On May 10, 1933, street protests took place in more than a dozen American cities. Organized by the American Jewish Congress, the demonstrators protested the relentless Nazi attacks upon Jews. In the largest demonstration in New York City history up to that date, 100,000 people marched for more than six hours to protest the events in Germany. The demonstration at Madison Square Garden is pictured here.

The protests were also a response to the book burning of thousands of books by Jewish authors and those that the Nazis consider un-German. Despite protest rallies throughout the 1930s and 1940s, America continued an exclusionary immigration policy and did not embark on extensive rescue operations to save European Jewry. Rescue of Jews and other victims of the Nazis was not a priority for the United States government. Due in part to anti-Semitism (prejudice against or hatred of Jews), isolationism, the economic Depression, and xenophobia (prejudice against or fear of foreigners), the refugee policy of the U.S. State Department (led by Secretary of State Cordell Hull) made it difficult for refugees to obtain entry visas to the United States.

The U.S. entered World War II in December 1941 but the State Department delayed publicizing any reports of genocide. In August 1942, the State Department received a cable revealing Nazi plans for the murder of Europe's Jews. However, the report, sent by Gerhart Riegner (the World Jewish Congress [WJC] representative in Geneva) was not passed on to its intended recipient, American Jewish leader and WJC president Stephen Wise. The State Department asked Wise, who had almost simultaneously received the report via British channels, to refrain from announcing it.

The United States failed to act decisively to rescue victims of the Holocaust. On April 19, 1943, U.S. and British representatives met in Bermuda to find solutions to wartime refugee problems. The Jewish aspect of the war as well as the “Final Solution” was forbidden subjects at the Conference. No significant proposals emerged from the conference. In 1943, Polish underground courier Jan Karski informed President Franklin D. Roosevelt of reports of mass murder received from Jewish leaders in the Warsaw ghetto. U.S. authorities did not, however, initiate any action aimed at rescuing refugees until 1944, when Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board (WRB). That year the WRB set up the Fort Ontario Refugee Center in Oswego, NY, to facilitate rescue of imperiled refugees. By the time the War Refugee Board was established, however, four fifths of the Jews who would die in the Holocaust were already dead.

By the spring of 1944, the Allies knew of the killing operations using poison gas at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Some Jewish leaders pleaded unsuccessfully with U.S. government officials to bomb the gas chambers and rail tracks leading to the camp. Even after the Anglo-American air forces developed the capacity to hit targets in Silesia (where Auschwitz was located) in 1944, U.S. authorities decided not to bomb the gas chambers or the rail lines. U.S. officials argued that U.S. aircraft did not have the capacity to conduct air raids on these targets with sufficient accuracy, and that the Allies were committed to bomb exclusively military targets to win the war. However, this decision was not based on war strategies as the War Department never even thoroughly investigated the possibility of bombing the camp.

After liberation, the Allies were not willing to raise immigration quotas. President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order, the "Truman Directive," on December 22, 1945 which required that existing immigration quotas be designated for those Holocaust survivors who were now displaced persons. While overall immigration into the United States did not increase, more DPs were admitted than before. By 1952, 137,450 Jewish refugees (including close to 100,000 DPs) had settled in the United States.