The following comment has been revised and expanded as of October 22, 11:24 am:

In the light of concerns expressed by a number of lawmakers, officials and commentators over the possibility that Syrian refugees seeking admission to the US might be infiltrated to or sympathetic to ISIS terrorists, concerns which one of America's most respected federal appeals court judges, Richard Posner has quite recently dismissed as "nightmare speculation" (see Exodus Immigration v Pence, 7th Circuit, October 3, 2016), it is instructive to examine some of the objections which were made to the admission of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany in the 1930's - objections which, in many cases, tragically, led to thousands of refugees who had been denied entry to America dying in Nazi concentration camps.

One of the best known of these victims was Anne Frank, the author of the famous diary which stands as a worldwide symbol of resistance to every form of persecution and repression. As recently related in an article about Anne Frank's step sister, Eva Schloss, who survived the Holocaust and is still alive today, their father. Otto Frank, made vigorous and extensive efforts to obtain a US visa for himself and his family, only to be turned down, along with many thousands of other Jewish refugees, some of whom, as Eva Schloss suggests about Anne Frank herself, might otherwise still be alive today.

Why were so many Jewish refugees from Hitler denied visas to the United States, or, like the doomed passengers on the famous ship St. Louis, sent back to Hitler's gas chambers and death camps?

One of the reasons was the unfounded, but widely suspected possibility of subversion. Case Western Reserve University Historian Peter Shulman describes this as follows in his FORTUNE November, 2015, article:

How America's Response to Syrian and Jewish Refugees is Eerily Similar

"Behind these numbers lay a toxic fear of Jewish subversion. For decades, Jews had been linked to various strains of un-American threats: socialism, communism, and anarchism, of course, but also, paradoxically, a kind of hyper-capitalism. Many believed that the real threat to the United States lay not from abroad, but within. During Franklin Roosevelt's administration, Jews held so many influential positions that New Deal opponents spoke of the 'Jew Deal'."

An exhaustive, detailed scholarly study of the mechanics of America's visa refusal and the forces behind the policy reasons that led to the denial of refuge in America to so many of Hitler's Jewish victims was published in CUNY Academic Works in 2011 by Barbara L. Bailin. See:

The Influence of Anti-Semitism on United States Immigration Policy With respect to German Jews During 1933-1939

I strongly recommend this outstanding research paper to any reader who has a serious interest in the subject of American immigration policy toward Jewish refugees in the period leading up to the Holocaust Nazi extermination, and who is not adverse to examining whether there is a comparison between that period and the situation facing Syrian refugees seeking to enter the United States today, as some highly qualified and reputable authorities are suggesting there is. See: New York Times:

Comparing Jewish Refugees of the 1930's With Syrians Today


Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl

My next post will discuss the section of Ms. Bailin's study dealing with the widespread claim, which many Americans and their representatives evidently believed, that:

"German-Jewish Immigrants Were 'Infected With' Bolshevism and Held Radical Political Beliefs"

As will be shown in my next, forthcoming, comment, Bailin's article, among its many other unique and valuable insights into this topic, also describes in detail the approximately two dozen questions that Jewish refugees had to answer on their US visa applications. It also describes the difficulties of obtaining required affidavits of support in order to overcome the ultra-restrictive interpretation of the Public Charge provision of the law that US officials who were ideologically opposed to Jewish immigration, and in some cases, overtly anti-semitic, used in order to deny the great majority of Jewish refugee visa applications.

Her impressive study also describes documents which the refugees were often required to obtain from their Nazi persecutors in order to file their usually unsuccessful US visa applications.

But, some people might ask, what does any of this have to do with Syrian refugees today? Nicholas Kristoff, himself the child of a WW2 refugee, answers as follows in the second of the two New York Times articles cited above, the one dealing specifically with Anne Frank. He writes:

"Some readers are objecting: But Jews weren't a threat the way Syrian refugees are!
(Original italics) In the 1930's and '40's, though, a world war was underway and Jews were widely seen as potential Communists or even Nazis. There were widespread fears that Germany would infiltrate the US with spies and saboteurs under the cover that they were Jewish refugees.

