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refugeeIn 1938, a poll showed two-thirds of Americans believed the country should not admit Jews fleeing the Nazis. Fewer than 5 percent believed immigration quotas should be raised to help those fleeing persecution.

There was at least one place in the country where that poll would likely have produced different results: Rochester, New York.

In 2012, Mary Posman detailed our community’s remarkable interfaith and cross-cultural efforts to help Jewish refugees before and after World War II. She writes:

At a time when the nation seemed generally unmoved (at best) or anti-Semitic (at worst), supporters here pulled together to form a variety of organizations to combat hatred, advocate for changes in immigration policy, and ease the assimilation of refugees. During the 1930s and 1940s, the concern and activism of the Rochester community facilitated the successful immigration of nearly 1,000 Jews escaping Nazi tyranny. Although this number may seem small for a city whose population averaged over 300,000, it reflects a substantial effort from Rochesterians on behalf of Europe’s Jews, belying the claim that Americans were largely indifferent to their plight.

Why was Rochester different? In addition to having a long history of progressiveness and a strong tradition of helping immigrants, Rochesterians were better informed about the atrocities in Europe. That’s thanks to Rabbi Philip Bernstein, as well as the Jewish Ledger newspaper.

Rabbi Bernstein photographing children at a displaced persons camp in Europe.

Rabbi Bernstein photographing children at a displaced persons camp in Europe.

Rabbi Bernstein was the son of Lithuanian immigrants who settled in Rochester. He became chief rabbi at Temple B’Roth Kodesh. He was extremely active in current events and civil rights, and advocated for Jewish causes in Rochester and around the world. He traveled to Germany multiple times in the run-up to the war and brought home horror stories of what was happening to Jews. He launched a campaign to get Rochester and the nation to listen.

Posman writes:

Rabbi Bernstein understood people’s doubts and acknowledged his own initial disbelief at the hateful turn that the culturally rich nation of Germany had taken. “I could not believe it,” he admitted in a sermon, “for I did not want to believe it.”

Rabbi Bernstein found an engaged audience in Rochester. Posner writes:

…members of the Rochester community, both Jews and non-Jews alike, contacted him to discover ways they could support his efforts in Europe. For example the Purdys, a local Christian family, wrote to Bernstein in the spring of 1946, hoping he could connect them with a European Jewish family that they could help. “The fact that a specific family in America wishes the Jewish family well,” they hoped, “could help a little to restore their faith in humanity.”

In the 1930s, the United States had a policy that required refugees to prove they had a way to make a living. The only way to get around this requirement was to have friends or family to say they would support them. Rochester became one of the first cities in the country to come up with an ingenious plan: An entire community –  backed by the Jewish Welfare Council – would pledge to financially support the applicants. Once here, numerous interfaith groups helped the refugees get on their feet.

Posman writes that Rochester was not immune from anti-Semitism. The University of Rochester had quotas on Jewish students. Kodak was suspected of discriminating against Jewish applicants, as it had no Jews on the payroll until the late 1920s. There were anti-Semitic pamphlets that were:

…spreading derogatory lies about Jews and encouraging non-Jews to unite against the threat they allegedly posed. One such pamphlet was entitled “Why are Jews Persecuted for their Religion?” This document, the origins of which remain mysterious, pulled passages of Jewish scriptures out of context, twisted them, and then used them to “prove” that “Jewish people are not to be trusted” and should be denied the ability to become citizens or hold public office.

Posman’s summary is very relevant to the debate over refugees entering America today:

Within this context of national hostility to Jewish immigrants, Rochester serves as an example of how a community can pull together to overcome adversity. In a time of isolationism and hyper-nationalism, it is indeed impressive that so many Rochesterians were able to look beyond their city’s limits and reach out to those in need. Led in large part by Rabbi Philip Bernstein, the community proved its ability to work within the limitations of federal policy to facilitate the arrival and assimilation of hundreds of Jewish refugees. If nothing else, this effort illustrates how in a dark moment of terror, apathy, and accusations, there was still light, hope, and people willing to help one another.


