This book review at the Tablet highlights some of the prevalent attitudes found in British Embassies pre-WW2:
” Take Thea Scholl, a 22-year-old Jewish woman from Vienna, who was desperate to get to Britain after the Anschluss brought Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938. Most categories of workers were denied entry into Britain, which feared competition for jobs during the Depression—Dwork and van Pelt quote the official instructions to British consulates, which barred “small shopkeepers, retail traders, artisans … agents and middlemen … lawyers, doctors and dentists.” The one type of worker Great Britain needed was domestic servants, so Thea Scholl applied to be a servant, even though she was from a prosperous family and “had never done any housework,” as she later recalled. When she showed up at the British consulate in Vienna, she was given an impromptu test: “I had to show my hands at the consulate, probably to prove that they were not manicured and that I was able to work …. Then I had to clean a bathroom, to show that I could do so.” Her scrubbing was convincing enough, and Scholl was able to leave Austria the day before Christmas, leaving her parents behind.
This was a trivial humiliation, of course, but it brings home just what it meant to become a refugee. A Jew’s sense of herself—her history, resources, relationships, desires, expectations—all vanished. She became a supplicant, forced to do and say anything that might convince an indifferent official to give her a lifesaving visa. Nothing about a human being mattered except his or her passport, as the crusading American journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote in 1938: “It is a fantastic commentary on the inhumanity of our times that for thousands and thousands of people a piece of paper with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death, and that scores of people have blown their brains out because they could not get it.” Dwork and van Pelt might also have quoted W.H. Auden’s poem “Refugee Blues”:
The consul banged the table and said:
“If you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead”;
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive….
Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.
The determined refusal of the democracies to open their doors to German Jews is notorious. Hitler himself jeered at the West’s hypocrisy: “It is truly a shaming display when we see today the entire democratic world filled with tears of pity at the plight of the poor, tortured Jewish people, while remaining hardhearted and obstinate in view of what is therefore its obvious duty: to help.” Dwork and van Pelt choose not to retell the famous story of the St. Louis, the ship carrying a thousand Jewish refugees that was refused permission to dock in the United States in 1939. But Flight from the Reich is full of similar nightmares.” “