Annabel Christianson-Buck, a senior at Gonzaga Preparatory School, took third place with her essay:
“America the Beautiful, America the Complicit.”
Desmond Tutu once said, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The United States of America knew about the atrocities being committed in World War II, and still did nothing. America is complicit in the deaths of all those we turned away. When the St. Louis brought us Germany’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we turned away, dooming so many souls on that ship. But why? Are we not a nation created by immigrants fleeing persecution? The cold, hard truth of the matter is that the United States let six million people die because of institutionalized anti-Semitism, which impacted the economic crisis and isolationist policy within the government.
In 1883 Emma Lazarus wrote upon the Statue of Liberty “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Apparently, in the 1930s, “unless they’re Jews” was added in fine print. Of course, anti-Semitism in the United States was nothing new, especially in cities. Jewish people were banned from hotels, businesses, and even beaches. It was perfectly legal for someone to be fired because he or she was Jewish. That is why, when Hitler came to power, America did not even flinch. In fact, many Americans rallied behind his intense nationalist policies. Organizations sprung up in an attempt to spread his ideals to the rest of America. He was even named Time Magazine’s man of the year in 1938. Our only problem came when he became violent, and even then all we did was continuously attempt to appease him.
The common train of thought in the West at the time was that Jewish people were, to quote James Joyce, “the signs of a nation’s decay.” This belief stems from ancient Rome when Jews were tax collectors. Since then, Jewish people were stereotyped to be primarily involved in financial affairs. So, when a country entered an economic crisis, like the whole world did in 1929, who else would they blame? The Great Depression is one of the major reasons for America’s anti-Semitism. “Immigrants will take our jobs” dominated public view, fueling the intense immigration restrictions on all foreigners, but particularly Jewish populations. The immigration quota was based upon an immigrant’s birthplace, and, though Germany’s allotment was almost the highest in our system, many people had to wait for years. Another troubling fact is that our immigration quota was rarely ever filled, despite there being lists millions of names long. Once the war started, even though we weren’t involved, America was afraid that Jewish refugees would be Nazi spies, adding to immigration hysteria. FDR himself proclaimed his worry of Nazi spies on immigration ships, as did the state department.
Federal agencies proved to oppose Jewish immigration. This comes as no surprise, however, because Franklin Roosevelt often revealed his anti-Semitism. According to a diary entry from Vice President Henry Wallace, Roosevelt wanted “to spread the Jews thin all over the world”. This remark sounds eerily similar to the Nazis plan before the Final Solution, which aimed to expel Jews from the Reich and spread them around until they could be “bred out”.
Following the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the United States adopted a very strict policy of isolationism. This essentially meant that Western Europe could do whatever they wanted as long as they left the Americas alone. This, initially, had a very positive effect: European countries could no longer hold colonies in North or South America. As the world became more industrialized, and therefore more globalized, however, this policy had more bad consequences than good. In the case of Jewish persecution in Germany, Americans simply shrugged and carried on with their days.
The United States, to its credit, did have some organizations working to smuggle refugees out of Germany and into safety. However, much of that work would have been unnecessary had our immigration policy not been racist and exclusionary. We had knowledge of where the concentration camps were and what was being done in each, and could have easily diverted manpower to bomb the camps and free the prisoners. Instead we bombed munitions stores and urban centers (McIntyre). We had the opportunity to save 937 lives. They were on our shores, ready to leave with papers and hope, and we turned them away. In the Holocaust, 254 of those people died
Following the Holocaust, we said “never again.” It happened again. In Cambodia, in Bangladesh, In Rwanda, Bosnia, the Sudan, the Congo, in Syria. Time and time again we turn our backs on those in need, time and time again we make excuses. The best way to honor those we failed in the Holocaust is to accept as many refugees as we can. “Never again” is now.