History repeats itself? Before World War II, most Americans didn't want to accept Jewish refugees

1938 graph depicting U.S. attitude toward accepting Jewish refugees.
(Image credit: Historical Opinion/Twitter)

There are, of course, enormous differences between the modern day Middle Eastern refugee crisis and the plight of German Jews in the years leading up to World War II. However, there is also at least one piece of common ground the two refugee crises share — suspicion and shuttered doors from Americans.

According to a public opinion poll that was published in Fortune magazine in July 1938, fewer than 5 percent of Americans surveyed at the time thought "we should encourage [Jewish political refugees] to come, even if we have to raise our immigration quotas," The Washington Post reports. In fact, 67.4 percent of Americans believed that "with conditions as they are, we should try to keep [the refugees] out."

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By January 1939, sentiments hadn't much changed — even after the horrific events of Kristallnacht, which left over 91 Jews murdered and 1,000 synagogues burned. Asked if the United States should permit 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Germany into the country, 61 percent of Americans said no.

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At present, 27 state governors, all but one of them Republican, oppose letting Syrian refugees in to their states. Many Republican presidential candidates have also spoken out against President Obama's plan to accept 10,000 into the U.S. next year. As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) said Monday, he would not even allow "3-year-old orphans" entry.

"Today's 3-year-old Syrian orphan, it seems, is 1939's German Jewish child," The Washington Post suggests.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.