Historic Fort Ontario

Fort Ontario Annual Conference

Americans and the Holocaust, and the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter

Annual Fort Ontario Conference  Set for April 25-26, 2020.

2020 Fort Ontario Conference Registration Form

“Americans and the Holocaust, and the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter” is the theme of the annual Fort Ontario Conference on History and Archaeology scheduled for April 25-26, 2020, at the Great Lakes Event and Conference Center in Oswego, NY. Sponsored by the Friends of Fort Ontario, the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum, and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, activities will include a Saturday speakers’ program with exhibits, author signings, sales, and an evening dinner program. On Sunday morning there will be an easy-paced illustrated walking tour of buildings and activity areas related to the shelter.

On Saturday morning historian David Klevan, Museum Educator and 20-year veteran of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC, will speak on the “Americans and the Holocaust exhibit” which opened in April 2018.  He will discuss how the museum presents the story of America’s response to the Holocaust in the exhibit, the importance of Fort Ontario within the story it presents, and how the arrival of the refugees was covered by newspapers nationwide.  The “Americans and the Holocaust Exhibit” features a gallery on the Shelter with a section of the barbed wire fence that surrounded the camp; it is considered one of the exhibits iconic two or three artifacts as it represents where everyday Americans and the press first encountered the victims of Nazi persecution, and Holocaust stories moved from the back to front pages of newspapers.

Historian Rebecca Erbelding, PhD, of the USHMM will discuss her book, RESCUE BOARD; The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe. The U.S. has long been criticized for refusing to provide safe harbor to the Jews of Europe as Hitler’s reign of terror closed in on them. For RESCUE BOARD, Erbelding conducted years of research in order to tell the little-known story of the War Refugee Board (WRB), FDR’s late war effort to save the Jews who remained alive in 1944-45, and address Fort Ontario’s role in the Board’s efforts during her presentation.

Historic Site Manager Paul Lear of Fort Ontario will describe the historical background, people, operations, events, committees, issues, buildings, and historical significance of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in a presentation illustrated with period photographs and plans.

Edward Heinrichs, SUNY Oswego graduate student and intern at Fort Ontario State Historic Site, will speak on “What People Said; Oswego and the Fort Ontario Refugees, the true story of shelter-community relations”.   Over the years relations between Oswegonians and refugees have come to be portrayed as idyllic, but when the TV Movie “Haven” aired in 2001 townspeople were surprised by an alternate portrayal. Heinrichs will draw on original sources to describe what people actually said and wrote in 1944-46.

Musicologist Marilyn Smiley, PhD, Emeritus Professor of the State University of New York at Oswego, will present”Music and Musicians of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter,” the history of music and the lives of refugee musicians before, during, and after the Shelter. Smiley has been conducting research and speaking on the musicians of the shelter for many years and is working towards producing the operetta “The Golden Cage,” written and performed by shelter residents during its closing days.

Rene Chartrand, retired Chief Curator, National Historic Sites, Parks Canada will present the little-known story of “German-Jewish Alien Detainees in Fort Lennox, Canada, 1940 – 1944. Persecuted by Hitler, 1800 German Jews were rounded up as alien German citizens and sent to Canada when Great Britain was under threat of invasion in 1940.  In this illustrated lecture Rene Chartrand will relate the story of these men initially thought to be “dangerous Nazi’s” who were greeted by troops with fixed bayonets when they landed at Quebec City.

On Saturday evening, dinner speaker and Fort Ontario refugee Doris Schechter will share her father’s story of traveling through Europe to escape the Holocaust and the family’s journey to Oswego, her life from refugee to restaurateur, and from author to advocate for preserving the memory of the Shelter.  Dinner will feature dishes prepared from recipes in her 2007 book, “AT OMA’S TABLE: More than 100 Recipe’s and Remembrances from a Jewish Family’s Kitchen.  Dessert(s) will be made from a recipe(s) in her 2001 publication, “My Most Favorite Dessert Company Cookbook.” Copies of Doris’s books will be available for sale and signing at the conference, and there will be exhibits and videos.

On Sunday morning at 9:00 AM, there will be a guided walking tour of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter illustrated with maps, plans, and contemporary photographs of refugees and buildings. Participants will walk at an easy pace to locations where photographs used in the walk were taken and history was made.

Advance registration and payment for the conference is required.  Participants may sign up for all or individual activities. There will be no walk-ons.  Saturday’s program of speakers includes lunch and will cost $40.00.  The dinner program will cost $50.00, and the Sunday Walking Tour $10.00. For those who pre-register for all three activities the cost will be discounted $10.00.  Checks should be written out to Friends of Fort Ontario and sent to Fort Ontario SHS,1 East 4th Street, Oswego, NY, 13126. Credit care reservations can be made over the phone (315) 343-4711.  Call or email [Paul.Lear@parks.ny.gov] for information on the conference. Updates will be posted on the Fort Ontario Conference on History and Archaeology Facebook page.

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