Wartime Wednesday: From Italy to Oswego
In August 1944, one hundred and eighty five years after its construction by the British, Fort Ontario, on the Canadian-U.S. border in Oswego, New York, would find itself repurposed as an emergency shelter for 982 European refugees. The individuals, predominantly Jewish and from eighteen different countries ranged in age from a new born baby to an eighty-year-old man. Some has escaped from or been liberated from concentration camps and ghettos.
Called “Safe Haven,” the project was operated by the War Relocation Authority (the same organization responsible for the Internment Camps created after Executive Order 9066 was implemented). War Refugee Board Representative Leonard Ackerman traveled to Italy to determine who would be selected for transport to the U.S. Part of the criteria established was that the refugees for whom no other havens were available. Roosevelt also included the group should include mostly women and children. However, there were some rabbis, doctors, and a few skilled workers to maintain the camp. The President managed to circumvent immigration laws by referring to the refugees as his “guests.”
Visions of a life of freedom were dashed, when the refugees arrived after their seventeen day journey on the U.S. Army transport ship Henry Gibbons (later used to transport war brides). The travelers were deloused then placed under quarantine, forbidden to leave the fort. Visitors were also not allowed. And the worst of it was the chain-link fence that circled the camp, reminding the refugees of what they had left behind.
The city of Oswego welcomed the refugees, often lining up at the fence to shake hands and pass food and other gifts through the holes. Eventually restrictions were lightened, and the “guests” were granted six-hour passes to explore the city.
After the war, there was trepidation from the refugees who had signed documents agreeing to return to their countries of origin. But most has nothing to return to. Many organizations offered to take displaced families and help them begin a new life. Fortunately, not long after President Truman took offer, he decreed the refugees could stay.
To make it official, they were bussed across Rainbow Bridge to Niagara Falls, Canada, where they were presentation with the necessary immigration papers, then returned to the for where they were officially admitted to the United States.
Simon Harlow is one of an elite corps of American soldiers. Regularly chosen for dangerous covert missions, he is tasked with infiltrating Paris to ascertain the Axis’s defenses. Nearly caught by German forces moments after arriving, he owes his life to the beautiful prostitute who claims she’s been waiting for the Allies to arrive. Her lifestyle goes against everything he believes in, but will she steal his heart during his quest to liberate her city?
Inspired by the biblical story of Rahab, Love’s Rescue is a tale of faith and hope during one of history’s darkest periods. Available on Amazon.