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October 24, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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October 24, 2014
 

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PAGE 12A By Rafael Medoff WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Was the Jewish "lady tailor" who ran a Prague dressmak- ing shop a potential Nazi spy? The Roosevelt administration apparently thought so. The Jewish Museum Mil- waukee recently opened a remarkable exhibit about the late Hedy Strnad, a Jewish- Czech dressmaker who with her husband, Paul, attempted to immigrate to the United States on the eve of the Ho- locaust. The exhibit has its roots in a December 1939 letter sent by Paul to his cousins in Milwaukee asking them to help seek permission for HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 24, 2014 The Jewish dressmalser FDR turned away ior," as Rohaczek described her--sometimes had her seamstresses sew clothes for Rohaczek's dolls. The directors of the Mil- waukee museum came up with an innovative way to remember the Strnads: enlist- ing the costume makers from the Milwaukee Repertory The- ater to create clothing based on Hedy's sketches. The resulting exhibit, 'Stitching History from the Holocaust," is a powerful and moving way to introduce an individual, personal dimen- sion to Holocaust remem- brance. It features eight outfits--among them fit- ted blouses and blazers, paired with A-line skirts, and knee- him and his wife to come to America. Paul enclosed eight of Hedy's clothing design sketches. He knew the U.S. authorities would turn away refugees who might have trouble finding employment; Hedy's sketches demonstrated her professional skills. Testimony submitted to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, by the Strnads' niece, Brigitte Rohaczek, provided the Milwaukee ex- hibit designers with additional information. She shared poignant memories of her vivacious Aunt Hedy--her real name was Hedwig-- and the dressmaking shop she owned and operated in Prague. Hedy--a "lady tai- FIRST WE LISTEN... THEN WE DELIVER! 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Publication Date: October 31, 2014 Deadline: October 22, 2014 For information -- Call 407-834-8787 length dresses that cinched at the waist. Why were the Strnads de- nied admission to the United States? America's immigra- tion laws at the time made it difficult for refugees such as the Strnads to enter, and the way the Roosevelt administra- tion implemented those laws made it even harder. Franklin Roosevelt's State Department piled on extra requirements and bureau- cratic obstacles. In an internal memo in 1940, Assistant Secretary of State Breckin- ridge Long sketched out his department's policy to "delay and effectively stop" refu- gee immigration by putting "every obstacle in the way," such as requiring additional documents and resorting to "various administrative de- vices which would postpone and postpone the granting of the visas." The annual quota of immi- grants from CzeChoslovakia was small--just 2,874 but even that quota was not filled in any year during FDR's 12 years in office. In 1940, the year the Strna- ds wanted to immigrate, the Czech quota was only 68 percent filled; nearly 1,000 quota places sat unused. Even though there was room in the quota, and even though He@ was a successful business- woman and the couple had relatives in the United States, the Strnads' applications were turned down. At the same time the Strnads were seeking a haven, refugee advocates were trying to convince the Roosevelt administration to permit European Jews to settle in areas that were at the time U.S. territories but not states, such as the Virgin Islands and Alaska. After Kristallnacht in No- vember 1938, the governor and legislative assembly of the Virgin Islands offered to open its doors to Jewish refugees, but Roosevelt personally blocked the proposal. In public and private state- ments, FDR claimed that Nazi spies might sneak into Amer- ica disguised as refugees. U.S. officials imagined that if spies reached the Virgin Islands, it would put them within easy reach of the mainland United States. (No Nazi spies were ever discovered among the few Jewish refugees who were let into the country.) As for proposals to settle Jews in Alaska, Interior Sec- retary Harold Ickes Jr. noted Jewish Museum Milwaukee Paul and Hedy Strnad were rejected in their efforts to seek safe haven in the United States from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Holocaust. in his diary that Roosevelt said he would support the plan only if no more than 10 percent of the settlers were Jews--so as "to avoid the undoubted criticism that we would be subjected to if there were an undue proportion of Jews," FDR explained. Shortly after, the adminis- tration pushed through legis- lation that made it even more difficult for Jewish refugees to qualify for U.S. visas. The "close relatives" edict, as it was called, barred the entry of anyonewho had close relatives in Europe. The theorywas that the Nazis might take their relatives hostage in order to force them to become spies for Hitler. An interesting theory, but there was no evidence to substantiate it, With all doors shut, the fate of Paul and Hedy--and count- less other Jewish refugees-- was sea led. They were sent first to the Terezin concentration camp, an hour north Of Prague. Then they were deported to the Warsaw Ghetto. What exactly happened next is unclear. They may have been murdered in Warsaw, or they may have been deported, along with the other Jews of Warsaw, to the Treblinka death camp and perished there. The "Stitching History" exhibit, open through Feb. 28, is a fitting tribute to a life taken too soon. It is also a sad reminder of a time when the U.S. government regarded Jewish refugees--even a lady tailor from Prague--as a danger. Rafael Medoff is director of The DavidS. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. Jewish Museum Milwaukee Designs by Hedy Strnad displayed at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee exhibit.