World War II: America and Refugeees

Figure 1.--This fortunate Jewish boy managed to reach the United States during World War II. We do not know where he was from, but his jacket suggests that he is a German Jew. The press caption read, "Young man, new country: The precious privelege of holding the Totah--the Old Testament --becomes doubly precious in the United States, to this Jewish lad, upon his Bar Migtzvah --confirmatiion at the age of 13, as an adult male of the Jewish faith." Unfortunately that is all we know about this boy. We are not sure just what the Kraus Lodge Order Brith Sho??? was. Perhaps our readers will know something.

The NAZI persecution of the German Jewish community and political opponents brought a wave of prominent individuals who made major contributions to America. Many described in gtaphic detail what was going on in Germany. There was long list of prominent individuals both from Germany and later the occupied countries that came to America, including Marlina Detrich, Peter Drucker, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, ??? Salard, Edmund Teller, and many more. These many destinguised individuals made great contributions to American arts, medicine, music, science, and many other fields. America is much the richer for their invaluable contributions. Others were just children when they emmigrated before and after the War, but would make valuable contributions of their own: Madeline Albright, Peter Drucker, Andy Grove, Henry Kisinger, Tivi Nussbaum, George Sorros, and others. The publicity certainly affected how Americans thought about Hitler. It did not, however, affect the stringly isolationist views of most Americans, it may in fact only strengthened them--at least at first. Also America and other countries had severe limitations on immigration, especially Jewish immigration. The Depression caused many countries to limit immigration, to save avaialble jobs for unemployed Americans. Anti-semitism was also a factor. President Roosevelt was struggling at the time to gain support for his efforts to defeat the isolationists and assist the British and French which made an additional struggle on immigration virtually impossible.

Basque Refugee Children (March 1937)

A the Natioanlists moved in on Bilbao, large numbers of dispaced children were evacuated. Many of the children had lost their parents in the fighting. Some Americans organozed the Board of Guardians for Basque Refugee Children. Gardner (Pat) Robinson chaired the Board. Members included New York Congresswomen Caroline O'Day, Mount Hollyoak College president Mary E. Woolley, and Colombia University history professor James T. Shotwell. The Board was sent up to provide sanctuary for 500 Basque refugee children. There were reportedly tens of thousands of dispalced children in the Basque countries and no one able to care for them. The Board found American families willing to care for them. Mrs. Roosevelt endorsed the Board (May 1937). The State Department at first cooperated. The American Catholic Heirarchy was pro-Loyalist and objected to the Board which was composed of mostly individuals sympathetic to the Republic. Catholic spokesmen charged tht the Board intended to placethe children in non-Cathloic or even godless homes. The Board was in fact composed of individuals that has Republican sympathies. It is not true that they were anyi-Catholic. Massachusetts Congressman John W. McCormick attacked the Board and the project. Thus the Board was unable to assist the refugee children. Many of the children died of disease, starvation, and exposure. [Davis, pp. 123-124.] The American Catholic Hieracrchy later derailed efforts to provide food relief to Spain, primarily because the greatest need was in Republican-controlled areas.

German Jews

The Holocaust was conducted by NAZI Germany. Germany had one of the most assimilated Jewish communities in Europe. This was initially a proble for the NAZIs. After Germany's defeat in World War I, virulent anti-semitism was a major feature of many right-wing nationalist groups. The worst features of these groups becamce German government policy after NAZI leader Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany. President Hindenburg named NAZI leader Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany (January 1933). Hitler almost immediately on April 1, 1933, launched the nationl campaign against the country's Jews on April 1, 1933. [Berenbaum, p. 21.] The NAZIs in the following 6 years before launching World War II introduced over 400 different laws to percecute Jewish Germans. The laws were carefully crafted to isolate, excluded, degrade, rob, and disinfranchise German Jews. German Führer Adolf Hitler at the Nuremberg Party Congress on September 15, 1935 announced three new laws that were to be cornerstones of German racist policies and the supression of Jews and other non-Aryans. Organization genius Heinrich Himmler and his brutally efficient SS were Hitler's tools to carry out the Holocaust. A necessary step in both Hitler's seizure of power and the Holocaust was the creation of concentration camps. These lead directly after the start of World War II to the Death Camps opened in occupied Poland. The NAZIs gave particularly attention to education and control of the German educational system. They were well aware that it would be difficult to convert many adults and only a minority of Germand had ever voted for the NAZIs in democratic elections. The children were a different matter. In this regard the Hitler Youth program was a valuable tool.Even the NAZIs, before World War II, hesitted at genocide. World War II changed this and removed the last inhibitions. The swift conquest of Poland left the NAZIs in control of Poland's large Jewish population (September/October 1939). The collpase of the Fench Army esentially left the NAZIs in contriol of Western Europe (June 1940). The NAZIs and much of the ret of Europe thought that the Germans had won the War. Reservations and inhibitions that some Germns might have felt had been reduced or eliminted by NAZI anti-semitic propaganda and education and the belief that NAZIism was Europe's future for the next 1,000 years.

