Memorandum to His honor Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States
Date: June 4, 1939
Subject: The S.S. St. Louis in American waters
From: Joe Kennedy, Ambassador to England
Mr. President and cabinet members, I request your attention be drawn to a very important matter at hand. Today, we are faced with a social and moral problem. As I am speaking to you, a ship carrying over 1,100 Jews is making it's way up the American east coast, looking for a safe place to port. This ship, called the S.S. St. Louis is possibly the only hope these people will ever have of making it away from Nazi Germany and Hitler. Hoping to escape a destiny of death, these Jews seek sanctuary wherever they can get it. Knowing that America is the modern "hero" and safe haven of immigrants, the refugees have automatically sought out safety within our boundaries after being refused from their firs t destination, Havana, Cuba. If they are not allowed inside our country, they will be sent back to where they were deported from, and most certainly face death in the Nazi concentration camps.
Some six years ago, German leaders sealed their fate by beginning their attack on the Jews of Germany and Europe. One of the first things Hitler did was burn the Reichstag building, the seat of German government, so as to enable him to gain power under the guise of protecting Germany from threats to its security. Soon after, Hitler officially gained dictoral power and a boycott to Jewish shops and goods quickly followed. Hitler followed with a series of laws prohibiting Jews from having any rights, such as ownership of land, being newspaper editors, and even anything dealing with the arts. Many more laws came after these, leading to the Nuremberg Race laws in 1935, which completely deprived Jews of their rights to citizenship in Germany, On November 9 of last year, the Germans began an attack later labeled "The Night of Broken Glass," in which synagogues were burnt, Jewish shop windows were smashed throughout Germany, and thousands of Jews were arrested for no apparent reason other than that they were Jewish. These events sparked fear in the Jews and caused many to flee the country, and over the past few months, many Jews have found safety in foreign countries away from Hitler's power. Groups of poor, terrified Jews are being stripped of all possessions before being deported from Germany, like the Jewish refugees waiting hopefully on the St. Louis just off the coast.
So I come here today, Mr. Roosevelt, to tell you that we, as the United States, have a responsibility. This is a moral responsibility that we took on when we became one of the biggest melting pots of the world in immigration. This responsibility is to live up to the image that the United States has created for itself through it's help to others, especially during the Great war, when the United States joined forces with western Europe to become the heros. When the United States helped turn the war around and defeat Germany for the first time, the rest of the world began to look up to us. The United States was idealized by foreigners, and immigrants spilled in by the thousands. In fact, people came in so fast that we didn't have room to keep up with the rate they were coming.
In 1921, our government did something to change that problem. A congressional enactment was passed that provided a quota system for immigrants. This quota worked by taking the number of immigrants from any foreign nationality and not allowing it to exceed more than three percent of foreigners of the same nationality already living in the United States. This policy worked for Europe, Africa, Russia, Australia, and many other countries including islands in the Pacific. But in 1924, that policy was amended, and changed so that immigration quotas were set up for each country based on desirability of the nationality. No longer bunched as a whole, countries from Norther and Western Europe were found much more desirable than those of Southern and Eastern Europe. This quota system is one reason why the Jews are not being allowed in, because of their obvious roots in western Europe. But because the United States became more willing to accept immigrants from some countries, the Jews seem confident that they can find safety here. It is our responsibility to live up to that and not refuse entrance to these Jews.
By letting the Jews into The United States, we are also sending a message around the world to let important rulers like Hitler know that although we are not involved in this war yet, we are very much a presence in this war. As the United States, we remain a huge influence as role models for other countries, and by accepting the Jews into our country we are beginning to send out the message that we will not stand for what Hitler is doing to the Jews and other minorities of Europe. It is important for us to maintain the image we have built as a strong country so as to protect ourselves against Hitler and other forces.
The "Neutrality Act of 1939" states that the United States is "desiring to preserve its neutrality in wars between foreign states." Staying out of Germany and away from the war is essential at this point, as the Neutrality Act clearly states that it is best for the United States to remain neutral. That is one consequence of allowing the Jews to enter the United States. As Hitler learns that the United States is becoming involved in the war by housing the deported Jews, Germany will certainly formulate its plan to attack our country. But as the war wages on in Europe, I am beginning to see that it is inevitable that a country as secure and powerful as the United States be involved in a world wide war. Although involving ourselves in the war would be violating the "Neutrality Act," it would be in the best interest of the country to allow the Jews in now and become involved in the war before we are forced to. It is for the benefit of both the Jews and the United States that these refugees be let in.
Another disadvantage to allowing the Jews to enter is the fact that our country is recovering from an almost ten year economic depression that is not completely recovered. By allowing refugees to be a part of out country, we are adding to the poverty that we, as Americans, are barely recovering from. The harsh alternative to this certain poverty is to allow the Jews in and anger the Germans so that Germany plans its attack on the United States.
The choice is clear, Mr. Roosevelt. We either initiate our participation in the war now and save our heroic image by allowing the refugees in, or we wait until involvement is forced upon us by the growing powers in Germany.
So in conclusion, I would like to say that it is in the best interest of all parties involved that the United States open its ports to the St. Louis. This will save the Jews from a certain fate in one of the many Nazi concentration camps already springing up, as well as preserve Americas heroic image. Thank you for your time Mr. Roosevelt.
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