, NA.
(29.) Acting Secretary William Phillips to the Attorney General, 17 November 1933, 150.01/2157A, NA.
(30.) Carr to Phillips, 24 November 1933, 150.01/2158, NA.
(31.) Attorney General Cummings to Secretary of Labor, 26 December
1933, in "Frances Perkins: Immigration-Public Charge Bonds," NA.
(32a.) Fletcher to Hodgdon, 8 January 1934. 150/01 2168, NA.
(32b.) Wilkinson to Hodgdon, 3 January 1934. 150.01/2168, NA.
(33.) Eliot Coulter to Hodgdon, 8 January 1934, 150.01/2168, NA.
(34.) William Phillips to Julian W. Mack, 22 January 1934, 150.01/2173,
NA; William Phillips to Baldwin, 1 February 1934, 150.626 J, NA.
(35.) John Farr Simmons, Visa Division, to Carr, 23 February 1934, 150.01/2169, NA.
(36.) Colonel MacCormack to Roger N. Baldwin, 14 June 1934, Volume 691: 1934, ACLU.
(37.) Wyzanski to the Secretary of Labor, 21 August 1935, File: Immigration General, PP-CC; Volume 691: 1934, ACLU.
(38.) Judge Mack to the Secretary of Labor, 20 March 1934, 150.062 PC,
NA; John Farr Simmons to Carr, 23 April 1934, 150.01/2211, NA.
(39.) Max Kohler to Senator Alfred M. Cohen, 22 September 1934, Max
Kohler Papers, Box 1, AJHS, and MacCormack memorandum for the Secretary
of Labor, 26 January 1934, 150.062 PC/6771/2, NA; Confidential Report
by Judge Julian Mack, Memorandum of Washington Trip, 30 October 1933,
File: Germany-State Department, Morris Waldman Papers, American Jewish
Committee Archives, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York
(40.) Cited in Carr to Simmons, 13 July 1934. 150.01/223 1, NA.
(41.) See, for example, James H. Patten, "The Immigration Crew,"
reprinted by the American Vigilant Intelligence Federation in 1935: "On
the New Deal Rail Road: Frances Perkins-Engineer, Daniel
MacCormack-Fireman, Samuel Dickstein-Conductor," pp. 10-1.
(42.) Charles Wyzanski, Jr., "Immigration and the New Deal," cited in
Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut, American Refugee Policy and
European Jewry, 1933-1945 (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987), 22-3.
(43.) Attorney General Cummings to the Secretary of Labor, 9 January
1934, File: Frances Perkins-Immigration: Charge Bonds," Record Group
174, File: Frances Perkins -- Immigration: Charge Bond, NA.
(44.) Draft of Annual Report of Executive Committee, American Jewish
Committee, 6 January 1935, pp. 35, 37, Box 296/9, FWP, AJA.
(45.) Julian Mack, memorandum of Washington trip, 30 October 1933,
File: Germany-State Department, Morris Waldman Papers, YIVO. Thomas
Bailey probably exaggerated when he estimated that perhaps only
one-fourth of the Jews wanted the refugees to come in. Thomas A.
Bailey, The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on
Foreign Policy (New York, 1948), 45.
(46.) Summary of Minutes of the Committee on German-Jewish Immigration
Policy, 4 November 1935, File: National Coordinating Committee, Box
330, FWP, AJA. An article by Edwin Mims, Jr., "German Refugees and
American Bureaucrats," published in Today on 29 January 1934, aroused
fears among Jewish leaders as well as spurred inquiries to the State
Department and the consulates in Germany. See American Vice-Consul
Malcolm C. Burke, Hamburg, to the Secretary of State, 23 February 1934,
150.626 J/70, NA, and Raymond H. Geist, Consul in Berlin, to the
Secretary of State, "Observations with regard to an article published
in `To-Day', entitled `German Refugees and American Bureaucrats,'" 5
March 1934, 150.626 J/74, NA. Cecilia Razovsky of the German Jewish
Immigration Policy Committee of the National Council of Jewish Women,
chief of the technical advisers of the Committee on Ellis Island and an
active member of the special committee for German Jewish Children's
Aid, remarked in February 1934 that Jewish organizations had never
asked for special favors, and it was only because of the situation in
Germany that they were asking that an exception be made.