Prominent Individuals

The NAZI persecution of the German Jewish community and political opponents brought a wave of prominent individuals who made major contributions to America. Many described in gtaphic detail what was going on in Germany. There was long list of prominent individuals both from Germany and later the occupied countries, including Marlene Dietrich, Peter Drucker, Albert Einstein, Enricio Fermi, Philippe Halsman, Thomas Mann, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and many more. These many destinguised individuals made great contributions to American arts, medicine, music, science, and many other fields. America is much the richer for their invaluable contributions. Sultry German film star Marlene Dietrich made a rich and varied contribution to Hollywood. Albert Einstein warned President Roosevelt about the dangers of atomic energy starting the process resulting in the Manhattan Project. Enricio Fermi is the Italian physicist that worked on the Mnahattan Project. Philippe Halsman is the Riga-born photographer that did more than 100 Life covers, more than any other photographer. Thomas Mann one of the greatest German authors lectured on the evils of NAZIsim. Leo Szilard was a student of Albert Einstein who left Germany after the Reichstag fire and Jewish boycotts. Edmund Teller was born in Budapest, Hungary, and received his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Leipzig in Germany. He was another important participat in the Manhattan Project and self-proclaimed father of the H-bomb.


Many German Jews were just children or young adults when they emmigrated before and after the War. The first German Jewish refugee children arrived in America in November 1934. Others followed throughout the 1930s in small numbers. More boys came them girls. Parents were more protective of their girls. Many of the earliest relatives came to live with relatives. There was hope that much larger numbers of children woukd be accepted by America. These children have made valuable contributions of their own: Madeline Albright, Peter Drucker, Andy Grove, Henry Kisinger, Tivi Nussbaum, George Sorros, and others.


Many of the refugees spoke in detail and with great eloquence about the NAZIs. Some addressed the viciousness of the regime while others tried to explain that the NAZIs were a threat not just to Europe, but to Western civilization itself. The great writer Thomass Mann whose books were burning in Germanu gave lectures in America in 1938 even before the outbreak of war. He told American audiences, "I am convinced that if Europe continues for a while to persue the same course as in the last two decades, many good Europeans will meet again on american soil, I believe, in fact, that for the duration of the present European dark age, the centre of Western culture will shift to America. America has received much from Europe, and that debt will be amply repaid if, by saving our traditional values from the present gloom, she can preserve them for a brighter future that will one again find Europe and America united in the great tasks of humanity."

Public Opinion

The publicity certainly affected how Americans thought about Hitler. It did not, however, affect the stringly isolationist views of most Americans, it may in fact only strengthened them--at least at first. The fact that many of the refugees were Jews probably limited the impact on American public opinion. Perhaps over the long run the cumulative impact of immigrant accounts, and news accounts of NAZI attricities especially the terror bombing, as well as President Roosevelt's leadership slowly began to change public opinion in the United States. It was never a question of what kind of people the NAZIs, Fascists, and Japanese militatists were. The more difficult question was what should be done about it. Many wanted to isolate Ameica and there was the America Firsters and Liberty League. Others were opposed to war, any war.


