Escaping the Nazis

Map illustrating where German Jews under the Nazi regime immigrated

When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the American Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith, and American Jewish Committee formed a joint council lobbying to ease restrictions for German Jews. These efforts were slow; a 1935 American Jewish Congress report bemoaned “administrative hindrances to immigration to the United States, which in light of the present emergency, were unnecessarily burdensome.” By 1937 these efforts began to work, and about 23% of the total immigration population that year was Jewish. In the meantime, many Jews fled to other European countries, not realizing that they would soon come under Nazi control. 

David Glick, born in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, took action during this time. A 1917 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a 1924 graduate of Harvard Law, he was a highly respected corporate lawyer. He would become the leader of a discrete search and rescue mission.

David Glick
Photo © Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives

The mission began when the American Joint Distribution Committee received a plea from Europe to negotiate with Nazis to facilitate Jewish emigration. David Glick was recruited by his brother, Peter, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Labor. Glick arrived in Germany in April 1936, and received permission from Heinrich Himmler to arrange for the emigration of German Jews, provided there was absolutely no press coverage of his activities, a bargain that he kept. 

Over the course of two years, Glick met with Jews, Nazi officials, and officials from South American countries willing to accept Jews. He arranged for visas, transportation, liquidation and transfer of property. His mission marked the first time the Nazis permitted contact between German Jewish organizations and outsiders. He negotiated with the Gestapo for the release of 130 of the 300 Jews in Dachau on condition that they would leave the country immediately; he secured their visas to Palestine to ensure the mission’s success. Another time, he secured the emigration of 3,000 German Jews to Bolivia.

These efforts, however, only benefitted German Jews. The greatest devastation of Jewish life in the Holocaust took place in Eastern Europe, after the Nazis gained the territories where most Jews lived. As the ports of Europe were choked by war, restrictive immigration quotas for Eastern European countries made immigration to the United States unlikely, if not impossible.

Approximate count of European Jews murdered during the Holocaust (by country)