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JEWISH MIGRATION TO THE UNITED STATES     
This originally appeared in "Jewish American Research" by Gary Mokotoff in ‘The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy’


























See also Historical Jewish population comparisons


TIMELINE

AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORICAL SOCIETY
This is a brilliant interactive timeline.  The sections below are taken from this site and give an overview of what happened.  Go to the site for more detail.



























































AMERICAN JEWISH ARCHIVES TIMELINE


EWISH INFLUENCE ON THE FOUNDING OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY   

CREATION OF THE USA    

The creation of the United States of America represented a unique event in world history. Founded as a modern republic, it was rooted in the Bible, and one of its earliest tenets was religious tolerance because many of the earliest pilgrims who settled the "New England" of America in early 17th century were Puritan refugees escaping religious persecutions in Europe.

These Puritans viewed their emigration from England as a virtual re-enactment of the Exodus. To them, England was Egypt, the king was the Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean was the Red Sea, America was the Land of Israel, and the Indians were the ancient Canaanites. The Puritans were the new Israelites, entering into a new covenant with God in a new Promised Land.

Thanksgiving - first celebrated in 1621, a year after the Mayflower landed - was initially conceived as a day parallel to the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; it was to be a day of fasting, introspection and prayer. Writes Gabriel Sivan in Go to The Bible and Civilization:

No Christian community in history identified more with the People of the Book than did the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed their own lives to be a literal reenactment of the biblical drama of the Hebrew nation... these ?migr? Puritans dramatized their own situation as the righteous remnant of the Church corrupted by the "Babylonian woe" and saw themselves as instruments of Divine Providence, a people chosen to build their new commonwealth on the Covenant entered into at Mount Sinai.

Previously, during the Puritan Revolution in England (which took place between 1642 and 1648), some Puritan extremists had even sought to replace English Common Law with biblical laws of the Old Testament, but were prevented from doing so. In America, however, there was far more freedom to experiment with the use of biblical law in the legal codes of the colonies, and this was exactly what the pilgrims set out to do.

The earliest legislation of the colonies of New England was all determined by the Bible. For example, at the first assembly of New Haven in 1639, John Davenport clearly emphasized the primacy of the Bible as the legal and moral foundation of the colony:

"Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of all men in all duties which they are to perform to God and men as well as in the government of families and commonwealth as in matters of the Church... the Word of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in organizing the affairs of government in this plantation."

Subsequently, the New Haven legislators adopted a legal code - the Code of 1655 - which contained some 79 statutes, half of which included biblical references, virtually all from the Hebrew Bible. The Plymouth Colony had a similar law code as did the Massachusetts assembly, which, in 1641 adopted the so-called Capital Laws of New England based almost entirely on Mosaic law.

Of course, without a Jewish Oral Tradition, which helped the Jews understand the Bible, the Puritans were left to their own devices and tended toward a literal interpretation. This led in some instances to a stricter, more fundamentalist observance than Judaism had ever seen.

JEWISH SYMBOLISM IN AMERICA    

The Hebrew Bible also played a central role in the founding of various educational institutions including Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, Rutgers, Princeton, Brown, King's College (later to be known as Columbia), Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth etc. In virtually all of these colleges, Bible studies were required and some even adopted some Hebrew word or phrase as part of their official emblem or seal. Beneath the banner containing the Latin Lux et Veritas, the Yale seal shows an open book with the Hebrew Urim V'Timum, a part of the breastplate of the High Priest in the days of the Temple. The Columbia seal has the Hebrew name for God at the top center, with the Hebrew name for one of the angels on a banner toward the middle. Dartmouth uses the Hebrew words meaning "God Almighty" in a triangle in the upper center of its seal.

So popular was the Hebrew language in the late 17th and early 18th centuries that Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Pennsylvania taught courses in Hebrew - all the more remarkable because no university in England at the time offered such - and students had the option of delivering commencement speeches in Hebrew, Latin or Greek.

Many of the Founding Fathers of America were products of these universities - for example, Thomas Jefferson attended William and Mary, James Madison - Princeton, Alexander Hamilton - King's College. Thus, we can be sure that a majority of these political leaders were not only well acquainted with the contents of the Bible, but also had some working knowledge of Hebrew. Notes Abraham Katsch in The Biblical Heritage of American Democracy:

At the time of the American Revolution, the interest in the knowledge of Hebrew was so widespread as to allow the circulation of the story that "certain members of Congress proposed that the use of English be formally prohibited in the United States, and Hebrew substituted for it."

