Samuel Dickstein (1885-1954), a Democratic congressman from New York, challenged the Roosevelt administration’s failure to aid European Jewry.
Dickstein served eleven consecutive terms in the House of Representatives, from 1923 through 1945, and chaired the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization from 1931 to 1945. Although Dickstein on a number of occasions urged admission of more Jewish refugees to the United States, anti-immigration sentiment both within his committee, and the House as a whole, impeded his ability to get traction on the issue. In 1933, he proposed a bill to loosen the visa requirements for “children and aged and infirm relatives of naturalized United States citizens.” In addition to the Roosevelt administration’s opposition, some major American Jewish organizations, fearful they would be accused of flooding the country with refugees, also urged him to drop it.
Dickstein strongly and repeatedly criticized the administration’s refugee policy. After the Bermuda conference concluded, he declared, “Not even the pessimists among us expected such sterility.” Dickstein and U.S. Senator W. Warren Barbour in September 1943 introduced resolutions calling for the temporary admission of all persecuted refugees until six months after the conclusion of the war. The White House and State Department blocked the resolutions from reaching the floor of Congress for a vote.
While applauding President Roosevelt’s decision to grant temporary haven to 980 Jewish refugees in 1944, Dickstein said the president’s step “did not go far enough.” After the war, Dickstein worked within the House Immigration Committee to help ensure that those refugees would not be sent back to Europe.
For several years, Dickstein associated with the Bergson Group. He endorsed the Committee for a Jewish Army, spoke at the 1943 Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe, and added his name to several Bergson newspaper ads. Later, however, possibly in response to pressure from mainstream Jewish leaders, Dickstein distanced himself from the Bergsonites.