Without support from domestic and foreign aid organisations, many of the persecuted Jews could hardly have managed to escape from Germany to a safe location. Such financial and organisational help was instrumental in saving many lives.
In Germany, and from 1938 also in Austria after its "Anschluss", the possibilities of such organisations to provide support was successively restricted. Many societies which at first operated independently were forced to unite under the umbrella organisation Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland ("Reich Association of Jews in Germany", RVJD). Such a concentration enabled the Gestapo to exert control over their activities. One of the primary organisations providing support to refugees in Germany was the Hilfsverein der Juden in Deutschland ("Aid Society of Jews in Germany"). From the second half of the 1930s, the Hilfsverein was also incorporated into the RVJD, under the designation "Abteilung Wanderung" ("Migration Department"). Due to its numerous local branches, it was the most important organisation to approach for support for the Jewish population.
The aid organisations were confronted with many problems
In the 1930s, also the international organisations faced various problems. Yet until the war began, they were able to operate from the Reich's neighbouring countries: e.g. the European headquarters of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (subsequently named HIAS) was initially in Paris. After 01 September 1939, with the German clampdown on European Jewish populations becoming ever more severe, their work turned into a race against time. In Prague, Amsterdam and Paris, important contact offices had to be shut down by mid-1940 due to German occupation. Also, the refugee policies of potential receiving countries made the activities of the aid organisations even more difficult. The authorities of numerous countries progressively tightened restrictions, gradually cutting off most escape routes. Once the mass deportations of the Jewish populations in Germany and the occupied countries began, there were only a few places left in Europe where refugee work was still possible at all. Apart from Britain, these were mainly Portugal and Switzerland.
In the following, the organisations' work is presented, by means of examples, under the headings "German Reich" and "Outside Germany". The routes persecuted Jews took during their escape to the respective countries of exile are described.
Between 1933 and 1937, financial means for providing aid to refugees were still available, but from 1938, the options for escape were gradually eliminated. In late summer of 1941, a few weeks before Jews were officially forbidden to leave the German Reich, the last of the persecuted Jews had the opportunity to leave Southern Lower Saxony.