Isolationists included individuals with varied motives from a wide spectrum of Americans. American public opinion was strongly against increasing immigration quotas to refugees fleeing the NAZIs. Some isolationists drew on this feeling as well as the still prevalent anti-Semitism in America. The two most iportant spokesmen here was Father Charles Coughlin, the Radio Priest, and aviation hero Charles Lindburg. Both charged that not only were Jews trying to enter America, but that they were attemting to draw America into War. Coughlin's charges were more viciously anti-Semetic that Lindburgh's, but there message was the same. Both had important followings and were a major challenge to the Roosevelt Administration.

German Immigration

The Great Depression during the 1930s caused many countries, including the United States, to limit immigration. NAZI policy at the beginning was not set out to murder millions of Jews. The NAZIs were intent on stripping Jews of all their assetts and driving them penniless out of the country. Few Jews wanted to laeve Germany when the NAZIs seized power in 1933. Gradually more Jews began attempting to leave, especially after the Nuremberg Race Laws were decreeed (September 1935). After Kristallnacht, a panic set in among the Germany community (November 1938). Jews were essentially free to leave Germany as long as theu did not take any valuables and had a visa to enter another country. The problem for German and Austrian Jews was obtaining a visa. Anti-semitism and the job shortages created by the Depression in many countries, including the United States, created severe bars to immigration. Thus obtaining visas were very difficult. Jews were thus trapped in Germany when in the months leading up to the War. The St. Louis reffugees were some of the last Jews to escape Germany. The NAZIs stopped allowing Jews to emmigrate. Some of the last Jews to get out of Germany were the children broughtout through the Kindertransport.

President Roosevelt

The newspaper accounts, especially after Kristallnacht, shocked many Americans including President Roosevelt. He issued a statement to reporters, "The news the past few days from Germany has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States." He told reporters, "I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a 20th century civilization". The President explained that he recalled the U.S. Ambassador to get a first hand account. Hitler 3 days latter ordered the German Ambassador home in retaliation. The President, despite his concern, never advocate actions such as allowing increased immigration quotas, even for the children. A case can be made for charging thar was a failure of leadership on the Preident's part. Some scholars appear to take a simplistic approach to FDR's failure to act on the refugee question. One scholar attibutes it to a simple matter of votes. [Heim] Some schgolars believe that the President went about as far as he could go on the refugee question. He encouraged that applications be handeled expeditiously. After the Anschluss he encouraged full use of the German quota. Even these feeble steps were sharply criticized. Polls showed that only about 20 percent of Americans agreeded with Roosevelt's actions and less than 5 percent of Americans wanted immigration quotas raised. [Freidel, Rendezvous, p. 297.] With numbers like his, there was little the President could do as Congressional action would have been required. The President's position has to be put in context. President Rooselvelt at the time was locked in a major battle with the America Firsters and other isolationists. At issue was a military draft, military spending, support for the Allies after the War began, and emergency efforts to help Britain after the fall of France. It is easy today to make moralistic arguments, but when we realize that the draft was renewed just weeks before Pearl Harbor by the narrowest of margins, it becomes much more clear the political calculations that had to be made. Increased quotas for Jewish refugees was not popular in America. The President was being attacked by isolationists with trying to draw America into a European war to save Jews. If the President had not won the contests with the isolationists, America would have entered the War even less prpared thn it was and critical efforts to aid Britain after the fall of France would have been impossible. It was clearly an issue that the President cared about. Historians point to schemes that he toyed with that would not have required increased immigration quotas. [Freidel, Rendezvous, pp. 297-298.] The most important were the Evian Conference and the Inter-Govermental Committe oin Refugees.