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20 Responses to When Rochester Mobilized for Refugees

  1. This is not the same thing at all. The Jews were fleeing the vile tyranny of Nazi Germany. ISIL wants nothing more than to worm their way in here on the backs of immigrants. Have you ever heard of the “Third Column?” Alicia? Evidently not.

  2. November 23, 2015 at 2:23 am Vic Webster responds:

    Islam is an ideology directly opposed to the US Constitution. They should not be allowed to vote or hold government office. They do not assimilate but overtake and consume.
    explicit Koran commands:
    5:33- “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution (by beheading) or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.”

    47:4- “Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers strike off their heads; at length; then when you have made wide Slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives”…

    8:12- “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off.”
    The Bible lays out criminal law too and to some it causes them to revile God’s punishments, yet they are holy and just. I cannot say as much for Islam, as the things we have seen pushed forward in the name of Sharia are often corrupt and unjust.
    So far, this tribunal has four judges: Imam Yusuf Z.Kavakci, Imam Moujahed Bakhach, Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh and Dr. Taher El-badawi.
    The Foxhole comments, “They take advantage of Homeland Security’s lax approach to foreign threats and Obama’s sympathetic pro-Islam policies. We’re saddled with a Dhimmi in the White House. As I’ve said, there are reasons why they are confident enough to create a min-Islamic state in this country. They’ve been given the green light.”
    The Foxhole then concludes:
    Al Qaeda holds Death To The West conferences in Chicago, there’s a substantial radical muzzie enclave in Dearborn, Michigan, and Jamaat Al Fuqra terrorists have established training centers across the United States. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab-American Action Network, and CAIR, three major facilitators of Islamic terrorism, operate freely in America. A government report concluded that Hezbollah has been forming sleeper cells throughout the United States that could become operational.

    Islam is diametrically opposed to every Constitutional principle on which this country was founded. Under the muzzie point of view, Sharia Law trumps all other laws. It’s meant to overtake and replace all Western civil, criminal, and government jurisdiction. The founding principles of this country did not hinge on a violent, ideological theocracy that advocated the

  3. Pingback: When Rochester Mobilized for Refugees » The Rochesterian | Texts in History, Politics, Culture, & Society

  4. In less than one month – since October 28th – the “religion of peace” has sent 376 people to the cemetery in separate attacks in Paris, over Egypt (in a Russian passenger plane that was taken down) and Mali. Given that we don’t even really know all of the details on these attacks, it seems entirely reasonable to slow down and re-evaluate the refugee resettlement process before throwing the borders wide open to accept refugees that worship a religion that has proven again and again that it is incompatible with Western values and lifestyles.

    We need to take a closer look at how multiculturalism has worked out so far in Europe, In France, 8% of the population is Muslim, yet the French prison population is 60% to 70% Muslim. This is almost ten times higher than you would expect.

    Denmark also has a long track record with Muslim refugees. “Berlingske newspaper crunched the numbers from a DA investigation and found that just one out of every four refugees who came to Denmark between 2000-2003 was employed ten years later.” This suggests that the failure of Islamic refugees to integrate into Western society is not limited to France and could be harbinger of significant issues in the U.S. at some point in the future. http://www.thelocal.dk/20150309/denmarks-refugee-integration-efforts-have-failed

    It is worth asking the question if the U.S. knows what it may be potentially getting into. Recent experiences in France and Denmark suggest that we need to give the entire concept of Syrian migration more thought. Trying to evoke a false comparison with Jewish migration prior to World War II avoids confronting the fact that the track record on the integration of Syrian refugees of the Islamic faith has been abysmal in France and Denmark. We also need to confront the fact that no other religion on earth appears to have the same fondness for suicide bombers and killing “nonbelievers” as Islam does. Islam is at war with the West and is at war with itself. We would be fools to insert ourselves into this mess without thinking through all of the potential ramifications first.

