The Time the US Refused To Save Jewish Refugees From Nazi Germany

In 1942, orphaned children were rounded up and deported from Poland. Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Turning Their Backs on Starving Orphans

Despite the fact that there were plenty of American families who were willing to take these orphans into their homes, the government decided to base the decision on public opinion, which was overwhelmingly against an increase in the immigrant population. In 1939, Gallup conducted a poll that was published in Fortune magazine. It found that 83% of the American population was against lifting the quota for refugees.

So you may be wondering if these people were aware that these were innocent children who may die if they don’t get help. Before you give them the benefit of the doubt, here is another poll from that same year, with the exact phrasing in the question:

“It has been proposed to bring 10,000 refugee children form Germany- most of them Jewish- to be taken care of in American homes. Should the government allow these children to come in?”

Out of those who responded to the poll, 61% flat-out said “no”, and an additional 9% said that they had “no opinion”.

As if it wasn’t obviously already, the phrase “most of them Jewish” was really what turned some people off. At the time, there was a lot of negative stereotyping about Jewish people, and whether they like to admit it or not, American people, especially Christians, were adopting that belief system, and they believed these blonde-haired, blue-eyed German Jewish kids were too “different” than themselves to bring into their country. While FDR never publicly gave his opinion on the matter, his cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, was not afraid to share her family’s thoughts on Jewish people. She was once quoted saying, “Twenty thousand charming children would turn into 20,000 ugly adults.”

As a mother, Eleanor Roosevelt’s heart went out to all of the orphans in Europe. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Even though Jewish orphans were some of the first children that were quickly removed from a dangerous situation, there were plenty of other Christian orphans in the mix, as well. In the following years, thousands of Polish children would need homes, as well, because their county was occupied by the Nazis, and many of them lost their parents. There were so many orphans, they were placed in camps where they were barely given anything to eat.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was pushing her husband to help these kids, no matter what. Without bringing it to the attention of the public, FDR organized bringing some refugees into the country. At that time, there were only 5,200 spots filled in the quota from Germany and Austria so far that year, which left over 20,000 spots that were still perfectly legal, anyway. In the end, they refused to turn away any orphans that showed up on American shores, and the total ended up being 33,000. However, there were still thousands of orphans who were denied after they officially met the quota.