Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
John Belohlavek, Ph.D.
Graydon Tunstall, Ph.D.
Kees Boterbloem, Ph.D.
Robert I. Weiner, Ph.D.
Intergovernmental Committee, refugees, children, quota, Wagner-Rogers Bill, Hennings Bill
The purpose of this dissertation was to compare and contrast the origins, formulation, course, and outcome of three major American immigration schemes to provide haven for German Jewish and non-Aryan refugees and British children: The Intergovernmental Committee for Political Refugees (better known as the Evian Conference), and particularly the German Refugee Children’s Bill (also labeled as the Wagner-Rogers Bill) and the Hennings Bill. The Evian Conference, called for by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the aftermath of the Anschluss, the German annexation of Austria, sought to create a global solution to the problem of forced migration. The Wagner-Rogers Bill, influenced by the November 1938 nationwide pogrom of Kristallnacht and the British Kindertransport, a project to resettle Jewish and Christian children from the Reich into the United Kingdom, attempted, by legislative means, to allow the entry of ten thousand children outside of the annual German and Austrian quotas in 1939 and 1940. The Henning Bill endeavored to rescue British children from the perils of aerial warfare in 1940. This measure necessitated the amendment of the Neutrality Act of 1939, which prohibited American shipping from entering war zones.
It has been argued that the Evian Conference was, at its core, a publicity ploy, designed to express sympathy for persecuted German minorities, while avoiding any political cost or acceptance of impoverished refugees. The Wagner-Rogers Bill failed as a result of the interplay of multiple factors that included: lack of presidential backing; the economic throes of the Great Depression; fear of aliens; anti-Semitism; growing isolationism and resistance to continued immigration, and a disunited and fractious Jewish community that sought to avoid stimulation of domestic prejudice and more restrictive immigration policies. A key component was a critical misreading of the bill’s sponsors of public compassion for Hitler’s victims; sentiments that did not translate into a willingness to accept Jewish refugees. The Henning Bill, which FDR endorsed with strict qualifications, demonstrated preferences for particular ethnic groups; specifically, British Christian children. In contrast with the Wagner-Rogers Bill, this legislation rapidly made its way through Congress and into law. Its failure lay in the inability to acquire guarantees of safe passage through contested waters by the warring powers.
A general review followed by a more detailed examination was made of existing official and un-official sources, employing public records, private diaries, books, newspapers, journals, and other periodicals for the critical period of January 1, 1938 through December 31, 1940. Various historiographical appraisals have been made of the actions of Roosevelt, his administration, Congress, the Jewish community, and general public, and these opinions have generated markedly divergent opinions. Some have alleged that FDR and his administration, particularly the Department of State, abandoned the Jews to their fate while others assert that, in the context of the time, he did everything that was potentially achievable. Debate has also been waged over wide-ranging accusations of inaction, apathy, prejudice, and complicity involving official sources, the general public, and American Jewry. I argue that any assessment of responsibility for failure to attempt rescue can be laid at the feet of many actors in this existential drama of life and death.
Scholar Commons Citation
Laffer, Dennis Ross, "Jewish Trail of Tears II: Children Refugee Bills of 1939 and 1940" (2018). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.