Getting Out of Nazi Germany

“Paper walls that meant the difference between life and death.”

-Historian David Wyman describing American immigration policies during World War II.
Gertrude Perles
Photo © Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives

LINK: What did Refugees Need to Obtain a US Visa in the 1930s?

As the Nazis pressured Jews to leave Europe, Gertrude Perles and her husband, Dr. Erwin Perles, were two of the hundreds of thousands of Jews trying to find a way to escape. The Perles’s needed someone to give them an affidavit to vouch for them and offer a place to stay to avoid them becoming a “public charge.”

Dr. Erwin Perles
Photo © Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives

Gertrude learned about Pittsburgher Hasele Deutsch from a feature in Women’s Wear Daily. She wrote in October 1938 to explain that she and her husband had secured spots on the waiting list for exit visas issued by the U.S. Consulate, but they would lose them if they failed to get affidavits by the end of the year. Gertrude thought that Hasele might be a distant relative since they shared a maiden name, and she was taking a chance to see if this stranger would be willing to sponsor the affidavits.

The Levys
Photo © Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives

The letter reached Hasele, and she and her husband, A. Sanford Levy, quickly took action. On November 10, Sanford Levy sent the affidavits. The couples continued to write; it was determined that if there was any relationship between them at all, it was distant and undocumented. However, as bureaucratic hurdles followed, requiring additional paperwork and details, the Levys did all they could to provide this family they had never met with what they needed to escape. 

Over the course of their correspondence, Dr. Perles was taken from his home and held in a concentration camp. He returned badly injured, with a warning to leave Germany within 45 days or “return to the camp for an indeterminate time.” Without the affidavit, the Perleses may not have survived.

Ultimately, the Perleses received their immigration visas through another affidavit from Virgina, but they were effusive in their thanks to the Levys for all they had done to help them. They were successful in coming to the United States, where they lived for the rest of their lives.

The affidavit for Erwin Perles
Photo © Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives