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Europe’s Refugee Problem, Then and Now

In July 1938, representatives from 32 countries in Europe, North America, and Australia, meeting in Évian-les-Bains, France, refused to accept Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany. At a time when Europe is increasingly turning its back on migrants, it is vital to recall this history.

NEW YORK – Earlier this spring, I drove to a beautiful spot on the southern bank of Lake Geneva. My destination was the Hotel Royale in Évian-les-Bains. It was there, in July 1938, that 32 nations met for a shameful discussion that has been virtually airbrushed from our memory.

Convened by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the massive refugee crisis triggered by Hitler’s virulent anti-Semitism, the Évian conference was a catastrophe. And its disastrous outcome needs to be recalled in the light of Europe’s current migration crisis.

The Évian conference was supposed to address the plight of hundreds of thousands of German and Austrian Jews who were desperate for refuge. Roosevelt believed that only a collective solution could meet the challenge. Hitler, too, hoped that other countries would accept them.

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