Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: "Forget You Not"
Historical Note from Yad Vashem:
On the Fate of Jewish Refugees from Germany and Austria
from 1933 to the Outbreak of World War II in 1939
The following is intended to help the reader with some general information about the fate of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria from 1933 to the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
In the first years of the Nazi regime, most German Jews who emigrated went to neighboring European countries and to British mandatory Palestine. However, the picture changed considerably after 1936, and especially in 1938. During this period, as immigration of refugees to Palestine and most of the countries of Europe became increasingly difficult, and the circumstances of Jews in Germany deteriorated, Jews became more willing to consider more remote places, especially South America. However, as the plight of Austrian Jewry became more desperate after the Nazi annexation of March 1938, and the Kristallnacht pogrom in November which struck the Jews of the entire Reich, the question of the Jewish refugees remained largely unresolved. The countries of the world had virtually shut their gates and besides a small numbers of Jews offered a haven here and there, the vast majority were stranded in a sea of hostility. Chaim Weizmann, twelve years before he would become the first president of the newly created State of Israel, made the following remark, in December 1936; "There are now two sorts of countries in the world, those that want to expel the Jews and those that don't want to admit them", ( Testimony given at the Peel Commission, Jerusalem, 1936).
In their frantic efforts to break out of the Nazi trap, the Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria attempted to emigrate wherever they could. Some traveled as far as Shanghai, China, one of the few places that accepted immigrants freely. Others tried to reach Palestine stealthily in order to circumvent British restrictions on Jewish immigration.
It is estimated that about half the Jews emigrated from Greater Germany in 1933-1939. Their destinations were primarily the United States, Palestine, Latin America and various West European countries.
The dry statistics, however, contribute nothing to our understanding of the tremendous personal anguish suffered by this population. Auden wrote his poem at the end of this period and it was their plight that inspired "Refugee Blues". His inspired work is in our opinion an excellent example of the poet honing in and with his poetic sensitivity, helping the reader burrow beneath the historical narrative into the harrowing experience of these refugees.