Nowhere to Go
There is a Yiddish song called “Wie a heen zul Ich gayn?” (“Where shall I go?”). The Nazi regime encouraged emigration from 1933–1939 as a way of ridding itself of its Jews. Many Jews remaining in Germany wanted desperately to get out, but there were few places for them to go.
When Hitler came to power, 525,000 Jews lived in Germany. By 1939, 300,000 Jews managed to emigrate from Germany and Austria. The biggest obstacle to emigration for those remaining, however, was finding a country to take them in.
At the Evian Conference in 1938, no nation except the Dominican Republic increased their immigration quotas. Indeed, countries frequently did not fill those slots that were available for entry. For example, while the United States did admit 85,000 Jewish refugees during 1938–1939, during the war period only 21,000 Jews entered the United States—merely 10 percent of the permitted quota. Switzerland took in 30,000 Jews, but turned away countless thousands at its borders. Great Britain limited the number of Jews that could emigrate, but made a one-time special exception when accepting 10,000 Jewish children in what has come to be known as the Kindertransport.
Simply put, just when the German Third Reich was about to begin a more lethal approach to dealing with its Jews, doors all over the world slammed shut and the Jews had nowhere to go. Alone and helpless, they faced a systematic genocide.
A logical choice and popular destination among European Jews was Palestine. But in accordance with the White Paper of 1939, immigration restrictions severely limited the number of Jews who could obtain entry into British Palestine—the British did everything in their power to enforce the quota.