Oral Histories: Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontario (Safe Haven)

Safe Haven Main Page

The following links are to interviews performed by Lawrence Baron, an adjunct professor from Saint Lawrence University (Canton, NY), in conjunction with WRVO (NPR, Oswego, NY) in 1984.   The interviews were done in connection with the refugees' 40th reunion in New York City and contain interviews with and about Fort Ontario Refugees.  These interviews were made to generate a 3 part radio series about the refugees and the people involved with them. The interviews were recorded on audiocassette tapes with little quality control. The recordings contain many deformities and the interviews tend to end abruptly.


Interviews were digitized from the audiocassette tapes in 2004 and 2005 by SUNY Oswego students as part of a class project. The sound files linked below are .mp3 files; .wav files are available upon request.

For a bibliography of related materials, see: Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontario (Safe Haven) (pdf file).

Also available: Safe Haven 50th Anniversary Reunion Video Collection.

Oral History Program

Tape 269

Interview with three former residents of the Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontario. Morice Kamhi discusses his experience in Europe during World War II and his life at Fort Ontario. Leon Levitch, pianist and student of music before arriving at Fort Ontario, discusses school, piano tuning, working with two pianists who were also residents, and establishing a chorus at Fort Ontario. Fredi Baum discusses experiences and general information about Fort Ontario and the community. Newspaper columnist Samuel Grafton discusses his New York Post article concerning immigration during World War II and his conversations with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Tape 270

Interviewees: Ruth Gruber, Jack Bass, Jolanda Bass, Manya Breur, Walter Greenberg. Unknown interviewer. No date. Ruth Gruber details her travels to Italy to accompany the refugees, trip to the United States on the troop ship the Henry Gibbons to the U.S. and the train trip to Oswego. She discusses residents' experiences at Fort Ontario and government decisions concerning the residents future residency after World War II. Walter Greenberg remembers the train trip to Oswego, the fence at Fort Ontario, his Bar Mitzvah, and being a member of the Boy Scout troop. Jack Bass discusses childhood experiences at Fort Ontario and his life in Europe before traveling to the U.S. Jolanda and Jack Bass discuss their mother's hardships during the war and her singing talent. Manya Breur remembers her life in Europe before and during World War II, her family's traveling, their time in 5 camps, and being chosen to travel on the Henry Gibbons. Her experiences at Fort Ontario include her marriage and the birth of her daughter.

Tape 271

Safe Haven: Oswego Reunion, August 1984. Ruth Gruber discusses Safe Haven, her employer in 1944 Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, individuals at Fort Ontario including Joe Langnas, Olga Maurer, David Hendel, Fred Baum, Alex Margulis, Ralph Manfred, Edith Semjen, John Hunter, and Jolanda Bass. Adam Munz details his trek on foot across the Alps to Italy and his time at Fort Ontario. Liana Brown discusses her travel to the U.S. and family hardships. Fredi Baum remembers work as an administrative assistant to the director at Fort Ontario and the fence. He spoke seven languages. Julius Krauthamer, a rabbi from Auburn, remembers his travels to Fort Ontario, bringing supplies and food deliveries. Karl Bader recalls coming from a concentration camp in Italy, arriving at Oswego, maintaining sewing machines at the Fort Ontario and moving to New York City after the war. Samuel Grafton, a writer for the New York Post during World War II, discusses an article he wrote that suggested a way to bring refugees to the U.S., "Free port for people."

Tape 272

David Simmons was an Oswego resident during World War II. He remembers life as a child at Fort Ontario. Interviewer: Lawrence Baron.

Tape 273

Joseph Smart, Emergency Refugee Shelter of Fort Ontario director from 1944 - 1945 is interviewed by telephone by Lawrence Baron. Recorded July 1984. Mr. Smart discusses organization, community relations, government rulings, residents and Christmas 1944.

Tape 274

SUNY Oswego professor Seward Salisbury was interviewed by Lawrence Baron on November 19, 1983. Mr. Salisbury discusses religion in Oswego, schools and child residents. Muriel Perry, Oswego school teacher, recalls teaching at Fort Ontario and relationships with residents.

Tape 275

Walter Greenberg discusses his life before coming to the U.S., concentration camps in Italy, experiences at Fort Ontario, the Boy Scout troop at the fort, school and housing. Interviewer: Lawrence Baron. January 1984.

Tape 276

David Wyman interview. September 23, 1986. Interviewer: Pat McKeon. Mr. Wyman discusses 1930s + 1940s U.S. immigration laws, anti-Semitism, President Roosevelt's plan to bring refugees to the U.S.

Tape 277

40th Reunion Celebration, August 1984. Joseph Papp presents introduction to the celebration. Moric Kamhi introduces Ruth Gruber. Ruth Gruber - speech about Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontario. Governor Mario Cuomo - speech. Manya Breuer sings three songs. Presenters included: Walter Greenberg, Adam Munz, Leon Levitch, Florence Freedman, Yolanda Bass, and Rochelle Sidell.

Tape 278

November 19, 1983 interviews. Ralph Faust, principal of Oswego High School during World War II, discusses refugee children in school. Virginia Dean, principal at Fitzhugh Park School during World War II discusses refugee children in school and overcoming language barriers. Harold Clark organized a Boy Scout troop at Fort Ontario for young male residents. He discusses the focused interest the boys had, work ethics and community involvement.

Tape 279

Geraldine Rossiter recalls visiting the Fort Ontario, friends she made, outings, and her friend Edith Semjen. Aulus Saunders, SUNY Oswego Art Department chair during World War II, discusses art exhibitions, college and community relations. Interviewer: Lawrence Baron.

Tape 280

Steffi Steinberg interview. January 1984. Interviewer: Lawrence Baron. Ms. Steinberg discusses life with her family in Europe before and during World War II, voyage on the Henry Gibbons, and Oswego school experiences.

Tape 281

Interviewee: Michael Dobkowsky, associate professor at Hobart and William Smith College, author of The Tarnished Dream. Mr. Dobkowsky discusses anti-Semitism. Interviewer: Lawrence Baron. November 2, 1983.

Tape 282

Telephone interview with David Wyman. April 30, 1986. Interviewer: Lawrence Baron. Mr. Wyman discusses U.S. immigration, immigration quotas, and anti-Semitism.

Tape 283

Telephone interview with Sharon Lowenstein. July 1984. Interviewer: Lawrence Baron. Ms. Lowenstein is the author of A Raw Deal for Refugees,Oswego, 1944-45.

Tape 284

Radio Program: Haven From The Holocaust. No date. Unnamed narrator. Not all participants are identified. The program includes excerpts from previous interviews. Participants include: David Wyman, Josiah DuBois, Samuel Grafton, Sharon Lowenstein, Ruth Gruber, Geraldine Rossiter, Lawrence Baron, Fredi Baum, Leon Levitch, Steffi Steinberg, Muriel Perry, Edith Weiss, Walter Greenberg, Seward Salisbury, Manya Breuer, Joseph Smart, Adam Munz, and Moritz Konig. A production of WSLU-FM, North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY. Jackie Sauter, Executive Producer. Beverly Hickman, Producer. Dr. Lawrence Baron - Researcher & Script Consultant.