A 24 December 1937 report in Seattle’s The Jewish Transcript provides a full accounting of Richter’s remarkable story, which ended with his deportation to Belgium (as opposed to Nazi Germany) after significant pressure from U.S. based-advocacy groups:
In November, 1933, a young German seaman jumped ship In the harbor of Seattle. He was in the truest sense of the word a political refugee, seeking the right of asylum from a regime of tyranny and dictatorship. This young man’s name was Otto Richter; born in Bremen, Germany, he was a worker and an active anti-Nazi. On the night of the burning of the Reichstag, storm troopers apprehended him and, though he had not the slightest connection with that event, beat and tortured him. The next four and a half months he spent hiding from Hitler’s secret police. [He] managed to enlist as a seaman and sail on German boat which was to call at ports in the United States. During the voyage his identity became known and officers of the ship, after abusing him, threatened to turn him over to the police on their return to Nazi Germany. These were the circumstances underlying Richter’s attempted escape from Nazi tyranny to American freedom.
What has happened since? In July, 1934, during the San Francisco general strike, a vigilante raid was made on the Workers Center, and there Otto Richter was found engaged in what the Department of Labor evidently regarded as the heinous offense of helping to feed striking marine workers. He was seized and ordered deported to Nazi Germany on the technical charge that he had remained in the United States illegally. Since that time a long legal battle has been fought by the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born to save him from deportation. And only the tremendous counterpressure of mass sentiment has secured for Otto Richter the dubious privilege of being deported to a country of his choice -— Belgium -— instead of to Hitler’s sadistocracy.
Ernest Hemingway wrote a letter that alluded to Otto Richter:
“Dear Green…Was in Cuba 6 weeks working on something and did not see your Richter releases or [other] releases as P.O. not forward 2nd class mail. However, you’re so much better than my own conscience that sometimes wonder if you must not feel pretty happy at what a good man you are. Certainly you have a damned worthy job and presumably are being paid for doing it as well and you have the satisfaction of being morally superior to Guerillas or just call it bandits.. O.K. pal. To please you and see what difference it would make haven’t written an Esquire article for 4 months. Have given them 2 good stories I could have sold elsewhere…and have been working like a son of a bitch… Now I am a shit because I’ve sold my 3rd story in 4 years to Cosmopolitan. The other two were good stories and so is this one. You go to hell. Now what do you want me to do about your press releases? By the time they catch up with me is too late to protest as now on Richter who you have sadly on 13th and today is 18th and you sent that one by airmail. Will you write a telegram to be addressed to Sec. Perkins which I can sign and you send and I pay for any such cases. Can have it on file in KW office of Western Union and you wire there collect giving name of deportee etc. and the girl there will send it and charge it to me. Or do you want me to write an Esquire piece on the murder of sending people guilty of political offenses back to Fascist countries and advocating some provisions for the right of asylum for political refugees. It is a subject I can write a good piece on. In that case please give me list of cases and their disposition. Also information as to what countries would accept Richter for instance if he were deported to another country than Germany. What do you think would be proper solution if a man is convicted of illegal entry? Give him a choice of where to be deported? What countries will accept him under that circumstance? As I see it the principal difficulty is that a political refugee now cannot enter legally since he must make an escape from his own country therefore his is always liable for illegal entry and you’ve got to find a legal way to pass him on somewhere else or provide for asylum of political refugees. Otherwise you are simply going to publicize an endless series of deportations which is o.k. if anybody wants martyrs but god damned impractical as tactics. Will you please write me … to Box 406-Key West-Fla. Anyway out west with my wife and [Bob} The [kids] middle of July and will take your [doll] with me and write a piece or will send the telegrams. Arrange for them in advance or both. I didn’t answer your letter before this one about my stuff because it was so bloody righteous. Maybe it wasn’t. What the hell. Anyway if righteousness is your bread and cheeze [sic] and red wine for Christ sake eat and drink it well. People in the church die happiest. It doesn’t matter what form the church takes and if feeling superior is all you’ve got for Christ sake feel superior. I get the same kick when I write a good story. Send me the dope. I’m sorry as hell about Richter. I’m also sorry they took a pal of mine out 4 weeks ago and broke both his ankles, pounded his balls, broke all his finger bones and then poured a gallon of gas over him and set him on .fire alongside the road to Gruajoy [?]. As near as anyone can figure the couldn’t make him talk either. Nobody’s gotten it since. What are you doing about Batista and Jose Pedraza? What do you know about what the last names has been getting away with? or do the fish bit too good with money and Cosmopolitan stories have to be written in the afternoons? You’ve a nice lead there for the next time you [pan.] Pan [sic] ahead pal. I’ll be a son of a bitch if I’m [?] to want any friends….” ..” Signed, “So hay, Good luck Ernest Hemingway.”
The auction for the letter included this historical note:
Abner Green, a writer, was in charge of educational materials for the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born (ACPFB) and would become its Executive Secretary of from 1941 to 1959. As the person in charge of publicity and educational materials for the ACPFB, it would have been Green who sent out press releases on various issues the committee was addressing. Hemingway is referring to the press releases that Green was sending out regarding Otto Richter , a German immigrant who became a cause celebre. Fleeing Nazi Germany, Richter got to the United States in 1936, but faced deportation back to Germany where he likely would have been killed. A protest movement supporting Richter and a letter writing campaign to Pres. Roosevelt, failed. Richter went on a hunger strike, wound up in the hospital and was finally granted permission to emigrate to Mexico. The US and Mexico had agreed to allow some refugees arriving in America to be relocated to Mexico. According to “The Mexican Right: The End of Revolutionary Reform, 1929-1940,” by John W. Sherman (Praeger, 1997), Richter was one of the “leftists whom New York communists routed to Mexico – spared from certain death in Germany.” However, our research makes it unclear whether Richter was actually a communist at the time or whether he was so labeled in the 1950s when the ACPFB was also deemed communist, not just left leaning. Among the press releases that Abner Green must have sent out and to which Hemingway referred, were the following, each with further interesting bits of information on Richter and the American Committee for the Protection of Foreign. -In the July 11, 1936 issue of the “Oakland Times,” an article reads, “The American Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born New York announced today that arrangements have been made to give Otto Richter… German awaiting deportation, 30 days to leave the United States… Richter, arrested here [San Francisco] during the 1934 longshoremen’s strike, expressed fear of Nazi retaliation if he was deported to his native country. He was active against the Nazis prior to 1933, he informed immigration officials… has been held at Ellis Island since June 12, but was freed yesterday under $1000 bail furnished by the committee.” The article further states that Richter was hoping that he would be granted permission from “some foreign country” to go there with his 19-year old American wife. In the October 5, 1936 issue of the Reading [Pennsylvania] Times, an article notes that the ACPFB announced that Mexican authorities had consented to receive Richter as a “political exile.” It further notes, “Last June he marched down Broadway with a sign on his back saying ‘Shoot me’. He contended he would suffer that fate if sent back to Germany. And, in the Indianapolis Star of October 6, 1936, an article entitled “Nazi Foe Gets Refuge,” it is stated that “Otto Richter, 21 years old, anti-Nazi German, who fled his native land three years ago, has obtained permission to enter Mexico as a political refugee, the American Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born announced today. Richter and his American-born wife will leave for agencies caring for the sick.”
In August 1936, Richter was denied re-entry to the United States as reported by Mexican Labor News