Friday, December 27, 2013

February-April, 1939: Arbitrary

 Original Letter from Charlotte Salmon of AFSC to Helen-Mary Forbush of Oberlin College


February 28, 1939
Helen-Mary Forbush,
Oberlin College,
Oberlin, Ohio.

Dear Helen-Mary Forbush:

After my delay in answering your letter and then sending you a discouraging reply, I suddenly know of a case which might be especially interesting to Oberlin students. I will enclose a brief story about Sabine Heller. Her parents are friends of Mrs. Solmitz, who runs a little hostel in Bryn Mawr for the Service Committee. They seem to be very nice people. I have a picture of Sabina which I will send to you if you are interested. I have only one. She is such a bright, attractive looking girl that I want very much to find a good school for her. This year she has been working to save up a little money. She has tried to get a scholarship, but was considered too young. Although she wants to study agriculture eventually, she really should go to a more general school first.

Will you let me know soon if you think it might be possible to get a scholarship for her at Oberlin?

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte Salmon,
Social Secretary,
Refugee Service

 Original Letter from Helen-Mary Forbush at Oberlin to Charlotte Salmon at AFSC


Dascomb Cottage
Oberlin, Ohio
March 30, 1939

Charlotte S. Salmon
20 South 12th St. 
Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear Charlotte Salmon:

I have waited so long before answering your letter in regard to the Oberlin refugee problem in order to give you specific information as to our plans.

The student body voted a week ago to put fifty cents on each activity fee for the purpose of bringing one or more refugee students to Oberlin. This makes a sum of a little over eight hundred dollars. The committee has made the announcement for publication to interested groups. 

"The student body of Oberlin College will offer two scholarships for refugee students, preferably Juniors or Seniors, for 1939-1940. These scholarships will probably include tuition only. 

Applications should be sent as soon as possible to Helen-Mary Forbush, in care of the Admissions Office, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio."

As you see by this announcement, we are not rigidly making requirements of either class or sex, but we do prefer Juniors or Seniors because they would probably be able to graduate from the college. It will also be necessary for the student to have some outside financial support as the Student Council feels that room and board jobs should not be given to these scholarship students. Applications from refugee students now in America, Germany or Czechoslavakian area are acceptable. 

I do not know what chance Sabine Heller would have because she would be a Freshman, but I would like to have more information and if she is interested an application from her. It is possible that a scholarship might be given to an underclassman if her parents would be able to finance her last years in college. These scholarships are given for one year with the probability for a second year extension if the scholar has done good work. They can not, however, be given to one student for more than two years. 

If you have other students whom you think we should consider before giving the scholarships, please forward their names and if possible their qualifications to me. 

In regard to the appointment of a refugee scholar on the Oberlin faculty, I am glad to say that there has been such an appointment in the last week. The man is at present still in a German concentration camp. 

After the talk by Albert Martin on refugees, Susan Orvis of Oberlin Theological Quadrangle spoke to me about Heinrich von Frank of Vienna. It seems she had written you several times and received no reply so I said I would mention the name in my letter. I hope you will consider this and let her know your decision.

Sincerely yours,

Helen-Mary Forbush 
Chairman of the Refugee Committee
Oberlin College, Ohio
 Original Letter from Alan Bloch at Oberlin to Miss Clancy at AFSC


54 North Park St. (handwritten): 4/3/39
Oberlin, Ohio

American Friends Service Committee
165 West 46th St.
New York City  Room 1602

Att. Miss Clancy

Dear Miss Clancy,

We are finally in a position to consider applications for the scholarships. There will be two undergraduates, probably Junior or Senior, and one graduate student. The scholarships cover tuition, and some of them cover a little more. I have asked the office to send you an Oberlin catalog. If you have anyone in mind, please send me an application, or ask Mr. Spivak of ISS to send one.

The tentative deadline is April 15.

