In World War II, Europe was a dangerous place. Naturally, people wanted to escape the danger. The most popular place to escape to was America. Far from the battles of the war, still viewed as the land of equality and opportunity. It was nearly impossible to escape to America straight from the countries of Europe, so people would make their way to Morocco and obtain an exit visa. The exit visas let them travel to Lisbon, which was a safe place that they could get to America from. Getting those exit visas wasn't an easy task, and they were nearly priceless to a refugee living in Casablanca at the time..
This is part of the premise of Casablanca, the film. With so much time on their hands working on getting these visas, people need someplace to go. If you were waiting to go to America, you'd want to hang out somewhere that was itself American. In Casablanca, that was Rick's cafe. Owned and operated by American expatriate Rick Blaine.
In the film, two German couriers are killed by a man named Ugarte. They were carrying a pair of these same exit papers. Ugarte plans on selling these papers to the highest bidder to make himself rich, but he gets arrested before he can make the sale. Anticipating something like that happening, Ugarte entrusts Rick to keep the papers safe.
To make matters worse, Rick's former love arrives in Casablanca. Ilsa was a woman who ran out on Rick in Paris, but to return to a man she loved, but thought was dead. The two plan on running away together using the letters, but Rick makes the choice to let Ilsa escape with her lover Laszlo, who is a major leader in the Czech rebellion. He has recently escaped from a German concentration camp, and he needs the letters in order to escape to America so that he can continue his work to fight to keep the Germans out of Czechoslovakia. His escape has drawn the attention of a German Major, Strasser. Major Strasser has contact with a corrupt official in the French police force of Casablanca, Captain...
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