Conditions in Exile

There are two aspects to be focused on in this Chapter: first, the matter of what awaited the refugees upon their arrival in the respective receiving country. Second, what prospects for a new beginning there were or could be developed in the chosen country. In the following, both matters shall be examined providing examples.

The matter of the conditions in the receiving countries upon the emigrants' arrival is closely linked to the immigration policies of the respective governments as well as to the time of escape from Germany. As the entry regulations of the various countries of destination have already been discussed, the focus will be on social conditions. In many European countries, for example, unemployment was a major problem until 1935, which had an impact on immigration policies, but also on the local populations' attitudes towards immigrant refugees.

Aid organisations often adapted their activities to the social conditions in receiving countries

In the US, scepticism towards the potential immigrants at some stage was present even among significant parts of the Jewish community. In other receiving countries, the policy-making circles were interested in the immigration of specific occupational groups, mostly skilled manual or farm workers. The intention was to promote certain economic sectors and to create jobs. This is how the large-scale occupational retraining programmes in Germany for prospective Jewish emigrants came to be established, massively funded by the aid organisations. In the course of the 1930s, the job market situation in many countries improved, while in the same period, emigration from the German Reich kept increasing due to the progressively more severe repressions against the Jewish population.

Concerned about potential social unrest, many countries closed their borders in 1938

When in 1938, after the "Anschluss" of Austria and the November pogrom, the number of refugees rose dramatically, many countries returned to a practice of admitting only very strictly limited numbers of persecuted Jews. Only after World War II, when the extent of the Shoah became widely known those who had survived and those who had fled to distant countries were permitted to immigrate to countries of their choice.

These conditions, which kept changing all the time, were also what the new immigrants' prospects for the future depended on. The situation turned out to be that in most cases it took until the 1950s for the immigrants to be able to make enough to securely cover the basic costs of living. Often, only when the restitution and compensation payments began to come in from post-war Germany was it possible to make a new, independent start in a trade or profession or to enjoy a secure retirement. Numerous statements from refugees bear witness to the difficulties finding an adequate job or let alone get a foot in the door in one's vocation learnt.

For the beginning, temporary and badly paid jobs were usual

Especially merchants and (clerical) employees had problems finding acceptable jobs. However, even those who had undergone retraining according to the requirements of their receiving country only rarely found employment in the occupation they had just specially trained for. And even if it did happen, the climatic conditions in many countries were such that most people from central Europe were hardly able to cope with hard physical labour. This applied primarily to Palestine and South America. In quite a number of cases, therefore, the persons affected migrated further after World War II, e.g. to the United States, or even decided to make an attempt at returning to Germany.


  1. Translation:
    "About mid-March 1939 I emigrated to Holland. From 10/11/1938 until my emigration I was unemployed.
    In Holland, I was a domestic help in Willemstadt North Brabant for about 1½ months for board and lodging, but without pay.
    At the end of April 1939 I went to England. Here, from April to mid-June 1939, I was a domestic help at the house of Dr Perkoff, St. Andrews Grove, London N16, for sustenance and 15/- s per week.
    In mid-June 1939 I went to Beckenham in Kent and there was a domestic help for Mrs North, who died in 1955, until I was interned on 28/05/1940. Mrs. North gave me lodging and £ 1/0/0 per week.
    I was interned for one year, until May 1941, in the Isle of Man. After my release I went back to Beckenham.
    Here I was a domestic help at Miss Charlotte Vian's from June to September 1941 for free room and board and a weekly compensation of £ 1/0/0; I cannot remember the exact amount.
    In September 1941 I went to London and took on home work for the company of Lorsch, which no longer exists today. I manufactured flowers from leather and earned about £ 3/0/0 per week. In summer 1943 the company took me on at the factory and I earned £ 4/10/0 per week there. I stayed there until June 1947.
    Since 01/12/1947 I am an office employee with the company of John Lewis, Oxford Street, London W1. I started at £ 3/15/0 weekly and over the years was raised slowly to my current salary of £ 6/15/0 p. week.
    London, 18 April 1956."

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