During the Holocaust, several institutions tried to help Jewish refugees flee German-occupied Europe. These included Jewish and non-Jewish groups—both religious and secular. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) served as one such effort. The AFSC was established in 1917 during World War I as a way for the largely pacifist Quakers to respond to the war effort. By the end of World War II, the organization had six offices that employed over two hundred workers. Indeed, throughout the war, the AFSC ran an active Refugee Section that attempted to secure and negotiate affidavits for refugees, many of them Jewish.1
During this time, the AFSC also aided in the resettlement efforts of children through the United States Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM). Established in the summer of 1940, USCOM relocated eight hundred children from war-torn Europe to the United States. When transports to Great Britain were halted in 1940, USCOM shifted its efforts to southern France, Spain, and Lisbon in order to find homes for Jewish refugee children. The AFSC aided in this mission until 1953, when USCOM was shut down.2
The correspondence featured here between Franz Blumenstein and AFSC caseworkers demonstrates the tireless work of this partnership. It also reveals the very real frustrations of a family caught up in the bureaucratic web of search and immigration procedures. Franz Blumenstein spent his childhood and early career in Vienna. He and his wife, Else, had one son, Heinz-Georg (born September 22, 1935). During the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht) on November 9–10, 1938, Franz was arrested and sent to Dachau, where he was held until January 1939. In early 1939, he successfully immigrated to Cuba and awaited entrance visas to the United States.3
Blumenstein's family was slated to join him in Havana after their voyage on the ill-fated St. Louis, which left Hamburg on May 13, 1939. After the ship was turned back to Europe, Blumenstein's wife and son disembarked in the Netherlands. Blumenstein then left Havana for Sosúa, in the Dominican Republic, where he lived out the rest of the war, frantically attempting to secure visas for his family. Blumenstein's wife and mother were probably killed in Auschwitz. His son survived in hiding in the Dutch countryside.4
Blumenstein's AFSC file—containing over one hundred pages of correspondence—chronicles his wartime and postwar efforts to locate his wife, mother, and son and bring them to his new home in the Dominican Republic. In 1945 the letters and documents shift towards the complex web of documentation required for Blumenstein to reunite with his son—first in the Dominican Republic and then in the United States.