Home | About | Donate

The U.S. Rejected Would-Be Refugee Anne Frank—Let’s Not Make a Similar Error Now


The U.S. Rejected Would-Be Refugee Anne Frank—Let’s Not Make a Similar Error Now

Amy Goodman, Denis Moynihan

Anne Frank would be 87 years old had she not perished in Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp in Germany. What words of wisdom might she offer the Trump administration as it crafts its latest iteration of its Muslim and refugee ban? Anne Frank is known for her famous diary, written while she and her family hid from the Gestapo in a “secret annex” of a house in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944. Long before the family went into hiding, Anne’s father, Otto Frank, desperately sought visas to bring his family to the United States.


" “Whether this kind of evil prejudice against refugees was perpetrated by a Democrat like Franklin Roosevelt or a Republican like Donald Trump, it is an unconscionable blot on the American national conscience,” [Stephen] Goldstein added."

While I agree with that completely, it's my understanding that Franklin Roosevelt, at the constant insistence of Eleanor and a few others near him, and possibly out of his own impulses, would have accepted Jewish refugees but for the refusal of conservatives in and out of government.

An attempt to expand the acceptance of Jewish children from Europe (especially Vichy France at the time) was proposed by a Democratic Congressman and defeated in committee. FDR also tried to let in more Jews, and in fact, while the US's record on this was abysmal, it did take more than any other country, even Palestine. And it was Roosevelt Democrats who did what little the US did. (Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time) The St. Louis was turned away, but everyone on the Quanza was allowed in because the Roosevelts overrode vocal opposition from the State Department, Congress, and the public. As in other ways, FDR and ER rose far above the racial and ethnic prejudices that were part of their wealthy upbringing, and in doing so raised the country with them, making the New Deal not just a force for economic and democratic advancement but humanitarian improvement. Far from perfect--not even good, you could certainly argue--but remarkable considering feelings and institutions in the US at the time.

Prejudice against Jews was even broader and deeper in the US then than prejudice against Islamic people is now, and while from our comfortable place we can wish FDR made more forceful and concrete moves to reduce that hatred, we don't know what the outcome would have been.

In the end, the unwillingness of other countries to take the Jews of Europe led directly to the Holocaust, a point we should keep in mind now as climate catastrophe's disastrous effects accelerate and blame is incorrectly placed on the poor people of color who cause it least.

Before and during WWII, fears of the "terrorism" of the day--sabotage by foreigners--was rampant, was used by the right, and affected all decisions about refugees, residents and citizens, unfortunately. Above all, we might wish Eleanor had been president and Franklin was organizing things behind the scenes, just as we wish Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich or Paul Wellstone were president now instead of well, almost everybody else, especially Der Gropenführer, Herr Twittler. But failing that, it's important to recognize the conflict between the impulse to connect and the impulse to separate, and realize we started too separate and have gone farther still. Almost all our problems--climate catastrophe, inequality, racial and ethnic prejudice, war--must be solved by moving to connect more--emotionally, cognitively, physically, philosophically, religiously, ecologically...

Eleanor Roosevelt said at the end of her life that not getting her husband to let in more Jews was the biggest regret of her life. We should make sure doing too little to stop climate catastrophe and too little to compassionately equalize the world isn't ours, not just by pushing the agenda but by doing it in the most strategic way possible.


Why no mention of all the Palestinian refugees created by Israel's barbaric and illegal acts? Israeli-created refugees would also include all these refugees created by the fighting with ISIS, since (1) ISIS is run by Sadam Hussein's military officers who were sent home by Bush-Cheney with all their weapons, and knowledge of all the munitions dumps hidden around the country, practically inviting more war, and (2) the Iraq war was at the behest of the Israelis.

An explanation of why Israel is not mentioned is in "War Profiteers and the Roots of the War on Terror".


You comments are very well expressed, and they are an accurate and important lesson for us all. Thank you.
You remind us that these things are not new, Lessons unlearned in the past always resurface in some form in the present and future. Society continues to be presented with choices to make, generation after generation. Although the details may vary, although they may seem new and unique, they all fundamentally boil down to the same basic choice: Right versus wrong, peace versus war, love versus
hate, the hard and difficult versus the easy and expedient.