Nazi persecution left many Jews with little choice but to seek refuge in other countries. However, escaping Nazi Germany required an entry visa into a foreign state. These visas were difficult to obtain. The United States had imposed strict quotas on immigration beginning after World War I, largely in response to an influx of Jews fleeing the pogroms in Eastern Europe.
Applicants had to provide affidavits from wealthy American citizens pledging their assets and declaring that the immigrant would not be a burden on society.
Anti-Semitism in the United States was such that many people did not want any more Jews in the country. Government policy reflected that popular sentiment, and every political effort to expand immigration quotas was defeated. As more and more European Jews lined up to obtain visas, American officials used bureaucratic tricks to deny them entry.
A State Department official, Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long, infamously suggested in a June 26, 1940 memo, “We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.” During the war only about 21,000 refugees were admitted to the United States, leaving about 190,000 unused entry visas.