This picture shows Jewish refugees aboard the ship "St. Louis" in 1939. They were fleeing from Nazi Germany, but were denied entrance into the United States and returned to Europe.
There is a strong anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment in the United States. This time it's mainly directed against muslims. Throughout our history there has been discrimination against nonwhites and calls to keep them out of this country (Chinese, Hispanic, African, etc.). Sometimes even whites have turned against other groups of whites (Irish, German, etc.). And at times the discrimination has been directed at religious groups (catholics, jewish, and now muslims).
Whenever this xenophobic discrimination has risen its ugly head in this country (which has been often), it is shameful and represents a black mark on our history. But perhaps the blackest mark of all was when this country refused to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler immediately before, during, and after World War II.
Here is just a small part of an excellent article by Daniel Greene and Frank Newport for the Gallup Poll. I hope it can encourage some Americans to reverse the horrible history of America rejecting refugees fleeing for their lives. They write:
Americans rarely agree as overwhelmingly as they did in November 1938. Just two weeks after Nazi Germany coordinated a brutal nationwide attack against Jews within its own borders -- an event known as "Kristallnacht" -- Gallup asked Americans: "Do you approve or disapprove of the Nazi treatment of Jews in Germany?" Nearly everyone who responded -- 94% -- indicated that they disapproved.
Yet, even though nearly all Americans condemned the Nazi regime's terror against Jews in November 1938, that very same week, 72% of Americans said "No" when Gallup asked: "Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live?" Just 21% said "Yes.". . .
A remarkable survey conducted in April 1938 found that more than half of Americans blamed Europe's Jews for their own treatment at the hands of the Nazis. This poll showed that 54% of Americans agreed that "the persecution of Jews in Europe has been partly their own fault," with 11% believing it was "entirely" their own fault. Hostility to Refugees was so ingrained that just two months after Kristallnacht, 67% of Americans opposed a bill in the U.S. Congress intended to admit child refugees from Germany. The bill never made it to the floor of Congress for a vote.
Reluctance to admit refugees most likely resulted in part from the profound economic insecurity that typified the times. During the 1930s, nothing captured Americans' attention more than the devastating Great Depression, and hunger and employment took precedence over concerns about the rise of fascism abroad and its victims. . . .
This economic insecurity no doubt helped to intensify anti-immigrant sentiment that dated back to the 1920s. By the time Americans became aware of the refugee crisis facing Europe's Jews, America's "golden doors" for immigrants had been all but closed for nearly 15 years, ever since the U.S. Congress passed the 1924 National Origins Quota Act.
The immigration process was designed to be exclusionary and difficult. In that regard, it "worked." Most of Europe's Jews who were unable to find haven from Nazism -- whether in the U.S. or elsewhere -- did not survive the Holocaust. During the 12 years of Nazi rule, historians estimate that the U.S. admitted somewhere between 180,000 and 220,000 Jewish refugees -- more than any other nation in the world, but far fewer than it could have under existing immigration laws. . . .
Even during World War II, as the American public started to realize that the rumors of mass murder in death camps were true, they struggled to grasp the vast scale and scope of the crime. In November 1944, well over 5 million Jews had been murdered by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Yet just under one-quarter of Americans who answered the poll could believe that more than 1 million people had been murdered by Germans in concentration camps; 36% believed that 100,000 or fewer had been killed.
Only with the benefit of hindsight can we connect dots that many Americans could not have at the time. And yet, the stark contrast of these two November 1938 polls, revealing the troubling gap between disapproval of Nazism and willingness to admit refugees, continues to resonate. These findings not only shine a disturbing light on Americans' responses to atrocities during the Holocaust but also are consistent with polls conducted since. A Gallup poll just after the war still showed solid opposition to allowing European refugees fleeing their war-torn continent to come to the United States, and Gallup polls in the decades since have shown Americans' continuing reluctance to accept refugees from other nations.