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Oswego Welcomes Refugees at Fort Ontario; U.S.government Greets Arrivals

August 7, 1944
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

An official welcome to the 982 European refugees who were collected in concentration camps on the fringes of combat Italy and brought last week to this country on a troopship for sanctuary in the Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontario, was given here today by the 22,000 townspeople of Oswego after the refugees had been settled in their apartments on the eighty acres of the historic fort site, erected in 1775, which until recently served as a training camp for the U. S. Army.

The welcoming exercises were sponsored by the Oswego Chamber of Commerce. A message of greetings from Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes was read by Dillon S. Meyer, director of the War Relocation Authority, operating the Refugee Shelter. “On behalf of the United States Government,” the message stated, “I extend to you a hearty welcome to this refuge shelter for the duration of the war, or until you can be safely returned to your homelands across the sea. I hope that this haven from the intolerance, suffering, and persecution that you have undergone will in some measure ease your tragic memories.

“The United States has become a great republic and a strong democracy through the peaceful intermingling of all races and creeds. Let me assure you that we shall endeavor to make your sojourn at the Oswego center as comfortable as it is possible to make it, and to this end, we solicit your full cooperation. I hope from my heart that the time which you spend in this retreat will bring you each renewed strength and faith with which to face a future in which the dignity of the individual man will be recognized and assured everywhere.”

After commending the residents of Oswego and the surrounding communities for having helped in every conceivable way with the necessary preparations for the successful operation of the Shelter, Mr. Meyer outlined the rules governing the War Relocation Authority’s administration of the shelter.

“Food,” he declared, “will be served in mess halls operated by the government, under wartime rationing restrictions, but insofar as possible menus will allow for the tastes of the refugees. Housing will be assigned to each family according to its size and composition. These apartment units will have running water, cots, tables, chairs and clothing lockers. Fuel for heating, electric lighting, laundry facilities and other essential household needs will be provided. Some unattached persons will reside in dormitories. Health and sanitation, including sanitary inspections, medical examinations and public health activities will be under the supervision of the Chief Medical Officer at the Shalter, assisted by any of the refugees who have the necessary qualifications to aid in these fields. Emergency medical cases for which care at the shelter is not feasible, will be handled at outside public hospitals at public expense.”


“Cash allowances for clothing and incidentals will be determined and provided by the Shelter’s Welfare Section,” Mr. Meyer continued. “The monthly schedule of maximum allowances will not exceed $4.50 for persons 11 years and under, $7.00 for those from 12 to 17, and $8.50 for those 18 and over. Unusual needs will be provided for, based upon the individual situation. An initial grant will be given upon application to bring each person’s supply of clothing and incidentals up to minimum standard.”

The director of the War Relocation Authority added that freedom of religious worship will be respected. Religious services may be conducted in any language and warship buildings will be designated for groups wishing to conduct services. As soon as feasible, an inter-faith council should be formed representative of all seats, denominations and religions holding services. Refugee residents may issue their own publications in any language. To check the accuracy of statements published the War Relocation Authority will monitor issues after publications.

Buildings and facilities will be made available and other encouragement given to the refugees to organize their own school program. Public or private bodies may assist in organization of Shelter schools through supplying books or other aids, provided Shelter policies are observed. Schools may be conducted for any age group and in any language, and religious instruction may also be provided. A leisure-time program of sports, cultural activities and other pursuits will be encouraged, and outside agencies will be given an opportunity to aid the refugees along such lines.

No refugees will be permitted to operate any private enterprise for profit at the Shelter. Arrangements will be made to permit shopping in Oswego, or if this does not prove feasible, some type of shopping service will be provided, Mr. Meyer stated.

“The refugee population will form an advisory council, to advise on those problems relating to the administration of the Shelter which affect the welfare of the residents,” he added.

The refugees were also addressed by Joseph H. Smart, the director of the Emergency Refugee Shelter, who noted that the Shelter is the only one of its kind in the United States, and assured the refugees that while they were at Fort Ontario, “there will be a minimum of supervision,” so that they will be able to live their own lives “with as great freedom as the physical facilities permit.”


The refugees were also greeted by Mayor Joseph McCaffrey of Oswego, Rev. A. S. Lowrie in behalf of the Oswego Council of Churches, and Miss Anne Laughlin in behalf of the War Refugee Board. Rabbi Sidney Bialik of the Adath Israel congregation in Oswego, speaking in behalf of the eighteen Jewish families in the town, offered a blessing for the welfare of the refugees at the Refugee Shelter. At a press conference which proceeded the ceremony it was announced that the question of providing kosher food for those of the 918 Jewish refugees who requested it was under consideration and that it was felt that this could feasibly be provided.

Many of the elderly Jewish refugees attended their first Sabbath services on American soil yesterday with Rabbi Moshe Tzeckowal, one of the two refugee rabbis in the group offering thanksgiving prayers. Rabbi Tzechowal was a director of a Yeshiva in Antwerp, Belgium. The other rabbi is Joseph Becker, originally from Rumania, but for the last fifteen years the head of a Jewish institution in Verona.

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