(47.) MacCormack to Miss Jay, 30 April 1935, File: Immigration-General, PP-CC.
(48.) Informal Breakfast Conference, 6 November 1935, Felix Warburg
Papers, Box 330, Folder: National Coordinating Committee, p. 3, AJA.
(49.) MacCormack, memorandum for the Secretary of State, 12 January
1934, Record Group 174, Frances Perkins -- Immigration: Charge Bonds,
NA; Max Kohler to Perkins, 6 April 1934, Box 320, FWP, AJA.
(50.) Eliot B. Coulter to Carr, 26 January 1934, 150.01/2169, NA.
(51.) Simmons to Jay Pierrepont Moffat, Chief of the Division of
Western European Affairs, 2 September 1937, 150.01/2552, NA; Simmons to
Congressman Jerry O'Connell, 20 November 1937, 150.626 J/324, NA.
(52.) Commissioner MacCormack to Isaac Landman, editor, The American
Hebrew, 24 August 1933, File 1 19: Bureau of Immigration, PP-CC.
(53.) Verbatim minutes of sub-committee meeting, 26 October 1933, Box
303, FWP, AJA. Also see Simmons to Carr, 21 November 1934, 150.623
(54.) Concerning the difficulties in advancing the plan see Max Kohler
to Senator Alfred M. Cohen, 22 September 1933, Box 1, Max Kohler
(55.) Max Kohler to Secretary of Labor, 6 April 1934. Box 296/8, FWP, AJA.
(56.) Sec. 3 of the Immigration Act, 1917, U.S. Code, Title 8, sec. 13, subd M., pursuant to Sec. 21 of the same act.
(57.) He was concerned about the legislation he wanted to get through Congress in the spring session.
(58.) MacCormack to Dr. Solomon Lowenstein, Chairman, German Jewish
Children's Aid, 14 July 1934, Folder 16: Correspondence, 1934,
Chamberlain Papers, YIVO; Lowenstein to Chamberlain, 26 July 1934,
Folder 16: Correspondence, 1934; Chamberlain Papers, YIVO; Chamberlain
to Lowenstein, 31 July 1934, Folder 16: Correspondence, 1934,
Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
(59.) Max Kohler to Chamberlain?, telegram, 19 July 1934, Folder 16: Correspondence, 1934, Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
(60.) Cecilia Razovsky to Dr. Henry Moskowitz, 30 July 1934, and
Chamberlain to MacCormack, 20 August 1934, Folder 16: Correspondence,
1934, Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
(61.) Simmons to Carr, 17 July 1934, 150.626 J/94, NA.
(62.) Razovsky to Chamberlain, 13 July 1934, and MacCormack to
Chamberlain, 28 August 1934, Folder 16: Correspondence 1934,
Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
(63.) Simmons, memorandum for file, 23 August 1934, 150.626 J/100, NA.
(64.) Simmons, memorandum, 23 August 1934; Simmons to Phillips, 30
August 1934, 150.626 J/101, NA; Under-Secretary Phillips to the
Secretary of State, 13 September 1934, 150.626 J/97, NA; Secretary of
State Hull to Secretary of Labor, 30 November 1934, 150.626 1/117, NA.
(65.) Simmons to Carr, 8 October 1934, 150.626 J/101, NA.
(66.) MacCormack to Chamberlain, 28 August 1934, Folder 16: Correspondence 1934, Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
(67.) Undated letter to Commissioner MacCormack from Dr. Solomon
Lowenstein, Chairman of the German-Jewish Children's Aid, Folder 16:
Correspondence 1934, YIVO.
(68.) The coalition represented 98 individual organizations and--it
claimed--a vast membership. Its antiimmigration propaganda was often
tinged with antisemitism.
(69.) American Coalition of Patriotic, Civil and Fraternal Societies to
"all officers of Societies represented on the Board of the American
Coalition, members of their organization, and other individual
associates in patriotic endeavor," December 1934, Folder 16:
Correspondence 1934, Chamberlain Papers, YIVO. Also see Carr to
Simmons, 23 November 1934, 150.626 3/123, NA.
