At the beginning of 1933 roughly 552.000 Jews lived in Germany. This represented 0.75% of the total German population. During the period of 1933-1939 some 400 laws and decrees targeting the Jews were enacted. Between 1933 and 1939 roughly 280.000 left Germany. They found refuge in many countries across the globe. It looks like a high percentage, 50%, of Jews were able to emigrate to other countries, which is true. But, the number could have been way higher. Many countries withholded from taking up Jewish refugees. This was mainly because they were afraid of a Jewish exodus from eastern Europe. Most refugees left in 1933 and 1938, being the years with the most anti-Jewish legislations.
Problems for emigrants
Besides the problems for German Jews getting entry visa to other nations there were other problems. The Nazis made laws that upon leaving the countries the Jews had to pay a very high tax over their possessions and savings. This meant that Jews leaving Germany were left almost bankrupt. Also the amount of visa given by other nations dropped over time, when more Jews left Germany.
An effort made by president the president of the united states, Roosevelt, to make it easier to find refuge for German Jews led to the conference of Evian in 1938. At this conference, attended by 32 nations, the governments discussed who was going to allow more entry for German Jews. At the end no countries, besides the Dominican republic, made any promises on allowing more entry to German Jews.
MS St. louis
After the Kristallnacht, the first nationwide open act of violence against Jews, the amount of German refugees skyrocketed. Still, many countries wouldn’t give access to those refugees. A exemplary story is that of the steam liner MS St. louis. This ship left Germany at the 13th of May 1939. On board were 900 Jews.
The steam liner first went to Cuba. In Cuba only 30 Jews were granted access. Afterwards they spent some time close to the coast of the USA. The USA granted them no access. After a while the ship sailed back to Europe. The captain, Gustav Schroder, stated that the would only set sail back to Germany when everybody onboard had found refuge. At the end the ship docked at Antwerpen in Belgium. After much political pressure the Jews got visa for England, Belgium, France and the Netherlands.
After the Kristallnacht it became clear for some countries that something had to be done to help the Jewish people in Germany. In England the “movement for the Care of Children from Germany” was established. This organization was aimed at finding and funding the refuge of Jewish kids. The parents of those kids couldn’t come along. During the months before the start of the Second World War and estimated amount of 10.000 children were saved. The program stopped by the invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and France in May 1940.