OSWEGO – Fort Ontario’s role in hosting Holocaust refugees is receiving some international attention, thanks to a recent visit by Israeli journalists to the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum and Fort Ontario State Historic Site.
The tour was hosted by the Oswego County Tourism Office.
Writers Noam Eynav of Israel Hayom, Niv Shtendel of Mako, and Dvir Reshef of YNET, spent an afternoon at Safe Haven and Fort Ontario while visiting historical attractions across New York State.
The County Tourism Office worked with I Love NY and its public relations partner, Finn Partners Inc., to have the local sites included in the itinerary.
“As part of our mission to promote Oswego County as a visitor destination, we frequently host journalists and travel writers on press trips or familiarization tours,” said Janet Clerkin, Tourism and Public Information Coordinator for the County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning. “We were fortunate to have three journalists from major Israeli print and broadcast media visit Oswego this fall. Kevin Hill, president of the Safe Haven board of directors, and Paul Lear, Historic Site Manager of Fort Ontario State Historic Site, spent several hours with the journalists discussing the historical significance of the World War II Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter, answering questions, and providing information for them to share with potential visitors.”
The Safe Haven Story
The Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, located at 2 E. Seventh St., Oswego, is dedicated to interpreting the August 1944 to February 1946 history of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter.
The Fort Ontario National Register District, which includes Fort Ontario State Historic Site and the Safe Haven Museum and Education Center, is under consideration by the National Park Service for becoming a national park.
“I was honored to take our guests from Israel to the exact location that the Holocaust came to America, where on 5 August 1944, nearly 1,000 refugees stepped off a train at Fort Ontario in Oswego, “ said Lear. “This was the site where, for the first time, American reporters and photographers heard personal accounts of survival from victims of the Nazis, and where, for the first time since being exposed in 1942, stories of the mass exterminations of Jews and others in Nazi-occupied Europe were moved from the back to the front pages of U.S. newspapers.”
Hill noted that the Safe Haven story was featured on national public television in November when journalist Ann Curry interviewed refugees in her PBS series “We’ll Meet Again.”
“The episode was very compelling,” said Hill. “It follows the story of Flora Friedman and Ben Alalouf, two refugee children whose families became close friends during their time at Fort Ontario. We’re very proud of the role that the community of Oswego played in this chapter of history. The museum is dedicated to sharing and preserving as much documentation as we can of this unique story.”
County Legislator Tim Stahl, District 20, chairman of the Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee, said tourism is considered a vital part of the local and regional economy.
According to the latest economic impact study by Tourism Economics for Empire State Development, visitors spent more than $157.7 million in Oswego County in 2017, up 8 percent from 2016.
Legislator Stahl said the tourism industry supported 2,957 jobs in Oswego County, with total labor income of $69,112,000. He said that food and beverage purchases make up the largest segment of visitor spending, up 7.6 percent to $49.8 million, while spending on second homes was up 4.5 percent to $33,167,000.
Retail and service station spending increased 14 percent to $24.4 million; lodging was up 16.6 percent to $19 million; and recreation was up 8.3 percent to $13.3 million.
Dave Turner, Director of the Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning, said the department works with many local partners to showcase attractions to visiting media and travel writers as part of its tourism promotion program.
“Familiarization tours are just one of the ways we market Oswego County’s unique attractions,” said Turner. “We hosted more than 30 writers and marketing professionals in 2018, giving them firsthand experiences fishing, visiting museums, eating in local restaurants, shopping at farm markets and local shops, and visiting outdoor sites like the Salmon River Fish Hatchery and Salmon River Falls.”
The Legislature’s Economic Development and Planning Committee oversees the Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning. In addition to Legislator Stahl, committee members include legislators Mary Ellen Chesbro, District 10; Paul House, District 8; Roy Reehil, District 5; Marie Schadt, District 19; and Morris Sorbello, District 23.
To view the PBS episode on Safe Haven visit http://www.pbs.org/meet-again/home/#watch.
For information on the Safe Haven Museum and Fort Ontario State Historic Site, visit http://safehavenmuseum.com/ and https://parks.ny.gov/historic-sites/20/details.aspx.
For Oswego County visitor information go to www.visitoswegocounty.com, or call the Oswego County Tourism Office at 315-349-8322.