Elenor Roosevelt

Many Americans were active in the effort to help refugees. No American was more associated with this effort that First Lady Elenor Roosevelt. It was a logical extension of her notable efforts to assist needy Americans during the Depression. Mrs. Roosevelt worked began working to assist refugees from NAZI Germany by trying to offer refuge in America. Here she was stimied by America's immigration quotas. Immigration has been strictlt limited in the 1920s and there was strong popular support for strict limits on immigration which was only intensified by the Depression. Thus it was not politically possible to change the immigration laws and this became even more unlikely when Republicans and Conservative Democrats trounded progresive New Deal reformers in the 1938 Congressional by-elections. Thus Mrs. Roosevelt and others turned to private efforts to assist refugees. Mrs Roosevelt promoted many private charitable groups attempting to assist refugees. She served on the board of directors of some of these organizations and advised other without actually participating directly. She attempted unsucessfully to assist Basque children orphaned by the Spanish Civil War. When Kristallnacht showed the character of the NAZI regime, Mrs Roosevelt began working with the Emergency Rescue Committee and the the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children. After the War broke out she worked with the Children's Crusade for Children. Mrs Roosevelt was instrumental in obtaining support for Varian Fry's rescue operations. While the President's policies were contrained by the need to fight the isolationists, Mrs Roosevelt's refugee work was very public. She worked tirelessly on the Child Refugee Bill which would have permitted 10,000 Jewish children a year for 2 years to enter the United States over and above the immigration quota fort Germans. Congress was, however, adament that immigration quotas would not be raised. After Pearl Harbor, in addituin to her War work, Mrs. Roosevelt continued to push for a more humane immigration policy. She sharply criticized the restrictive visa policies of Breckinridge Long and worked closely with Assistant Secretary of State Sumner Welles to issue more entrance visas for refugees. Mrs Roosevelt was able to help a few individuals obtain refuge in the United States, but throughout the War American immigration law remained unchanged.

Refugees and American Politics

America responded immediately and enthusiastically to the World War I refugee crisis. The American response during World War II was more uneven, for a range of reasons. major reason for this was the genocidal character of the NAZI regime. Germans and Austrian military offensives created large number of refugees amd military seizure of food supplies caused severe food shortages. But the Germans were not trying to kill civilians, they just gave priority to supplying the military. Thus it was possible for America to get food into German occupied areas like Belgium. The NAZIs were intent on killong large numbers of people such as Jews and Slavs. As a result, it was for the most part not possible to get relief supplies into NAZI occupied areas. There were also a number of factors which limited the American response. Before the War broke out, anti-Semitism was a factor. The refugeee problem before the War was seen largely as Jewish problem. Once the War broke out, the refugee issue became entangled in the larger issues of isolationism and military preparation. Lindburg and other isolationists changed that Jews wre trying to drag America into the War. Thus if President Roosevelt had pushed heavily on the refugee issue he would have given creedence to these charges. The isolationists were a powerful political force and came very close to blocking President Roosevelt's efforts to save Britain and prepare militarily. This was further complicated by some of the major political trends. President Roosevelt and the New Deal were most strongly supported by progressive Americans. While they were also the most favorably disposed to assisting refugees, many also were philosophically opposed to war and military spending. Thus to obtain Congressional approval for his military buildup, the President had to turn to conservative Congressmen, includung many southern Democrats. While they were willing to support military preparation, they were almost uniformly opposed to efforts to assist refugees, especially changes to immigration quotas.

Congressional Election (November 1938)

The 1938 Congressional by-elections great complicated President Roosevelt's ability to challengee the Dictators and aid the Allies. The election resulted in the defeat of many liberal New Dealers and the return to Washington of many conservtive Republicans--many with strongly isolantist views. The Democrats retained majorities in both houses, but a substantial part of that majority was conservtive Southern Democrats. The President was hard put to obtain passage of needed measures such as rearmament and the repeal of the Neutrality Act. This could only be achieved with the support of the southern Democrats and the southern Democrats were dead set against immigration reform. The politic equation in short was that there was a political cost from liberals for failing to act on immigration. (Perhaps even more significant here was enduring Elenor's lectures.) But there would have been a much more significant political cost if he atempted to increase immigration quotas. And considering that many key votes were razor thin, the President's predicament can be seen. It is easy enough to criticize now, but considering the stakes at the time, any attempt on immigration reform could have had disastrous consequences on American national security. And it must be added that Allied victory in World War II ultimately saved half of Europe's Jews from the Holocaust. Had Roosevelt failed in his fight with the Isolationists, the NASZIs woulkd have certainly been even more successful.

