OSWEGO, NY – On the very site where they shared their first meal together in America 75 years ago today, dozens of former refugees and their families gathered for what quite possibly will be their last meal together.
The soiree marked the 75th anniversary of the arrival of 982, mostly Jewish, refugees from war-torn Europe during World War II.
Church bells around the Port City rang out in unison at 7:30 Monday morning commemorating the time at which the train carrying the refugees rolled into Fort Ontario.
From Aug. 5 1944 to Feb. 5, 1946, the 75-acre Fort Ontario Military Reservation served as the only camp or shelter in the United States for victims of the Nazi Holocaust.
Monday’s event kicked off a series of remembrances that will mark various highlights of the refugees; time in Oswego.
Special events and activities linked to significant dates and life at the refugee shelter will continue into 2021.
“Each time I see in this country the Israeli flag with the Star of David in the center next to the American flag, I am deeply moved, Israeli Ambassador Dani Dayan told the huge crowd. “But, this time, I am moved much more. Because, this time, those two flags represent humanity at its best! It is an alliance that is deeply rooted in our values.”
“Here in Oswego in a world that was cruelly indifferent to the suffering of the Jewish people, said, ‘We are not indifferent. We love the refugees and we want them in our community,’” he continued. “I came here to say thank you, Oswego; thank you from the bottom of my Jewish heart.”
Even a small light can defeat a huge darkness, he said, adding, “Oswego was that light. Oswego was that light for America and the world.”
However, he noted, the fight against anti-Semitism continues today.
We all have a moral duty to “fight against this most ancient hatred,” he said.
He has had many experiences during his lifetime, some he won’t remember until his last days.
“I have no doubt that this day, August 5, 2019, will be one of those days that I will not only not forget in my last day, I will educate my family, my friends, my fellow Israelis of its significance.”
Established by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the shelter was intended to convince America’s allies that the United States was serious about rescuing the Jews of Europe, and that they should accept refugees within their own borders and territories.
“Having signed documents before leaving Italy agreeing to return to their homelands after the war in Europe ended, the 982 refugees who were interned at Fort Ontario lived behind a barbed wire fence in America, the land of freedom, fearful of being forced to return to homes and families that no longer existed, facing potential persecution by former neighbors if they did, and unable to continue on with their lives, one way or the other,” said Paul Lear, Historic Site Manager of Fort Ontario State Historic Site.
Check back with OCT later for more information about the 75th Anniversary event.