''When the safety of the country is imperiled, it seems fully justifiable to resolve any possible doubts in favor of the country, rather than in favor of the aliens,' the State Department instructed in 1941. The New York Times in 1938 quoted the granddaughter of President Ulysses S. Grant warning about 'so-called Jewish refugees and hinting that they were Communists 'coming to our country to join the ranks of those who hate our institutions and want to overthrow them.'...

The Times published a front page article about the risks of Jews becoming Nazi spies, and the Washington Post published an editorial thanking the State Department for keeping out Nazis posing as refugees...

A State Department official, Breckenridge Long, systematically tightened rules on Jewish refugees. In this climate, Otto Frank was unable to get visas for his family members, who were victims in part of American paranoia, demagogy and indifference."

Is there really such a difference between American attitudes toward Jewish refugees then and Syrian refugees now, especially since there have been few, if any, major crimes by the hundreds of thousands of refugees America has taken in for the past 40 years? See:

Many of the arguments we are hearing today against admitting Syrian refugees are, in the above words of historian Peter Shulman, "eerily similar" to those used in the 1930's against admitting Jewish ones.

Yes, the Syrian government has been on America's list of state sponsors of terrorism for many years, since long before there was such a thing as ISIS, which the current government is not connected with and which is fighting against that government.

Does this mean that Syrian refugees who are fleeing from the current brutal, Russian-backed Syrian government and/or its enemy, ISIS, are likely to be "definitely ISIS-aligned" as one of the two candidates warned at the October 19 presidential debate?

Was Nazi Germany a "state sponsor" of peace and harmony among nations in the 1930's and 1940's?

We also hear arguments, such as those coming from Republican members of the House Committee on Homeland Security, that our screening process for Syrian refugees is ineffective, because we allegedly cannot obtain information about them from inside Syria itself.

Even if this were true, despite that fact that military dictatorships often have very extensive records about their citizens, just as the Gestapo was never short of information about the Jews; and American officials must surely have access to Syrian government databases (if not, there are no doubt plenty of alleged Russian DNC hackers we should be able to hire to do that job for us), does this mean that our intensive process of personal interviews and biometric screening taking up to two years is worthless, that it produces no reliable information about the refugees (most of whom are women and children) at all?

The idea that the Syrian war criminals who have been bombing Aleppo into extinction (as the Nazis tried to do with Leningrad) and who have been accused of using chemical weapons and barrel bombs against their own people do not keep records or databases on their citizens would be laughable if the actions of the murderers and torturers in that government were not so horrible.

The US State Department says the following about the Syrian government's ability to obtain information and keep records about individuals in that country:

"Security personnel frequently place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, internet connections, and fax machines may be monitored. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in questioning, detention or confiscation of the images. Additionally, U.S. citizens should be aware that conversations on the topics of politics, religion and other social issues could lead to arrest."

Is information about refugees from inside Syria really entirely unavailable? True, Syrian government officials may not be all that cooperative about sharing their information with US government refugee screening agencies, so we might have to rely on Wikileaks instead.

But how cooperative would the Gestapo have been about sharing their information about Jewish refugees with US authorities in the 1930's, if America had been willing to accept them?

Are the above and other similar arguments for refusing to accept Syrian refugees anything more than the "nightmare speculation" that Judge Posner refers to above?

To the contrary, these arguments show signs of being a replay of the xenophobia and paranoia of the 1930's that denied refuge to many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Jews seeking refuge from Hitler's concentration and death camps, just as Anne Frank's family tried to do, only with Islamophobia instead of anti-semitism as the main motivating force today.

When it comes to attitudes toward Syrian refugees, there is good reason to believe that what we are seeing is DEJA VU from the 1930's all over again.
Roger Algase is a New York immigration lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 35 years, he has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas and green cards.

Roger's practice is focused on work authorization through specialty occupation (H-1B) or extraordinary ability (O-1) employment; and on J-1 trainee visas as well as green cards through Labor Certification (PERM) and opposite sex or same sex marriage. His email address is