Alan Bloch 

Original letter from Charlotte Salmon at AFSC to Alan Bloch at Oberlin


 April 5, 1939

Alan Bloch                Re: Wolfram Liepe
54 North Park Street
Oberlin, Ohio

Dear Alan Bloch:

Louise Clancy has referred to me your letter in regard to refugee scholarships. I had already been in correspondence with Helen-Mary Forbush on this subject and had submitted a couple of names to her. I'll enclose two other suggestions; I can send you ore material about either of these students. Neither of them is in this country now, but in both instances it seems likely that there will be no difficulty in getting student visas. The families of both these boys are still in the good graces of the Nazi Government, though that is not likely to continue for long. Peter Planer would be a graduate student in commercial subjects. Wolfram Liepe has had some engineering, and I am not sure just what his status would be. Probably a senior in an American college.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker
Refugee Service

Original letter from Charlotte Salmon of AFSC to Alan Bloch of Oberlin


April 24, 1939

Alan Bloch
54 N. Park Street
Oberlin, Ohio

Dear Alan Bloch:

With this letter I am returning the blank filled out for Wolfram Liepe and an additional recommendation for him. I have asked someone who knows more about Peter Planer than I to fill out the application form for him. Thank you very much for your consideration of these two students.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker
Refugee Service

We are about to read a slew of letters between colleges and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Opa- all in desperate efforts to get Opa that college acceptance in the USA that he dared to hope for. The note he sent to Mr. Martin started a process of advocacy for Opa - the details of which we as researchers are privy to.

This series of letters we grouped together for you - although they do not directly mention Opa- eventually there will be a connection. However- I think it is important to see this group of letters because it shows you how arbitrary the whole process was. Schools in the United States were starting to show hospitality and concern for German refugees. They began to raise funds for scholarships and ask agencies like the AFSC to connect them with a good refugee student. 

The recommendation and selection process was much like a group of students huddled in an elevator and punching every number - hoping when the doors opened- someone would be invited out. Some schools wanted older students, some wanted younger. Some wanted females while others wanted males. Some wanted their refugee student to come from Germany, others wanted to ensure their political views weren’t too ill-fitted for their campus. It was AFSC’s job to make the best connections and suggestions possible- and ultimately to get the most students successfully placed in American schools as possible. This meant that- like the elevator buttons- they would throw multiple names at the schools in hopes that one of them would stick. Soon Opa’s name would join the list.

It is also helpful to remember that the concentration camp mentioned in the letter from Oberlin is likely a predecessor to the infamous concentration camps we learned about. The early versions were not necessarily the death sentence we think of- or even as harsh as we might imagine. That would soon change- but this might help explain why the writer of the letter is so blase about hiring a faculty member from out of a concentration camp.

You will see as we move through these letters that the changing historical context and distinct wishes of various colleges make for an extremely arbitrary process indeed. Who knows when your name will stand out to the school, or why. All you can do is hope that your floor is the next one.

Spotlight: Martin Cohnstaedt

Jason again...when we were contacted about the possibility of locating the case files for Opa and Ella with the AFSC, we had no idea what information we would find inside. Once we had a chance to look at Opa's file, we learned about the many schools that sought to help refugees seeking education. The case file for Opa includes any document that pertained to him, but often there were other student refugees mentioned. Also in these files we learned about regular folks who worked especially hard to help refugees find a place in the USA. Even though Opa never met most of these people, I have done some research to learn more about some of them. For those that I find info on, I will share what I have found in a spotlight.

Martin Cohnstaedt, at his graduation from Rutgers University
Martin Cohnstaedt at his graduation from Rutgers University
Martin Cohnstaedt was the student from the last blogpost from Rutgers seeking to help Jewish German students. His spotlight is easy as there is someone who did a nice biography of his life that I found online. So enjoy reading about Martin's interesting life:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

February 19-28, 1939: Help for the Lucky

If you remember, we left off with Opa’s plea for help getting a student visa to study in America. He sent his transcript/resume to the American Friends Service Committee and was then playing the game of “hurry up and wait.” The next handful of posts will come from correspondence found in Opa’s case file with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). That means that my Opa probably never saw these letters. This is a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work that happened on Opa’s behalf, and we have the privilege of seeing this thanks to the archival work of the AFSC and those in the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.

This is the start of correspondence between AFSC and colleges in the USA in reference to Opa as a possible student. You'll see that arbitrary process of his name getting thrown into the hat for multiple schools, and there are lots of letter trails. So get ready, because AFSC works hard to place refugees and we're about to see the sheer volume of letters that prove it!

