Darrell Huckaby’s column on Anne Frank and her family’s attempts to escape the Nazis in World War II is a testament to human courage. While most Americans are familiar with Anne Frank and her diary from school, few know of the family’s desperate attempts and challenges faced by Jewish families looking to escape the Nazis antisemitic grip on Europe and negotiate anti-refugee sentiment then building in the United States in 1941. “ I am forced to look out for emigration and as far as I can see the USA is the only option,” Anne’s father Otto wrote to a college friend, Nathan Strauss Jr, the head of the Federal Housing Authority, “It is for the sake of the children,” Otto Frank wrote.
Otto Frank, Anne’s father dutifully filled out the small mountain of required applications, forms and obtained supporting affidavits from the family’s relatives in Massachusetts. Page by page, the papers illustrate the tortuous process for gaining entry to the United States in those days. Even with powerful connections and money, European Jews could not overcome the State Department’s restrictions against refugees.
But that was not enough for those who zealously guarded America’s gates against refugees. In fact, in 1941 the Roosevelt Administration added a new restriction: No refugee with close relatives in Europe could come to the U.S. on the grounds that they may be spies, “national security took precedence over humanitarian concerns.” One of a series of roadblocks that narrowed the Frank family’s options and thrust them into hiding where they were later joined by another Jewish family, the van Pels. They hid for more than two years until the group was discovered on 9 August 1944.
Otto Frank tried and failed to save his family from death in World War II. Ultimately Anne Frank perished, likely of typhus at Bergen-Belsen in 1945 at the age of 15 and shortly after the deaths of her mother and older sister, Margot, a few months before the end of the war. Only Otto Frank survived the deportations to various concentration camps.