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500 Refugees Face Expulsion from Czechoslovakia

September 16, 1938
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A new police measure threatens imminent deportation of more than half of this “emigrant capital’s” 1,000 penniless Jewish refugees from Austria, it is learned here. Brno authorities, their patience taxed by the continued influx of refugees from across the border, are now demanding that a bond of 2,000 crowns (about $70) be posted for each resident refugee, the bond to be forfeited if the emigrant has not left Czechoslovakia in two months. The only exceptions allowed under the measure are for some 250 refugees who are Czech repatriates and another group of about 120 on whose behalf negotiations are already under way for permanent resettlement elsewhere.

Neither the Brno Jewish Community nor the non-sectarian League for Human Rights, which have been cooperating in the support of the refugee colony, have the funds with which to meet the bond requirement. Nor is either organization, in view of closed doors everywhere, in a position to guarantee the departure of a single emigrant within the stipulated time.

Brno became the “emigrant capital” of Czechoslovakia in the first weeks following Anschluss. Barely 50 kilometers from the border, it became inevitably the first stopping off place for hundreds of Jews who directly or indirectly were forced to leave Austrian soil, most of them with no more than the clothes on their backs.

The penniless refugees now number 1,055 and range in age from a few months to more than 70 years. About half are Austrian born, a quarter are Czech and the remainder mostly stateless. To feed and house them is costing about 140,000 crowns ($5,000) weekly, this sum having been guaranteed for the next few months by a threefold source – a group of wealthy manufacturers, 70,000 crowns weekly; small contributors, 20,000 crowns weekly and the Jewish Community about 50,000 crowns weekly. In addition, the Joint Distribution Committee, which is reportedly pledged to contribute equally with the Community, has made two fairly large donations up to this time. No other Jewish body in Czechoslovakia, however, is helping to carry the burden.

The refugees continue to arrive at the rate of from five to ten a day, literally harried out of the Austrian homes by inexorable Nazi pressure. If they are caught by border guards or the police, the newcomers must pay a fine of 200 crowns ($7.00) or spend eight days in jail. Generally the fine is paid for them by the Community or a private source. Mostly the emigrants have been “farmed out” by the Community and the League to private families in the city, who are paid a small sum weekly. A group of 180 emigrants, mostly children and mothers, are living in 18 apartments rented specifically for them. Almost all are fed in public kitchens where the fare is simple but good.

None of the refugees, of course, is permitted to work. Among them are business people, professionals and hand workers, many of whom were once comfortably well off. Without material resources, often cut off from family and friends left behind, uncertain as to the future, the refugee colony is rapidly becoming a psychological problem as well as an economic and political one.

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