Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Following the chain of documents, with help from a runaway Nazi

The unraveling of the visa trail from Toulouse to Miami lets us now analyze how each credential led to the next one and speculate as to how many steps ahead Elly may have been thinking at each point.

On May 10, 1940, the war takes a bad turn as Germany invades Netherlands and Belgium and moves into France. In a second, campaign beginning June 5, Germany crosses the Maginot line and pushes deep into France. Nazis roll into Paris on June 14. A surge of refugees heads to port cities, especially Bordeaux, but soon shipping activity there will be shut down.

Now the best hope for refugees to escape from Europe is through Lisbon, Portugal, officially neutral in the War and where at least a trickle of refugees are getting out for U.S. or other foreign immigration.

With that bit of background and what we know from what Helga told Walter, we can imagine our Elly and Helga on the alert for Gestapo agents in Nice as panic is rising about where to go next. We think they may have been among the many that rushed to Bordeaux, but before leaving Nice, on May 28, Elly secures a French translation of a Polish domicile record for her deceased husband that she has been carrying among her papers since leaving Berlin.

Here is the original document and then the certified French translation:

So reconstructing Elly's thought process, she knew before leaving Berlin that her husband's domicile of origin record could be helpful in obtaining Polish credentials later. But she hasn't pursued that angle up until now, when it has become urgent to get away from Nice.

One thing to mention here is that I am mainly talking about Elly and Helga in these posts, but I think they are with Hilda and Peiser in Nice and for the rest of the way. Walter's write up has them considering going to Palestine or to exotic locations around the world, but clearly having a preference to get to the United States. 

So I would say the thought process at the end of May 1940 was first to try to get to Lisbon and from there find a way into the United States or failing that a South American country. The details of how that would be done must still be unclear, though Elly may have already known enough U.S. immigration law to have a working plan of finding a New York Ringel family to vouch for her. Or that may have come later. 

But back to the document chain. On July 5, she presents her domicile information to the Polish consulate in Toulouse and secures the all-important Polish passport that we have discussed and displayed in prior posts. 

Next, with that document in hand, six days later she is able to secure the Netherlands visa for Curaçao and the Portugal transit visa, and one day after that also the Spanish transit visa. 

The question here is how and when the idea of the Dutch Curaçao ploy came to them. As I mentioned yesterday, we find the answer to that in the account by Otto Strasser, the purged Nazi leader who was trying to escape from France in June 1940. After failing to get out through Bordeaux and Bayonne, he describes arriving next in Toulouse.
Eight days passed before we found, at last, a lodging in that humanity-flooded city. Ten days passed before we could obtain even a card of admission to an inteniew with the Portuguese consul. For I had now to obtain the following things in the following order: first, a vise to enter Portugal; second, a transit vise to travel through Spain; third, a French exit permit to ' enable me to leave France. 
Do you know what it means to wait in the street every day from eight o'clock to noon, in blazing summer heat, before a consulate guarded by soldiers who continually beat back the throng that surges against the doors ? Yet at last I stood before the little, portly Portuguese, who told me in the most friendly way that I would first of all need the entrance vise of some American country, before Portugal would grant a transit vise.
Next he describes why it is not possible in his circumstances to get an American entrance visa, and how his situation is increasingly dire.
In utter despair, I was walking one night - my only time to venture into the open - along the quiet bank of the canal when I ran into the friendly man from the Portuguese consulate who had interviewed me in the first place. To him I again told my tale of frustration after repeated effort, without revealing my identity, of course. And, miraculously, the man knew a way out! 
"Go tomorrow to number eight Avenue Strassbourg and get a tourist's vise for Curacao; then we can book the ship's passage by telegraph, and after that I can give you the Portuguese transit vise. 
Puzzled but hopeful, next day I went to the address - and it proved to be the Netherlands consulate which was still functioning "half officially." (Afterward it was closed at Hitler's order, with all other legations and consulates of occupied countries.) The official there was an angel of salvation. Without an indiscreet word, I obtained - together with dozens of Jewish immigrants who had followed the same tip - a tourist's vise for the Dutch island of Curacao. 
Now the Portuguese and Spanish transit vises were quickly obtained, though a black cloud loomed in the background - the French exit permit still had to be procured.
Elly has six days in Toulouse between getting the Polish passport and then the Netherlands and Portugal visas. Did she get the tip in the same way that Strasser did? Are our family members among the Jewish refugees he met that day on Avenue Strassbourg at the Chancellerie du Consulat des Pays-Bas?

So, let's recap. We have seen how Elly's domicile record for Hermann Ringel led to her acquiring a Polish passport, which enabled her to receive a Netherlands tourist visa to Curaçao, which in turn led to receiving the all-important transit visa to Portugal.

Continuing, with the Portugal visa, Spain must now allow passage and Elly picks up her Spanish transit visa in Perpignan. I'm not sure whether the French exit visa presented another hurdle or not, as with Strasser. We have her visa stamps showing a fee paid of 10 francs. 

Voila! Now, with the exception of a harrowing train journey to come, our travelers have accomplished the first major step of the journey. They will soon be in Lisbon.

I will continue with more in the next post. 

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