(70.) German-Jewish Children's Aid Board, minutes, 14 February 1935,
Folder 249: German-Jewish Children's Aid, Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
(71.) Barbara McDonald Stewart, United States Government Policy on
Refugees From Nazism, 1933-1940 (New York and London, 1982), 208-9.
(72.) See James Houghteling's letters to the Secretary of State, 20
December 1937, 150.626 J/341, NA, and 22 September 1938, 150.626 J/497,
(73.) Secretary of State to Secretary of Labor, 7 October 1938, 150.626
J/497, NA; reconfirmed by Labor Commissioner Houghteling to Secretary
of State, 29 November 1938, 150.620 J/559, NA.
(74.) Labor Commissioner Houghteling to Secretary of State, 29 November
1938, 150.620 J/559 NA; Visa Division to Coulter, 16 December 1938,
150.626 J/559, NA; and Chief, Visa Division, A. M. Warren, to Mrs.
Armistead, 26 June 1940, 1938, 150.626 J/ 559, NA: "Such children will
apparently have to obtain immigration visas from American consular
officers abroad, and in each case the consul will need evidence from a
person sponsoring the admission of the child to show that the child
will have adequate assurance of support to meet the requirements of the
(75.) Assistant-Secretary Messersmith to Secretary of Labor, 16 December 1939, 150.626 J/559, NA.
(76.) James L. Houghteling and Katherine F. Lenroot to the Secretary of
Labor, 22 July 1939, Folder 19: German Jewish Children Aid
Correspondence, 1939-1940, Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
(77.) Perkins to Messersmith, 3 December 1938, File: Frances
Perkins-State Department 1938, Record Group 174, NA; Messersmith to
Welles, 15 December 1938, 150.01/2617 1/2; and Wyman, Paper Walls,
(78.) Breitman and Kraut, American Refugee Policy, 232-3.
(79.) James L. Houghteling and Katharine F. Lenroot to the Secretary of
Labor, 22 July 1939, Folder 19: German Jewish Children Aid,
Correspondence, 1939-1940, Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
(80.) For quarrels among the various Jewish aid organization, see
Minutes, Governing Board, German Jewish Children's Aid, Inc., 1
December 1936; 4 November 1937, Folder 249, Chamberlain Papers, YIVO.
By contrast, the British plan proved more successful. Before the
outbreak of the war some 20,000 Jewish children came to Britain on
special transports; see Louise London, Whitehall and the Jews,
1933-1948 (Cambridge, 2000), 116-22.
(81.) Commissioner MacCormack to the Secretary of Labor, 3 June 1933, File: Immigration Bureau, III B/1 29, PP-CC.
(82.) MacCormack to Isador Lubin, 23 August 1933, Perkins Papers, III B/I 18, PP-CC.
(83.) Simmons, memorandum to file, 28 February 1934, 150.626 J/66, NA.
(84.) See, for example, National Refugee Service Records, RG 248,
Folders 502, 648, YIVO; American Friends Service Committee Records,
Folder: Refugee Service-General 1938, American Friends Service
Committee Archives, Philadelphia.
(85.) Unidentified signature, Visa Division, "Does the President Have
Authority to Abolish or Waive the Requirement of Passports and Visas in
the Cases of German Religious, Racial, or Political Refugees?" 24
October 1938, 811.111 Regulations/2176 1/ 2, NA.
(86.) The Act of 1918 as amended in 1921, which relates to the entrance
into the United States of nonimmigrants, vested in the president broad
discretionary powers to admit such groups of persons with or without
passports or visas. See Warren to Messersmith, 24 October 1938, 811.111
Regulations/2176 1/2, NA.
(87.) "Does the President Have Authority."
(88.) Messersmith to the Secretary, 25 October 1938, 811.111
Regulations/2175 1/2, NA. Such a view was expressed later in ?, Visa
Division, to Coulter, 8 December 1938, 150.01 Bills/48, NA.
(89.) Messersmith to Acting Secretary Wells, 15 December 1938, 150.01/2617 1/2, NA.
(90.) Cited in Messersmith to the Secretary of State, 17 November 1938, 150.01/2617 1/ 2, NA.
(91.) Concerning the question of whether or not Roosevelt could have
done anything beyond the extension of the visitors' visas, given the
restrictionist mood in Congress, see Wyman, Paper Walls, Chapter 3.
