Oswego County: Keeping Holocaust Refugee Stories Alive


Images Courtesy of © Oswego County

Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York, provided refuge to nearly 1,000 people fleeing Europe during World War II. The Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter served as the only location in the United States to accept refugees during World War II, at a time when the nation was entangled in now-familiar debates over immigration.

The stories of the 982 refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and the reception from the Oswego community, continue to resonate today and stand as a courageous example of tolerance and compassion.

Part of Oswego County’s rich and unique history, the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum now sits adjacent to the Fort Ontario State Historic Site and tells the stories of the predominantly Jewish refugees who came to Oswego as guests of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to escape the Holocaust. In June 1944—just days after D-Day—President Roosevelt announced the decision to bring refugees to Fort Ontario. The refugees boarded the U.S.S. Henry Gibbins in Naples, Italy, and arrived on Aug. 5, 1944, remaining in Oswego for the duration of the war.

Opened in 2002, Safe Haven is dedicated to keeping alive the unique stories of the refugees, who were largely Yugoslavian but came from 18 different countries. The museum offers an in-depth look at one of the most significant events in Oswego—and the nation’s—humanitarian history.

Recent updates to the Safe Haven Museum include first-person accounts of the refugee shelter and an expansive tracing of the lives of dozens of refugees following their release from the shelter. Visitors can listen to refugees’ stories of Nazi oppression, escaping Europe, and their time at Fort Ontario in their own words. For more information on Safe Haven, go to safehavenmuseum.com.

oswego county
© Courtesy of Oswego County

From May to October, visitors can also explore Fort Ontario, a star-shaped fortress built in 1839 that was the site of several battles in the French and Indian War and the War of 1812. With underground stone encasements and scenic views of Lake Ontario, the fort has a rich history that includes roles in each U.S. war dating back to the 18th century.

Elsewhere throughout the county, more than a dozen sites highlight the area’s role in the underground railroad, including the Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum.

Come for the area’s unique history, but don’t miss out on all the outdoor fun Oswego County has to offer.

Located on the southern shore of Great Lake Ontario, Oswego County offers four seasons of outdoor recreation. Sandy beaches along the eastern coast of Lake Ontario, spectacular sunsets, and the 110-foot Salmon River Falls are some of the high points of the thousands of acres of public lands that include hiking trails, fishing access, ATV, snowmobile trails, and more.

Lake Ontario, Oneida Lake, and the Oswego and Salmon rivers provide year-round, world-class fishing opportunities, highlighted by the world-famous Salmon Run each fall. Bass, walleye, northern pike, perch, and bullhead await anglers of all abilities, in addition to world-class trophy fishing that includes chinook salmon, Atlantic salmon, steelhead, Coho salmon, brown trout, and lake trout.

Anyone can book a charter or hire a river guide, and boaters can launch at dozens of public and private marinas across the county, or travel through the historic Oswego Canal, the easternmost connection between the Erie Canal and Great Lakes.

For more information, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com.


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Established in 1816 through an act of the New York State Legislature, Oswego County occupies 968 square miles of land on the southeastern shore of Lake Ontario. Rich in natural beauty, the county offers excellent business, educational, and recreational opportunities. 


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