In 1939, Alaska became a last, desperate hope for a small group of families living in rural Germany. “We know quite well the difficulties making the rough clime of Alaska,” their spokesman wrote, “but now we have no other choice, we German Jews.”
U.S. officials were floating a plan to resettle Germany’s persecuted Jews in the far northern territory. World war loomed, with extermination camps to follow. But standing in the way of the sanctuary plan were practical concerns, national politics and the sentiments of Alaskans.
In 1999, the Anchorage Daily News published this four-part series on Alaska’s role in the great humanitarian crisis of the century, examining the fate of the Alaska sanctuary plan and of the families who dreamed of coming into the country.
Read the stories here:
On the eve of World War II, Alaska became an improbable beacon of freedom for Jews still trapped inside the Third Reich. How a plan emerged to relocate some of them to the Last Frontier.
With war looming, a plan by the federal government emerged, calling for bringing to Alaska ‘’new settlers of various races, creeds and stations,’’ including Jewish refugees from Europe. President Roosevelt was intrigued.
As millions of Jews fell under German authority in the Reich’s sweep through Eastern Europe, the Nazis began to systematically collect Jews and move them into urban ghettos. The Alaska settlement plan appeared as a peephole of light. Alaskans were torn, with many reacting strongly against the plan.
As Nazi policy turned from deportation to death camps, and pleas became more desperate, the Alaska relocation plan reached Congress. Critics charged that proposal was a “smokescreen” attempting to slip thousands of aliens into the country through America’s ‘’back door.’’
Tom Kizzia, who wrote this series, was an Anchorage Daily News reporter for 25 years. He is the author of three non-fiction books about Alaska: “The Wake of the Unseen Object,” “Pilgrim’s Wilderness,” and “Cold Mountain Path.” The series was edited by David Hulen. It was copy edited by Sue Jepsen.