Anne Frank’s family tried in vain to flee to the US

A portrait of Anne Frank stands in front of a black marble wall with the names of the Hungarian holocaust victims at the memorial of Central Europe’s first Holocaust museum in Budapest on January 27, 2014.
CREDIT: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

The efforts of Anne Frank’s family to emigrate to the United States were thwarted by “American bureaucracy, war, and time,” historians say.

New joint research by the Anne Frank House and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum indicates the family applied for American visas twice and Anne’s father, Otto Frank, applied for a Cuban visa. But these efforts were undermined by suspicious and skeptical immigration officials, wartime events and endless bureaucratic hurdles here and in Europe.

“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 a letter to a friend living in New York.

Anne was 13 when she went into hiding from the Nazis with her family in the “Secret Annex,” a hidden enclave at the back of her father’s former office in Amsterdam, Netherlands. After her family was arrested by the German secret police in 1944, she was taken to a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, where she died shortly before the end of World War II.

She kept a diary throughout her time in hiding, and after her death, her father published it in 1947. The book remains one of the world’s best-read, and it transformed a young girl who had perished in the Holocaust into a potent symbol. An English version, The Diary of a Young Girl, was issued in 1952.

Based on new documents and interviews, the museums’ historians said the family appears to have collected numerous documents around 1938 and filed visa applications at the US consulate in Rotterdam, Netherlands — the only one in the country issuing visas.

But the consulate was destroyed in 1940 during a German bombardment as the family waited for an answer.

When the consulate reopened, the family was not denied entry to the US. Instead, new findings show their application was never processed, historians said.

Otto Frank started anew to collect the paperwork needed for their visas and even asked his friend in the US for help to speed the process but once again, the war intervened and his effort was interrupted.

With the German invasion of western Europe, applications spiked. Immigration rules became stricter and finally the American consulate in the Netherlands as well as those in German-occupied Europe were closed in retaliation for the US closing German diplomatic offices. What’s more, American public opinion was not in favor of more immigrants, particularly from Germany. This stemmed in part from suspicion of spy infiltration.

Otto Frank then turned his attention to Cuba, where he hoped to use admission to the island as a “jumping board to the United States,” the new report says.

That application was later canceled, four days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

“Those seeking to escape Nazi persecution in Europe, like the families of Otto Frank and Hermann van Pels, had to clear the same bureaucratic hurdles as other immigrants,” the historians wrote.