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Kurt Klein's Story

Kurt Klein From July 1937, when Kurt Klein emigrated to the United States, until August 1942, when his parents Alice and Ludwig Klein were deported to Auschwitz, the family exchanged hundreds of letters. Many of them documented the older Kleins' constant struggle to join their children in America. In the late 1980s Kurt began translating this correspondence. You can read excerpts from some of these letters by clicking on the appropriate items in the chronology below.
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Chronology and Letters
1937 June -- Kurt Klein, aged 17, arrives in America. He begins working towards bringing his parents to the U.S.
letter 1938 October 10 -- The Nazis take over Ludwig Klein's business.
letter 1938 November 9 -- "Kristallnacht," The Night of Broken Glass. Alice and Ludwig Klein's home is badly damaged during the pogrom. Ludwig is arrested, but released after a few days because of his age. (He is over 60.) The U.S. consulate in Stuttgart is besieged by people trying to leave Germany. Consular officials give Ludwig and Alice a waiting number indicating that 22,344 cases are ahead of them.
letter 1939 Winter and Spring -- Without adequate financial resources themselves, the Klein children work desperately hard to find someone willing to sign affidavits of support for their parents. Finally they find a relative to sign an affidavit, but before the visa can be approved, this benefactor dies. The Kleins have to start the process all over again.
letter 1940 Winter -- By the end of 1939, the affidavits the Klein children have secured for their parents have expired. By June they manage to secure new affidavits from Lucille Walker, an American-born cousin of Ludwig Klein's.
letter 1940 June 26 -- Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long outlines ways in which consulates can indefinitely postpone granting visas. "We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas."
letter 1940 Fall -- After no word from his parents for several weeks, Kurt learns from Swiss relatives that his parents Alice and Ludwig have been deported at an hour's notice to unoccupied France. They are being housed in separate barracks in a detention camp called Gurs. In his first letter to his children, Ludwig Klein urges his sons and daughter to send food or money.
letter 1940 November -- The Kleins hope that the paperwork for their visa application will be forwarded from the consulate in Stuttgart to the one in Marseilles, but they worry that they may have to begin the application process all over again.
1941 The Kleins work furiously throughout the year to obtain the paperwork they need to emigrate to the U.S. To be granted an American visa, the Kleins have to have proof of passage to America in addition to the affidavits of support. Three times in 1941 they book their passage. Each time they are unable to secure their visas before the ship departs.
letter 1941 April -- Ludwig Klein is transferred to the concentration camp Les Milles, which is closer to Marseilles and makes it easier for him to work on his visa application.
letter 1941 June -- American Consul in Marseilles cabled to the State Department that the Kleins' visa case is approved, but it's too late to reach the liner that is sailing in July.
letter 1941 July -- New visa procedures delay immigration further. The "relative rule" forces applicants with relatives still in Germany, Italy or Russian territory to pass extremely strict security checks to obtain a visa. Also an elaborate system of interdepartmental government committees are established in Washington to painstakingly screen each immigrant application. The effect of the new rules is that immigration is cut to 25% of the quota.
1941 October 28 -- The Klein's visa case is approved by State Department.
1941 November -- The Kleins are summoned to the consulate in Marseilles. They are promised a visa by December 3rd.
letter 1941 December 6 -- Ludwin and Alice Klein plan to travel to the U.S. on December 26th from Lisbon. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a day after this letter was written, sends them back to the beginning of the application process.
letter 1942 Early 1942 -- Communication between the Klein parents and their children becomes more difficult. Many of the letters sent from France are never received.
1942 September -- Kurt's letters to his parents are returned. The envelope is stamped "Return to sender, moved, no forwarding address."
letter 1942 November 4 -- The U.S. State Department authorizes its consul in Marseilles to issue Ludwig and Alice Klein with immigration visas. The good news is too late for the Kleins; they were deported to Auschwitz ten weeks earlier.
1942 November -- Kurt is drafted into the U.S. Army.
1945 April -- Kurt is among the U.S. troops that liberate Volary, in Czechoslovakia. The America soldiers find 120 young Jewish women in an old factory where they have been abandoned by their SS guards. One of the women, Gerda Weissmann, later becomes Kurt's wife. In 1957 she publishes an account of her story titled "All But My Life." The book is now in its 43rd printing.
1946 March 26 -- The Tracing Service for Deported and Dispersed Jews informs the Klein children that their parents were sent from France to Auschwitz on the 19th of August 1942 -- i.e., ten weeks before the State Department finally approved their visa application