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July 5, 2017

Fort Ontario's Unique History to be Featured in National Exhibit

OSWEGO - Oswego's Fort Ontario State Historic Site, one of the nation's most historically significant military sites, will be featured in a new exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

The display, "America's Response to the Holocaust," is scheduled to debut between 2018 and 2019. It will include a section of the original fence that surrounded the post during World War II when it served as the only refugee shelter in the United States for victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

"From 1944 to 1946, refugees from across war-torn Europe took shelter here," said Fort Ontario State Historic Site Superintendent Paul Lear. "Some had escaped Nazi concentration camps before making their way to Allied-occupied Italy and eventually to the U.S. as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's plan to convince other countries to accept refugees. Their experiences with concentration camps made them terrified when they arrived here and saw the chain link and barbed wire fence that enclosed the 75-acre fort."

This feeling soon changed as, during their first month of internment and quarantine at the fort, the fence became an emotional meeting place where refugees and Oswegonians interacted, exchanged information, and established enduring friendships. Residents passed clothing, food, shoes, candy, and even bicycles over or through the fence to those in need inside the shelter.

Lear added, "For the most part, the U.S. was an isolationist-leaning country at that time. It turned its back on the plight of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, made no official attempt for their rescue or attacks on extermination-related infrastructure, and issued no threats of post-war prosecution to discourage those involved in the exterminations. As a result, the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter represents one of, if not the most, significant official government response to the Holocaust, and the fence and any other shelter objects and images will be integral components of the new exhibit."

Curators from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are assembling artifacts, documents, and other objects for the exhibit which will include the section of the iconic Fort Ontario fence.

Senior Conservator Heidi Miksch of the New York State Parks Bureau of Historic Sites Resource Center at Peebles Island in Waterford, N.Y. recently visited the fort to retrieve the section of fence from the fort. She will clean, conserve and prepare it for shipment and display.

Fort Ontario State Historic Site, 1 E. Fourth St., Oswego,is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday through Sept. 10. For fall hours, admission and other details, call 315-343-4711.

For more Oswego County history and visitor information go to visitoswegocounty.com.

FORT ONTARIO PREPARES FOR INCLUSION IN NEW EXHIBIT - Heidi Miksch, a conservator from the New York State Parks Bureau of Historic Sites Resource Center at Peebles Island, N.Y., worked with fort staff member Brian Hibbert and park manager Tim Gray to retrieve asectionof the fencing and a fence postfrom the grounds of the fort. The pieces will be prepared and treatedbefore they go on display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.next year. (Photo by Kelly Jordal, Oswego County Tourism Office)

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