Pre-WWII poll shows that Americans did not want to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany

Many are expressing outright hostility toward the Syrian refugees, and this cruelty has a historical precedent.

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.

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.

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)



  1. Avatar

    Scott Levison

    November 17, 2015 at 10:52 am

    My father was a Holocaust survivor.

    I know this all too well.

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    November 17, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    The two situations are not comparable.

  3. Avatar

    Diane S

    November 17, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    It is an inconvenient truth that they truly are.

  4. Avatar


    November 17, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Not comparable at all?

  5. Avatar

    Andrew Bugbee

    November 17, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    Why are the two situations not comparable?

  6. Avatar

    Dwayne Alverson

    November 17, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Because the Jews weren’t flying planes into or buildings or killing people in Paris and engaging in suicide bombings…they were fleeing a real horror bent on making them extinct

  7. Avatar

    M femenella

    November 17, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Because the Jewish people did not have terrorists in their midst that we’re going to sneak into America claiming that they were victims. So this article has nothing to do with what is going on in the world today


  9. Avatar


    November 18, 2015 at 7:22 am

    And because we still didn’t want them, Israel was created.

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    November 18, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Because Jews weren’t fleeing from their own kind, whereas Syrian refugees are fleeing from other Muslims. It’s almost, but not exactly, like the difference between murder and suicide.

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    November 21, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Hmm – let’s see – I don’t recall the Jews proudly killing innocent civilians of other religions in the name of their god around the world in an effort to bring humanity back to the 7th century AD… anti-Semitism was/is grounded in ignorance, but not fear of getting killed by “those people”

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