Their biblical education colored the American founders' attitude toward not only religion and ethics, but most significantly, politics. We see them adopting the biblical motifs of the Puritans for political reasons. For example, the struggle of the ancient Hebrews against the wicked Pharaoh came to embody the struggle of the colonists against English tyranny. Numerous examples can be found which clearly illustrate to what a significant extent the political struggles of the colonies were identified with the ancient Hebrews:

The first design for the official seal of the United States recommended by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1776 depicted the Jews crossing the Red Sea. The motto around the seal read: "Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

The inscription on the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia was a direct quote from the Book of Leviticus "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."

Patriotic speeches and publications during the period of the struggle for independence were often infused with biblical quotations.

The basic framework of America clearly reflects the influence of the Bible and power of Jewish ideas in shaping the political development of America. Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening sentences of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

While these words echo the ideas of the Enlightenment, without a doubt the concept that these rights come from God is of biblical origin.

This and the other documents of early America make it clear that the concept of a God-given standard of morality is a central pillar of American democracy. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on U.S. currency in 1864 and in 1956 an Act of Congress (largely passed as a counterforce to Godlessness of communism) made it the official motto of the United States.

Many more things can be said about the Jewish influence on the values of America, but this is, after all, a crash course. We next turn to the Jews themselves.

EARLY AMERICAN JEWS                                                                             

The history of Jews in America begins before the United States was an independent country.

The first Jews arrived in America with Columbus in 1492, and we also know that Jews newly-converted to Christianity were among the first Spaniards to arrive in Mexico with Conquistador Hernando Cortez in 1519. In fact, so many Jewish conversos came to Mexico that the Spanish made a rule precluding anyone who could not prove Catholic ancestry for four generations back from migrating there. Needless to say, the Inquisition soon followed to make sure these Jewish conversos were not really heretics, and burnings at the stake became a regular feature of life in Mexico City.

As for North America, the recorded Jewish history there begins in 1654 with the arrival in New Amsterdam (later to be known as New York) of 23 Jewish refugees from Recife, Brazil (where the Dutch had just lost their possessions to the Portuguese). New Amsterdam was also a Dutch possession, but the governor, Peter Stuyvesant, did not want the Jews there. Writes Arthur Hertzberg in The Jews in America:

Two weeks after they landed, Stuyvesant heard the complaint from the local merchants and from the Church that "the Jews who had arrived would nearly all like to remain here." Stuyvesant decided to chase them out. Using the usual formulas of religious invective - he called the Jews "repugnant," "deceitful," and "enemies and blasphemers of Christ" - Stuyvesant recommended to his directors... "to require them in a friendly way to depart."

The only reasons the Jews were not turned away was that the Dutch West Indian Company, which was heavily depended on Jewish investments, blocked it.

By 1776 and the War of Independence, there were an estimated 2,000 (mostly Sephardic) Jews (men, women and children) living in America, yet - though their numbers were relatively small - their contribution to the cause was significant. For example, in Charleston, South Carolina, almost every adult Jewish male fought on the side of freedom. In Georgia, the first patriot to be killed was a Jew (Francis Salvador). And additionally, the Jews provided significant financing to the patriots.

The most important of the financiers was Haym Salomon who lent a great deal of money to the Continental Congress. In the last days of the war, Salomon advanced the American government $200,000. He was never paid back and died bankrupt.

President George Washington remembered the Jewish contribution when the first synagogue opened in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790. (It was called the Touro Synagogue and it was Sephardic.) He sent this letter, dated August 17, 1790:

"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Note the reference to the "vine and fig-tree." That unique phrase is a reference to the words of Prophet Micah, prophesying the Messianic utopia:

But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow to it. And many nations shall come, and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths, for Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."

And He shall judge between many peoples and shall decide concerning far away strong nations; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Master of Legions has spoken it.

This was an interesting choice of words on the part of Washington, but, as noted above, it is not surprising in light of the enormous influence that the Hebrew Bible had on the pilgrims and on the founding fathers of the new nation.

It must be noted however that some of the other founding fathers were a bit more ambivalent about the Jews than was Washington.

John Adams, who said some highly complimentary things about the Jews, also noted that "it is very hard work to love most of them." And he looked forward to the day when "the asperities and peculiarities of their character" would be worn away, and they would become "liberal Unitarian Christians."

Thomas Jefferson thought Jews needed more secular learning so that "they will become equal object of respect and favor," implying that without such learning they could not expect to be respected. Writes Arthur Hertzberg in The Jews in America:

Jefferson was thus expressing the view of the mainstream of the Enlightenment, that all men could attain equal place in society, but the "entrance fee" was that they should adopt the ways and the outlook of the "enlightened." Jefferson did not consider that a Yiddish-speaking Jew who knew the Talmud was equal in usefulness to society with a classically trained thinker like himself.

This idea that there was freedom for you in America as long as you were not "too Jewish," kept most Jews away. Until 1820, the Jewish population of America was only about 6,000!

This changed in the 1830s when Reform German Jews, who had scrapped traditional Judaism and were not "too Jewish," began to arrive. The great migrations of poor, oppressed Jews from Eastern Europe would follow near the turn of the century. But before we take up that story, we must look to see what was happening to the Jews of Europe.

THE AMERICAN JEWISH EXPERIENCE THROUGH THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: IMMIGRATION AND ACCULTURATION

American Jewish history commenced in 1492 with the expulsion of Jews from Spain. This action set off a period of intense Jewish migration. Seeking to escape the clutches of the Holy Inquisition, some Jews in the sixteenth century sought refuge in the young Calvinist republic of The Netherlands. A century later, hundreds of their descendants crossed the ocean to settle in the new Dutch colony of Recife in Brazil, where Jewish communal life became possible for the first time in the New World. When Portugal recaptured this colony in 1654, its Jews scattered. Refugees spread through the Dutch Caribbean, beginning fresh Jewish communities. A boatload of about 23 Jews sailed into the remote Dutch port of New Amsterdam and requested permission to remain. This marked the beginning of Jewish communal life in North America.

Colonial Jews never exceeded one tenth of one percent of the American population, yet they established patterns of Jewish communal life that persisted for generations.

First, most Jews lived in cosmopolitan port cities like New York and Newport where opportunities for commerce and trade abounded, and people of diverse backgrounds and faiths lived side by side.

Second, many early American Jewish leaders and institutions were Sephardic, meaning that their origins traced to the Jewish communities of the Iberian peninsula. Sephardic Jews maintained cultural hegemony in Jewish life into the early nineteenth century, although by then Ashkenazi Jews, meaning Jews who traced their origins to Germany, had long been more numerous.

Third, Jews organized into synagogue-communities. Savannah, Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, and Newport each had one synagogue that assumed responsibility for the religious and communal needs of all local Jews.

The American Revolution marked a turning point not only in American Jewish history, but in modern Jewish history generally. Never before had a major nation committed itself so definitively to the principles of freedom and democracy in general and to religious freedom in particular. Jews and members of other minority religions could dissent from the religious views of the majority without fear of persecution. Jews still had to fight for their rights on the state level, and they continued to face various forms of prejudice nationwide. However, many Jews benefited materially from the Revolution and interacted freely with their non-Jewish neighbors. Having shed blood for their country side by side with their Christian fellows, Jews as a group felt far more secure than they had in colonial days. They asserted their rights openly and, if challenged, defended themselves both vigorously and self-confidently.

In the nineteenth century, American Jews, seeking to strengthen Judaism against its numerous Christian competitors in the marketplace of American religions, introduced various religious innovations, some of them borrowed from their neighbors. Young Jews in Charleston, dissatisfied with the "apathy and neglect" they saw manifested toward their religion, somewhat influenced by the spread of Unitarianism, fearful of Christian missionary activities that had begun to be directed toward local Jews, and, above all, passionately concerned about Jewish survival in a free society, created the breakaway "Reformed Society of Israelites for Promoting True Principles of Judaism According to Its Purity and Spirit." This was America's first Reform congregation, with an abbreviated service, vernacular prayers, and regular sermons. Traditional congregations also "Protestantized" some of their practices, introducing regular English sermons and more decorous modes of worship.

Meanwhile, communal leaders, led by the Traditionalist Jewish religious leader of Philadelphia, Isaac Leeser, emulated and adapted Protestant benevolent and education techniques--Sunday schools, hospitals, the religious press, charitable societies, and the like--in order to strengthen Judaism in the face of pressures upon Jews to convert. Among other things, Leeser produced an Anglo-Jewish translation of the Bible, founded a Jewish publication society, and edited a Jewish periodical, The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, which attempted in its pages to unite the diverse voices of the American Jewish community. He also rallied his community to respond to incidents of anti-Jewish persecution around the world.

Even though Ashkenazic Jews outnumbered Sephardic Jews as early as 1720, the first German Jewish immigrants joined Sephardic synagogues rather than founding their own institutions. As poverty, persecution, and political disillusionment swept through Central Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century, German and Polish Jewish immigration to America swelled. Distinctly German-speaking Jewish institutions multiplied. Jews also moved beyond the Eastern seaboard at this time, seeking opportunities in the frontier communities of the Midwest, South, and West.

In the 1840s, in contrast to the early American model of synagogues run by a hazan (cantor) or lay leadership, immigrant rabbis began to assume the pulpits of American synagogues. Some sought to promote Orthodoxy, while others merged the ideology of German Jewish Reform with the practices of American Protestant denominations and created a new American version of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati, a leader of American Reform Judaism, sought to develop a Minhag-America (American liturgical custom) that would unite Jews around moderate Reform Judaism. The founding of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (1873) and Hebrew Union College (1875) in Cincinnati sought to actualize his vision. But even as rabbis hoped to unite the community, the greatest legacy of the so-called "German period" is actually Jewish religious diversity. By the Civil War, every American Jewish congregation had at least two synagogues, and major ones had four or more.

The Civil War divided Jews much as it did the nation as a whole. There were Jews in the North and Jews in the South, Jews who supported slavery and Jews who condemned it, Jews who fought for the Union and Jews who fought for the Confederacy. If in many respects the Civil War affected Jews much as it did other Americans, there were nevertheless three features of the struggle that affected Jews uniquely.

First, wartime tensions led to an upsurge of racial and religious prejudice in America, and Jews, both in the North and in the South, proved to be convenient scapegoats. Even famous Americans slipped into anti-Semitic stereotypes when they meant to condemn one Jew alone.

Second, Jews in the North (not in this case the South) had to fight for their right to have a Jewish army chaplain--no easy task, since by law an army chaplain had to be a "regularly ordained minister of some Christian denomination." Although President Lincoln himself urged that this law be amended, it took heavy Jewish lobbying and over a year of hard work until the amendment to the law was passed.

Third, and most shocking of all to Jews, they had to face the most sweeping anti-Jewish official order in all of American history--General Order No. 11, published on December 17, 1862, that expelled all Jews from General Grant's military department. An irate and highly prejudiced response to wartime smuggling and speculating, crimes engaged in by Jews and non-Jews alike, it met with forceful Jewish protests. Within eighteen days, thanks to President Lincoln, the order was revoked.

In the 1880s, the profile of Jewish immigration to the United States was profoundly changed by the pogroms directed against the Jews of Russia, leading to an infusion of young Eastern European Jews who were religiously traditional and spoke Yiddish [the historical language of Ashkenazic Jews; a dialect of High German that includes some Hebrew elements]. Swept into a new and alien culture, cut off from loved ones left behind, and in many cases forced to violate religious tenets once held dear, immigrants frequently spent lifetimes trying to reconcile what they had left behind with what they had gained. Many cursed Columbus and wondered aloud if their travail was justified. A few returned to Europe. But in the wake of the infamous Kishinev pogrom of 1903 and subsequent persecutions in Russia and elsewhere, the promise of American life shined ever brighter. By 1924, close to two million Eastern European Jews had immigrated to America's shores.

Initially many native and German-born Jews in America looked down on these newcomers as social inferiors and felt ambivalent toward them. They saw themselves outnumbered, feared that immigration was provoking antisemitism, and worried that the East Europeans would never assimilate. Yet, bad as feelings sometimes became, most of these Jews continued to work long and hard on behalf of the East Europeans. The latter, meanwhile, strongly identified with American society and labored to Americanize. In the twentieth century, when issues such as immigration restriction and bills aimed at abrogating America's commercial treaty with Russia arose, German Jews and Eastern European Jews stood shoulder to shoulder; they planned strategy together. Bonds of kinship, in the end, proved far stronger than petty in-group squabbles.

GUIDING STUDENT DISCUSSION

Notwithstanding the small size of the Jewish community in early America, it is important to emphasize to students that American Jews of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, like their counterparts in the larger society, established patterns that subsequent generations carefully followed. American Judaism, at this time, became both voluntaristic and pluralistic. In America a Jew's faith was not registered with the state, as it was in most of Europe, and observance depended upon the individual. In a sense, there came to be as many Judaisms as there were Jews. Like so many of their Protestant counterparts, Jews resisted the hierarchical religious authority structures of Europe. No nationwide "chief rabbi" emerged and no religious organization wielded unchallenged authority. Instead, a spectrum of Jewish religious movements competed for adherents, each insisting that its strategy alone provided hope for American Judaism's survival. Ultimately, of course, each strategy sought to balance between American norms and values and the sometimes conflicting demands of Jewish tradition--a balancing act familiar to any number of minority groups in the United States.

While Protestant practices inevitably influenced the direction of American Jewish religious life, Jews monitored Protestant missionary efforts with caution. Activities that Protestants viewed as benevolent (like offering money and free education to the Jewish poor) seemed provocative to Jews, almost inducements to convert. Jews also took affront at the distinctions that some Protestants drew between the "mythical Jews" that they learned about in church and the "Jews next door" who seemed altogether different. Educators can effectively use these themes to discuss intergroup relations, stereotypes, and the tensions between majority and minority in the American experience.

The story of Jewish immigration to America can be incorporated into broader discussions concerning immigration and the promise of American life. Students should understand the manifold challenges that immigrants faced as they sought to pursue freedom and opportunity while still seeking to retain their cultural identity. They should also explore the ambivalence so commonly felt toward immigrants, even by those who themselves descended from similar roots and shared the immigrants' heritage and faith.

HISTORIANS DEBATE

A central question in American Jewish history concerns the relative influence of Old and New World patterns on American Jews, a debate that echoes the longstanding controversy over whether or not America itself is historically unique. In terms of the Reform Movement in Judaism, some scholars thus view it as mostly an offshoot of German Reform Judaism, while others are more impressed by its distinctively American qualities. Similarly, some view nineteenth-century American Jewish history as a whole as an "encounter with emancipation," thereby defining it in terms of a central paradigm in European Jewish history--the struggle of Jews to gain full civil rights in Europe in the late 1800s. Other scholars are more impressed by the differences between the European and American Jewish situations. American Jewry, they insist, was "post-emancipation" from the start.

A different kind of question concerns the nature of nineteenth-century Jewish immigration to the United States. Earlier historians spoke of three immigration waves--the Sephardic period, the German period, and the East European period. More recent scholars have challenged this periodization. Not only are there vast overlaps between the different periods (East European Jews found their way to America even in colonial days), but we now know that Jewish immigration was much more variegated and complex than once believed, involving Jews from many different lands. In the mid nineteenth century, for example, there were more Polish-Jewish immigrants to America than German ones. At least one historian advocates dropping the earlier periodization altogether to focus on the full century of Jewish immigration, beginning in 1820, that transformed American Jewry from a tiny community of some 3,000 Jews to a community that was more than one thousand times larger--indeed, the largest Jewish community in the world.

BIBLIOGRPHY

For other key issues in American Jewish history, as well as an extensive bibliography, see Jonathan D. Sarna, ed., The American Jewish Experience: A Reader (2d ed., 1997). Primary sources may be found in Jacob R. Marcus, The Jew in the American World: A Source Book (1996) and Morris U. Schappes, A Documentary History of the Jews in the United States, 1654-1875 (3rd ed., 1971). The most thorough scholarly treatment of colonial American Jewry is Jacob Rader Marcus's The Colonial American Jew (1970). For a recent briefer treatment, see Eli Faber, A Time for Planting: The First Migration, 1654-1820 (1992). On the Revolutionary period, Samuel Rezneck's Unrecognized Patriots: The Jews in the American Revolution (1975) provides a helpful narrative, and Jonathan D. Sarna, Benny Kraut, and Samuel K. Joseph, eds., Jews and the Founding of the American Republic (1985) contains the major documents. For a good overview of the early national period, see the first volume of Jacob Racer Marcus, United States Jewry, 1776-1985 (1989). Biographies of leading American Jews of this period include Jonathan D. Sarna, Jacksonian Jew: The Two Worlds of Mordecai Noah (1981), Gary P. Zola, Isaac Harby of Charleston, 1788-1829: Jewish Reformer and Intellectual (1994), and Lance Sussman, Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism (1995).

The key questions concerning Central European Jewish immigration revolve around religion and identity. Avraham Barkai's Branching Out (1994) and Naomi W. Cohen's Encounter with Emancipation: The German Jews in the United States, 1830-1914 (1984) describe continuities and discontinuities between the American and German Jewish experiences, while Leon Jick, The Americanization of the Synagogue, 1820-1870 (1976) traces the development of American Judaism as a process of indigenous religious innovation. Hasia Diner in A Time for Gathering: The Second Migration, 1820-1880 (1992) offers a broader portrayal of this period, paying attention to Alsatian and Polish Jews, as well as to issues of gender. The key volume on the Civil War is Bertram W. Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War (2d. ed., 1970).

Because most of the contemporary American Jewish community descends from Eastern European Jewish immigrants, much of the literature of American Jewish history documents their story. Irving Howe's World of Our Fathers (1976) synthesizes much of what was known to that time. More recently, Susan Glenn's Daughters of the Shtetl (1990) captures the challenges that faced Jewish immigrant girls, particularly in the labor movement. Jonathan D. Sarna, People Walk on Their Heads: Moses Weinberger's "Jews and Judaism in New York" (1981) makes available an Orthodox rabbi's perspective on America from 1887. Finally, Daniel Soyer, Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York, 1880-1939 (1997) focuses on the immigrants themselves and how they "exercised a high degree of agency in their growing identification with American society."

THE USA AND NAZI REFUGEES

BY By Daniel A. Gross  smithsonian.com,  November 18, 2015

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/us-government-turned-away-thousands-jewish-refugees-fearing-they-were-nazi-spies-180957324/#VEbDhDeXG66ZQ5pt.99

The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies.  In a long tradition of “persecuting the refugee,” the State Department and FDR claimed that Jewish immigrants could threaten national security

In the summer of 1942, the SS Drottningholm set sail carrying hundreds of desperate Jewish refugees, en route to New York City from Sweden. Among them was Herbert Karl Friedrich Bahr, a 28-year-old from Germany, who was also seeking entry to the United States. When he arrived, he told the same story as his fellow passengers: As a victim of persecution, he wanted asylum from Nazi violence.

But during a meticulous interview process that involved five separate government agencies, Bahr's story began to unravel. Days later, the FBI accused Bahr of being a Nazi spy. They said the Gestapo had given him $7,000 to steal American industrial secrets—and that he'd posed as a refugee in order to sneak into the country unnoticed. His case was rushed to trial, and the prosecution called for the death penalty.

What Bahr didn’t know, or perhaps didn’t mind, was that his story would be used as an excuse to deny visas to thousands of Jews fleeing the horrors of the Nazi regime.

World War II prompted the largest displacement of human beings the world has ever seen—although today's refugee crisis is starting to approach its unprecedented scale. But even with millions of European Jews displaced from their homes, the United States had a poor track record offering asylum. Most notoriously, in June 1939, the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, were turned away from the port of Miami, forcing the ship to return to Europe; more than a quarter died in the Holocaust.

Government officials from the State Department to the FBI to President Franklin Roosevelt himself argued that refugees posed a serious threat to national security. Yet today, historians believe that Bahr's case was practically unique—and the concern about refugee spies was blown far out of proportion.

In the court of public opinion, the story of a spy disguised as a refugee was too scandalous to resist. America was months into the largest war the world had ever seen, and in February 1942, Roosevelt had ordered the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans. Every day the headlines announced new Nazi conquests.

Bahr was “scholarly” and “broad-shouldered,” a man Newsweek called “the latest fish in the spy net.” Bahr was definitely not a refugee; he had been born in Germany, but immigrated to the U.S. in his teens and become a naturalized citizen. He returned to Germany in 1938 as an engineering exchange student in Hanover, where he was contacted by the Gestapo.

At his preliminary hearing, the Associated Press reported that Bahr was “nattily clad in gray and smiling pleasantly.” By the time his trial began, he had little reason to smile; in a hefty 37-page statement, he admitted to attending spy school in Germany. His defense was that he'd planned to reveal everything to the U.S. government. But he sad he'd stalled because he was afraid. “Everywhere, no matter where, there are German agents,” he claimed.

Comments like these only fed widespread fears of a supposed “fifth column” of spies and saboteurs that had infiltrated America. U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle said in 1942 that “every precaution must be taken...to prevent enemy agents slipping across our borders. We already have had experience with them and we know them to be well trained and clever.” The FBI, meanwhile, released propaganda films that bragged about German spies who had been caught. “We have guarded the secrets, given the Army and Navy its striking force in the field,” one film said.

These suspicions were not only directed at ethnic Germans. “All foreigners became suspect. Jews were not considered immune,” says Richard Breitman, a scholar of Jewish history.

The American ambassador to France, William Bullitt, made the unsubstantiated statement that France fell in 1940 partly because of a vast network of spying refugees. “More than one-half the spies captured doing actual military spy work against the French Army were refugees from Germany,” he said. “Do you believe there are no Nazi and Communist agents of this sort in America?”

These kinds of anxieties weren't new, says Philip Orchard, a historian of international refugee policy. When religious persecution in the 17th century led to the flight of thousands of French Huguenots—the first group ever referred to as “refugees”—European nations worried that accepting them would lead to war with France. Later, asylum seekers themselves became objects of suspicion. “With the rise of anarchism at the turn of the 20th century, there were unfounded fears that anarchists would pose as refugees to enter countries to engage in violence,” Orchard says.

These suspicions seeped into American immigration policy. In late 1938, American consulates were flooded with 125,000 applicants for visas, many coming from Germany and the annexed territories of Austria. But national quotas for German and Austrian immigrants had been set firmly at 27,000.

Immigration restrictions actually tightened as the refugee crisis worsened. Wartime measures demanded special scrutiny of anyone with relatives in Nazi territories—even relatives in concentration camps. At a press conference, President Roosevelt repeated the unproven claims from his advisers that some Jewish refugees had been coerced to spy for the Nazis. “Not all of them are voluntary spies,” Roosevelt said. “It is rather a horrible story, but in some of the other countries that refugees out of Germany have gone to, especially Jewish refugees, they found a number of definitely proven spies.”

Here and there, skeptics objected. As the historian Deborah Lipstadt points out in her book Beyond Belief, The New Republic portrayed the government’s attitude as “persecuting the refugee.” The Nation didn’t believe that the State Department could “cite a single instance of forced espionage.” But these voices were drowned out in the name of national security.

America's policies created a striking dissonance with the news from Nazi Germany. In the Australian newspaper The Advertiser, above an update on Bahr's trial, a feature story put the refugee crisis in chilling context: “About 50,000 Jews from the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and from Berlin, Hamburg, and Westphalia have been dumped by the Nazis at Terezin.” Until the very end of 1944—by which time photographs and newspaper reports had demonstrated that the Nazis were carrying out mass murder—Attorney General Francis Biddle warned Roosevelt not to grant immigrant status to refugees.

Bahr “appeared weak” as he finished his testimony in August 1942. At the defense table, “he collapsed for a few minutes with his head in his hands.” On August 26, the jury reached a verdict: Bahr was guilty of conspiracy and planned espionage, a conviction that could warrant the death penalty.

The next day, Bahr's birthday, his wife announced that she planned to divorce him.

The case of Herbert Karl Freidrich Bahr fascinated the public for months, and with good reason; it showed readers a very real case of attempted spying, carried out with an utter disregard of its impact on innocent refugees. The question was what Americans should do with this knowledge.

Government agencies like the State Department used spy trials as fuel for the argument against accepting refugees. But late in the war, government whistleblowers began to question this approach. In 1944, the Treasury Department released a damning report initialed by lawyer Randolph Paul. It read:

“I am convinced on the basis of the information which is available to me that certain officials in our State Department, which is charged with carrying out this policy, have been guilty not only of gross procrastination and wilful failure to act, but even of wilful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler.”

In an interview, Lipstadt says that the State Department’s attitude was shaped by wartime paranoia and downright bigotry. “All those things, they feed into this fear of the foreigner,” she says. It was thanks to the Treasury Department’s report that Roosevelt formed a new body, the War Refugee Board, that belatedly accepted tens of thousands Jewish refugees. But by that time, millions of Jews had already died in Europe.

Bahr lived to tell his tale. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. It's not clear whether he lived long enough to be released, but in 1946, after the war ended, he did make headlines again. The FBI called him to the stand in the trial of another accused spy. Once more, he told a rapt audience about spy tricks he learned from the Gestapo. Then he was sent back to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

With politicians in the U.S. and Europe again calling for refugee bans in the name of national security, it’s easy to see parallels with the history of World War II.

Lipstadt and Orchard think that although today’s refugee crisis isn’t identical to mass migration in World War II, the past could still offer lessons for the future. They say that this time around, governments should be careful not to rush quickly into new policies. “Simplistic kinds of answers—close all the doors to refugees, or welcome everyone—are dangerous, and ultimately counter-productive,” says Lipstadt.

Orchard highlights a related worry—“that we'll see short-sighted policies adopted that have real lasting effects.” He believes governments have historically succeeded at screening for refugees, which suggests that national security isn't at odds with welcoming them.

According to Breitman, the government, the media, and the public all share blame for the backlash against Jewish refugees during World War II. “I think the media went along with the fears of security-minded people,” he says. Among hundreds of thousands of refugees, there were only a handful of accused spies.

But that didn't stop them from making headlines. Says Breitman: “It was a good story.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/us-government-turned-away-thousands-jewish-refugees-fearing-they-were-nazi-spies-180957324/#VEbDhDeXG66ZQ5pt.99

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LINKS           

A History of the Jews in America Paperback – November 2, 1993
by Howard M. Sachar

American Jewish Population Project    Brandeis University

American Jewish Historical Society

Early American Jews

Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History at New York University

History of the Jews in Colonial America

Jewish-American History Foundation

Jewish Book Council

Jewish Population in the United States

Jews in America: Portal to American Jewish History

Jews in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century America

Jewish Women’s Archive - Encyclopedia  Sharing Stories, Inspiring Change -

Massachusetts: Portuguese American Archives

National Museum of American Jewish History    Philadelphia

Nazi Germany - United States Policy and Its Impact on European Jews  Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History of Jews in America

The Jacon Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives

Trailer for ‘Jewish Time Jump’:  New York

US JEWISH TIMELINE




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Guiding Student Discussion

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LINKS

JEWISH MIGRATION TO THE UNITED STATES .
For each there are sources of information for
genealogical research.