Original Letter from Martin Cohnstaedt to American Friends Services Committee

Transcription of letter:
Rutgers University,
College Farm
New Brunswick, NJ
Feb. 19, 1939

Re: Refugee Scholarship Aid

American Friends Service Committee,
German Refugee Committee,
Philadelphia, Pa.

Julia Branson:

Dear Friend,

Last week the students of Rutgers University and the New Jersey College for Women have formed a Rutgers-NJC Committee to Aid German Refugees. It is hoped to provide scholarships for one or more students (in the respective schools for men and women). The explicit desire of the committee is to help to get persecuted young people out of Germany. I believe an appeal to aid refugees in general will not be received as well as that to offer a scholarship and thus enable students to leave Germany immediately with a Student (non-quota) Visa. We are conscious of the limitations of such visas.

Friday, February 17th, I called at the International Student Service Office in New York and spoke with Mr. Ralph Victor, in the absence of Mr. *** The I.S.S. is very anxious to have us give the scholarships to one of the very many refugees already outside of Germany. Mr Victor said American consuls have not given any more Student Visas to German Jews for the last 6 months. The Intercollegiate Committee to Aid Refugee Students (100 East 42nd Street, NY) and the National Coordinator Committee both have urged us to go ahead and try to get someone from Germany. Of course the holding of a low waiting number for Quota Immigration Visas would not strictly meet our aimes.

Would you please send us your latest opinion and experience on this matter.

I also was anxious to have the Rutgers-NYC Committee select the agency through which they wanted to work. Since the I.S.S. does not seem to be of direct help in this particular case I am at a loss for a second agency besides the A.F.S.C. to submit to the committee. American representatives in Germany to do the selection is of course a criterion.

Next Friday, February 24th, the committee here will meet again and I would appreciate if I could present as much material of information as possible. I personally have no doubt that the A.F.S.C. will be the committee’s choice.

Thanking you for your cooperation, sincerely yours,

Martin L. Cohnstaedt

Letters like these were starting to arrive from well-meaning folks throughout the United States colleges. After Kristallnacht, the horror of the blatant persecution and endangerment to the Jews of Germany became public knowledge. Hitler wised up to that and was much more secretive afterwards. Colleges began collecting funds to provide scholarships for German students who needed to leave for their own safety.

There was one glitch in this wonderful plan: the borders were silently being slammed shut from the same fear that fueled the hate of the attacks: anti-semitism, fear of “foreigners” and general fear of the unknown. As more and more folks rallied to present opportunities for German refugees to find a safe place to land, less and less visas were being granted.

The folks from Rutgers were sure that if they just found the right people to work hard enough to get the visas, they could succeed in rescuing the most needy: Jews in Germany.

Original letter from Charlotte Salmon to Martin Cohnstaedt of Rutgers University

February 23, 1939.

Mr. Martin Cohn-Aaedt:

I hope this letter will reach you before your committee meets on Friday. We are very glad to know that Rutgers and New Jersey College for Women have become interested in the refugee problem and plan to give some scholarships.

In regard to the information you specifically asked for, our experience coincides with that of the I.S.S. We have had difficulty in the last few cases of students seeking visaes in order to come here to study. For this reason, we haven’t been able to use all the offers of scholarships that have come in. However, just lately, there have been a couple of cases of students who probably could get visaes, those that are now outside Germany and would have a place which they could return. I will enclose information about one of them, Martin Doeppner. He is personally recommended by Mrs. Ann Martin, who knew him abroad, and is reported to be a fine boy. If your committee is preparing to act quickly on this case and if they desire to work through the American Friends Service Committee, I will be glad to hear from you soon.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon
Associate Secretary
Refugee Service

