The Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum presents the 1,000 children

  • December 12, 2010
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The Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum in Atlanta, Georgia is one of the first to include information on the One Thousand Children. Here is some of the museum’s content:

Telegram that states that Charlotte Dreyfuss and Heinz (i.e., Henry) Birnbrey are in the United States and en route to Atlanta. Telegram that states that Charlotte Dreyfuss and Heinz (Henry) Birnbrey are in the United States and en route to Atlanta.

Like the Kindertransport, the intent of the One Thousand Children effort was to help Jewish children leave Nazi occupied areas. Unlike the Kindertransport, which was sponsored by the British government, the American One Thousand Children project was undertaken by private individuals and organizations. Consequently, fewer children were able to leave Germany.

There were several reasons for the reduced scope of the American operation. First, the United States had some of the most restrictive immigration laws in the world. The National Origins Quota of 1924 drastically reduced the number of immigrants who could enter the United States, from 358,000 to 164,000. It also stated that the number of immigrants from each country could only be, “2 percent of each foreign-born group living in the United States in the 1890 [census].” The primary purpose of this law was to halt Jewish and Catholic immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, who were viewed as being too culturally and racially dissimilar to the dominant Protestant culture. Immigration from Asia, which had been brisk during the nineteenth century, was completely banned. These strict laws were popular with Americans during the Great Depression, when it was feared that immigrants would take away jobs and resources from struggling native-born citizens. Because this law made no distinction between immigrants and refugees, it was almost impossible for Jews fleeing the Nazi regime to enter the United States in large numbers.

Second, overt antisemitism was commonplace in many segments of American society; a Fortune magazine poll in 1938 stated that 67 percent of Americans did not want to provide aid of any sort to Jewish refugees. Consequently, it was difficult to create a government-sponsored program to aid Jewish refugees without alienating antisemitic voters. This is illustrated by the defeat of the 1939 Wagner-Rogers bill, which would have admitted 14,000 German Jewish refugees under the age of fourteen to the United States. A Gallup poll indicated that 66 percent of Americans were opposed to proposed legislation. As American Jews felt particularly vulnerable during the Great Depression, due in part to the common but erroneous view that Jews were responsible for the dysfunctional international banking system, no domestic Jewish organization challenged the defeat of the Wagner-Rogers Bill for fear of stoking antisemitism.

Since the government provided no assistance, an informal network of organizations and activists formed to aid European Jews suffering under the Nazi regime. Children, rather than adults, were the target of this operation because it was believed that their plight would be more sympathetic to the public. Because children did not work, they would not be perceived as being an economic threat in the same way that an adult refugee would.

Concern about the refugee problem began almost as soon as the Nazis came to power. By mid-1933, Jewish organizations in the United States became aware of the dire circumstances that their European brethren were facing. Of particular concern was the plight of German Jewish children. Consequently, the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Congress passed a resolution to attempt to find foster homes throughout the world for 40,000 German Jewish children. Later that year, delegates from the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and B’nai B’rith began finalizing the details of a program that would bring 250 German Jewish children, aged sixteen and under, to the United States. Because it was necessary to ensure that the children would not become wards of the state, another organization, German Jewish Children’s Aid was formed to arrange the details of the children’s immigration and resettlement.

Because immigrants to the United States required an American citizen to sign an affidavit for them, German-Jewish Children’s Aid acted as a corporate sponsor for the unaccompanied children. Once in the United States, these children tried to rescue other family members by signing affidavits and becoming sponsors. The number of German Jewish children that entered the United States varied considerably from year to year. Because there was a fixed number of immigrants that could enter the United States each year, more children could immigrate if the total number of immigrants had decreased. Only a few children could enter the country at any given time, lest the ire of isolationists and antisemites became aroused. According to Sonnert and Holton, the largest number of unaccompanied children arrived in 1941 (260) and the least came in 1944 (9), with the average number being 94.

Prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, the children were brought in small groups (roughly a dozen at a time) based on pre-existing country quotas. After 1941, when Americans were becoming more aware of the brutality of the Nazi regime, refugee children could be brought in larger numbers. A small group of dedicated women acted as chaperones on the ships that brought the children to America.

Upon reaching the United States, the children went to Jewish foster homes. Although some of the children were reunited in America with the parents and siblings they left behind in Europe, most of the refugees became the only surviving members of their families. More information about the lives of the refugee children in America can be found in the sections entitled Staring a New Life and Stories.

While the combined efforts of the Kindertransport and the One Thousand Children saved over 11,000 lives, an estimated 1.5 million Jewish children died in the Holocaust.

Here is a link to the museum’s online exhibit:

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