National Council of Jewish Women (Atlanta Chapter) and the Affidavit Process
Not only did would-be immigrants have to contend with antisemitic attitudes in America, they also had to navigate the complicated application and affidavit process. Potential arrivals were given a number and had to have an affidavit signed by an American citizen willing to assume responsibility for that person. Council members worked tirelessly on behalf of families who struggled to bring relatives out of harm's way. The Council also received requests from countless individuals and families in Europe who hoped that the organization could find anyone in Atlanta or Georgia that might be willing to sign the allusive affidavit. The Atlanta Section of the National Council of Jewish Women lent crucial assistance to members of Atlanta’s Jewish community as well as to recent arrivals who were daunted by the complicated paperwork necessary to expedite the immigration process for relatives left in Europe.
Here are two examples of letters that the Council received from frantic German Jews who were trying to flee the Nazi regime. The first is from a woman whose husband and brother-in-law were imprisoned during Kristallnacht:
To National Council of Jewish Women: “We are three persons, my husband, my brother in law and I. We are forced to emigrate. My husband, Dr. Sigmund Held lawyer, retired since 1934 (my brother in law, Dr. Max Held, lawyer, country court, retired since 1935, are in protective custody since November 10, 1938. (Kristallnacht) My husband and my brother-in-law were in the war from 1914-1918. As I learned, my husband will not be released before having the papers for the emigration...The relative are relatives of my husband and perhaps one of them would make out the affidavit for us. We have a house value of 36,000.00 RM. Besides this we have 50,000.000 RM (Reichmarks)as fortune. I don’t know how much we will be left after the liquidation. If my husband as a lawyer would not find a position (as I suppose) I am sure I could make the living for all of us by my hand work. My husband and I are used to work, we created a nice park without any help from uncultivated land. I am my housekeeper since years, I wash, iron the whole laundry, sew and in my free time I work in the garden. I would be very grateful to you if you would soon send me your reply. I would return all your expenses.
This second letter is from Mrs. Flora Deutsch of Vienna, Austria, who implored the Council to help her get an affidavit to bring her family to Atlanta:
The National Council of Jewish Women: “I have got your address from a friend and beg to apply to you in the following matter: My name is Flora Deutsch born in Lundenburg on August 15,1883 and am married since 1902 with Mr. Max Deutsch. We have live since our marriage in Vienna where my husband was manager in a factory and since 1933 in pension. I have brought up my two children and have made my household alone. My daughter Irene will go these days to London where she has got a place in a household, my son who is already married will emigrate soon with his wife. I have an uncle Mr. Jacob Greenbaum, Atlanta GA. Dekatur Street 286 U.SD.A. who should like to bring me and my husband over to him. Unfortunately though he is American citizen his money is in Sudeten Germany in Lundenburg: I beg to apply you the request to intervene at the American Consulate or through a bank in U.S.A. to get his money from Lundenburg to U.S.A. in order he will be able to send us the affidavit. The matter is very urgent as we must be ready every moment to be obliged to leave Vienna. We will not be on charge to anybody, as I am working well and can also make different sewing work. I beg you once more to help us to get the affidavit from my uncle and thanking you in anticipation.”
Both letters emphasized the fact that the potential asylum seekers had trustworthy relatives willing to sign the affidavits and that they would not require public assistance if they came in America. The letters are representative of the hundreds of requests that the Council received prior to the start of World War II. These records are available in the Cuba Jewish Community Archives at the Breman). Once the Council received these requests it tried to locate individuals who would agree to sign the affidavits. Close and distant relatives often signed these forms knowing that the arrival might pose a financial burden on their families. However, some resisted, and the Breman archive’s holds many of these responses. One shoud note that when these requests were made, the Final Solution for the Jews of Europe had not yet been formalized. Some struggling family members in the United States resisted accepting responsibility for family members with ties that were distant.
One such letter is representative of some of these responses:
“We finally talked to Mr. H. regarding the above named client. At first Mr. H. did not remember the boy or any of his family, but finally recalled the family and asked that we write him a letter concerning the matter. We realized that this was just putting us off, and finally Mr. H. admitted that he was not interested in helping the boy because he felt America had enough unemployment and bringing over any more would intensify our problem.”
Fortunately, this was the exception rather than the rule, and most people who were approached did complete the paper work, hoping that their relative’s quota numbers would be called. Working closely with the Hebrew Orphan’s Home, the German Jewish Refugee Committee of NCJW also sponsored numerous children for resettlement into Georgia. Under the auspices of the German-Jewish Children’s Aid, Inc., approximately thirty children immigrated to Georgia between 1938 and 1942. They were resettled with families throughout the state. Based on newspaper articles covering some of their arrivals, these children seem to have been welcomed in their respective communities. Because of immigration quotas, their numbers remained small, and children posed no threat to the meager job market.
In 1934, the national office of the Council of Jewish Women urged local offices to support aid to German children refugees. Therefore, in March 1935, the Atlanta section offered to sponsor both children and families. The Atlanta section formed the German Jewish Refugee Committee, which helped to save numerous adults and children from the Holocaust. In their 1938 annual report, the Atlanta section indicated with pride that “they have assisted fourteen people in filling out their citizenship papers, have organized English classes, and finding the services of the public schools inadequate, have engaged Miss Louise Weil to give intensive instruction to some of the newcomers.”