I am reading the memoir Berlin Embassy, written by American diplomat William Russell and published in 1941. There are many similarities between Trump and Hitler. One big difference: the Germans did not have the soul-shattering historical example of Hitler — we do. We know what happens when a maladjusted clown is given the reins of a world superpower. But this post is about refugees, namely Jewish refugees struggling to escape the Nazis.
In this passage, Russell describes his job in the immigration section of the Berlin Embassy. It is August 31, 1939, the day before the Germans invaded Poland and WWII began:
A small woman, dressed in black and wearing thick spectacles, moved forward to the desk. “My husband is in the concentration camp at Dachau,” she said simply, in a low voice. “Tell me what I can do to help him get out.”
“What’s his registration number?” Joe asked.
“Eight thousand four hundred and ten, Polish quota,” the woman said.
“I’m sorry,” Joe answered sympathetically, “There are thousands of applicants registered before your husband. He has at least eight years to wait.”
The expression on the woman’s face showed that she did not believe Joe’s words. “But you will just have to do something,” she insisted. “He will die there. If war comes, they will never let him out of that place.”
Joe shook his head slowly.
The little woman began to cry as she gathered up the letters which she had spread out on the desk. She fumbled with the papers and when she had them all in her pocket-book she walked away.
It was like that all day, everyday, in our Embassy.
Some demanding. Some pleading. Some trying bribes. Some too wrought-up to speak. All wanting the same precious thing. A visa for the United States.
Russell wrote, “We did what we could within the American quota laws.” He went on:
All of our consulates in Germany had the same problem. Refugees were to be found in every nook and cranny of their buildings, many of them begging to be allowed to spend the night under the safety of Uncle Sam’s roof. When we opened the Consular section of the Embassy one morning in Berlin we found that a terrified Jew had spent the week end with us.
One reason we were so popular: There was no European country which would admit a German or a Polish Jewish refugee unless he could first show that he was registered with the American Consulate for an immigration visa.
We had worked for two years day and night to help the immigrants. We worked Saturdays and we worked Sundays and we took work home with us to try to cope with the mounting piles of affidavits and correspondence. Our United States Senators and Representatives loaded down our mails with demands for assistance to this or that refugee. We did what we could to handle the flood of petitions and affidavits which poured in on us from all parts of the United States. We did what we could to help the worst cases; we gave visas by the thousands.
I think there is no decent American living who could have worked in our Berlin Immigration section without acquiring a deep hatred for the government which drove these people like cattle from unfriendly consulate to unfriendly consulate, from blocked border to blocked border. Nothing was too petty for the mighty German government so long as it could do some harm to a harried Jew.
In the future, will we be generous and decent or will we be petty? American voters will decide on Tuesday.