An American Hero Who Sacrificed His Career To Save Refugees

Published in the Delaware County Daily Times                                        July 22, 2019

Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of anything foreign or different. Xenophobia involves perceptions of insiders toward newcomers and can manifest itself in suspicion and superficial allegations about their activities to justify excluding their presence ….

By Joseph Batory Times Correspondent

The current rhetoric from the White House here in 2019 has been frightening. “They” are marching on our country to take over. “They” are spies and terrorists and criminals and must be stopped. And so, thousands of immigrants running from dictators, drug lords, rampant crime and violence and economic disaster in their home countries are now being denied asylum and have been detained at our borders. Many have already been sent back.

All of this brings to mind a sad example of USA history repeating itself.

statue of liberty destroyed

At the outbreak of WW II, the United States Government refused to allow thousands of Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazi menace to find refuge in our country. The State Department and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed these Jewish immigrants were a “threat to national security.” These politicians and bureaucrats claimed that these refugees were spies and potential criminals and would take American jobs.  Sounds so familiar today!!!!!!!

Even though the leader of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Advisory Committee on Political refugees, argued for the widespread admittance of refugees fleeing Hitler on a humanitarian basis, his pleas fell on deaf ears. Washington, DC government was full of Xenophobic and anti-Jewish sentiment. In 1940, a State Department memo directed USA consulates worldwide to “put obstacles in the way…postpone and postpone and postpone granting entry visas to these refugees.” As a result, many USA consulates essentially issued “death sentences” to many of these potential immigrants who were denied asylum and forced them to return where they started.

Amazingly, there was one low level US Diplomat who refused to comply with this order. He was Hiram Bingham who was stationed in Marseille, France, a hotbed of immigrants escaping the Hitler menace in Europe. Bingham quietly defied and disobeyed these anti-immigrant mandates from Washington. And over a ten-month period, he helped an estimated 2500 mostly Jewish refugees to find safe passage to America.

Not surprisingly, the State Department soon transferred Bingham out of France. By the end of World War II, Bingham was disgraced and his hopes of becoming an ambassador had been dashed. At the age of 42, after more than ten years in the Foreign Service, he settled his wife and growing family on a farm in Salem, Connecticut, and disappeared from public view.

Bingham died basically unknown there in 1988, at 84. His children had no idea why his Foreign Service career had abruptly ended. Little was known by the family about his heroism in Marseille. Then, in 1987, Bingham’s son, William, discovered a bundle of letters, photographs and documents which outlined the “why and the what” of his father’s heroic action at the outbreak of WW II. The reality of Bingham’s rescue efforts of refugees was now freed from the darkness. And Bingham’s family began to set the record straight about his heroism.

In 1998, Bingham received his initial international recognition when the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem commemorated his achievements in saving refugee lives during the war.

Then, in June of 2002, Bingham was finally honored in his own country with a Constructive Dissent award from the American Foreign Service Association, the society of Foreign Service professionals at the State Department. Then Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, summarized Bingham’s accomplishments: “Hiram Bingham risked his life and his career, put it on the line, to help over 2,500 Jewish refugees and others who were on Nazi death lists to leave France for America in 1940 and 1941. He was prepared to take that risk to his career to do that which he knew was right.”

Hiram Bingham is an American hero. And the record of his determination and self-sacrifice has now been set straight in the official history of the USA.

America could use a dose of Bingham’s perspective and heroism today! “Open borders” for the USA is not the solution. But …. much more efficient and expedited vetting of the current refugees is the humanitarian approach that is necessary. Lengthy incarcerations and cages for people requesting asylum are a violation of our nation’s principles.


Joseph Batory is the author of three books and numerous published articles on politics education and history.


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