Monday, 20 May 2019 17:42

Fort Ontario - Where the Holocaust Came to America

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At 7:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5 2019, church bells in Oswego will ring to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of a train carrying 982 Holocaust refugees to the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter.

That morning, former refugees, their families, invited officials, religious leaders, and news media will board buses, visit cemeteries, and conduct memorial services at the graves of refugees who died on the ship carrying them from Italy to the United States, and at the shelter during its 18-month operation. Afterwards, the group will gather for a private box lunch on the site of the 1944-1946 shelter dining halls and living quarters.

At 2 p.m., a free public 75th anniversary commemoration program will be held near a memorial monument at Fort Ontario State Historic Site dedicated to the “Fort Ontario Refugees and the millions of victims of the Nazi’s who never had an opportunity to start a new life.” The Syracuse Pioneer Women/NA’AMAT erected the monument near the Lake Ontario overlook parking lot during the first refugee reunion 1981.

Fort Ontario Superintendent and Historian Paul Lear will introduce a program of speakers including former refugees, their families, religious leaders, Jewish groups, historians, public officials, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Curator and Historian Rebecca Erbelding, Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum President Kevin Hill, and representatives of organizations with historical ties to the Shelter.

Speakers will deliver remarks on their personal memories of life at the Shelter, events and circumstances leading to the formation of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter, how the Shelter affected and continues to affect the lives of former refugees and city residents, how it was administered and operated, its historical significance and legacy, and its impact on U.S. refugee policy since World War II. A memorial service will conclude the public program.

At 6 p.m. a 75th Anniversary Refugee Reunion Dinner with guest speakers introduced by Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum President Kevin Hill will be held at the Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center at 26 E. First St., Oswego. The dinner is open to the public and reservations are required. Buffet dinners will cost $50 and plated Kosher dinners $40 per person. Dinner reservations and event sponsorship forms may be obtained by contacting Judy Rapaport at (315) 591-1050 or email [email protected]

Fort Ontario State Historic Site is located at the north end of East Fourth Street, and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum is located at 2 E. Seventh St. in the city of Oswego, NY.

For more information on the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter, or 75th anniversary commemorative events, contact Historic Site Manager Paul Lear at (315) 343-4711, the Friends of Fort Ontario Facebook page, or visit

For more Oswego County visitor information go to or call 1-800-248-4FUN.

For more information on New York State parks call (518) 474-0456, or visit, connect on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

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