|The British, though, did exactly that.|
The issue of whether to allow Syrian refugees into the United States has been a political hot button for months now. In light of which it was interesting to read this, from American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933-1945, by Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987). Describing the sentiments of some American officials in late 1940 (when the German borders had already been closed, and any Jew [with few exceptions] who hadn't gotten out was not going to get out):
Even George Messersmith (now the ambassador to Cuba), often praised by Jewish spokesmen for his fairness and sympathy toward Jewish refugees when he was consul general in Berlin, took seriously reports of Jewish loyalty to Germany and treated them as cues to recommend tighter restrictions. From his new post in Havana he cited rumors that some Jewish refugees allegedly celebrated the fall of Paris to the German army. The stories included a naval attaché's report that he had heard Ursula Einstein, the scientist's grandniece, herself a refugee in Port-au-Prince, express similar sentiments. Messersmith hoped that Congress would pass legislation permitting consular officials to assess whether the admission of each applicant to the U.S. would be "in the public interest." For national security reasons, Messersmith argued, "our government can no longer delay giving very specific instructions to consular officials with respect to the degree to which they must go into the character and opinions of aliens desiring immigration visas and visas for a temporary stay in the United States."It's deja vu all over again.
Several moths later William C. Bullitt, former ambassador to France, further fueled concern by telling a Philadelphia audience that "more than one half the spies captured doing actual military work against the French army were refugees from Germany." Though Bullitt's contention was unconfirmed and contradicted by others, it added to the general apprehension that had already reached as far as the White House.
The president did not hesitate to state publicly that he was haunted by the specter of a fifth column whose members included some of the refugees.