Immigration During The Holocaust

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In attempting to acquit the American Press of being one of the leading agencies accountable for shaping public attitudes and the subsequent inaction on the American government’s part, one must consider the pre-existing American attitudes towards immigrants at the time. The question of immigration becomes central to this evaluation since the citizens’ notions regarding the immigrants are bound to have influenced the government’s policy decisions and urgings to intervene, independent of the press’s alleged shortcomings in coverage. In spite of its identity as the “Great American Melting Pot” which houses the iconic Statue of Liberty, the European settlers of the United States- as well as their descendants- have frequently been accused of harboring anti-immigrant attitudes since the 1700s.

Thus, another aspect which seems to have had significant impact on the acceptance of the Holocaust reporting came with the worsening of the Jewish situation and the ensuing requests for immigration. This contributed majorly to the development of the mindsets of Holocaust deniers since it seemed to be easier to outrightly deny the occurrences being reported than to consent to increasing the immigration quotas for the refugees. Despite America being hailed as the land of the immigrants, the reasons for a majority of citizens being against an increase in immigration were manifold. Here it is important to remember that the country was still recovering from the impact of the First World War, and that immigration had increased significantly during and after that period.

In addition to this, there was a direct overlap with the period of the Great Depression and there was fear that an increase in immigrants would result in worsening of the unemployment situation. Some also believed in the threat of Nazi espionage via disguised spies among refugees, however this conspiracy seemed to lack any concrete evidence. Other debates that came to exist were regarding the connection between Jewish internationalism and its link with Communism. The American press was relatively active in terms of its coverage of these aforementioned domestic concerns, as well as of the various conferences that Roosevelt held for the discussion of the immigration question.

This chapter shall attempt to highlight the aforementioned aspects and discuss the anti-immigrant attitudes which shaped the American public’s mindset during and before the Holocaust. In doing so it shall mention how the press was at times influenced, manipulated and kept in the dark regarding the American government’s inner workings upon these matters. For the purpose of this research it is advantageous to note the status quo of Jewish immigration into the United States in the decades of the two World Wars. Prior to the 1930s, the United States had not shied away from intervening in Jewish affairs abroad. Nevertheless, these humanitarian acts didn’t necessarily involve the admittance of refugees. In the years leading up to the First World War, Jews accounted for around ten percent of the 9,00,000 immigrants admitted to the country and had so far escaped the more stringent requirements such as literacy evaluations, owing to.

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However, this period saw the blatant reluctance of the Protestant Americans and American Jews to admit Jewish immigrants, and the primary reason cited was the fear of drawing unwanted attention and hostility from the anti-Semites of the Western world. This sentiment heightened through the course of the Great Depression since an influx of immigrants was seen as implying reduced access to job opportunities. PRE-HOLOCAUST AND PRE-WAR PERIOD Holocaust scholar David Wyman has specified three reasons for the public resistance towards the admission of Jewish refugees to America during the 1930s-1940s- restrictionism, nativistic nationalism, and anti-Semitism. Earlier in 1924, the National Origins Act had allotted quotas for the immigration of people belonging to the countries in Northern and Western Europe, while simultaneously restricting the immigration of people from Southern and Eastern Europe, which is where most of the Jewish immigrants hailed from.

The enforcement of this discriminatory policy only strengthened in the period of the Great Depression and gradually Catholic leaders such as Father Charles Coughlin started disseminating the idea that the Jewish immigrants were to be blamed for America’s economic downfall. In addition to this, Coughlin began perpetrating anti-communist and anti-Semitist attitudes through regular radio broadcasts, and in forming the Christian Front and coming together with Nazi organizations- such as the German-American Bund, Silver Shirts etc.- he became one of the noted instigators of the American Nazi movement. The aforementioned German-American Bund was a Nazi sponsored pro-Nazi organization in America, which in addition to its numerous rallies and anti-Semite actions, also controlled the entirety of the German-American press, and by 1940 it was estimated that over ninety percent of their readership had become pro-Nazi. Moreover, while the American majority acknowledged and sympathized with the plight of the Jews abroad, they understood the same as a foreign policy matter and weren’t keen on letting it affect the domestic policies of immigration, which in the light of the steep increase in unemployment during the Great Depression had become a more pertinent concern.

This apprehension was openly reflected in the newspaper coverage until the belligerently violent Anschluss- the Nazi annexation of Austria on the 12th of March 1938- which drove a large number of Jews to flee their country and seek refuge elsewhere. In the aftermath of this event, the press became increasingly active in reporting the fate of the European Jews, however, the popular public sentiment of opposing immigration stood its ground. Simultaneously- and in stark contrast to the leanings of the majority- President Roosevelt had given a statement to the press which proclaimed that thereon there would be complete allocation of the German and Austrian immigration quotas, and the Secretary of the State Cordell Hull announced an international conference which would deliberate on the facilitation of emigration and relocation of immigrants. However, even in calling for such a gathering, Hull had reassured the public that none of the discussions in the conference would affect the current status quo of immigration quotas and policies.

Thus, though a lot of the American press greeted Hull’s announcement with fervor, there were also criticisms of its limited scope, and the recognition that such a proposal could prove to be problematic in unnecessarily raising the expectations of asylum seekers. Eventually, in July 1938 the international Evian conference- with representatives from thirty-two nations- sat in session for nine days to discuss possible resolutions to the Jewish refugee problem. Though each country expressed its deepest sympathies towards the tragic happenings, the “Big Three”- USA, UK and France- stood their ground in remaining largely inflexible with the relaxation of their immigration policies. Around 200 journalists from across the world had been stationed to cover this infamous event and they were quick to pick up on the lack of actionable policies and productive outcomes. Most American papers and editorials severely criticized the assemblage as a lost cause, and their reportage took on a pessimistic tone. Nevertheless, one must note that the conference came to be condemned as a whole, and the press hadn’t singularly implicated the American delegation for their lack of action.

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Immigration During The Holocaust. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
“Immigration During The Holocaust.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Immigration During The Holocaust. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 May 2024].
Immigration During The Holocaust [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2024 May 21]. Available from:

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