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June 12, 2017

World Refugee Day Observance at Fort Ontario

OSWEGO - An outdoorinterpretive panel describing the historical significance of the World War II Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter will be unveiled at Fort Ontario State Historic Site as part of worldwide observances of United Nations World Refugee Day on Tuesday, June 20. An introductory program and unveiling of the panel begins at 7 p.m. and will befollowed by a short walking tour of the former shelter led by historian Rebecca Fisher.

Fort Ontario served as the only refugee shelter in the United States for nearly 1,000 mostly Jewish refugees of the Nazi Holocaust. It was established by Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), who had planned to open several other sites as a means of inducing other countries to accept refugees from overcrowded camps in Allied-occupied Italy.

The shelter housed the refugees from August 1944 until February 1946 as they awaited an uncertain fate. Many were unable to return to their homes - if they even still existed - and wondered if their families were still alive. They were fenced in, virtual prisoners of freedom, unable to move on with their lives or leave without short-term passes.

"To a great extent, the U.S., with its restrictive immigration policies, ignored the plight of European Jews during World War II,"said Fort Ontario Historic Site Superintendent Paul Lear. "Fort Ontario represents the first time that a group of unsponsored refugees were granted asylum in the United States and, in a way, opened the door for admitting far larger numbers under special post-war refugee legislation.

The new panel will be placed near the granite refugee memorialinstalled in 1981 by the Syracuse Chapter of Pioneer Women/NA'AMMAT and the Jewish Community of Central New York, which was dedicated to the millions of victims of the Nazi Holocaust who never had the opportunity to start a new life.

Funding for the interpretive panel was provided by a grant from the Oswego Community Foundation to the Friends of Fort Ontario.

For more information on the program,contact Paul Lear at (315) 343-4711 or e-mail paul.lear@parks.ny.gov.

THE GATHERING PLACE - The new interpretive panel,as well asthe refugee memorial which was dedicated in 1981, are both situated at the former site of a major intersection in the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter. Located between the living quarters, dining hall, and recreational and administrative facilities, it was an important meeting place in the daily lives of the nearly 1,000 refugees that were housed in the shelter. Image courtesy of Fort Ontario State Historic Site.

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