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The US Holocaust Museum urges lawmakers not to turn their backs on Syrian refugees

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
The Museum recalls the treatment of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi terror.
  • Jake Flanagin
By Jake Flanagin


Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

On Monday, Nov. 19, mere hours after legislators voted to pass a bill making it even harder for Syrian refugees to seek refuge in the United States, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum released the following statement:

Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis. While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.
The Museum calls on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group. It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.

It’s a statement perhaps reflective of growing sentiments among North America’s Jewish communities; a recollection of policies that kept those fleeing terror and persecution in Nazi-occupied Europe from settling down in the United States. According to Holocaust Museum literature, “Between the Nazi rise to power in 1933 and Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945, more than 340,000 Jews emigrated from Germany and Austria. Tragically, nearly 100,000 of them found refuge in countries subsequently conquered by Germany. German authorities would deport and kill the vast majority of them.” Following the Anschluss (German annexation of Austria), around 85,000 Jewish refugees (out of 120,000 Jewish emigrants) managed to reach the US. This was “far below the number seeking refuge,” however.

According to a New York Times interview with historian Peter Shulman, author of a widely circulated tweet highlighting anti-Semitic xenophobia present in pre-war America, US lawmakers then held similar “safety concerns” regarding a possible influx of Jewish refugees. “Jews were associated with a variety of acts and ideas that were seen as un-American, Mr. Shulman said, including Communism and violence.”

Marion Kaplan, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University also interviewed for the Times piece, added: “The State Department worried that among the Jewish refugees there would be Nazi spies … There was hysteria about fifth columnists coming in with the refugees.”

The parallels are there. It’s evident that the US Holocaust Museum recognizes them. Punctuating its statement, the Museum insists, “A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.”

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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