Between the coming to power of the NSDAP in 1933 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, many people are compelled to leave Germany as a result of racist or political persecution.
More than a half million people, more than 90 percent of whom were of the Jewish faith, left Germany following the transfer of power to Adolf Hitler in 1933, fleeing to neighboring countries such as France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the former Czechoslovakia. Many initially assumed that they could return to Germany following the predicable collapse of National Socialist rule. When the Nazis moved to occupy neighboring countries, however, they migrated further abroad, seeking new homes in Latin America, the USA, Palestine or Turkey.
The entry requirements in most receiving countries were strictly regulated, such that refugees were usually interred in camps following arrival, where they could only rarely count on the help of humanitarian organizations. Prior to their emigration, Jewish Germans in particular were forced to pay exorbitant taxes, such as the so-called “Jewish wealth tax” or “Reich flight tax”, which reduced many of them to poverty.
One of the few places requiring no visa or passport for entry was Shanghai, then under international administration. It quickly became one the last possible refuges for European Jews, so that after November 1938 around 20,000 people fled to this Asian metropolis. There they largely lived under ghetto-like conditions and had difficulty adjusting to the local climate. Thus, for most refugees, Shanghai was a transit station of the way to Brazil or the USA, where many had relatives or acquaintances. Very few returned to Germany after the war.
Dissidents and artists critical of the Nazi regime also counted among the exiles. The best known included the authors and poets Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger and Anna Seghers. They remained active in their opposition to National Socialism during their exile. The German Jewish philosopher and journalist Theodore Lessing was assassinated in the Czech city of Marienbad for his continued work there. The authors Kurt Tucholsky and Stefan Zweig committed suicide in exile. Many German scientists and politicians went in to exile in Turkey at the invitation of the young republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, finding safety there from Nazi persecution. Among them were Ernst Reuter, who would become mayor of West Berlin in the postwar years, the Berlin architect Bruno Taut, the jurist Ernst E. Hirsch, and the dramatist and author George Tabori. Having lost their citizenship, they were known in Turkey as Haymatloz. After the end of the war, many of them were able to return to Germany.