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Between Prejudice and Humanitarianism in the Post-Nazi Racial State World

Mon, December 17, 8:30 to 10:00am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Waterfront 3 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session

Abstract

The panel explores shifting national immigration laws and attitudes towards refugees in the twentieth century with a focus on the tensions between racial prejudice and humanitarianism. At the end of WWII, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. inherited responsibility to do more for the displaced worldwide. However, these white, Christian majority, Western societies shared restrictive immigration laws, rooted in racism and antisemitism. Changes in the international order and the ascension of humanitarianism forced these countries to confront their respective longstanding policies. Refugee crises across Europe with millions of Displaced Persons and German expellees loomed large. Meanwhile decolonization in Asia simultaneously produced numerous refugee problems. The panel addresses the continuities/discontinuities in the national politics of inclusion/exclusion concerning refugees in Asia, illuminating how each country grappled with pressures to exercise humanitarianism while preserving racially discriminatory policies. These papers assess how the experience and memory of European Jewish refugees and their fate contributed—or not—to dismantling those policies and laws. The panel explores the Holocaust and post-war intersection of racism and antisemitism with pressures for humanitarian responsibility as expressed in debates about immigration in North America and Australia from the 1940s to 1970s.

Adara Goldberg’s paper engages with grassroots Canadian advocacy for “boat people” escaping conflicts in Southeast Asia in the 1970s. These activists seized the moment to challenge anti-Asian prejudices by reminding their government of its inaction in response to the 1939 SS ST. LOUIS affair and pleading for humanitarian actions. Building on this theme, Sara Halpern’s paper considers the conflation of anti-Asian and anti-Jewish sentiments expressed by the Australian Legation in Shanghai between 1945 and 1948. Utilizing diplomatic records, she traces the Legation’s personnel changes and Australia’s national insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region, which stunted its ability to admit Shanghai’s Jewish refugees on humanitarian grounds. With Australia’s doors closed, Tobias Brinkmann’s paper reveals the Truman administration struggling to extend its humanitarian arm to Jewish refugees from Shanghai transiting through the U.S. under guard and without visas in 1950. The Displaced Persons Act of 1950, still in Congress, would have exempted these refugees from the discriminatory Immigration Act of 1924.

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