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Lessons from World War II on a Refugee Crisis

Varian Fry, an American journalist, set out for France in the summer of 1940, as that country became the latest to fall to Hitler. Now we look back at that time as the brink of World War II. Then, however, Americans thought of it as a period when America was recovering from the Depression. The U.S. was avoiding getting ensnared in Europe’s wars and refugee problems. There was little political will to help refugees and a popular isolationist movement urged America First.

Making that Atlantic passage a year ago to write about Portugal and World War II, I found many parallels with the present refugee crisis, and discovered how many journalists and citizens now are forced to consider where they stand on activism.

Fry was a foreign policy writer who felt compelled to do something tangible. He was still shaken by his visit to Berlin several years before, where he witnessed how Nazi Germany treated Jews in that city. He comes alive to me most when I imagine him stumbling into the U.S. consulate on his arrival in Marseille. There he finds out he’s in the wrong place, the visa section is outside town. He has to take a trolley. And when he gets to the visa office, he refuses to wait in the long line with visa applicants. He marches in the front door, impatient to get something done. He’s not sure what he’s doing but he wants to get started.

Read the full story on Medium for World Refugee Day.

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