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The Jewish Refugee Crisis in Europe, 1939 (with apologies for its length)

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Introductory Note: This column offers a paper on the emigration/immigration of European Jews fleeing Nazi terror in the decade before the onset of World War II. It was written by my father, Harold J. Jonas, and published in the Contemporary Jewish Record in the Sept.-Oct. 1939 issue. Comparisons with the contemporary World situation, from the Western border of Myanmar to the Southern border of the United States, are purely intentional.


My father, Prof. Harold J. Jonas, the author of the academic paper on the plight of the Jews of Europe in mid-1939, published in the Contemporary Jewish Record of Sept.-Oct. 1939, republished below, was a fighter against organized anti-Semitism in the United States from the mid-1930s until he was drafted into the US Air Force (at age 34[!]) in 1944. His principal achievement was that he did the bulk of the research for the first book that proved that the so-called "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" are a forgery. For political reasons at the time --- anti-Semitism was still certainly rife in the United States --- it was published under the name of a gentile --- by Columbia University Press: John S. Curtiss: An Appraisal of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, New York: Morningside Heights: Columbia University Press, 1942.

As far as his paper below is concerned, the situation he described was the direct result of the outcome of the so-called "Evian Conference" of 1938 ( ) and the international policy of "no Jews here" that was formalized by it. Called by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and attended by 32 nations and a number of voluntary agencies to discuss the "Jewish situation" in Europe and consider what might be done about it, it concluded that for the most part, the attendee nations would/could do nothing. The result was, when Adolf Hitler had determined that Germany would become "Judenrein" (clean of the Jews) and surely had that in mind for any European country that he might conquer in the future, that no major nations agreed to take any of the Jews. This led to the situation that my father described in this paper.

It should be pointed out if any significant number of European Jews had been offered refugee status by any significant number of the attending nations, including the United States, A) it is likely that any then-future Holocaust in Europe would have claimed many fewer victims, and B) it is unlikely that the State of Israel as it is known today, most unfortunately, especially for Jews like myself, practicing its own form of racist discrimination and subjugation, would exist. And now to Dad's paper.


People in Flight



THE problem of political refugees is not new in the post-War period. As a result of territorial adjustments and internal upheavals hundreds of thousands of homeless people were thrown upon a war-worn world. The groups most affected were the Russian "Whites," the Armenians, and the Assyrians. The Russian "Whites" and the Armenians scattered into various countries in both hemispheres. The Assyrians, driven out from their homeland, following the assumption of independence by Iraq, were settled mainly in Syria and Lebanon. Other post-War refugees were Greeks, Bulgars, and Turks, whose problems were solved, though not fully, by mass repatriation or exchange of populations.

International cooperation was in every case a large factor in the eventual solution of the problem created by these refugee migrants. By 1930, the most crying needs had disappeared and the world was already beginning to take an academic view of the problem. The rise of Hitler to power in 1933, however, set in motion a new stream of refugees from Germany. Because of the racial laws, Jews were the first among those who were faced with the choice of exile or death. Others were political opponents, such as the Catholic Centrists, Social Democrats, and Communists. Still others feared the concentration camps and fled immediately. Christians of "non-Aryan' descent, too, furnished a large proportion of those forced to leave,

As Nazi imperialism swept across other countries, many emigre's again had to flee the terror of the Gestapo. Not uncommon are cases of men who sought refuge, first in Vienna, and later in Praha, only to be trapped there. While Germans, Austrians, and Czechs are not forced to leave their homelands, a Jew or a Christian "non-Aryan," is faced with the choice of leaving, or facing slow death by starvation or quick death in the concentration camps. It is their lot to bear their sufferings grimly and await the day of liberation.

JEWISH mass migrations had begun even before the destruction of the Second Temple and remained an important factor throughout Jewish history. The emancipation period served to cement Jewish communities in Western Europe, but in Eastern Europe economic pressure caused great waves of Jewish migration. From the period of the 1880's onward, Jews fled in large numbers from the intolerable conditions in the Russian Pale of Settlement. Rumania, and other East European lands to new homes in Western Europe, in South Africa, and the Americas. Restriction of immigration after the World War, particularly in the United States, served to choke off the flow of a harassed people and to aggravate their condition. It must be noted, however, that German Jews were not at first affected by this policy. It was their brethren in East Europe who suffered.

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a "Trusted Author," he is a Senior Editor, (more...)
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