Desperate refugees flee persecution and war, but American politicians — worried about security risks — refuse to accept them.
That’s the situation today, but it’s also the shameful way we responded as Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats.
“Jews are not Communists,” Rabbi Louis I. Newman of Manhattan noted, pleadingly, in December 1938, trying to assuage the xenophobia. “Judaism has nothing in common with Communism.”
Yet in January 1939, Americans polled said, by a 2-to-1 majority, that the United States should not accept 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers were murdered by the Nazis.