On Fleeing Nazi Germany: Why didn’t you leave Germany while there was still time?

The question of leaving Nazi Germany has been posed to Dr. Weinberg (Professor of Hebrew language and literature at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio) countless times. This article attempts to provide an answer from his viewpoint. It was originally published in 1982.

The key lesson from this article is that by the time Jews realized that they must leave Germany immediately, it was already too late. The emigration doors had been slammed shut. They needed to leave before it was completely obvious. And some did leave Nazi Germany in time.

Why didn’t you leave Germany while there was still time?

1. I was 18 when Hitler came to power, and I was beginning my education toward a professional career.

2. During the first year of Hitler’s rule most of us thought that he would disappear from the stage now that he had been given responsibilities. …

3. For the next three years (approximately through 1936) we thought we would be able to endure the discrimination, the impoverishment, the threat to life and limb to some of us, as other Jewish generations had endured. …

4. How many people have ever given thought to what it means to tear oneself up by the roots and leave an environment that has been one’s physical, cultural and emotional home perhaps for generations? …

5. I readily admit that many of us feared the shock of being uprooted and tried to avoid it if at all possible. But to understand this reaction, you will have to believe me when I say that nobody could possibly have foreseen the “final solution.” …

6. There was even a moral objection against emigrating. I remember that as a child I sometimes caught the phrase: “Der musste nach Amerika” — that is, “So-and-so had to go to America.” … In short, the association with emigration was negative; a person “in good standing” did not emigrate. …

9. Before the open panic started, reaching the decision to emigrate was still an individual process; some arrived at it earlier, others later. …

10. Now there was this true tragedy: in the measure that the need to emigrate became evident, in the same measure the opportunities for emigrating decreased rapidly and radically.

All in all, long before the German exit door was slammed shut, immigration countries barricaded themselves effectively
against the Jews. …

11. I wonder whether those who ask such a question as “Why did you not leave Germany while there was still time?” realize that not everyone could have emigrated. …

13. It is commonplace to say that the Crystal Night was the dress rehearsal for what was to come. It is seldom realized that it was also a last chance. …

As for the Jews left in post-Crystal Night Germany there was nobody anymore who had any hesitation about leaving. Never mind tearing up old roots or striking new ones; it was a mad scramble. But emigration was available for only a few; the rest were caught. …

Why I Did Not Leave Nazi Germany in Time