Closure doesn’t come easily for relatives of a Holocaust victim. More than ten years ago I discovered my great aunt Meta, a member of my father’s family who was left in Frankfurt when the family escaped to America. I did a lot of research and writing about Meta back then, and helped to organize a stolperstein memorial for her, but unanswered questions still nag at me.
Why was Meta denied a U.S immigration visa even though my grandparents, my father and his sister got theirs? What happened to Meta after the family left for New York and before she was deported? Were there any additional records about her fate that I had not yet uncovered?
I spent a good part of the last six months researching these questions (again!). I’ve contacted three museums and historical institutes in Frankfurt am Main, all of which sent prompt replies with little new information. American institutions have been less responsive. My December 2021 inquiry to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has not been answered. And I’ve received no reply to my request sent last August to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services to search for a copy of my family’s visa file. Although the agency offers this service for a fee, the average processing time is 180 business days.
The most significant new item I’ve uncovered is a photo with an aerial view of the Judenhaus (ghetto house) where Meta lived before she was deported (not for online publication though). However, I did learn a lot about U.S. immigration policies during the Nazi years and some of the changes in refugee law since World War II.
Despite great strides in protections for refugees, there are still inequities in how governments treat asylum claims. My latest article, Echoes of the Past in Europe’s Two-Tier Approach to Refugees, connects Meta’s experience with the fate of people seeking refuge during the humanitarian crises of today. Meta’s story has relevance for the thousands of displaced persons currently seeking refuge in Europe and elsewhere.