Oral History

Hessy Levinsons Taft describes father's attempts to obtain visas for the family to emigrate from Nice, in the south of France

As prewar antisemitism intensified, Hessy's family fled from Germany to Paris, France. France fell to the German army in June 1940. Hessy's family was smuggled into the "zone libre" (free zone) in southern France. The family received a US visa in 1941, but was unable to leave before the visa expired and could not obtain an extension. In 1942, the family obtained visas to enter Cuba, where they settled before immigrating to the United States in 1949.


When you get an American immigration visa--which is hard to get because you need to prove that you can sustain yourself and, you know, you're not going to land up being on welfare or a burden to anyone in this country, uh...and that you are in good health and so on. But even after all this, you are told that you have ninety days to reach American shores. And my father realized as time was going by, that there was no way in which he could get his family to the U.S. within the time frame left. Thirty days before the visa expired, he requested an extension from Washington. The Atlantic, you know, across the Atlantic, there were no commercial flights at the time. Uh, this was in 1941. Uh, the ocean was patrolled, submarines... Uh...anyway, we waited for a reply from Washington. And [it] eventually came, and it said, "No." They denied us an extension. So, again, I guess I could say it's not thanks to Uncle Sam that I am sitting here today. My father tried every avenue available to him. He went to a series of Latin American consulates in France and uh...in Nice, and eventually landed up with a Cuban consulate who would listen to him, also accept some money, and granted him visas to Cuba.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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