918 Jewish Refugees Reach the United States for Settlement at Oswego “free Port”
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918 Jewish Refugees Reach the United States for Settlement at Oswego “free Port”

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After several years of living under Nazi and Fascist terror, approximately 1000 European refugees, 918 of whom are Jews, landed today in the United States and were transported to the Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontario, near Oswego, N.Y., which was established as a ” free port” on orders of President Roosevelt. They will remain there for the duration of the war.

The arrivals include citizens of fourteen countries and many stateless persons. The largest group is made up of more than 300 Jews from Yugoslavia who had been in Axis concentration camps in Italy. Others crossed from France into Italy to escape deportation by the Germans to extermination camps in occupied Poland.

The refugees arrived on an Army transport which they boarded after medical inspection at a camp near Naples, in the liberated part of Italy. six nurses and ten enlisted men of the Medical Corps accompanied them.


Representatives of Jewish refugee relief organizations met the arrivals together with representatives of the War Relocation Authority which will administer the Fort Ontario camp. The Jewish Welfare Board, it is understood, has arranged for the establishment of a synagogue in the camp and for the delivery there of a Sefer Torah and Jewish ritual articles.

The youngest resident of Fort Ontario will be an infant who was born just before his mother embarked in Italy. The age of the oldest is not known at present writing, but the majority of the refugees are above military age. Included in the transport were 435 men, 367 women, 152 children under fourteen years of age, and 12 infants less than one year old.

No interviews with the refugees were permitted at the port area. By arrangements with Army officials in charge of the train movement to Fort Ontario, press representatives were permitted late in the evening to talk to the refugees at the point of entrainment. Reporters will also be permitted to interview them at Fort Ontario at the time the train arrives there, as well as in their living quarters.


The War Relocation Authority announced that no persons will be permitted to visit Fort Ontario for a period of three weeks, except representatives of the press and cooperating agencies. Relatives in the United States will be permitted to write letters as frequently as they wish. Mail will not be censored.

The camp authorities have not yet determined whether or not to permit private agencies to supply teaching or other facilities of the character not made available by the government. As a matter of policy WRA has decided that it will not provide civil service teachers for English instruction, Classroom facilities however, will be made available to those in the group who may wish English instruction, elementary school, or adult education.

The National Refugee Service has loaned three members of its professional staff as counselors at the camp. The NRS is making available an initial supply of foreign language newspapers and periodicals.


The refugees will be officially welcomed to the United States at ceremonies at Fort Ontario on Sunday when Dillon C. Meyer, director of the War Relocation Authority, will read greetings from Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes. Other speakers will include Joseph H. Smart of the WRA, who will direct the shelter.

Upon the arrival of the refugees, John W. Pehle, executive director of the War Refugee Board, which has been instrumental in saving many of Europe’s persecuted Jews, also issued a statement welcoming the newcomers.

“The arrival of almost 1000 refugees from Italy today demonstrates this nation’s willingness to participate in an international program to find havens for the survivors of Nazi persecution,” Pehle said. ” In accordance with the terms laid down by President Roosevelt, they will be housed and cared for at Fort Ontario, under adequate security precautions until the war is over and they can return to their homes,

“The sanctuary America offers this small group is but one aspect of the War Refugee Board’s program to rescue and protect the persecuted peoples of Europe. The refuges who landed today are safe and they are welcome.”

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