Letter from H.A. Reinhold to John J. Burke on German Refugees, October 23, 1936


Father John Burke at his desk, 1934

Even before the outbreak of World War II, the Catholic community in the United States faced the problem of refugees from political and religious persecution in Europe. A first wave of refugees fled largely from Germany itself, and consisted of both Catholics, whose allegiance to their faith had collided with the strengthening Nazi regime, and Jews or people of Jewish ancestry, many of whom had deduced that a far worse persecution was lurking just around the corner. Prominent German priest and anti-Nazi activist H.A. Reinhold, who himself fled Germany in 1935 when he learned that he was about to be arrested by the Gestapo, writes to General Secretary Burke introducing a Memorandum on German refugees which had been prepared for the upcoming Bishops’ Conference. Reinhold asks if it would be appropriate to distribute copies of the memorandum to bishops prior to the conference, since many of them had already expressed interest in this topic, and seemed inclined to aid the refugees. Among the already-worsening circumstances in Germany which had pushed many Catholics to depart were compulsory sterilization laws, persecution of lay Catholic organizations, and persecution of critics of Nazism in general. The memo highlights the lack of institutional support for refugees from Germany and offers some practical guidelines for organization and cooperation between different Catholic groups, emphasizing that the matter is of “vital urgency”. The memorandum was sponsored by a number of prominent US bishops, and includes a few individual profiles of Catholic refugees from Germany to incite further sympathy and to make the problem more real to the reader.




As you read the document (linked below) reflect on the following questions:

  •  Of the Catholic refugees in the “concrete cases” list, how many are converts from Judaism?
  •  Of the refugee cases here, how many came to the US by themselves, and how many came with their families?
  •  Why did the psychiatrist “Dr. O” feel compelled to leave his wife and family in Germany and flee to the United States?