Saturday, March 8, 2014

April 16-24, 1939: FAQ's for the AFSC

Original Letter from Paul Burt to American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

Here is an example of a typical conversation that occurs between the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Colleges across the United States who are interested in helping refugee students.

I can’t help but notice something that keeps happening in these letters written to the AFSC: they are almost all addressed to “Gentlemen” and “Sirs.” As a woman who notices this sort of thing, it gives me a weird kind of delight to know that the staff of the AFSC who are in charge of organizing and executing safe and legally sound immigration for refugees abroad - is comprised mostly of women. Incredibly competent women. That just makes me smile.

This letter is from Paul Burt, a representative from the University of Illinois. He writes on a Wesley Foundation Letterhead- which I readily recognize. The Wesley Foundation is a college organization sponsored by Methodists for students to find a faith home away from home. My husband is a Methodist Pastor and my Grandmother was a longtime Methodist. Paul doesn’t mention the Wesley Foundation, but he does mention the “Religious Workers Association” - of which he is a representative. I’m wondering if it is an ecumenical group. Paul alludes to the efforts by the Hillel group (the Jewish organization) to help jewish German refugees study in America. He states that his group would like to try to help any non-Jews that might need help. Then he lists his seven questions for the AFSC to help in his group’s endeavor towards possibly helping a refugee. I wonder how Paul knew to write to the AFSC. I assume that the AFSC were diligent in getting the word out about their services, but they seem to cover a large territory. How did word about the AFSC get around?

Some thoughts about his questions before we move on to the response by Charlotte. I get the impression from his questions that he knows very little about the reality of the situation in Germany and in the US immigration process. Of course, I’m not sure why or how he would know about anything other than the popular news which likely covered kristallnacht and the rushing of people to help any refugees after the horrible event. He actually wonders if there are any folks who haven’t already gotten their ticket over and scholarship tucked in. The rest of the questions are pretty standard logistical questions that would have been important to have answers for.

Here is Charlotte’s response to Paul’s letter:

Original Letter from Charlotte Salmon at AFSC to Paul Burt

I love how she responds in the exact same format his letter is in. It makes complete sense of course. In fact, I bet she wished everyone wrote her with numbered questions- so she could number her answers right back. How nice and efficient. Don’t know why I’m so enamored with the numbered points, but after reading long and winding paragraphs in other documents, this just does the job quickly. I appreciate it.

Charlotte says essentially: Um- yes- lots more folks need help. She is very professional and diplomatic in sharing the information. She essentially lists the urgent need, but that schools willing to help are having a hard time finding students that fit their profile. This struck me as pretty interesting. I never really thought about it- but the American idea of a college student is young, fresh-out-of high school student eager to go to a liberal arts college. The German school system didn’t necessarily correspond with this ideal, and likely with the Nazi regime takeover, the inconsistencies were even greater. Every German seeking to leave Germany was not an 18 year old with English proficiency and a passion to study at a liberal arts school. I have no idea what the average person from Germany seeing a student visa looked like. Perhaps that is why Charlotte enclosed information about my Opa on this letter. Technically he wasn’t religiously Jewish, he was 19 years old, the only thing that was not a perfect fit was that he wanted to study engineering rather than liberal arts. Opa was likely as close to a good fit as you could find. I wonder how many folks were overlooked because they didn’t fit the “mold” of what a student should be.

Of course, as Charlotte was probably weary of repeating, there was the red tape holding up refugee students from getting visas- their temporary status was difficult to confirm if they had no country to return to safely.  

Paul Burt set out to help - and Charlotte was ready with some suggestions. Luckily, we found out a little more about Paul Burt.  So stay tuned for the next blog post- a spotlight on Paul Burt, who it turns out- was a pretty cool guy.

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