Handwritten note: cannot do anything for several months - 2/24/39

The AFSC pretty much confirms that the visas are not being issued to folks inside Germany. The general “reason” for the halted visas is that student visas functioned in a specific way that was no longer viable with the current refugee crisis. The visas were issued to folks with the intention of studying in America and then returning to the country they came from. The future of Germany as a home was very unpredictable for Jews, and for the general population as war seemed imminent. So- the function of student visas was ultimately to educate and then send them back home. With the refugee crisis, there was a general consensus that refugees would not have a home to return to, and therefore they would not fulfil the intention of the student visa. The irony of this is that when the refugees needed a sanctuary the most, their very trouble was the stumbling block for their helpers to aid their escape. Basically, the student visa could have provided a nice loophole for students to leave a dangerous situation, but the American consuls allowed their own fear and antisemitism to lead their reliance on the letter of the law. I understand that certain visas function in certain ways, but the American consuls could easily have interpreted the criteria to favor those who needed the help. Instead, their own fear and prejudices kept them to the letter of the law rather than grace in favor of those who needed it.

In other letters the AFSC alludes to this problem and talks about their work advocating for more opened criteria for immigration to help the refugees. While they are lobbying for the folks who most need it, they keep working on those who might still be saved: those who are outside of Germany but still in need of help. Opa is in this category, by luck of timing he happened to leave the country before the great refugee crisis occurred and has a parent residing in a country that at the moment, does not have a dubious future for Jews.

A funny side note: Charlotte sort of butchered Martin’s last name, and she called Opa Martin Doeppner instead of Tom Doeppner. I think she may have been a bit overloaded with cases during this crisis of German refugees!

Original letter from Martin Cohnstaedt to Charlotte Salmon at AFSC
Rutgers University
College Farm,
New Brunswick, N.J.

Feb. 24, 1939.

Charlotte S. Salmon,
Refugee Service,
American Friends Service Committee,
20 South 12th Street,
Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear Charlotte Salmon,
I thank you very much for your Special Delivery letter from this morning. I am sorry to say that I do not believe it likely that the Rutgers - N.J.C. committee for German Student Refugees will be able to do anything for Martin Doeppner for at least one or two months.

Since the definite aim of the committee here is to get someone out of Germany I believe we shall have to try at least to do everything possible in that line. Only failing to secure a Student Visa could we consider refugees already outside of Germany.

In an effort to be as impartial as possible the student committee decided today to leave it all up to a special faculty committee to secure a recipient of the proposed scholarship. In order that I may be able to present to that committee as much concrete information as possible on the situation and your organizational set-up I would appreciate if you would sent me respective material.

Only after this faculty committee has acquainted itself with the problem, the agencies concerned and their work will it be able to decide through which agency it wants to work. Consideration of individual cases will have to wait until such time.

Thanking you for your cooperation,

Sincerely yours,

Martin L. Cohnstaedt

This time Martin types his letter, and makes it easy for Charlotte to see his correct spelling of his name. He is happy for her quick response, but makes it clear that the committee is determined to help someone get out of Germany. He asks for more information from the AFSC as they continue towards their goal of helping someone in Germany. This letter is probably what prompted Charlotte to make the handwritten note on her last letter that Rutgers wouldn’t be able to help Opa for several months (she may have discerned that Rutger’s 1-2 month estimate of exhausting all options to help a German would take much longer).

Original Letter from Charlotte to Martin Cohnstaedt of Rutgers

February 28, 1939
handwritten note: Re Thomas Doeppner

Mr. Martin L. Cohnstaedt,
Rutgers University,
College Farm,
New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Dear Martin Cohnstaedt:

Since your committee is especially interested in bringing a student out of Germany, I am enclosing stories about several students who like very much to get out of Germany. As you will see most of them are well qualified and would be an asset to any school. I surely hope you are successful in doing something for one of them or for some other student, but our experiences lately have been very discouraging.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte Salmon
Social Secretary
Refugee Service

Handwritten note of names (my best guess of spelling):

I read Charlotte’s response to Martin’s assertion to help the folks still in Germany as almost defeated. I hear in the background “Good luck with that.” Not with derision, but with the countless experiences of defeat in trying to get promising young people out of a dangerous environment. She encloses a handful of stories of students- probably her best selection of many more.