  5. An interesting article and thank you for sharing this. My concern is that the word “hate” is used too liberally. From the discussions that I have been involved with, it is more concerned for national security and what can be afforded – There are thousands of our own Veterans that we cannot take care of, our Seniors programs are being cut, Our Armed Forces are being reduced all due to funding. To bring in refugees with promises of jobs, health care, housing – We are not seeing that for our own people – In Rochester alone, the are too many homeless – I use an example of someone who needs to know how to swim before they can jump in and save someone who is drowning – If we don’t have the resources to help what we have, how in the hell can we add to this problem? If our program at both a National and State level were solid, you would see an increased welcoming committee.

  6. I would want to allow some to come in; they are human beings after all, at least most of them. But until we have a better idea of what we’re dealing with, NO. We have enough people that can’t take care of themselves or have the government take care of here as it is. Are they going to be able to settle? Will they convert? Or will they simply sponge off us and leave at the first sign?

  7. November 23, 2015 at 9:55 am rochester_veteran responds:

    It’s a false moral equivalence comparing the Syrian refugees to the Jews trying to escape from the Nazis. For one thing, Jews were not a terror threat, but ISIS has stated that they are blending in their fighters with the legitimate refugee families, one of the Paris Massacre terrorists entered through Greece with a Syrian refugee pawport. Also, if anyone has a unique moral claim that parallels the Jews of Europe, it is the Syrian Christians, Iraqi Yazidis and Obama has already rejected selectively taking in the Christians and Yasidis. Also, the Jews had literally no where to go, whereas the Syrian refugees have plenty of places to go and why are the Gulf states refusing to accept their Muslim brothers and sisters? Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain have not taken in a single refugee! What gives with that?

  8. November 23, 2015 at 10:46 am Some Guy responds:

    Why is it that most of the individuals who are trying to impose their will on the rest of society (and yes, they are trying to impose, because while freedom of movement is a natural right, this is not free movement, this is massively subsidized movement caused by a foreign policy that borders on psychopathic), are so insistent on dumping the bill for the services no one in a free market would ever pay for, onto the backs of actual productive society absent our consent? How is it charity for a government-funded non-profit to invite hordes of strangers into a restaurant where they simply lack the skills to function, and then dump the massive bill on actual paying customers?

    The agitators for this forced migration also come in a less overtly sociopathic form, the rent-seeker. Government schools have metastasized into just another government employment scheme to use children as the conduit for an ever-increasing number of adults to perform non-value-added labor. Schools used to employ a principal, teachers, a secretary, and a nurse. High schools, maybe a teacher who did double-duty as the guidance counselor. If they were about the children, it’d still be that way. But they aren’t about the children. In fact, the present system requires an ever-increasing number of children to come from dysfunctional homes and be raised with heart-breaking early childhood malnutrition (which will never be solved by food stamps or WIC, which exist far more as corporate welfare for the Danny Wegmans and Archer Daniels Midlands of the world than to provide actually healthy nutrition that does not also poison its “customers”).

    The local “Catholic” “Family” charity is just the largest such rent-seeking agency locally, because it’s really about the Benjamins. They’re here to place as many people with little to no social, cultural, religious, or professional capabilities to adapt, because that’s what they’re paid to do. No matter how much it destabilizes a school system incapable of educating an extremely high-needs native population. No matter how much it victimizes people who absolutely deserve compassion for their plight, because the current schemes redirect compassion towards the most non-productive and perverse non-solutions imaginable.

    There’s a migration crisis because at the highest levels of government and finance, it is seen as the only solution to maintaining an existing order based on usury and theft. Create such utter chaos that people will plead with the same governments that created this crisis to exert even more extra-constitutional powers to limit freedom. So it is allowed, and some may say, actively encouraged to occur. And no one investigates the elements within our own government were actively smuggling looted Libyan arms from places like Benghazi to the “fully-vetted” “freedom fighters” who were to be used to take out Syria’s Bashar Assad so that the House of Saud could build an oil pipeline straight through to the Mediterranean. Do the math, look at the timelines, there was no ISIS three years ago when D.C., Tel Aviv, and Riyadh got on the same page re: taking out Assad.

