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What was the appeal of America to the German Jews and was America receptive to the

immigrants and their culture?


Americans between 1933 and 1945 were hostile to, and negative about, all
immigrants. If they had more negative views about Jewish immigrants as opposed to all
other potential immigrants, is not clear, but certainly until the U.S. entered the war in
1941 the country was still in a depression and immigrants were viewed as competitors for
scarce resources. After 1941 immigration was just impossible as the oceans were
battlefields and shipping nonexistent.
The United States Congress passed an immigration law in 1924, the National Origins Act
(or, the Reed-Johnson Bill) which severely limited the number of immigrants and
assigned quotas to the nations of the world based on national (or racial) designations.
Most Jews who wanted to leave their countries because of the rise of Nazism and then
because of the German occupation received very low quotas, making it very difficult for
any individual to get a visa and be able to immigrant. Jews were not denied visas or
immigration privileges because they were Jews but because of the quotas based on the
nations or countries they lived in. No president --after 1924-- issued any kind of
executive action to admit refugees above the quota system nor did Congress ever pass
any refugee legislation which circumvented the quota system.
About 150,000 Jews from Germany and Austria did come to the United States. This was
not a small number but obviously not all the Jews who sought to flee. It was easier for
German and Austrian Jews to get into British mandatory Palestine or some of the
countries neighboring Germany. This came to an end in 1939 with the outbreak of the
war.
German Jewish immigrants were highly skilled and quite educated and over time adjusted
fairly well to life in America. Many of them did have a hard time regaining their
professions and their economic status and had to take jobs in different fields, but they
managed to for the most part settle down, raise their children, and form organizations and
clubs which they found meaningful. Many lived in New York's Washington Heights area,
but large numbers went to Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, and other cities.
They were assisted by family already in the United States and by American Jewish
organizations like HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the National Council of
Jewish Women.
They learned English and most became citizens. Their children went to American schools
and those who were old enough joined the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. They did
not "assimilate," in the sense that they retained strong bonds to their German
backgrounds through language, clubs, foods, and social groups, and they participated in
synagogues maintaining their Jewishness.
There is little evidence that they faced much anti-Semitism. They did face barriers
endured by all immigrants. For example, German Jews who came as doctors found it very
hard to overcome the barriers set by local medical associations which wanted to keep out
all foreign doctors. But many of them --and I am not sure we have the numbers-- did
manage to learn English and get American medical licenses by passing exams and they
could resume their careers.
Many of these immigrants became professors and teachers at the college level and
therefore shared their cultural knowledge with Americans. A few of them went to

Hollywood and became screenwriters, composers, directors, and shaped American


movies in the late 1930s and 1940s.