Art Spiegelman has a comic in the Washington Post about the St. Louis, a 1939 ship filled with Jewish refugees from Europe that was denied asylum in the US and sent back. Spiegelman focuses on some of the media-related aspects of the shameful story, with his usual bite.


  1. Remember that in 1939, no one knew the Nazis were going to kill 6 million Jews. They were seen as an unfortunate persecuted minority. Well, persecuted minorities were not people that most Americans spent too much time worrying about. After all, we had our own persecuted minorites (African-Americans, chiefly) in the U.S. Public opinion was not clamoring for the right of these refugees to be admitted, nor was there in domestic or international law any sort of “rights” for refugees or obligation for countries to receive them. There was certainly no UNHCR.

    So Roosevelt and the U.S. made what is in retrospect a horrific and tragic decision. Later Roosevelt made the horrible decision to imprison Japanese-Americans. We are right to look back and condemn him for these decisions, but at the same time, we should be aware of how different the world was then.

  2. Actually, I don’t think things have changed very much at all. Rwanda happened barely 15 years ago and Somalia is still going on. These genocides don’t have the horrific efficiency of The Final Solution, but are just as senseless.

  3. The difference is that the Rwanda genocide happened in a third world country, whereas as the World War II holocaust was perpetrated by a world power.

  4. Re: foobar
    What about the atrocities of the Bosnian War?
    Maybe not a world power, But ex-Yugoslavia/Bosnia/Serbia have to be at least Second World, right? And that was happening in Europe.

  5. I think the point of Spiegelman’s cartoon-essay was not so much about the murderousness of foreign governments but the callousness of our own. And yes, of FDR’s government too. We don’t remember this now but anti-Semitism was wide-spread and “acceptable” in 1930s American culture, and FDR’s State Department was particularly notorious in that regard. In racial/ethnic matters, America’s elites differed from the Nazis more in degree than in kind.

    What I found really shocking was the revelation of 48,000 modern refugees being imprisoned by Homeland Security for months or years without court hearings. Is Obama doing anything about that?

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