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"Intolerance in America" and "America and Refugees"

From our Archives: 100 for 100

June, 1939

Members of the Heldenmuth family board the SS St. Louis in Hamburg harbor. U.S. Government photo, via Wikipedia.

"Intolerance expressing itself in prejudice and hatred for the Jew will not end there; in fact, it threatens the very structure of democracy and religious liberty." In 1939, the Church Peace Union (now Carnegie Council) vigorously condemned the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States, which was fanned by "fake news." They argued on behalf of refugees everywhere and endorsed bills to allow the entry of 20,000 German refugee children to enter the United States. However, these bills failed.

Excerpt from the World Alliance for International Friendship Through the Churches and Church Peace Union Newsletter, June, 1939

Intolerance in America

The growth of intolerance in this country by means of insidious propaganda as well as by persistent prejudices is a mounting danger to our democratic way of life. To "make America safe for differences" is an increasingly urgent task for all religious people. This task was strongly emphasized by the Trustees of the Church Peace Union at their semi-annual meeting on June 1 and 2 in Atlantic City. The following resolution was passed:

We protest against the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States. It expresses an attitude and policy which are contrary to our American institutions and particularly to our spirit of freedom.

Anti-Semitism also threatens the basic ideals of all religions. Intolerance expressing itself in prejudice and hatred for the Jew will not end there; in fact, it threatens the very structure of democracy and religious liberty.

We condemn the organized campaigns of hatred, and we particularly condemn the reckless and inflammatory statements that have been made before the Congressional committee in Washington and that are constantly being made over the radio as contrary to the fundamentals of our American Government and the spirit of all religions.

We urge all religious leaders and the people of their respective congregations to take active steps toward the development of that understanding, cooperation, and goodwill which will unite them more deeply in overcoming this evil with good.

Whispering campaigns and loose accusations do incalculable harm to goodwill in America. For example, a Southern rabbi is publicly accused of insulting the flag. The people of his town rally to his defense, but the damage is done. The canard continues to circulate. An investigation is greatly needed to find out what lies behind the propaganda of hate.

America and the Refugees

The size of the world's refugee problem is so vast that many religious groups feel there is little they can do to meet it. People's sense of brotherhood is often numbed by the tremendous amount of help that is needed to aid the homeless in China, the refugees from Spain, the Jewish and Christian refugees from Central Europe. The difficulties of a recent shipload of Jewish refugees seeking entry into Cuba1 should help to make the need vivid to many for whom it has been a mathematical rather than a human problem.

A statement issued on May 21 by the three major agencies aiding refugees from Germany shows that net immigration to the United States from Nazi Germany has averaged 6,622 persons a year. The memorandum points out that the present immigration averages less than one-fourth that of the 14 years before Hitler. In fact, during the past six years, total permanent emigration from the United States exceeded the total permanent immigration into the country by more than 4,000 persons. These facts are useful in understanding the true situation.

On June 2 the Church Peace Union Trustees unanimously endorsed the two bills now before the Congress to permit the entry of 20,000 German refugee children to this country. These bills are S.J. Res. 64, introduced by Representative Wagner and H.J. 168, introduced by Representative Rogers.2 These are emergency measures to relieve the present situation in some degree.


NOTES

1 This refers to the MS St Louis, which set sail from Hamburg to Cuba on May 13 1939 with 937 people on board, most of whom were Jewish refugees. The majority had visas for the United States and planned to go from Cuba to the U.S. But only 29 passengers were allowed to disembark in Cuba and subsequently the United States turned the ship away as well. So the MS St Louis had no choice but to sail back to Europe, where the captain negotiated asylum for the refugees in the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. However, in May 1940, after the Nazi German invasions of the latter three nations, all the Jews in those countries were at risk, including the MS St Louis refugees; 254 of them died. In 2012, the U.S. Department of State publicly apologized.

2 Introduced in February 1939, the Wagner-Rogers Bill was blocked and never came to a vote.