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“What Americans thought of Jewish refugees on the eve of World War II”

November 17, 2015

“What Americans thought of Jewish refugees on the eve of World War II”

 

 

 

US Jul ’38: What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US?

 

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The results of the poll, illustrated above by the useful Twitter account @HistOpinion, were published in the pages of Fortune magazine in July 1938. Fewer than 5 percent of Americans surveyed at the time believed that the United States should raise its immigration quotas or encourage political refugees fleeing the fascist states in Europe — the vast majority of whom were Jewish — to voyage across the Atlantic. Two-thirds of the respondents, meanwhile, agreed with the proposition that “we should try to keep them out.”

To be sure, the United States was emerging from the Great Depression, hardly a climate where ordinary folks welcome immigrants and economic competition. The events of Kristallnacht — a wave of anti-Jewish pogroms in areas controlled by the Nazis — had yet to take place. And the poll’s use of the term “political refugees” could have conjured in the minds of the American public images of communists, anarchists and other perceived ideological threats.

But look at the next chart, also tweeted by @HistOpinion. Two-thirds of Americans polled in January 1939 — now well after the events of Kristallnacht — said they would not take in 10,000 German Jewish refugee children.

US Jan 20 ’39: Should the US government permit 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children to come in from Germany?

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As World Views detailed earlier this year, most Western countries regarded the plight of Jewish refugees with skepticism or unveiled bigotry (and sympathy only followed wider knowledge of the monstrous slaughters of the Holocaust):

No matter the alarming rhetoric of [Adolf] Hitler’s fascist state — and the growing acts of violence against Jews and others — popular sentiment in Western Europe and the United States was largely indifferent to the plight of German Jews.

“Of all the groups in the 20th century,” write the authors of the 1999 book, “Refugees in the Age of Genocide,” “refugees from Nazism are now widely and popularly perceived as ‘genuine’, but at the time German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were treated with ambivalence and outright hostility as well as sympathy.”

It’s worth remembering this mood when thinking about the current moment, where the United States is once more in the throes of a debate over letting in refugees. Ever since Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, the Republicans, led by their presidential candidates, have sounded the alarm over the threat of jihadist infiltration from Syria — even though it now appears every single one of the identified assailants was a European national.

They have signaled their intent to stop Syrian refugee arrivals, or at least accept only non-Muslim Syrians.

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie of New Jersey was one of the many governors who on Monday said they would oppose settling Syrian refugees in their states; Christie insisted that he would not even permit “3-year-old orphans” entry.

Today’s 3-year-old Syrian orphan, it seems, is 1939’s German Jewish child.
Of course, there are huge historical and contextual differences between then and now. But, as Post columnist Dana Milbank notes, it’s hard to ignore the echoes of the past when faced with the “xenophobic bidding war” of the present:

“This growing cry to turn away people fleeing for their lives brings to mind the SS St. Louis, the ship of Jewish refugees turned away from Florida in 1939,” writes Milbank. “It’s perhaps the ugliest moment in a primary fight that has been sullied by bigotry from the start. It’s no exaggeration to call this un-American.”

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Of course, there are huge historical and contextual differences between then and now. But, as Post columnist Dana Milbank notes, it’s hard to ignore the echoes of the past when faced with the “xenophobic bidding war” of the present:

“This growing cry to turn away people fleeing for their lives brings to mind the SS St. Louis, the ship of Jewish refugees turned away from Florida in 1939,” writes Milbank. “It’s perhaps the ugliest moment in a primary fight that has been sullied by bigotry from the start. It’s no exaggeration to call this un-American.”

 

THESE HARROWING ACCOUNTS PAST AND PRESENT belie the truths about how ruthless, sinister, bigoted and narcissistic a person generally is.  There is a film called, “Weapons of the Spirit,” directed by Pierre Sauvage , about the French Huguenot town of Chabon saving the lives of every person who came into their midst escaping persecution.  

 

They saved 2,500 Jewish people.  The town mayor and the pastor were sent to Auschwitz in their stead.  Not a citizen of the village would dare to tell who were the Jews.

 

Image result for "Weapons of the Spirit," by Pierre Sauvage
Weapons of the Spirit
1987 ‧ Documentary ‧ 1h 30m
8.1/10·IMDb
 
Release date: September 1, 1989 (USA)

Le Chambon: “Weapons of the Spirit” excerpt – YouTube

Sep 25, 2011 – Uploaded by Pierre Sauvage

Written, produced and directed by Pierre Sauvage, who also appears and narrates the award-winning film, “Weapons of the Spirit” is available  …

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