The story of “Serilda” – 1930s- 1940s
(German for “armed war maiden”)
A time of restriction from the United States

Serilda was a girl of five in Germany in 1932 when her parents told her it was mandatory for her to join the Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls). At that time, Jungmadel was for girls aged fourteen and under. She participated in sports and learned about Socialist ideology and domestic responsibilities. Her parents were professionals. Her mother (Inge) was a nurse, and her father (Karl) was a published, renowned author who traveled and lectured extensively. Serilda had never traveled before and missed her father when he traveled.

Unknown to Serilda, her father had recently been invited to be a visiting scholar for at least one year beginning in the fall of 1936 at a prestigious university in America. The university was establishing an endowed chair in Germanic studies in 1936, and the donor wanted her father to be the first professor to fill that vacancy. The donor had met Karl at an event and was impressed by his knowledge, work ethic, and dedication to integrity. Karl wanted to accept the position, and Inge was excited about a move to the United States.

In 1924, Congress reaffirmed the 1917 quota restrictions through the enactment of the National Origins Quota Act which lowered the quota of immigrants. In the 1930s immigration was limited by the government, and favor was shown to European immigrants than those from Asia or Mexico. American immigration law did not change until 1941 and the governing law – the Johnson-Reed Act passed in 1924 spoke to “national origins” not citizenship. Immigrants’ applications were based on their country of birth not where they were citizens, which in the case of Inge and Karl were the same. Fortunately, the German quota for Karl and Inge was one of the highest then, but the State Department saw the numbers as limits and did not fill all the slots.

Karl as a scholar had concerns for Serilda and the “mandatory” training she and others (including boys) were receiving. Karl and Inge decided to apply for any necessary visas for their family to enable Karl to accept the employment offered by the University.

At that time, the visas available included tourist visas, immigration, and naturalization visas (including marriage), student visas, and business or work visas (both non-immigrant and immigrant). Karl applied for an immigration business visa to the United States and accepted the appointment to the chair. Inge and Serilda took the advice of the consulate and applied under immigration and naturalization visas.

The family registered at the consulate and were placed on a waiting list. At that point they began to collect all the documentation required, including their birth certificates, and passage on a ship. They needed a sponsor, as in 1930 President Herbert Hoover issued instructions that the US would not admit people who would be likely to become a public charge – meaning not be able to support themselves without government benefits. Fortunately, Karl was able to contact the donor, and the donor agreed to be a financial sponsor for Karl and his family.

After due time, Karl, Inge, and Serilda were able to immigrate to the United States. As time passed and other legislation and policies became effective, they were able to become legal permanent residents of the United States of America.