Reconsidering American Response(s) to the Holocaust

AHA Session 123
Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Columbia 6 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Daniel Greene, Northwestern University
Race, Refuge, and Rescue: US Immigration Policy Reconsidered
Barry Trachtenberg, Wake Forest University
“Suffer Little Children”: Rememorializing Child Rescue
Ronald Coleman, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Myths of American Indifference: The St. Louis, Anne Frank, and the War Refugee Board
Rebecca Erbelding, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Session Abstract

Throughout the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, and more recently during the efforts by the Trump administration to enact a ban on persons from several predominantly Muslim countries, journalists, commentators, and advocates for refugees have regularly made comparisons with America's refugee policies during the 1930s & 1940s. Advocates often point to the fate of the passengers aboard the MS St. Louis and the family of Anne Frank to highlight how widespread antisemitism shaped American indifference to the plight of the refugees. While such comparisons are useful politically to counter what are often racist and Islamophobic anti-immigrant sentiments, they are also regularly misinformed about the US’s actual response to the refugee crisis that was prompted by Nazi Germany. Writing against the common characterization of the 1930s and 40s as a time when widespread antisemitism resulted in America's near-total failure to aid European Jewish refugees, the papers in this panel draw from archival sources to demonstrate that in spite of the many obstacles in place at the time, the US provided sanctuary to more refugees than any other western country. The papers will discuss how US immigration policies that Congress enacted in the 1920s to preserve white racial supremacy and to isolate the country from foreigners established a quota system for visas that exacerbated the refugee crisis in the 1930s and provided Hitler with evidence to claim that the world had turned its back on German Jews. The papers will discuss both the structural barriers in place that limited refugees as well as the many often-successful efforts by private and governmental organizations to circumvent them and provide sanctuary to refugees. The panel also proposes to reintroduce the field of American responses as viable, morally imperative, and rich with opportunities for interesting and productive scholarship.
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