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Flashback: American Bigots Didn't Want To Accept Jewish Refugees Fleeing The Holocaust

Flashback: American Bigots Didn't Want To Accept Jewish Refugees Fleeing The Holocaust

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It’s a comforting thought to look at the refugees fleeing ISIS — the same ones to whom Republicans want to deny entry into the United States — and say that we’re better than this, that Americans as a whole will rise up and refuse to be so cold, so heartless. But those of us who are eager to help people in need are truly in the minority, historically speaking.

As World War II approached, Fortune Magazine published the results of a 1938 poll that should serve as a grim reminder that Americans can and will latch on to bigotry in any sense. Today, we pretend that America has always accepted Jewish people. Unfortunately, the poll reveals that the majority — 67 percent — openly rejected taking in Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria, and other countries oppressed by the Nazis “with conditions as they are.” Only 23 percent of Americans, most of whom opposed raising immigration quotas, said that accepting Jewish refugees was a good idea.

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2016 Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie’s opinion that we should not even accept Muslim “5-year-old orphans” is one that should stay buried in our shameful past — but a January 1939 poll heartbreakingly reveals that Americans even opposed taking care of Jewish children.

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In September, the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor reminded us that the bigotry espoused by the Right and the hatred they level at Muslim refugees is exactly like the anti-Semitism of the 1930’s:

No matter the alarming rhetoric of [Adolf] Hitler’s fascist state — and the growing acts of violence against Jews and others — popular sentiment in Western Europe and the United States was largely indifferent to the plight of German Jews.

“Of all the groups in the 20th century,” write the authors of the 1999 book, “Refugees in the Age of Genocide,” “refugees from Nazism are now widely and popularly perceived as ‘genuine’, but at the time German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were treated with ambivalence and outright hostility as well as sympathy.”

“Part of that hostility was fueled, as some of the European grievances are now, by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology, in this instance communism and anarchist violence,” Tharoor notes.

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If this sounds familiar, it should. Every day, Republicans remind us  — incorrectly — that Muslims are of the devil, that their ways and beliefs are somehow dangerous to the good, pristine America they know and love…and that has not existed since Jim Crow ended.

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Islamophobia is today’s anti-Semitism. But there is hope. A September HuffPost/YouGov poll revealed that, as with Jews in the 1930’s, Americans as a whole regard Muslims as being beneath saving. The good news is that most of the hatred exists in a dwindling political party, whose aging adherents will soon die off.While only 21 percent of Republicans support taking in refugees from ISIS’ barbarism and almost half are against so much as providing support to the terrorist organization’s victims, Democrats are much more accepting. Well over half (57 percent) of Democrats are all for rescuing whomever we can from ISIS, with 63 percent favoring providing financial support. In fact, some Democrats feel that President Obama’s plan to accept 10,000 refugees by the end of the fiscal year does not go far enough, and have issued a proposal to raise the number to 100,000.


While it is heartbreaking that 100 percent of Americans are not in favor of helping refugees, even children, our nation is becoming increasingly liberal as the number of Americans identifying as “conservative” rapidly falls. Over time, we can expect the number of people opposed to humanitarian aid to dwindle. Until then, we must hope that Americans join the Democratic party in supporting these victims of terrorism, in sheltering those in need, in providing hope for the hopeless.

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Colin Taylor
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.

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