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Session Submission Type: Panel Session
"Context,” the saying goes, “is everything.” Across oceans, continents, and decades, Jewish refugee communities represent a rich tapestry of experiences formed by place and space. This panel explores how national policies and the events of World War II shaped Jewish refugee and immigrant lives in France, the United States, and Great Britain and how these can help shed light on refugee-specific issues today. It widens the focus to account for diverse trajectories among Jewish communities and offers unique approaches to exploring critical influences on refugee and immigrant identity and adaptation. The papers collectively underline how unique contexts, from national and international political debates over resettlement and border control to individuals accounts of life in refugee enclaves and internment camps, shaped and reshaped communities. Meredith Scott’s paper examines the experiences of Jewish refugees in French internment camps during the first months of World War II, as told in their own words through letters that they wrote from 1939 into the spring of 1940. It considers these letters for what they reveal about French policy, methods of arrest and detainment, varied camp conditions, and the limits of French republicanism under duress. In the second paper, Lori Gemeiner Bihler reflects on the early 2017 surge in social media posts on the history of Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe in response to Trump’s “Muslim Ban” and the Syrian refugee crisis. She draws on her own research comparing the national immigration policies of Great Britain and the United States around World War II and how they uniquely influenced Jewish refugee identity in each country and contemplates the potential uses and misuses of this history in current political discourse. Rebecca Erbelding’s paper includes a quantitative analysis of the physical escape of Jewish refugees to the United States during the refugee crisis (1938-1941), particularly exploring how World War II affected passenger vessels and led to the memory of Jewish refugees on the “last boat” out of Europe.
Chair & Respondent Barry Trachtenberg, author of THE UNITED STATES AND THE HOLOCAUST: RACE, REFUGE, AND REMEMBRANCE (Bloomsbury, 2018), will frame the panel by discussing the shifting historical consensus on the Allied response to the Nazi Holocaust and its implications on understanding our present refugee crises.
“We Live with Despair”: Jewish Refugees and the French Internment Camp System, 1939-1940 - Meredith Scott-Weaver, University of Delaware
Immigrant or Exile? Comparing U.S. and British Immigration Policies’ Influence on Jewish Refugee Identities in New York and London, 1935-1945 - Lori Gemeiner Bihler, Framingham State University
“The Last Boat”: The Impact of the Encroaching War on Refugee Immigration to the United States, 1938-1941 - Rebecca Erbelding, US Holocaust Memorial Museum