Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Wagner-rogers Refugee Bill Backed at Hearing; 1,400 Adoption Offers Reported

April 21, 1939
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Helen Hayes, testifying as “an American mother” before a Senate-House immigration subcommittee, declared today that adoption of the Wagner Rogers Bill for admission of 20,000 refugee children to the United States in two years would serve as an example to the children of this country in repudiation of oppression and racial brutality.

The noted screen and stage actress joined Senators Robert F. Wagner and Arthur Capper and representatives of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in supporting the bill at the opening of three-day hearings at which the only opposition offered was from the representative of 42 patriotic societies.

Miss Hayes, who has two children, one of them adopted, said she wanted her children to grow up without racial prejudice. It is brutalizing, she said, for a child to read in the papers of refugees being shunted back and forth. If Belgium and Holland take refugees, why not the United States? she asked.

Quoting the motto of her grandmother, who had nine children, “There is always room for one more,” Miss Hayes said: “There is room in my family for one more. I beg you to let them in.” Asked by Representative Charles Kramer (Dem., Cal.) if she would accept a child sight unseen, the actress replied: “Gladly!”

Senator Wagner (Dem. ,N.Y.), co-sponsor of the bill, said the measure was “America’s response to the call of humanity and represents a form of human insurance, for the protection of a group or race which may be the victim of a repetition of the present events.” He added: “The admission of a handful of unfortunate people means little in the economic life of 120 million people, but it means a great deal for us and the world as a symbol of the strength of democratic convictions and our common faith.”

The Democratic Senator was supported by Senator Arthur Capper (Rep., Kans.) who said: “Everybody but the Hitler-Mussolini crowd is favorable to this idea of admitting the children.” John Brophy, representing the CIO, and Joseph A. Padway, for the AFL, announced that their organizations were wholeheartedly in favor of the bill.

Wilbur Large, Washington lawyer, who is in charge of witnesses, submitted 1,400 unsolicited letters from all states expressing readiness to accept a refugee child. He pointed out that the bill would mean a proportion of only one child in each American town of 6,000 population or more. Representative Kramer said he wanted some stipulation in the bill to admit a certain ratio of Jews to Catholics. Senator Wagner replied that he would withdraw his sponsorship if religion was made a test of admission. Clarence E. Pickett, acting executive director of the Non-Sectarian Committee for German Refugee Children, opposed writing in a provision for a ratio, but said the proportion would be three Jews to two non-Jews.

Mr. Pickett testified that two Americans, a Jew and a non-Jew, had already put up $250,000 as a backlog for contingent expenses and said that other money was available.

Robert Balderston, representative of the American Friends’ Service Committee, who returned from Europe yesterday, reported that persecution in Germany was not relaxed, that “non-Aryans” who were not Jewish were also being harmed and that all Catholic schools had been closed. He said that in Vienna 30,000 persons were being fed in soup kitchens as compared with 20,000 a few months ago.

Mrs. Edward B. Huling, of Larchmont, N.Y., representing the Allied Patriotic Societies, 42 in number, said these societies were absolutely opposed to the bill. She said she did not want “this country to play Santa Claus when our own people are starving.”

Recommended from JTA