“I think we now have sufficient population in our country for us to shut the door and to breed up a pure, unadulterated American citizenship,” Senator Ellison DuRant Smith
in support of the Quota Act of 1921.
Introduction: If Germany’s 1932 election of National Socialism threatened a “final solution” to the West’s pathological preoccupation with its Jewish Problem, America’s Congress ensured its near-success.
The 1924 Immigration Restriction Act was the last in a decade’s long series of racist Congressional efforts to limit immigration of “undesirables” to the United States, to encourage immigration of “desired” North European Aryan “racial stock.” Before the 1924 Act Congress passed the not-quite-adequate Emergency Quota Act:
“The 1921 Emergency Quota Act restricted immigration to 3% of foreign-born persons of each nationality that reside[d] in the United States in 1910.”
What a difference three years of Congressional reflection makes: in 1910 (reflecting mass flight from Russian pogroms) Jews constituted some 2% of the population; in 1890 there were far fewer even than 1%. So the 1924 bill chose the 1890 census and for good measure reduced the allowable quota of the “unfit” from 3% to 2%.:
“It initially permitted
annual immigration of up to two percent of the number of foreign-born persons of a particular nationality in the United States as set forth in the 1890 census. In operation, the quota system "materially favored immigrants from Northern and Western Europe because the great waves from Southern and Eastern Europe did not arrive until after 1890."”
If the law sounds as if inspired by American eugenics, it was: it was based directly on testimony provided by the head of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO):
“Eugenics Record Office Superintendent Harry Laughlin became the anti-immigration movement''s most persuasive lobbyist... [He was appointed by the chairman of the committee writing the law] expert eugenics agent.” By deceptive data and reasoning Laughlin fed Congress what it wanted to hear, that new immigrants were polluting America’s bloodline with “feeblemindedness, insanity, criminality, and dependency.” The resulting bill “did everything eugenicists had hoped for
... it restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe countries to only 9% of the total. Northern and western European countries got 86% of the quota, even though they made up the minority of immigrants in 1923.”
President Coolidge signs the immigration act on the south lawn of the White House (Wikipedia)
“Upon signing the Act
, President Calvin Coolidge commented, ‘America must remain American.’ This phrase would become the rallying cry of anti-immigration sentiment until after World War II.”
The degree of antisemitism inspiring the 1924 anti-immigrant Act accurately reflected the mood of the country. Eugenics, in the imagination of the United States, was the wave of the future.
In 1894, although the movement was still in its infancy, several Harvard graduates created the, Immigration Restriction League
dedicated to preserving American racial purity by closing the gates to “inferior races.” Intent of preserving America’s Anglo-Saxon heritage as represented by its upper class, League membership included,
“A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard, William DeWitt Hyde, president of Bowdoin College, James T. Young, director of Wharton School and David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University.”
Antisemitism in America kept pace with the influx of Jews fleeing the pogroms. The great- grandson of Henry Adams, second president of the United States said,
““The Jew atmosphere
isolates me.” In Ignatius Donnelly’s 1890-novel “Caesar’s Columns,” the Jews seized power to take revenge against the Christians for how they had made them suffer.”
Eugenics inspired such widely read scholarship as Madison Grant’s, The Passing of the Great Race which, in good eugenics terms, blamed the Jews for “mongrelizing” the white race.
This was also the period that produced the lynching of Leo Frank (longer discussion to come) and its defensive response to a spreading anti-Jewish threat, the Anti-defamation League for Jews; inspired by that lynch mob also the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that, within eight years grew from the few murderers of Leo Frank to a mass movement of more than four million by 1924
“The Leo Frank case was a harbinger of an upsurge of overt Judeophobia after WW1. The artificial national unity was over, and postwar disillusionment brought during the 1920’s fear that the old way of life was under the onslaught of the foreign born, the city, and religious liberalism.”
In the 1920’s automobile magnate Henry Ford published and distributed millions of copies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; Harvard introduced a quota system for Jews, followed quickly by numerous institutions of higher education across the country (Dartmouth refused to abandon its quota until 1945); Jews were banished from white collar professions, including medicine, law and, ironically, banking.
Henry Ford distributed the Protocols at all dealerships across the U.S. His purchase of The Dearborn Independent allowed hit to spread antisemitism beyond the showroom.
Eugenics was the rage and sterilization was forced on tens of thousands of Americans that the US Supreme Court determined “unfit.” Adolph Hitler, already an admirer and promoter of the writings of Henry Ford held the United States a model for what Germany should aspire to:
“When Hitler published Mein Kampf
in 1924, he held up a foreign law as a model for his program of racial purification: The U.S. Immigration Restriction Act of 1924… When the Nazis took power in 1933, they installed a program of eugenics--the attempted "improvement" of the population through forced sterilization and marriage controls--that consciously drew on the U.S. example... Small wonder that the Nazi laws led one eugenics activist in Virginia to complain, "The Germans are beating us at our own game."”
We will return in more detail to the impact of this restrictive immigration law on European Jewry when we turn to the Holocaust proper. One result rarely mentioned in histories of the Holocaust is that, beyond providing a fig leaf for the administration to justify its inaction responding to Germany’s ever-intensifying persecution of the Jews from 1933 on, the fact that the leading western democracy, self-described representative of humanistic and liberal ideals, “refuge to the oppressed;” the fact that the one country that might have provided a model of moral and ethical behavior in protecting Jewish refugees instead set an example for other potential countries of refuge to close their borders.
The single exception was tiny Bolivia, which accepted 30,000 refugees between 1938 and 1941.
Such theatrical gestures by the administration as the Bermuda Conference and that “too little-too late” afterthought, the War Refugee Board, were mere window dressing to placate critics at home, and particularly America’s own and mostly impotent Jewish community itself fearing antisemitism at home.
The antisemitic 1924 Congressional Act remained in force until 1965, long after the Final Solution eliminated the threat of a “massive” Jewish immigration had passed. In the meantime the Congressional ban was scrupulously observed, and its surviving Jewish victims, approximately one million
, were forced by the US Army to remain in the same concentration camps renamed DP camps, from which they had recently been “liberated,” American soldiers as guards at the same camps they had suffered under German rule!
Three years after Auschwitz the United States was still imprisoning Jews while providing sanctuary from the Nuremberg Trials for “useful” Nazi war criminals like SS colonel Werner von Braun. Sanctuary for Nazis, concentration camps for Jews.
Recent writings in this Series: