Refugees Registering at the Fort Ontario Refugee Camp, Oswego, New York
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After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, German and Austrian Jews tried in growing numbers to flee persecution. While about 250,000 would eventually come to the U.S. between 1933 and 1945, immigration officials applied regulations so rigidly, especially after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, that quotas for Germany and Austria were rarely filled. One of the few European Jews who managed to escape the Holocaust and come to the United States during the war was Richard Arvay. An Austrian, Arvay was a writer and filmmaker in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Having already suffered persecution by the Nazis, he fled to Paris when Germany annexed Austria in 1938. After Germany occupied France in 1940, Arvay was sent to a concentration camp for a year. He then lived in Southern France, and in 1943, he escaped to Italy when he was threatened with deportation to Poland. In 1944, he was one of about 1,000 refugees picked to come to America to live in the newly established Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, New York. The camp had been established by President Roosevelt to respond to political pressures to do more to help Jews in Europe and to sidestep immigration regulations. Initially, refugees had to promise to return to Europe when the war was over, but President Truman permitted the refugees to stay in the United States. Richard Arvay lived at Fort Ontario for about 18 months. Part of his file consists of his completed form stating that he did not want to return to Europe. To his typed answers, Avray added a handwritten explanation: “I would also find it impossible to live in a country where all my family have been killed.” Arvay brought his wife to America, settled in New York City, and worked as a writer. In 1951 he became a U.S. citizen. He died in 1970.
This primary source comes from the Records of the War Relocation Authority.
National Archives Identifier: 6341035Full Citation: Refugees Registering at the Fort Ontario Refugee Camp, Oswego, New York; 8/1944; Records of the War Relocation Authority, Record Group 210. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/refugees-registering-at-the-fort-ontario-refugee-camp-oswego-new-york, April 30, 2017]
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