2017-02-15 / Letters

What are we prepared to do as history repeats?

If you think this is the first time an American politician endeavored to keep foreigners out of America based on religion, I offer an intradepartment memo Breckinridge Long, an assistant secretary of state, circulated in June 1940. Long wrote: “We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.” Long was specifically targeting Jews trying to flee Europe.

Ultimately, the effect of the immigration policies set by Long’s department was that, during American involvement in the war, 90 percent of the quota places available to immigrants from countries under German and Italian control were never filled. If they had been, an additional 190,000 people, most of them Jews, could have escaped the atrocities being committed by the Nazis.

Long, a supporter of the institutional anti-Semitism rampant in the U.S. State Department, justified this in his diary by referencing the contemporary strict laws in the United States imposing quotas on the number of immigrants from particular countries, [Eastern Europe] and his great concern about the possibility that Germany and the Soviet Union would introduce spies or subversive agents into the United States amidst the large numbers of refugees. Even children were refused sanctuary. Long’s hands are washed in the blood of thousands of people.

Long is largely remembered for his obstructionist role as the official responsible for not granting refugee visas during World War II. He “obstructed rescue attempts, drastically restricted immigration, and falsified figures of refugees admitted. The exposure of his misdeeds led to his demotion, in 1944. He has become the major target of criticism of America’s refugee and rescue policy.”

Religious hatred rears its ugly head periodically among self-aggrandizing demigods with great power, and those closeted bigots like Breckinridge Long who are embedded in government. What is going on today regarding the Syrian refugees, went on with the Jews, and the results were catastrophic. Today, the world is marching to save refugees from the horror of tyrants and the oppression they cause innocent people. And well we should. Eighty years ago, Americans might have marched to save European Jewry from Hitler, and they did not.

I cannot help but wonder if they would march today. Many people are vowing to register as Muslims if the government ever demands such a registration. Well and good. Would these same people be marching and registering as Jews if that were needed today? Only they know the answer.

Leonard H. Berman

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