    From 1953 in Tehran to 2015 in Damascus, U.S. foreign policy is conducted by and for a small elite, oftentimes not even American in origin. It may be too late for the American people to wake up to the nightmare an extra-constitutional government has created that has all but destroyed the hope of a better future for our posterity, because at a moral level, it’s still on them to withhold consent from those who essentially act like monsters towards the rest of humanity. The chickens of mass ignorance and propaganda have finally come home to roost. Only so many sovereign nations can be destabilized by the lone superpower before what retired CIA officer Michael Scheuer appropriately describes as “blowback” naturally being the response.

    And once again, the local media as completely abandoned any pretense of either competence or non-bias, as the chief organizer of the local protest against (of all people) Louise Slaughter, is not just some random 1st grade government schoolteacher, she teaches English as a second language to non-native speakers. Just a quick glance through enrollment trends demonstrates ample evidence that a sizable percentage of government school systems throughout the region are more than simply overbuilt, they are on the precipice of total collapse because they have built fiefdoms that were never sustainable, particularly once demographic trends did not abandon the decline that started more than a decade ago as the last vestiges of the American middle class are being hollowed out by the co-dependent marriage of an extra-constitutional government to what Matt Taibi of Rolling Stone refers to as a “vampire squid” — a banking system dependent on an intrinsic fraud — fractional-reserve lending of currency created out of thin air.

  9. Refugees coming here now have been in the system for going on two years. They have lived in camps in Jordan and Lebanon since the beginning of the civil war. They’re not coming on ‘passports’ or ‘visas’. It is not similar to those entering Europe in any way. Syria was a cosmopolitan country of many faiths. These people are fleeing a civil war. Their homes are gone.

    If there are ‘There are thousands of our own Veterans that we cannot take care of’ its because we choose not to. If ‘Seniors programs are being cut’, its because we choose to. Nothing is stopping all these compassionate pleas from being realized except apathy, greed, and the lies you tell yourselves.

    • November 23, 2015 at 1:14 pm Some Guy responds:

      Greed? Tell that to the largest landowner on the planet, billd, the church of Rome.

      People who claim to be “compassionate”, and yet only act “compassionately” with resources taken by force of law from others, are neither compassionate nor charitable. They favor theft by proxy, an act of aggression against their fellow man. It’s time for the real greedy liars to stand up and start to accept responsibility for the misery they generate in society.

      Rent-seekers have a choice, it’s called free will. But they simply will not respect the free will of others to not be forced to subsidize something they find destructive to society.

      A common thief at least has the decency to not deny the criminality of the act of stealing; these massively wealthy corporations masquerading as religious charities spend tens of millions nationally on public relations convincing themselves and others that stealing when they condone it is miraculously not stealing. Ah, the transfigurative power of a Form 990, where corporate greed is whitewashed as phony-baloney “compassion”.

      You want to bring in refugees, billd, fine. Pay for it. Without tax breaks, out of your own checking account. Stealing from your neighbors on the sort of scale you favor caused a revolution once, so you should be wise to temper your greed, lest your ilk create a crisis that I don’t want and you say you don’t want, but yet seek to foment anyway.

      Robbing people via government, is not, has never been, and will never be, anything honestly described as a charitable act. Let these wealthy religious and political corporations put their money where their porcine mouths are, and it won’t be long before these rent-seeking frauds are exposed for what they are.

    • November 23, 2015 at 1:17 pm rochester_veteran responds:

      Nothing is stopping all these compassionate pleas from being realized except apathy, greed, and the lies you tell yourselves.

      It’s a documented fact the nearly 50.000 veterans are homeless and wandering our city streets.

      National Coalition for Homeless Veterans

      There are priorities in life and this should be one of them, caring for our homeless veterans first! BTW, I have no qualms helping genuine Syrian refugee families, but not their men who are abandoning their families, women and children and outnumber women refugees by 46%!

      UNHCR: Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response – Mediterranean

  10. 2015 is VERY different that the 1930’s. Immigrants in the early years came to the U.S. to become Americans. They came to live and work. There goal was to assimilate into the American way of life. We are not seeing that type of immigration today. Immigrants are being allowed into our country with NO desire to assimilate. They are being brought in and DUMPED into cities and left to fend for themselves. They are becoming a burden on local social welfare systems. Who in their right mind allows or even wants this to happen? My guess……follow the money. Who is profiting from this influx of immigrants? What value do they add to our society? Do they bring skills? Do they bring work ethic? All indications are that they bring hatred and despair. The smart and reasonable action is to refuse to bring this burden into our community. ( now if a sponsor becomes available to assume responsibility for an immigrant, then I would not object. So the challenge to all those who are in favor of immigration is to put your wallet where your mouth is.)

