Immediately after Adolf Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany in 1933 his Nazi government launched a campaign of persecution against Jews. Within months, tens of thousands of Jews left Germany. But soon emigration slowed considerably as visas became impossible to obtain. In an effort to deal with the “refugee problem” – or more accurately, the issue of the Jews trapped in Hitler’s Reich, obviously suffering terribly, but unable to find countries willing to take them in and give them refuge – a conference proposed by President Roosevelt was held in the French resort town of Evian, attended by representatives from thirty one countries. The Evian Conference began on July 6, 1938 and lasted for eight days. In the end, despite grand proclamations, the Conference proved to be ineffectual, as most countries continued to refuse to accept new immigrants. After discussing a variety of potential settlement locations, the participants could only agree to meet again later.
The ferocity of pre-war persecution of Jews reached its pinnacle with the pogrom of November 9 and 10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), when German and Austrian Nazis killed nearly one hundred Jews and subjected thousands more to violence and sadistic torture. 267 synagogues and community buildings were destroyed, tens of thousands of Jewish shops and homes were broken into and nearly 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent into concentration camps.
Even after this, very few countries were willing to take in Jewish refugees. For this, the world at large bears guilt, the U.S. being one of the worst offenders. Until the start of World War II, when borders closed, Jews were allowed to leave (though they were not allowed to take out any possessions or money) and Jews trapped throughout the Reich struggled to find a country that would let them in.