my hometown was the only official u.s. government safe haven during the holocaust

You read that right. There was only one official U.S. Government safe haven during the holocaust. Only one place that was taking in refugees. It wasn’t even allowed to take in Jewish refugees, choosing instead to hand pick them in order to not stir the pot with the anti-Semitic sentiment that was forming within the U.S. and only taking in 1,000 people at that.

If you come to visit Oswego, NY, you will find that we don’t have much. We used to be a major city given that we are on Lake Ontario and were a major trading point. There’s a fort here that is featured in many early battles and has seen much fighting. Now we use it to sit around and watch fireworks, or to go on “Ghost Tours.” Rarely do we discuss how the red buildings that surround the fort were barracks. No one will mention that there used to be so many more of them. And, despite the fact that we are the only place in the entire United States that could say this, we don’t even have the buildings that were once used to house refugees. They were torn down. Forgotten.

Why do I know this? Well, I grew up here, so some of my teachers took the time to tell us the stories. Not a single one touched on the fact that no one brought over was Jewish though. But, honestly, I learned most of it from a man who worked through AmeriCorps at the same time I did. His position was at the fort where he stumbled upon a bunch of old photos and history that he put into a presentation and shared with all of us. It was a wonder but also incredibly aggravating.

The one thing that made my city special. Our important moment in history. Torn down. Removed.

In the present times, as you sit here listening to the stories about what our current government is doing, don’t turn a blind eye. We can’t be silent or we are allowing the horrors that our government only offered one safe haven from in the entire country to repeat themselves. You may not want people here, may think they need to earn their presence, but that does not mean they deserve to suffer.

Our history shows how little we care. This country has never been built for empathy and compassion, choosing to pretend that our hero complexes count as being good people rather than working for everyone to succeed and survive. It doesn’t take much digging to see the reality of the situation, of what our lives are built on, where our priorities live, and our lack of morals in many situations.

My city did not sit idly by, but we put refugees behind a fence and told them that they would be sent back when the war was over. You know why those people got to stay? People fought for them.

Public sentiment is stronger than you think. Step out of your home, get off the internet, interact with people, and make your voice heard. This is not the time to sit back on your heels and see how it plays out. This is not the time to continue to bury the past and pretend like the present isn’t a reflection of it. This is not the time to ignore that we have only once offered one single small safe haven when six million people died.

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