As I was reading this correspondence with Rutgers, I had a thought. How often do we miss helping someone because they don’t meet the very specific criteria of who we want to help? I completely understand fighting for the underdog and trying to help “the least of these.” However, who are we turning away in our need to be the ones to help a “popular” group in need? Do we ignore the wisdom of the folks who are in the fight day in and out? Opa was lucky to get out of Germany when he did, and the AFSC had to convince some folks to invest in the lucky ones, because they were the only ones getting out then. If you know your WW2 history, you know that most of Europe would soon be under the category of “unreturnable” - and all the refugees would be in the same boat. Anne Frank was in hiding out in Amsterdam when she was eventually found. She and Opa were there at the same time. We like to fight for the underdog, but is there a time when it may be wise to help the lucky?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Opa Information Sheet


Name: Thomas Doeppner

Mailing Address: Emmakade 8
Amstelveen N.A. Holland
Original Home: Berlin

Nationality: German

(Categories of chart read): Family, Religion, Birthdate, Birthplace, Quota

(all they have listed in the chart is): Thomas, 
(and under Quota): German

Occupation --  Skills
1) Man  father is manager of the United Press in Holland and Belgium. He is supporting mother in Berlin and financing study of daughter in Paris.

2) Woman - Mother in Berlin

3) Children - Thomas wants to study engineering.

Immigration Status: (Date of registration, waiting list number, affidavit?)

Th. entered Holland illegally. He got temporary passport under the condition that he tries to leave for another country as soon as possible.

Relatives, Friends, and others in USA for affidavit Contacts 

Story: Thomas Doeppner

Thomas Doeppner wants to become an engineer. He needs student visa and scholarship in order to be permitted to enter the States. Was highly recommended by Anne Martin.

Mr. Doppner left Germany in the dangerous September days and found temporary refuge in Holland but only under the condition that he trys to leave for the United States as soon as possible.

We have so many documents and so many sources that it is hard to keep them organized perfectly. My husband Jason has done a fabulous job at keeping them organized thus far, but every now and then we find something that we think… hmm- where does this fit in? This document is one of those pieces. I think that maybe I should have shared it a little earlier but now is just as good a time as ever!

Charlotte Salmon of the American Friends Service Committee was in constant communication with multiple schools who expressed interest in helping refugee students. She needed a way to efficiently give them information about potential refugee students. So anytime in her letters to colleges that she encloses information about Thomas Doeppner, I think this must have been the form she used.

I think a few things about this document are interesting. One, it says that August is a manager in the United Press in Holland. If you have read this blog, you’ll see that August requested his boss to keep his management position a secret when writing a personal recommendation for Opa. So August’s little secret is out. Ha. Second, it says that August is supporting Ella (Opa’s mother)... and we have some clues that that wasn’t entirely accurate. Opa documented in his autobiography that after his parent’s divorce, Ella worked multiple jobs and struggled to make ends meet. These statements in the information form are pretty clearly trying to establish that August is financially responsible for multiple people. Finally, the form states that Opa received a “temporary passport under the condition that he tries to leave for another country as soon as possible.” This is reflected in most of the documentation that we have found (Opa’s letters, memoirs). However, in August’s last letter, he alludes that Opa didn’t have the documentation necessary to apply for a student visa in the USA. What paperwork did Opa have after all? Looks like I’m going to have to dig deeper.

Opa’s “story” is fairly accurate. They state he needs a scholarship, which is what he and Charlotte are currently talking about- whether that is absolutely necessary (he’d like to just get to the USA). 

Also it says he left in the dangerous September days, if you remember, this was when the Munich Agreement was being signed. If you read a little material on this crisis, at least for me, at first glance it looks oddly similar to the crisis we're seeing in Crimea. Of course there are differences- but the similarities really struck me. Anytime I see similarities in history- I try to pay better attention.

Something I noticed: no mention of whether Opa was Jewish or not. Technically Opa was “half-Jewish” by Nazi measures. I wonder if they purposely left out any mention of his Jewish background because they thought he might have a better chance at getting out? And in that case… although it was much more difficult in Germany to hide a Jewish background (they had been documented in census gatherings), was it easier to hide it from Americans? If you didn’t have a typical Jewish name (or if you were able to forge a new one), could you perhaps get in to the USA a little easier on a student visa if you had a theoretically welcoming home to go back to? I’m sure I’m not the only one to have thought about this. I was actually a little slow to it- I guess my evil mastermind ideas are not too quick. Ha.