I listened again to the cassette tapes my father had made in the late 1980s, with my mother asking occasional questions.
(I later donated these audio files to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; you can listen to the digitized recordings here.)
My father recalled his family's futile attempts to rescue Frieda. I knew that Frieda had applied for a U.S. visa when she was still in Mannheim, before she was deported to the concentration camp of Gurs, France, on October 22, 1940. She probably applied shortly after Kristallnacht (November 1938) and certainly before she wrote the letter to my father in March of 1939.
From my father's recording:
"I even got an affidavit for my aunt Frieda. Unfortunately she was in Gurs when her number came up. So I had to go to the State Department. I had a hearing, and they said, "Why is she in Gurs? She sure must be a Communist."
She has done nothing but sell sewing machines. . . . Whatever I said made no impression on them. . . And so, the Quaker organization shared with us about her death in Auschwitz."
So, I thought: There must be a record of Frieda's application for a visa. And a record of this hearing -- in which my father was given the very circular argument: If she was in a concentration camp, she must be a Communist (i.e. guilty) But how could I find these records?
The National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, was my logical first step. I put a query in online and received a reply one week later.