On November 18, 1938, the legislature of the Virgin Islands adopted a resolution to allow refugees to “find surcease from misfortune in the Virgin Islands of the United States.” As part of its campaign to prevent Jews or others wishing to escape from the Nazis from coming to the United States, the State Department rejected the idea and said on December 15, 1939, the resolution was “incompatible with existing law.”
The Department of the Interior and the Labor Department expressed a different opinion on February 3, 1940, concluding the Virgin Islands’ invitation was “consistent with existing law and unobjectionable from the standpoint of policy.”
The State Department’s policy was primarily implemented by Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long who wrote on June 26, 1940, “We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to resort to various administrative advices which would postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.”
Undaunted, the Governor of the Virgin Islands, Lawrence Cramer, signed a decree on November 2, 1940, to allow 2,000 families to be admitted. William Perl noted, “The invitation’s main purpose was to provide a haven for those who had applied for immigration to the United States and had obtained a quota number for their registration and eventual processing when their number came up,” which could take “three years or more.”
Long was determined to sabotage the plan. He convinced Admiral Alan Kirk, Chief of Naval Intelligence, to declare the Virgin Islands a restricted area to prevent “undesirable citizens traffic.”
Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes revived the idea in 1942 and suggested to President Roosevelt that 1,000 children and some adults be allowed into the islands. The president told Ickes to talk to the State Department, which was no more interested in the proposal in 1942 than it was in 1938.
Thousands of Jews might have been saved but the United States government refused to allow them into the islands for the duration of the war.
Source: William R. Perl, “The Holocaust and the Lost Caribbean Paradise,” Foundation for Economic Education, (January 1, 1992).