ALBANY, N.Y. (May. 16)
The site and experiences of the 982 refugees in the displaced persons camp that was located in Oswega, N.Y. during World War II, the only refugee camp in the United States that sheltered victims of the Holocaust, will be a focal point of the Holocaust exhibit in the New York State Museum in Albany, it was announced by State Senate Democratic Leader Manfred Ohrenstein (D. N. Y.)
The DP camp, Fort Ontario, was the subject of a discussion here at the first meeting of the advisory board of the State Holocaust Memorial Resource Center/Exhibit earlier this month. Some 50 Holocaust survivors, professors, teachers and other concerned citizens from throughout the state, have been appointed to the board by Ohrenstein.
DESCRIBES THE ‘SUNSHINE AND SHADOWS’
Abraham Karp, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Rochester, a past president of the American Jewish Historical Society and now a member of the advisory board, described the DP camp as having both “sunshine and shadows.” The sunshine, he said, was provided by Jewish individuals and organizations who cared for the refugees. The shadows were the Justice and State Departments.
The refugees, most of them Jewish, were brought from Italy to America by special order of President Roosevelt in the summer of 1944. While the Oswego camp saved the lives of 982 refugees, conditions and regulations in the camp were less than ideal, Karp noted. They were housed in army barracks behind barbed wire, and had to agree to return to their homelands after the war. Only the intervention of President Truman prevented their deportation, Karp said.
He noted that it was appropriate for New York State to sponsor a Holocaust memorial because, in 1777, New York was the first state to grant Jews full equality, and currently one of every five Jews lives in New York State. Because of the DP camp, this state, more than any other state in the country, was touched by the Holocaust while it still raged, Karp said.
A bronze sculpture commissioned and created by Albany artist Hy Rosen was unveiled by the artist at the advisory board meeting and presented to Ohrenstein for the Holocaust exhibit in the State Museum. The two-foot high sculpture is based on the famous photo of a small boy in the Warsaw ghetto, with hands raised and an SS gun pointed at his back.
The State legislature has appropriated $90, 000 with which to launch the State Holocaust project, at Ohrenstein’s request. Individuals are also contributing seed money through the Greater Albany Jewish Federation. Working with the Federation, the New York State Department of Education will be responsible for the exhibit and resource center. Both the exhibit and resource center will enhance the new Holocaust studies program that the Education Department has launched in secondary schools.