The results of a pre-WWII poll that has recently gone viral illustrates how history tends to repeat itself.
The poll was first published in Fortune magazine in July, 1938, and showed that fewer than 5% of the Americans surveyed at the time believed that the United States should raise its immigration quotas or allow political refugees — the majority of them Jews fleeing Nazi Germany — to enter the country. Nearly 70% of those surveyed agreed with the idea that “we should try to keep them out.”
From the Washington Post:
To be sure, the United States was emerging from the Great Depression, hardly a climate where ordinary folks welcome immigrants and economic competition. The events of Kristallnacht — a wave of anti-Jewish pogroms in areas controlled by the Nazis — had yet to take place. And the poll’s use of the term “political refugees” could have conjured in the minds of the American public images of communists, anarchists and other perceived ideological threats.
US Jul ’38: What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US? pic.twitter.com/7hMfLbXWFE
— Historical Opinion (@HistOpinion) November 16, 2015
The next chart shows that about 60% of Americans polled in January 1939, even after being aware of the events of Kristallnacht, said they did not want 10,000 German Jewish refugee children allowed in the country.
US Jan 20 ’39: Should the US government permit 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children to come in from Germany? pic.twitter.com/5cFs5RabQn
— Historical Opinion (@HistOpinion) November 17, 2015
Many conservatives are expressing outright hostility toward the Syrian refugees, and this cruelty has a historical precedent. Primary sources, such as these polls, show the immediate responses of the public to refugees and many academics have noted this phenomenon. According to the authors of the 1999 book,”Refugees in the Age of Genocide“:
“Of all the groups in the 20th century, refugees from Nazism are now widely and popularly perceived as ‘genuine’, but at the time German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian Jews were treated with ambivalence and outright hostility as well as sympathy.”
Since Friday’s attacks in Paris, Republican figures have rallied together over the perceived threat of jihadist takeover from Syria. Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Monday that he would not allow even “3-year-old orphans” to enter America.
This is despite the fact that, after investigation, it seems every one of the identified assailants in the Paris attacks was a European national.
Featured image via (Flickr)