— -- Anne Frank and her family's story of their failed attempt to flee to the U.S. as Jewish refugees echoes the challenges faced by Syrian refugees today, according to an American historian.
After the Nazis conquered France, fears were stirred that they would send Jewish refugees as spies to the U.S.
"The State Department determined that anyone who had close relatives in Germany, the Soviet Union or fascist Italy were a security threat, and even though Otto and Anne were in the Netherlands, Otto was originally a German citizen, which presented a lot of problems," historian Richard Breitman, a retired history professor at American University, told ABC News today. "[Frank's father] tried and tried but he eventually figured out he wasn't going to qualify for refugee status."
Syrians face a similar situation -- with legislation being considered that would make the bar for entry extremely high out of fears terrorists might enter the country under the guise of being an asylum seeker, said Breitman, who wrote a paper in 2007 on the Franks' situation.
"The level of Anti-Semitism in 1940 and 1941 was quite substantial, and the level of fear of Muslims and Syrian refugees today is quite substantial," he said. "These fears were not totally imaginary as there was a kernel of truth when the government did find a few spies imposing as refugees, but these were literally a few...any time you judge an entire group with a label of security threats, you're not judging them as individuals, which is the way our immigration system is supposed to work."
Frank's father, Otto, first applied to enter the U.S. as Jewish refugees in 1938.
Breitman said the first attempt failed, either because Otto simply failed to follow through with the process or because he got stuck on a wait list of 300,000 Jews.
Otto attempted to apply again in 1941, even asking an American friend to vouch for him by placing $5,000 in a bank as a pledge of support, Breitman said.
Otto then tried to get the family to Cuba, but that plan fell through, Breitman added, and the family ended up going into hiding in 1942, the year Anne Frank began her diary. She died in 1945 at a concentration camp.
Breitman said that it's "hard to speculate" what Anne Frank and her family's fate would have been if they were accepted to the US as refugees, but Anne could've been a writer and her family could have had "an enjoyable, long lives with children and grandchildren still alive today."