In his March 20 op-ed, “We’re not ‘globalists,’ we’re Americans,” Michael Gerson noted that legislation to admit 20,000 German Jewish refugee children in 1939 was killed in part because “80 percent of Americans opposed increasing the quota of European refugees.” Let’s be precise: They were not opposed to all European refugees. Just a year later, most Americans supported bringing British (Christian) children to the United States to escape the German Blitz. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress rushed to arrange for several thousand children to come from England. By contrast, Roosevelt did not say a word in support of permitting the entry of the 20,000 Jewish children who were fleeing from pogroms in Nazi Germany.
Granted, it would have been politically difficult for Roosevelt to take action to admit the Jewish children, in the face of public and congressional opposition. But he had options that would have involved minimal political risk. For example, just a few months earlier, the governor and legislative assembly of the Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory, had publicly offered to take in Jewish refugees. Letting the children go there temporarily, on tourist visas, would not have violated U.S. immigration quotas. Yet the White House managed to find a technicality to block their admission. The Roosevelt administration had different standards for different European refugees.
Rafael Medoff, Washington
The writer is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.