(92.) Secretary of Labor to Messersmith, 3 December 1938, 150.01/2609
1/2, NA; Messersmith to Perkins, 6 December 1938, 150.01/2608 1/2, NA.
(93.) Messersmith to Consul Geist in Berlin, 8 December 1938, Item
1093, Messersmith Papers (hereafter MP), University of Delaware
(94.) Cecilia Razovsky to Deputy Commissioner Edward J. Shaughnessy, 21
April 1938, Folder: Chamberlain, James G. McDonald Papers, Columbia
University. It should also be noted that while Roosevelt referred to
12,000 to 15,000 refugees in this category, the Commissioner of
Immigration and Naturalization later estimated that the number did not
exceed 5,000. See Commissioner James L. Houghteling, address at Rotary
Club, Washington, D. C., 11 January 1939, New York Times, 12 January
(95.) Roosevelt press conference, 18 November 1938, described in Donald
B. Schewe, ed., Franklin D. Roosevelt and Foreign Affairs: September
1938-November 1938, Volume 7 (New York, 1979), document 1418.
(96.) Messersmith to Coulter, 7 December 1938, 150.01 Bills/48, NA.
(97.) Messersmith to Geist, 30 November 1938, Item 1084, MP.
(98.) Zucker, In Search of Refuge, 128-32.
(99.) Frances Perkins to Archbishop J. D. Rummel, Archdiocese of New
Orleans, 13 July 1939, File: Immigration Bureau, III B/I 29, PP-CC.
(100.) "Rescue of the Jewish and other Peoples in Nazi-Occupied
Territory," extract from Hearing before the Committee on Foreign
Affairs, House of Representatives, 78th Congress, 1st Session, 26
November 1943, 41; Wyman, Paper Walls, 169; Arieh Tartakower and Kurt
R. Grossmann, The Jewish Refugee (New York, 1944), 91; Field
Representative G. Cohen, Jewish Welfare Board, to Harry Schneidman,
American Jewish Committee, "Summary of Jewish Immigration to the United
States," 20 April 1939, Folder 8: Immigration, 1936-1939, Morris
Waldman Papers, YIVO.
(101.) Dorothy Thompson, Refugees: Anarchy or Organization? (New York, 1938), 7.
(102.) For more on America's response to Nazism, see Arthur D. Morse,
While six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York,
1968); Wyman, Paper Walls (New York, 1968); Henry L. Feingold, The
Politics of Rescue (New Brunswick, N.J., 1970) Saul Freidman, No Haven
for the Oppressed: United States Policy Toward Jewish Refugees
(Detroit, 1973); David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and
the Holocaust (New York, 1985); Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut,
American Refugee Policy (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987); and
Rafael Medoff, The Deafening Silence: American Jewish Leaders and the
Holocaust, 1933-1945 (New York, 1987).
(103.) The new commissioner, James Lawrence Houghteling, did not agree
with her ideas. Barbara McDonald Stewart summed up the difference
between the two commissioners: "MacCormack had tended to do what was
right even if there was no law forbidding it. The new Commissioner
looked for the law to give permission first" (Stewart, United States
Government Policy, 410).
(104.) Perkins to Congressman John Taber, May 27, 1940, File: I-19, PP-CC.
(105.) Cited in Perkins to Congressman John Taber, May 27, 1940, File: I-19, PP-CC.
(106.) See, for example, James H. Patten, "The Immigration Crew."
(107.) See, for example, the letter from W. P. Kelley, Los Angeles
Times, to the Alumnae Secretary, Mount Holyoke College, 14 February
1936: "Would you be so kind as to inform me whether the college records
contain data about Miss Perkins's birthplace, parents, and marriage? We
are checking numerous sources following receipt of a purported copy of
a marriage certificate allegedly proving that Miss Perkins was born in
Russia and not in Boston but so far have been unable to obtain any
information as to the authenticity of this certificate, issued by the
City Clerk of Newton in 1910" (Box 1, Folder 4D, PP-CU).
Bat-Ami Zucker is a Senior Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. Her
books include United States Aid to Israel and Its Reflection in the New
York Times and the Washington Post. 1948-1973 (1991) and In Search of
Refuge: Jews and United States Consuls in Nazi Germany, 1933-1941
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Jewish Historical Society