American Policy

Also America and other countries had severe limitations on immigration, especially Jewish immigration. The Depression caused many countries to limit immigration, to save avaialble jobs for unemployed Americans. Anti-semitism was also a factor. FDR after Kristallnacht decided that German refugees coming to the United states with tourist visas could stay instead of being forced back to Germany. This affected 12,000-15,000 refugees. He did not, however, believe that it was politically possible to increase immigration quotas. There were efforts. The Wagner-Rogers bill was an effort to admit 20,000 endangered Jewish refugee children. It was rejected by the Senate in 1939 and 1940. The anti-semitism still prevalent among Americans including State Department officials were a major factor in America's failure to admit more refugees. FDR was struggling at the time to gain support for his efforts to defeat the isolationists and assist the British and French which made an additional struggle on immigration virtually impossible. In the cold hard world of politics, an Administration on initiative would have risked the larger effort to defeat the isolationists, support Britain and France, and increase defense spending. One of the most tragic consequence of this was incident over the liner St Louis which left Hamburg with 927 Jewish refugees in May 1939 for New York. The United States refused to allow them to enter. Cuba allowed 22 to land, but refused entry to the rest. An appeal to President Roosevelt was unanswered. Other countries also refused to accept the refuggess. Finally the St. Louis returned to Europe and the refugees were landed in Antwerp on June 17. More than 600 were accepted by Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Within months these countries overrun by the NAZIs. No one know for sure, but about 240 of these refugees are believed to have survided. Britain accepted 288 which did survive.

The Evian Conference (July 1938)

There was some internationl pressure to do something about the refugee crisis. The Evian Conference was called by President Roosevelt in July 1938 to address the refugee crisis. Delegates from 32 countries in the summer of 1938, met at the French resort of Evian. President Roosevelt did not send a high-level official. He sent Myron C. Taylor, a businessman and close friend. Throughout the 9-day meeting, the different country delegates to express pladitudes and sympathy for the refugees. Virtually every country, including the United States and Britain, offered excuses for not letting in more refugees. The United States maintained in quota of 27,370 refugees annually, but did not offer to increase it. Many participants did not even offer any refugees admitance. Argentina claimed that they had already accepted more refugees than all other South American countries combined. Even Australia with vast unsettled lands and which was advertising in Britain and the United States for immigrants was unwilling to take in refugees. Australia's chief delegate, Colonel White stated, "Under the circumstances. Australia cannot do more. Undue privileges cannot be given to one particular class of non-British subjects without injustice to others. It will no doubt be appreciated also that, as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one." [Proceedings, p 20.] Brazil said that it might accept a small number of agricultural workers. (Most of the refugees were urban workers, small businessmen, and professionasls. Britain said that they would maintain their 20,000 refugee quota for Palestine. Four Central American countries (Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama) issued a joint statement indicating that they would accept no "traders or intelectuals"--anobvious reference to Jews. Several other Latin American countries (Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Peru) offered to accept refugees, but onl agrcultural labor. Only three countries offered an unlimited quota: Denmark and the Netherlands. The flood of refugess was so great into the Netherlands that the Dutch had to stop taking in refugeees in 1939. [Gilbert, p. 220.] Unfortunately the Netherlands proved to be one of the deadliest countries for Jews in the Holocaust. I am not sure about Denmark. I do know that at the time of the NAZI invasion in April 1940 that there were only a small number of Jews in Denmark, much smaller than in the Netherlands. Some have called the Conference Hitler's green light for the holocaust. [Shaw] The NAZIs were in fact pleased with the outcome. The German government released a statement indicating that how "astounding" it was that foreign countries criticized Germany for their treatment of the Jews, but none of them wanted to open the doors to them when "the opportunity offer[ed]. "Nobody wants them" claimed the German newspaper Völkischer Beobachter. Hitler lost no time in pointing out, "It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them ..." [Shalom, p. 21.]

Refugee Crisis

The difficult situation for German Jews became a crisis in 1938. First the Anchluss (March 1938) brought unprepared Austrian Jews face to face with the NAZI horror. Then Kristalnacht (November 1938) finally revealed the true nature of the NAZIs. Until Kristalnacht, the NAZIs had killed relatively small numbers of Jews and in secret. Larger numbers of Jews were killed during Kristalnacht and they were killed oponly. Most Jewish men were arrested and confined in police stations and concentration camps. About 20,000 children Jewish childrem were made homeless and fatherless as a result of Kristallnacht violence and looting and the arrest of Jewish men.

