Oswego County Public Information Office, 46 East Bridge St., Oswego, NY 13126

[Public Information Main Menu] [Oswego County Homepage]

May 20, 2019

75th Anniversary Planning Committee will commemorate Aug. 5, 1944 arrival of 982 Holocaust Refugees at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter -

'Fort Ontario - Where the Holocaust Came to America'

"In the Spring of 1944 a crisis developed as refugees making their way through German lines began interfering with Allied military operations in Italy, and allied refugee camps were pushed to overflowing. When America's European allies balked at opening new refugee camps in their own countries and territories, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his intention to open the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, NY. Roosevelt's goal in opening a camp in the Continental United States was to convince our allies that America was serious about rescuing the Jews of Europe, and to accept refugees themselves. Fort Ontario subsequently became the only camp or shelter for Holocaust refugees in the United States during World War II. It is where every-day Americans and reporters first encountered the victims and their personal stories of persecution at the hands of the Nazis, and it resulted in Holocaust stories moving from the back to the front pages of American newspapers. Fort Ontario is where the Holocaust came to America."
- Paul Lear, Historic Site Manager, Fort Ontario State Historic Site

OSWEGO, NY - At 7:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5 2019, church bells in Oswego will ring to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of a train carrying 982 Holocaust refugees to the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter. That morning, former refugees, their families, invited officials, religious leaders, and news media will board buses, visit cemeteries, and conduct memorial services at the graves of refugees who died on the ship carrying them from Italy to the United States, and at the shelter during its 18-month operation. Afterwards, the group will gather for a private box lunch on the site of the 1944-1946 shelter dining halls and living quarters.

At 2 p.m., a free public 75th anniversary commemoration program will be held near a memorial monument at Fort Ontario State Historic Site dedicated to the "Fort Ontario Refugees and the millions of victims of the Nazi's who never had an opportunity to start a new life. "The Syracuse Pioneer Women/NA'AMAT erected the monument near the Lake Ontario overlook parking lot during the first refugee reunion 1981.

Fort Ontario Superintendent and Historian Paul Lear will introduce a program of speakers including former refugees, their families, religious leaders, Jewish groups, historians, public officials, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Curator and Historian Rebecca Erbelding, Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum President Kevin Hill, and representatives of organizations with historical ties to the Shelter.

Speakers will deliver remarks on their personal memories of life at the Shelter, events and circumstances leading to the formation of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter, how the Shelter affected and continues to affect the lives of former refugees and city residents, how it was administered and operated, its historical significance and legacy, and its impact on U.S. refugee policy since World War II. A memorial service will conclude the public program.

At 6 p.m. a 75th Anniversary Refugee Reunion Dinner with guest speakers introduced by Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum President Kevin Hill will be held at the Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center at 26 E. First St., Oswego. The dinner is open to the public and reservations are required. Buffet dinners will cost $50 and plated Kosher dinners $40 per person. Dinner reservations and event sponsorship forms may be obtained by contacting Judy Rapaport at (315) 591-1050 or email jcrap53@gmail.com.

Fort Ontario State Historic Site is located at the north end of East Fourth Street, and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum is located at 2 E. Seventh St. in the city of Oswego, NY.

For more information on the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter, or 75th anniversary commemorative events, contact Historic Site Manager Paul Lear at (315) 343-4711, the Friends of Fort Ontario Facebook page, or visit www.fortontario.com.

For more Oswego County visitor information go to visitoswegocounty.com or call 1-800-248-4FUN.

For more information on New York State parks call (518) 474-0456, or visit parks.ny.gov, connect on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.


Postcard photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt reviewing the 258th Field Artillery Regiment, NYNG at Fort Ontario on "Governor's Day" in July 1929. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, and as Governor of NYS during annual summer reviews of NY National Guard artillery regiments, Roosevelt developed an affinity for Fort Ontario which led him to choose it as the site of the only refugee shelter or camp for Holocaust Refugees in the United States during WWII.


Photograph of Shelter Director Joseph Smart with War Relocation Authority Director Dillon Myer addressing the refugees at Fort Ontario during welcoming ceremonies. Worried after finding a barbed wire fence surrounding Fort Ontario that reminded them of concentration camps many refugees had been interned at, or escaped from, Smart reassured the refugees that "whenever there is a knock on your door, it will be a friendly one."


The memorial monument at Fort Ontario State Historic Site is dedicated to the refugees and the millions of victims of the Nazis "who never had an opportunity to start a new life." The monument will be the focal point of 75th Anniversary Refugee Shelter commemorative activities during a public program at 2 p.m. Aug. 5.


Refugees at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter on Aug. 5, 1944 during customs processing and baggage retrieval.


Questions about the Oswego County Public Information Office?