    • It’s probably not in general all the different; besides we are talking about 10,000 people; not millions.

      Long Term Economic Impact:

      On Immigrant Assimilation on the United States:

      Neither really look bad and most information point otherwise appears to be anecdotal and viewed from the short term; both bad measures in terms of policy making. Most Muslims and East European refugees (mostly Bosnian or Indian) have been largely indistinguishable from naturalized citizens after spending a chunk of time here. The existance of “Little Italy/China” ect… seems to suggest that was hardly perfect during the last surge.

      “What value do they add to our society? Do they bring skills?”
      Refugees are far more likely than native citizens to open their own small business once permitted. Additionally a significant problem facing social workers with late teen refugee students in Monroe/Wayne county is encouraging them to go to school rather than directly entering the workforce.

      “Do they bring work ethic?”
      Per the articles above yes – although this statement was often used when describing City Students as part of the Urban Suburban program. (Spencerport). It seems this line is at best incorrect and seem to be more likely biased/racist.

      Lastly isn’t there inherent value in helping fellow human beings in times of crisis?

  11. Speaking of local media bias and agenda reporting …..with 2 shootings and a major car accident last weekend – which were the lead story on the other tv channels newscasts, channel 8 chose to lead the news with a complaint story on how transgenders are not treated equally especially with regards to bathroom facilities in this area. Really? Just how many transgenders do we have in the 5 county region that deserve this level of attention (lead story) to their complaints?

    Numerous reports state that the refugees have an exceptionally large component/ratio of males between the ages of 18 and 40 …some say close to 70 %,,,,prime jihadist fighting age……but funny how this is not reported….all we hear about is that there are women and babies with no home or food.

    • November 26, 2015 at 10:16 am rochester_veteran responds:

      orielly, it was 75% males back in September. It’s currently 62% men, 16% women and 22% children according to the latest stats on the UNHCR website. Why such the great disparity of men and why are those men leaving their families, women and children behind? You’re right, the MSM is NOT reporting on this and this should be setting off everyone’s BS meters!

      • No doubt the associated powers to be / liberal do gooders have been recruiting Women and kids only -to even out the numbers, but the large number of jihadists are still in the soup.

  12. Most if not all of the commenters know nothing about the subject matter. All refugees are put through an intense screening process, and Syrian refugees get further scrutiny. This is after the U.N. screens them and randomly assigns them to a country. It’s not there are planes sitting on a tarmac labeled “US”, “Canada”, “UK” etc that refugees just walk onto. This is a multi year process that refugees enter into with no idea what country they’ll ultimately end up in.

    • Sounds like Billy-boy would be better off under the Caliphate reign than live in American democracy. Do you know how many millions of decent, patriotic American soldiers have died for your protection so you can spew enemy propaganda at us?

    • November 27, 2015 at 4:15 pm rochester_veteran responds:

      Bill wrote:

      Most if not all of the commenters know nothing about the subject matter. All refugees are put through an intense screening process…

      So we’re supposed to just fall in line and adhere to the “authorities” and yours is the final word?

      Ha! 🙂

  13. Hello, I am an immigrant. Came here legally after standing in line for our opportunity to come here. Came here in 1957. As a family NEVER took a dime from social services. Worked hard to put bread on the table and a roof over our heads. We ASSIMULATED within one generation. Served in the USMC. daughter in the Navy.

    The keys words here are LEGAL and ASSIMILATED.

    Yup still speak the old language at home. (never when we have English only guests) Still cherish our heritage. Still communicate with relatives. We contribute by giving back and are proud to do so. We are extremely patriotic and grateful to be in these United States of America.

    That is called immigration by the book. There are rules on the books concerning immigration. We don’t need any new laws or policies. We DO need to enforce the one’s that are on the books. Period.

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