Wagner Rogers Bill

The British resonse to Kristalnacht was the Kindertransport. Concerned Americans attemted to do the same in America to help the chilren. Senator Wagner and Representative Rogers proposed the Wagner-Rogers bill that would have made it possible for German Jewish children to immigrate to the United States in additon to the U.S. immioutside quota for Germany. It was specifically written for th Kristalnacht children. Tragically, polla at the time showed that two thirds of the American public opposed the bill. As a result the bill was never even reported out of committee. President Roosevelt never endorsed the bill, although Elenor promoted it.

Emergency Rescue Committee

The 32- year old Varian Fry left for France soon after the NAZI victory. He was assigned to be the represebntative in France of the Emergency Rescue Committee, a privately organized relief group. Their goal was to recognize people being percecuted by NAZI officials. He arrived with $3,000 and a list of individuals that were thought to be most endangered. He expected that it would take about 1-month to complete his assignment. Fry like most Americans, however, did not comprehend the full dimensions of NAZI barbarity. Fry extended his stay and eventually worked there for 13 months until being driven out by the NAZIs asAmerica and Germany moved closer to war. He left behind hin in France a system of escape routes that would save many lives. Fry engaged in a wide range of illegal asctivities, including converting dollars on the black-market (where much higher exchange rates prevailed), conspired with the criminal underworld, forged documents, and chartered illegal voyages. Fry while in France is believed to have rescued about 1,500 people targeted by the NAZIs.

U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (June 1940)

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).

Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees

The Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees was established as a result of the Evian Conference. President Roosevelt took an interest an made several rather imptactical suggestions such as irrigating the North African deserts or settling the Venezuelan Lanos. [Freidel, Rendezvous, pp. 297-298.]

Children's Crusade for Children (1940)

The Children's Crusade for Children (CCFC) was a penny-sharing relief program for American school children. John Herling was the director (1939-40). Mrs. Roosevelt supported the effort, one of many refugee programs she supported and promoted. Pearl Buck wrote an article promoting the program in Parents Magazine (May 1940). Norman Rockwell did art work. The CCFC organized fund raising efforts by school children. The funds collected went to war refugeees. Special tin cans bamks were issued to collect the pennies. The front of the 1940 bank read "Children's Crusade for Children April 22-30, 1940"I think most of the money was actually donated by the children at school. I do not have details on how much money was collected and how it was used.

Bracero Program (1942-47)

The American unemployment problem disappeared as war orders flowed in frm Europe (1938)and the United States began to prepare to meet the threat from aggressor nations (1939). When American began a peace-time draft, labor shortages began to develop. Agricultural labor became ibcreasingly scarce as high paying jobs in war industries attracted low-wage farm workers. Eventually 16 million men would serve in the military, creating a massive labor shortage, only prtially filled by women. Agriculture was a special problem as most workers prferred high-wage factiry work. This brought about vthe Bracero Program. Neigboring Mexico had large numbers of unemployed or poorly paid workers. The United States negotiated an agreement with Mexico to admit Mexican workers, mostly agricultural laborers to work in the United States. The arrangement was the Emergency Farm Labor Program, usually referred to as Bracero Program. Bracero means something like mannual laboror. Mexican workers were allowed to enter the United States and had legal status and protection. The prpgram provided needed needed agriculytural labor in California and the rest of the southwest. Wages were 20–50 cents per day which at the time was an attractive salary, more tham Mexican farm labor could earn in Mexico. It was all voluntary and in fact so attractive that many Mexican woekers entered the country illegally to participate. Living conditions were often inadequate, but generally better than conditions in Mexico. The impact of the prgram is difficult to underestimate. It orovided American needed workers for r=the war effort. But therewere impacts beyound the War. Large numbers of Mexicanb were exposed to life in the United States and began to expect more from their government nd employers. Substantial numbers remauned in American illegally, increasing the Hispnic popultion. The Program as initially negotiated ended in 1947. It was periodically extended until 1964. By that time with changes in the immmigration system, large numbers of Mexicans were immigrating to the United States, replacing European nations as the primary origin of immigrants.

