One of the memes/posters going around Facebook in the last few days concerns America’s rejection of European Jewish refugees in the 1930s, equating it to the current fear that there might be jihadis among the newest Syrian immigrants with no way to vet them. Let’s parse what was happening in the 1930s.
Our government’s response to the Great Depression. In the 1930s the U.S. was weighed down by a terrible economic depression, and had the leadership of the Democratic party and Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) who continually failed to reenergize the economy. I don’t personally remember, but it colored the lives and behavior of my parents who were teen-agers in 1929. Other countries had pulled out of that world wide depression in 3-4 years, but with the tinkering and social goals of FDR, we were well into it for a decade. People lost their savings, careers, farms, businesses, dreams and self esteem and were not thinking about the problems in Europe. Many Americans were still first and second generation immigrants from WWI and 19th c. recessions--thousands returned to their birth country.
The role of the media. There was no social media in the 1930s, but radio and newspapers did a good job of misinformation and propaganda. Then as now the media lied to the American people about the seriousness of the situation. Just has they sat on the information about the slaughter of the Christian Armenians and the Ukrainian famine and who was to blame (Moslems in Turkey and the USSR in Ukraine), so American intellectuals, Communists in the administration and politicians kept the public in ignorance.
Blame the Jews. America then as now, was awash in anti-Semitism. If you think the publicity about Israel and Palestine on college campuses is lop-sided now, go back and read original material from the 1930s. Rich Jewish bankers were blamed for everything that was wrong with our economy, just as the “rich,” banks and investment companies were blamed for the collapse in 2007-2008. Then as now, it was government manipulation of the markets and regulations not Jews that created the mess, but a scapegoat was needed. Following the traditions of centuries, it was “blame the Jews.” Today, even though the income gap is greater under Obama than any previous president, “the rich” has become a code word for our problems and Jews.