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Anne Frank's family tried to escape to US: study

July 7, 2018

Bureaucracy, war and suspicion prevented Anne Frank's family being able to emigrate to the US from their home in Holland during World War II. Similarities with the US attitude towards current immigrants have been drawn.

 Anne Frank
Image: Internationales Auschwitz Komitee

New research from the Amsterdam-based Anne Frank House has shown Anne's father Otto Frank made numerous attempts for the family to emigrate to the United States, starting in 1938.

"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 in 1941 to his American friend Nathan Strauss in New York.

The only American consulate in the Netherlands issuing visas had been in Rotterdam but it was destroyed during the German bombing of May 1940. All applications for asylum then had to be resubmitted, and the Frank family's request was never processed.

As the US closed all German consulates, the Nazi regime reciprocated and ordered all American consulates to close in occupied and collaborationist territory. Frank's efforts to get a passage to Cuba failed and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, all transatlantic shipping was suspended.

People stand in line to visit the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam
People stand in line to visit the Anne Frank House museum in AmsterdamImage: picture-alliance/P.Dejong

'Turned away from sanctuary'

It was then, in July 1942, that the Frank family went into hiding in the annex of his business premises on the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam where they stayed for two years before being discovered and deported, first to a transit camp and then to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.

The only member of the family to survive, Otto Frank made his way back to Holland in 1945 and then on to Switzerland, where his mother had fled in the 1930s. He arranged for the publication of his daughter's diary in 1947. He died in Basel, Switzerland in 1980.

"Otto Frank desperately sought to get his family to safety, seeking asylum here in the United States," said the New York-based Anne Frank Center in a tweet. "He was denied. Like thousands of others, the Franks were turned away from sanctuary, left with no choice but to go into hiding. We teach the past to build the future."

US suspicions towards immigrants

The new report details the lack of asylum policy in the US during the 1930s and complicated bureaucracy and suspicion towards people trying to emigrate from Europe.

US State Department officials were under instructions to scrutinize all applications carefully as suspicions increased of foreign "spies and saboteurs infiltrating the US."

Further US restrictions in 1941 made applicants with close relatives in German-occupied countries ineligible for vias. All applications were sent to Washington for review and applicants had to appear at a consulate in Europe for an interview. A "suspicious consular officer could still reject the visa."

A Gallup poll the previous year had found 71 percent of respondents believed Nazi Germany had "already established a network of spies and saboteurs in the US."

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned at the time that Jewish refugees could be "spying under compulsion."

The wartime attitude of the US has been compared to that of the present day as President Donald Trump argues criminals and terrorists could be among refugees and immigrants trying to get into the US. 

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