US Jul ’38: What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US? pic.twitter.com/7hMfLbXWFE
— Historical Opinion (@HistOpinion) November 16, 2015
The results of the poll illustrated above by the useful Twitter account @HistOpinion were published in the pages of Fortune magazine in July 1938. Fewer than 5 percent of Americans surveyed at the time believed that the United States should raise its immigration quotas or encourage political refugees fleeing fascist states in Europe — the vast majority of whom were Jewish — to voyage across the Atlantic. Two-thirds of the respondents agreed with the proposition that “we should try to keep them out.”
It’s worth remembering this mood when thinking about the current moment, in which the United States is once more in the throes of a debate over letting in refugees. Ever since Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, the Republicans, led by their presidential candidates, have sounded the alarm over the threat of jihadist infiltration from Syria — even though it now appears that every single identified assailant in the Paris siege was a European national.
Europe’s & American fear of Muslim refugees echoes rhetoric of 1930s anti-Semitism
The Republicans have signaled their intent to stop Syrian refugee arrivals, or at least accept only non-Muslim Syrians.
GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie of New Jersey was one of the many governors who said Monday that they would oppose settling Syrian refugees in their states; Christie insisted that he would not permit even a “3-year-old orphan’s” entry.
Today’s 3-year-old Syrian orphan, it seems, is 1939’s German Jewish child.
Of course, there are huge historical and contextual differences between then and now. But, as Post columnist Dana Milbank notes, it is hard to ignore the echoes of the past when faced with the “xenophobic bidding war” of the present:
“This growing cry to turn away people fleeing for their lives brings to mind the SS St. Louis, the ship of Jewish refugees turned away from Florida in 1939,” Milbank writes. “It’s perhaps the ugliest moment in a primary fight that has been sullied by bigotry from the start. It’s no exaggeration to call this un-American.”