Tuesday, March 18, 2014

May 1, 1939: Non-Profit Superheroes

Letter from Charlotte at AFSC to Ted at Georgia Tech


Dear Ted:

How nice to hear from you again. I hope you will let me know when you leave Georgia Tech, and also that you'll tell me where you go and what person you leave behind you who will carry on all the things you have been doing.

There are indeed difficulties in getting students out of Germany. I'll enclose a memo on this subject. In addition to the difficulties connected with getting visas, there is also the problem that many colleges want undergraduate students for a liberal arts course, and many of the German students who have written to us for help have been engineering students. Some of these have had fine training, but it would be impossible for them to get visas since they are Jews. I think you won't be able to get any Jewish students out of Germany.

Now and again there are special cases, and one of these is Wolfram Liepe, whose history I enclose. We can get his full academic record when it is necessary. Because his father is not Jewish and his mother only partially Jewish, he would not be compelled to leave Germany, except that he will ever be able to achieve any success in his profession there. So I think that, probably, he could get a student visa. 

I'll also enclose material about Thomas Doppner, another engineering student, who might be able to come to this country, if he had a scholarship. Both of these boys have been highly recommended by representatives of the American Friends Service Committee.

Let me know how your campaign comes along. Good luck.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker

Ooh- Charlotte is on a first-name basis with Ted- that’s nice! Ted obviously has been in conversation with Charlotte and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). It seems that now the AFSC has had to repeat their blurb on why it is difficult to get German Jews out of the country so much that they have made it into a memo to attach. This is efficient, and very sad. To me, it signals that they have seen the writing on the wall and recognize that the status of this strict interpretation of the student visa will not be changed in the near future. In fact, Charlotte writes very clearly for the first time that I’ve seen, “I think you won’t be able to get any Jewish students out of Germany.”

Before we move on to the next part- I want to sit with this statement. The impetus for all of the committees, clubs, and organizations that formed to help refugees- was the horror of kristallnacht. This event elicited an emotional and real response from people all over the world. It was a wake-up call. Nazi Germany was not safe, especially for Jews. All the momentum of these clubs and organizations who worked to help refugees was to help the Jews get out. When the US continued to restrict their immigration policy by tightening the loopholes and refusing to make exceptions, the wind begins to leave the sails of these charitable groups. The US consuls started interpreting the student visa as invalid for Jewish immigrants from Germany who would not have a home to return to after they finished school. The legislative bodies of the government turned down bills and requests to increase the immigration quota, even when it was to make room for 10,000 children (which is astonishing to me). The US version of the kindertransport never happened.

If you’ve read any of my past posts on the immigration policy, you know how I feel about this. Logically, I understand the argument that a country slowly recovering from an extreme economic crisis was suspicious and wary of any extra mouths to feed and bodies to employ. But this is not a good enough excuse for the underlying prejudice and fear that kept the government from doing the right thing. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, but when you see the scores of organizations cooperating to help refugees, raising funds and volunteering their homes to provide a safe haven for these folks... I get the sense that the government and US Consuls were stopping their ears to this and listening only to the voices of fear, conspiracy, and scarcity. This makes me angry. And sad. What lives could we have saved? What gifts could these immigrants and children have brought to the US?

The rest of the letter is Charlotte’s sort of promoting the good fit that many of the students from Germany would actually have in an engineering school like Georgia Tech.  She notes their premier education and training, and I can tell that she is kind of excited to finally focus not just on getting the student out of danger (which I think was always her first focus), but also finding them a good match with a school.

Charlotte seems to sell Wolfram Liepe more in this letter than Opa. I’m not sure why, maybe because Opa had some movement with other schools? That would have been so challenging - how do you pick which student to mention when I’m sure there were plenty to choose from? Also I noticed something is missing- any mention of the Albert Einstein letter of recommendation for Opa. I’m pretty sure she has it by now. It makes me think she is clearly trying to give Wolfram a fighting chance (and he is actually still in Germany with vague Jewish blood). Also, this might be a nod to her perception of Opa’s search- perhaps she feels pretty confident that he has a better chance of emigration.

I am amazed at the work of the AFSC. A friend of mine the other day was talking about a moment of hope in an otherwise very challenging non-profit job. It made me think of Charlotte. I wonder if she got discouraged. I wonder if she saw her desk and the mountains of correspondence and thought to herself “all I’m doing is pushing paper.” But then I’m sure she had those moments of light when a student received a life-saving visa. When a refugee found freedom and a new home. So to all of you out there who push papers for a good cause- keep it up- you have no idea what small thing you do might change someone’s life, and the generations after them. Hang in there.


I would love to hear feedback! Share your thoughts and your stories.