DATES

PERIOD

NUMBER OF IMMIGRANTS

1654–1838

 Colonial/federal

Fewer than 15,OOO

1838–80

German emigration

25O,OOO

1881–1924

 Eastern European emigration

2,OOO,OOO

1924–44

 Pre-Holocaust

1OO.OOO

1945–60

Holocaust survivors

25O,OOO



Present

Russian Jews
and others

Up to
5O,OOO per year


1900    1,500,000 1.97% of US Population
1942    4,975,000 3.00%    
1970    5,400,000 2.63%
2010    5,275,000 1.71%




USA VIDEOS

THE

INCREDIBLE

STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE



The JEWS of the USA from
1654 to TODAY

SUMMARY

_______________________________________________________


The first Jews arrived in what is now the USA with Columbus in 1492,

In 1654, 23 Jewish refugees from Recife Brazil arrived in New Amsterdam (later called New York).  The USA was founded as a modern republic rooted in the Bible with a principle of religious tolerance.  In the 17th century pilgrims arriving in ‘New England’ were Puritan refugees escaping from European religious persecution who saw their emigration from England as a virtual re-enactment of the Exodus.

Thanksgiving - first celebrated in 1621, a year after the Mayflower landed, was seen as a day parallel to the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). It was to be a day of fasting, introspection and prayer. With no oral tradition the Puritans tended toward a literal interpretation of the bible   In some instances this led to a stricter more fundamentalist observance than Judaism.  

The Hebrew Bible played  a central role in founding educational institutions, including Harvard, Yale and Columbia. Bible studies were required and some even adopted a Hebrew word or phrase as part of their official emblem or seal.  Their biblical education colored the American founders' attitude toward politics.

By 1776 there were an estimated 2,000 (mostly Sephardic) Jews living there.

President George Washington remembered the Jewish contribution when the first synagogue (the Sephardic Touro Synagogue) opened in Newport, Rhode Island in 1790  He sent this letter, dated August 17, 1790:

"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."

His reference to the "vine and fig-tree." refers to the words of Prophet Micah, prophesying the Messianic utopia.

The idea that there was freedom for you in America as long as you were not "too Jewish," kept most Jews away. Until 1820, the Jewish population of America was only about 6,000!

This changed in the 1830s when Reform German Jews, who had scrapped traditional Judaism and were not "too Jewish," began to arrive. The great migrations of poor, oppressed Jews from Eastern Europe would follow near the turn of the century.

Colonial Jews never exceeded one tenth of one percent of the American population, yet they established patterns of Jewish communal life that persisted for generations.

First, most lived in port cities like New York which were trade biased  with others from different backgrounds and religions so that people of diverse backgrounds and faiths lived side by side.

Second, many early  leaders and institutions were Sephardic, that is coming from the Iberian peninsula, who had strong cultural institutions.

Third, they organised themselves into synagogue-communities which assumed responsibility for the religious and communal needs of all local Jews.

The American Revolution committed itself to the principles of freedom and democracy and religious freedom.

The Civil War saw Jews on both sides

First, tensions led to an upsurge of racial and religious prejudice with Jews as convenient scapegoats.

Second, Jews in the North (not in the South) had to fight to have an an army chaplain.

Third, the most sweeping anti-Jewish official order in American history--General Order No. 11, was published on December 17, 1862 which expelled all Jews from General Grant's military department. This was an irate and highly prejudiced response to wartime smuggling and speculating which applied to both Jews and non-Jews. Thanks to President Lincoln this order was revoked wthin eighteen days.

In the 1880s, the profile of Jewish immigration to the United States was profoundly changed by the pogroms directed against the Jews of Russia

In the twentieth century, when issues such as immigration restriction and bills aimed at abrogating America's commercial treaty with Russia arose, German and Eastern European Jews were united and planned strategy together. Kinship proved far stronger than petty in-group squabbles.

By 1924, nearly two million Eastern European Jews had immigrated to America.  This was later increased by those escaping the Nazis.

World War II prompted the largest displacement of human beings the world has ever seen—although today's refugee crisis is starting to approach its unprecedented scale. But even with millions of European Jews displaced from their homes, the United States had a poor track record offering asylum. Most notoriously, in June 1939, the German ocean liner St. Louis and its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, were turned away from the port of Miami, forcing the ship to return to Europe; more than a quarter died in the Holocaust.

The story is told in the videos


The Americas

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SETTLEMENT AND POPULATION OF THE JEWS IN THE AMERICAS