Exodus: Flight from Nazi Germany

This exhibit traces the path of German and Austrian Jews as they fled Nazi Germany in 1938 looking for safety and shelter. Items from the Tauber Holocaust Library’s archives document their experiences during the war years and after, as these emigrants sought to end their years of wandering and privation.

In Peril

After the Nazi rise to power in Germany in 1933, Jewish citizens found themselves in peril. Assimilated into German society and in some cases from families that had lived in Germany for centuries, German Jews were confronted with hostility, prejudice, and persecution.

On November 8, 1938, a nationwide pogrom – Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) – provided unshakeable evidence that Jewish property and lives were in danger. Mobs of Nazi sympathizers, encouraged by Hitler’s government, smashed windows, looted property, and burned stores and synagogues. Thousands of Jewish men throughout Germany were arrested. Frightened and heartbroken, Jewish families hurriedly made preparation to leave Nazi Germany.

Shanghai residence certificate for Liselotte Isaack

After Kristallnacht

After the Nazi party rose to power in Germany in 1933, German Jews faced increased persecution with each passing year. Although many Jews sought to flee Nazi oppression, most hoped that Nazi rule and its virulent anti-Semitism would be a passing phase.

Dr. Ludwig Kaumheimer, a pediatrician from Munich, sent this postcard from Dachau to his wife, Hilde. In her letter to the Gestapo, she appealed for his release, mentioning his service in WWI and his receipt of the Iron Cross, as she feared he might not mention it himself due to his modesty.


Jews throughout Germany and Austria prepared to leave, selling their possessions and businesses – some long established in their communities – for a fraction of their value, and acquiring affidavits, passports, visas and boat tickets. Many refugees were leaving behind the only home they and their families had known. Some had lived in Germany and Austria for many generations.

And finding a new home was not easy – most countries shut their doors to those waiting anxiously to flee.

An affidavit like the one pictured here was deeply desired—it was the key to freedom. 

“Good conduct” documents, such as this one issued to Irmgard Romberg, were required before emigration.


The paths to freedom varied. Refugees fortunate enough to escape were scattered throughout the world. Those who were lucky obtained affidavits and boat passage to the United States, to Cuba, to South America. Others looked to Palestine, the traditional homeland of the Jews.

German and Austrian Jews who found shelter tried to rebuild their lives. They struggled to find work and create homes , and strove to prove their loyalty to their new countries. Young refugee men enlisted in the British and United States Armies, prepared to fight against the Nazis.

Many young men who fled Germany for Palestine enlisted in the British Army. Kurt Marx was part of the famed Palestine Brigade.

Immigration identification cards for Margarete and Gustav Fischer

Boat passage to Shanghai from Trieste, Italy


Many German and Austrian Jews found refuge in Shanghai. In the late 1930s, it was the only place in the world that allowed entry with neither a visa nor a passport. Shanghai Jewish residents gathered together in the impoverished ghetto of Hong Kew. Many arrived with nothing, but worked together to build an emigrant community with schools, newspapers, and cultural events. Enduring hardships and privations, they waited for the war to end.

Shanghai residence certificate for Liselotte Isaack

Pleas for Help

Other Jews were trapped – many struggled in vain to obtain affidavits from relatives, friends, even complete strangers. Due to immigration quotas, choices were very limited and waiting lists were long. Opportunities to escape began to vanish. Despite their desperate efforts and those of family, friends, refugee and relief organizations, countless Jews were trapped and never escaped. By 1941, the doors to freedom had closed.

As soon as these siblings arrived safely in the United States, they began desperate attempts to free their beloved mother. Their letter to the State Department pleads for help.

The reply from
the state department

My dear Mr. Mosenthal:

In reply to your letter of December 4, 1940 you are informed that upon the basis of your mother’s registration under the German quota on February 7, 1939, she will encounter a further delay before her turn may be reached and her visa application accorded final consideration. Consequently, there would be no use in requesting a report at this time since the Consul in charge at Berlin will be unable to report accurately regarding the status of your mother’s case prior to her personal appearance and examination at the Embassy at such time as her turn is reached. 

The air mail stamp and the international reply coupon are returned. You may wish to repeat your request in this matter at a later date.

Sincerely yours,
Eliot B. Coulter
Acting Chief, Visa Division


A New Home

After the war ended, thousands of Holocaust survivors continued to search for a home. Many of the Jews that fled Nazi Germany and occupied Europe found themselves homeless and stateless. Efforts to find a safe haven continued long after the violence and horror of the Holocaust years were over.

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