WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, in honor of Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Reps. Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Judy Chu (CA-28), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Kim Schrier (WA-08) and Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05) introduced legislation to award a collective Congressional Gold Medal to American individuals who were active in aiding and rescuing Jews and other refugees during the Holocaust, often in the face of U.S. opposition to their resettlement.
Among the American citizens to be honored are: Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States; Henry Morgenthau, Jr., former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; Harold Ickes, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior; and Congressman Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., of Maryland, the father of Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi.
Across the federal government, officials denied repeated requests to welcome and resettle Jews and other refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and its territories to the United States. In 1939, Congress rejected proposals to offer asylum to 20,000 Jewish children. That same year, the U.S. State Department and President Franklin Roosevelt refused asylum to Jewish refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis, forcing them to return to Europe where 254 were killed in the Holocaust. Despite the official stance of the U.S. government, American rescue and relief organizations were responsible between 1933 and 1945 for saving many thousands of Jews and other refugees from being forced into concentration camps and facing likely death.
“At great personal risk, justice-minded Americans rescued thousands of Jewish refugees and others fleeing violence during the Holocaust. Their bravery spared countless lives from brutality and mass murder,” said Rep. Raskin. “With antisemitism and fascism on the rise again all over the world, it is essential to recognize the commitment and sacrifice of so many Americans in the last century so that we may all summon from their courage the resolve to fight bigotry today.”
“This historic legislation will for the first time ever give congressional recognition to the Americans who boldly took action to rescue Jews and refugees from almost certain death during the Holocaust,” said Rep. Chu. “As we face rising antisemitism and authoritarianism in the U.S. and across the world, part of our commitment to ‘never again’ must include honoring those who took action, often at great personal risk, to save lives during the Holocaust. Theirs is the example we must memorialize and heed moving forward as we face bigotry and threats to human rights.”
“It is right for Congress to honor those who aided and rescued countless Jews and other refugees during the Holocaust. Awarding Congressional Gold Medals to individuals and groups responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives is well-deserved and long overdue,” said Rep. Cohen, Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“Amid rising antisemitism, it’s critically important that we never forget the victims of the Holocaust killed by the Nazis, and that we honor the American heroes who put so much at risk to aid and rescue Jews and many other refugees,” said Rep. Gottheimer. “These incredible individuals leave behind legacies that continue to teach us of our responsibility to confront bigotry, hatred, and intolerance wherever it rears its ugly head. On Yom HaShoah, I’m proud to help lead legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals to these American heroes who saved thousands of lives during the Holocaust.”
The bill is endorsed by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Pave the Way Foundation, The Institute for the Study of Rescue and Altruism in the Holocaust.
Click here to read the full legislation.