Asian Immigrants (194-46)

Immigration was until World War II almost entirely European. U.S. law actually excluded Chunese and Japanese immigrants. Politicans talked about the 'Yellow peril'. Attitudes toward Asia began to change even before the Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934) which provided for Filipino independence. And tariff priovisions were modied (1939). The War dramatically changed American attititudes toward Asians, remarkble given it was the 'sneak' Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the War (1941). That attack resulted from American support for embattled Chinese people. America demanded that Japan withdraw from China and Japan refused. After Pearl Harbor, America found itself fighting along side Asian/Pacific peoples (Chinese, Filipinos, and Indians). Our new allies won respect for gheir resisrance to aggression. A series of American actions changed the legal sttus od Asians in mneruca and immigration regulations. The wa-time actions began with President Roosevelt signing Executive Order 8802 (1941). This forbade employers in war industries from discriminating in hiring on the basis of 'race, creed, color, or national origin'. This Act was primarily focused on African Amerucans, but included Asians. Filipinos benefitted significantly. The Government ended its ban on Chinese immigration and naturalization (1943). Another act enabled Filipinos who had served in the U.S. military to become naturalized citizens (1943) and extended naturalization privileges to all Filipinos (1945). Restrictions on the naturalization of Indians (Asian) (1946). Ironically after the biteraly fought Pacific War and internment of Japanese Americans, desrimination aganst the Japanese virtually evaporated overnight without any legal action, a rarely reported devrlopment.

Displaced Europeans (1945)

The United States and other countries failed to act taken in Jewish refugees targeted by the NAZIs. The United States took in more than other countries, but the refugee actions fell far short of the unprecesented need to save the desperate targeted victims. The NAZIs killed some 6 million European Jews--the Holocaust. As a result, the number of Jews was hugely reduced after the War. The refugee problem was no longer primarily a Jewish problem, in part because so many Jews perished during the War. Europe was aflood with refugees at the end of the War--some 20 million displaced people (DPs). The immediate problem was to get those people home through reparations. This was compounded by the fact that Germany tranportation system had been bombed to smitherines. Some 2 million Europeans were living in camps, mostly set up in in Germany and Austria. Among this flood of humnity were 9 million Germans fleeling or being driven from the East. There were some 4 million war fugitives. Several million people had been forced into labor camps throughout the Reich. There were millions of Russian prisoners of war as well as Russians and Ukrainians who had served in the Wehrmacht or formations fighting with the Wehrmacht. There were some 0.5 million Balts (Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians) fleeing the Red Army. American, British, and Canadian troops who entered concentration camps shocked to learn of the terrible nature of German concentration camps. They liberated the small number of Holocaust survivors--a mere 60,000 people. And the camps the Western Allies liberated were not the horific death camps. Some 200,000 had managed to survive by hiding. TheGerman refugees were the responsbility of German authorities. The Soviets refused to aud German refugees, insisting itwas the resoinsibility of the Western Allies. The Western Allies set out organize humanitarian measures to save the displaced Europeans, many of whom while alive were in dreadful condition. We have information on displaced children. Most of the surviving children were intact or primarily intact families. Children separare from their families were less likely to survive. This was why so few Jewish children survived the Holocaust.

Refugees (1945-50)

For many of the displaced persons (DPs) in the flattened Reich it was just a matter of getting home and gettig on with their life. It was a relatively simple matter of reopatriation. Others became refugees. Stalin in Eastern Europe turned the countries occupied by the Soviet Union into police state dictarorships. Some of the displaced did not want to live in their Communist homeland. Others faced arrest and occupation and the Gulag if they returned or the rigors of ethnic cleansing. Western European Jews could return home. In Eastern Europe they faced artacks by the local non-Jewish population. Britain restricted entry to Palestine. Thus many of the displaced turned into hard to relocate refugees.

American Resettlement (1945-50)

The United States began a series of actions to address the needs of these people. President Harry Truman issued an emergency directive ordering U.S. consulates to give first preference in immigration to displaced persons (December 22, 1945). No particular ethnic group was specified or excluded. The President ordered that 'visas should be distributed fairly among persons of all faiths, creeds, and nationalities.' Some 40,000 of these emergency visas were issued, about 28,000 went to Jews. President Truman understood that this was only a temporary emergency measure. Immigration was a matter that required Congressional action. And Congress takes time to do vrtyally anything. A major change in immigration law prived controversial. The horrors of the Holocaust had diluted, but not eradicated anti-Semitism. The original proposal submitted by the Administration of 400,000 visas for to displaced persons was rejected. Finally Congress after exhaustive study and debate passed the Displaced Persons Act--DPA (1948). This superseded President Truman’s emergency 1945 directive. The Act assigned a preference to DPs from areas occupied by the Red Army and annexed by the Soviet Union (the Baltic republics and eastern Poland). A peference was lso given to agriculturalists. Both these provisions worked against Jewish refugees. The NAZI killers had been especially sucessful in Eastern Europe. And few Jews were farmers. (Dating back to th Medieval era, Jews were not allowed to own land.) Coingress approved 202,000 visas to be issued for 2 years without regard to existing national immigration quotas, but charged to the appropriate country quotas in subsequent years. Some 3,000 non-quota visas were authorized for DP orphans. Granted the Attorney General the authority with Congresional approval to adjust the status of up to 15,000 DPs who entered the country prior to April 1, 1948. Presudent Truman objected to many of the Congrssional changes in the DOA but signed the measure into law. He believed that it was better than no law at all. He and Congressional allies fought for changes. As a result, the DPA was amended (June 16, 1950). Another 121,000 visas wre authorized, bringing the total to 341,000, valid through June 1951. The number of orphan visas was increased to 5,000 but within the 341,000 total. The provision of the 1948 Act adjusting the status of previously admitted DPs was extended to those who had entered the United States prior to April 30, 1949. Another orphan provision was added authorising 5,000 additional non-quota visas for orphans under the age of 10 years who were coming for adoption through an agency or to reside with close relatives and thus would nit be wards of the srate

War Brides

You can't ship millions of young men overseas and not expct sparks to fly with the local women. This was especially the case with a devestated continent with hungary peole and GIs with both dollars and access to food and consumer goods. There were a lot of British war brides. American soldiers spent time their training for D-Day. The U.S. Army Air Corps also had a large contingent in Britain. So many servicement were involved that the U.S. Congress acted expeditiously. Congress passed the War Brides Act (December 28, 1945). The Act authorized alien spouses and minor children to enter America outside the ordinary quota system. Subsequent amendments authorized admission of fiancées for 3 months as non-immigrant temporary visitors, provided they were eligible and had a real intent to marry. There were pecial provision for Asian wives. The largest numbr of war brides were British--some 115,000 wome. There were also 7,000 Chinese, 5,000 Filipina, and 800 Japanese spouses. In addtion there were 25,000 children and nearly 20,000 fiancées.

Impact on America

The American view of immigration during the 1930s and early 40s was America as a haven not matter how restricted. The view was very decidedly how America aided and assisted the refugees from Hitler's Europe. The focus is on what America did for them, not what the refugees did for America. Less understood at the time was the impact that European refugees would have on America. They not only strengthened American science but incredibly enriched American cultural life. Between 1933 and 1940 thousands of German artists, scientists, writers and musicians were forced to leave Germany and many of them settled in the United States. Most of them were Jewish, but not all. With their education, knowledge and talents they soon became part of the American cultural scene, although authors like Thomas Mann and Franz Werfel kept writing in German and had to be read in English translations. Movie directors and actors, however, were able to get in touch with the American public much easier. No doubt, American culture benefitted tremendously by the creative works of these immigrants.


Davis, Kenneth S. FDR, Into the Storm 1937-1940: A Hisyory (Random House: New York, 1993), 691.

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Proceedings of the Intergovernmental Committee, Evian, 6/15 July 1938, Verbatim Record of the Plenary Meeting of the Committee. Resolutions and Reports, London, July 1938.

Heim, Susanne. "Jewish emmigration and international refugee policy: The situation of children," Children and the Holocaust: Symposium, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 3, 2003.

Shaw, Annette. "The Evian Conference - Hitler's Green Light for Genocide," internet site 2002.

Shalom, Beth. Perspective, 1:1 (1998), p 21.

Snow, C.P. The Physicists (Macmillan: London, 1981).


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Created: January 1, 2003
Last updated: 8:27 PM 10/11/2018