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Safe Haven Museum to hold 70th reunion for Oswego's Jewish refugees

Gino Geruntino
A sign greets visitors to Oswego's Safe Haven Museum.

Beginning Thursday, the Safe Haven Museum in Oswego is celebrating the 70th anniversary of when 982 Jewish refugees were first housed at Fort Ontario.

In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt allowed 1,000 Jewish refugees to enter the United States as guests, and they lived at the decommissioned Fort Ontario base in Oswego until 1946, when they were allowed to stay as American citizens or return home. The refugee camp, known as "Safe Haven," was the only location of its kind in the U.S.

Museum Board president Judy Coe Rapaport says the anniversary marks a major milestone for the museum and community, and likely bringing some of the refugees to Oswego for the last time.

"We will not be able to get them together again," Rapaport said. "We will have memorial services. We will have remembrance. We will have remembrance of the Holocaust and of the refugees and the contributions that they made to America. When you look at the generations that they created, because they did create them in America, they became good citizens."

Credit Gino Geruntino / WRVO
Photos accompany the stories of some of the Jewish refugees who called Fort Ontario home during World War II.

She says it's important to hear from the refugees about the life lessons they learned while they were at the camp in Oswego.

"Community, absolutely. Tolerance, absolutely," Rapaport explained. "The world isn't so tolerant anymore. So when you have fear, and fear creates intolerance, tolerance is the biggest thing, and community. Absolutely."

The three-day reunion includes remembrance bus tours, Shabbat services and keynote speeches from two former refugees. There is also a "Ride to Remember" by the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance with donations going to the Safe Haven Museum to help them build an addition onto their current facility.