by Dr. Rafael Medoff
A generally unknown sequel to Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ will soon be published in English, according to a recent article in the New York Times
Written in 1928, ‘Hitler’s Second Book’, as it is known, includes revelations about Hitler’s global strategy, including his determination to wage war against the United States.
Yet the book also reveals that there was something about the United States which Hitler liked–America’s then newly-adopted race-based restrictions on immigration. “The American nation appears as a young, racially select people,” Hitler wrote. “By making an immigrant’s ability to set foot on American soil dependent on specific racial requirements on the one hand as well as a certain level of physical health of the individual himself, the bleeding of Europe of its best people has become regulated in a manner that is almost bound by law.”
Hitler was referring to the National Origins Immigration bills of 1921 and 1924, which virtually shut America’s doors to immigrants.
The ideas which led to America’s immigration restrictions in the 1920s actually derived from the same worldview that formed the basis of Hitler’s ideology. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Americans and Europeans alike came under the sway of anthropologists and eugenicists on both continents who contended that Anglo-Saxons were biologically superior to other peoples.
This race-dominated view of human society played a key role in shaping Americans’ attitudes toward immigration in the years following World War I. It gained prominence at the same time that Americans’ anxiety about Communism was growing as a result of the establishment of the Soviet Union. The combination of racism, fear of Communism, and general resentment of foreigners provided the background of public support for immigration restriction.
The law passed in 1921, known as the Johnson Immigration Act, stipulated that the number of immigrants from any one country during a given year could not exceed 3% of the number of immigrants from that country who had been living in the U.S. at the time of the 1910 national census. In other words, if there were 10,000 individuals of Irish origin living in the United States in 1910, the number of immigrants permitted from Ireland in any year would be a maximum of 300. In 1924, the immigration regulations were tightened even further: the percentage was reduced from 3% to 2%, and instead of the 1910 census, the quota numbers would be based on an earlier census, the one taken in 1890.
The reason for tightening the restrictions was obvious: it would reduce the number of Jews and Italian Americans, since the bulk of Jewish and Italian immigrants in the U.S. had not arrived until after 1890.
Indeed, the original version of the Johnson Act had been submitted to Congress with a report by the chief of the United States Consular Service, Wilbur Carr, which characterized would-be Jewish immigrants from Poland as “filthy, un-American, and often dangerous in their habits…lacking any conception of patriotism or national spirit.”
No wonder Hitler admired the spirit behind the movement to restrict immigration to America.
As the Nazi persecution of Jews intensified during the middle and late 1930s, the U.S. quota system functioned precisely as its creators had intended: it kept out all but a handful of Jews. The annual quota for Germany and Austria, for example, was 27,370, and for Poland, just 6,542.
Even those meager quota allotments were almost always under-filled, as zealous consular officials implemented the bureaucratic method proposed by senior State Department official Breckinridge Long–in his words, to “postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.” A deliberately-designed bureaucratic maze –a series of “paper walls,” to borrow the title of Prof. David S. Wyman’s 1968 book– ensured most Jewish refugees would remain far from America’s shores.
Therefore, during the period of the Nazi genocide, from late 1941 and until early 1945, only 10% of the already miniscule quotas from Axis-controlled European countries were actually used. That means almost 190,000 quota places were unused–almost 190,000 lives that could have been saved even under the existing immigration restrictions.
Thus Jews desperately seeking to escape Hitler found no haven in the United States. The nation with the tradition of welcoming “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” chose to turn a blind eye in Jewry’s most dire hour of need.
More than two decades would pass before the quota system that Hitler so admired was finally abandoned. The passage of the Immigration Act of 1965 “lifted the shadow of racism from American immigration policy,” as Prof. John Higham put it. Tragically, it came twenty-five years too late for the millions of Jews trapped in Hitler’s inferno.