*** World War II -- refugees U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children

World War II: American Refugee Policy--U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children

World War II refugees
Figure 1.--The 'SS Serpa Pinto' arrived safely in New York City carrying 51 children sponsored by the The U.S. Committee for Care of European Children (USCCEC). They were assisted Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) and the Society of Friends (Quakers). The ship set sail from Lisbon, Portugal on September 9, 1941 sailing through U-boat infested waters and arrived in New York September 24. The ship was used to rescue Jewish and other European refugees from NAZI dominated Europe. For the children transported on this ship the sea journey was often the final leg of years of travel to safety. The USCCEC apprently helped children who had lost threir parents, but we do not have many details. We suspect that many of the children came from NAZI occupied France. As the United States was still neutral, American rescue groups could still operate, espcially in the unoccupied Vichy area. In looking at these joyful children, it is wonderful to see lives saved, but there is also a profound sadness over the vastly larger number of children murdered by the NAZIs--all the precious lives lost. Can you imagine children just like these driven into gas chambers and reduced to ashes. The photograph was published in 'PM Daily', a New York newspaoper on September 25, 1941. It was sponsored by Marshall Fields in Chicago. The photograph was taken by Leo Lieb, a PM Daily staff photographer. Also on staff at the time were Margaret Bourke-White, Weegee, James Thurber, and Dorothy Parker.

The U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM) is best known for its efforts to try to save Jewish refugee children during World War II. AFSC Chairman Clarence Pickett organized the USCOM (JKune 1940). USCOM also worked to save British children when the NAZIs began to bomb Britain into submission. Images of German bombing raids and European refugees had a major impact o American opinion and this only increased when the Germans began bombing Britain. USCOM was organized by the Quaker American Friends Service Connitte (AFSC), but operated on a non-sectarian basis. As America was neutral, USCOM?AFSC was able to operate in Vichy France even safter Hitler declared war on America. They managed to save over 800 Jewish children in Vichy France. First Lady Eklenor Roosevelt strongly supported their activities. USCOM spokesmen lobbied for immigration support, but this was not achieved until after the War. Mrs. Roosevelt's support helped USCOM expand its work. The committee continued to function after the War when chagese made to the immigrsation laws. USCOM closed (1953).

American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

The Quakers in America were pascists and opposed American entry into World War I. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was a U.S. Quaker aid society. The AFSC both during and after the War provided relief suppliesand sevices in Europe, including Germany. These humanitarian activities created good will foorthe Quakers in Europe. Most of this work was done durig the War ad the immediate post-War period when Germsany and oter countries faced famine and starvation. The AFSC was not active in Germany during the early NAZI years. This was because the need for relief was largely handeled by Government agencies. And the Quakers did not get significantly involved in efforts to assist the increasingly beleagered Jews. It is not etirely clear to what extent anti-Semitism was invoved. The AFSC was promsably concerned about theirreputation in Germsny. This changed after Kristallnacht. Rufus M. Jones and Clarence E. Pickett bega working actively to assisdt refugees. They spoke out strongly in favor of the Wagner-Rogers extra-quota child refugee bill (1939). The Quaker community in America did not strongly support the ADSC efforts to assist refugee Jewish children. Financial contributions were limited and few families offered to take in refugee families. It is not entirely ckear why this was. Anti-Semitism must have been a factor. Some Quakers may have connected aiding Jewish refugees with involvement in the War wehich they strongly opposed.

Founding the Committee for Refugee Children (1940)

The AFSC was the main support behind the formation of the non-sectarian Committee for Refugee Children and its successor, the non-sectarian Foundation for Refugee Children. AFSC Chairman Clarence Pickett organized the USCOM. These two groups were set up to help refugee children, mostly Jewish children get to and settle in America. The terrible news from Europe resulted in the formation of the United States Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM) (summer of 1940). Imagery can not be overstated. Few images of NAZI brutality against Jewish children appeared in the American press. This was not the case of children from France, the Low Countries, and England. Images of refugees and Luftwaffe bombing did appear in the newspapers and movie newsreels.

British Children

While the need to assist Jewish children was the impetus behind USCOM, in the aftermath of the fall of France (June 1940) and the German attacks on Britain, attention turn to British children. It looked very likely that Britain too would soon fall. British officials began planning for a major overseas evacuation. Unlike the evacuation from the major cities, this was not to be just children in cities targetted by the Luftwaffe, but was to save British children in general. USCOM conceived of participasting in this effort and helping to evacuate British children endangered by the Luftwaffe bombing of Britain. Some in the U.S. Government including the President and First Lady wanted to help save children endangered by the German boming. The Administration was thus receptive to lobbying by humanitarians groups desiring to bring British children to America. All this was going on in the midst of President Roosevelt's campaign for reelection. He faced the third term proiblem and vociferous isolationist lobby. It is difficult to know to what extent this influenced his judgement. Mrs Roosevelt's concern was more likely strictly humanitarian. The USCOM sought to temporarily relocate British children to the United States for their security. One report suggests The President asked his wife to work with USCOM to arrange the transport of British children across the Atlantic to America (June 1940). It seems more likely the First Lady raised the issue. The effort after getting only about 800 children to America was suspended (fall 1940). One of the individuals involved tells us about the experiences of his brother and himself--Alan and Grahm.

Operating in NAZI-Occupied Europe

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) provided relief services in Germany during and after World War I. The AFSC was, as a result, respected or at least tolerated even by the NAZIs. America at the time was neurtral and both the NAZIs and Vichy wanted to maintain relations with the United States. Thus the AFSC was able to operate relief programs in unoccupied Vichy France. The AFSC worked with Jewish welfare agencies, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and provided assistance to Jewish refugees in France, Spain, and Portugal. Even after Hitler declared War on America (Decmber 1941), Vichy still maintained relations with the United states. AFSC's capabilities were limited. So they decided to save Jewish children from children's homes and refugee camps in southern France and get them to America. We are not sure how the children were selected. AFSC worked under the auspices of the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM) (1941-42). After the Allied Torch Landingds (November 1942), it became impossible to operate in Vichy, but they could work in Spain and Portugal. USCOM managed to bring several hundred Jewish refugee children safely to America.

Wagner-Rogers Bill

USCOM was only able to gain effort for a small number of refugee children to the United States. The major impediment was the immigration quotas. USCOM supported the which would have substantially expanded the quota. Prominent humanitarians, particularly the First Lady supported the Bill, but it failed in Congress.

Subsequent Work

Mrs. Roosevelt's support helped USCOM expand its work. The committee continued to function after the War when chagese made to the immigrsation laws. USCOM closed (1953).


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Created: 9:13 AM 8/27/2009
Last updated: 8:04 AM 6/11/2022