Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today introduced legislation that would authorize the National Park Service (NPS) to conduct a study on whether the Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum in Oswego should become a unit of the National Park system. This designation would provide significant resources to Central New York, including increased federal funding for conservation and economic development programs, and would increase tourism to the area. Representatives John Katko and Richard Hanna introduced the House version of the bill.
“Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Museum serves as a symbol that defined a generation – helping others during their greatest need,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This study, would help the National Park Service realize the evolving history of New York, especially in Oswego; capturing 260 years of history dating back to Colonial times to being the only refugee shelter to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in the United States. This designation would be another national highlight of New York’s rich history and strengthens our commitment to preserving our landmarks.”
“Senator Gillibrand has shown her great interest in Upstate New York with this wonderful beginning in our exciting journey. On behalf of the refugees who began their new lives at Fort Ontario and for those volunteers like our first president Dr. Willard Schum, many thanks,” said Former President of Safe Haven Board of Directors, Judy Coe Rapaport.
“Fort Ontario is a symbol of endurance, hope, and inspiration in a complex, rapidly changing technological world, whose message needs to reach a worldwide audience. On behalf of Fort Ontario supporters everywhere, and for those not yet aware of its significant role in world history, we are grateful to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for her efforts to recognize the service and sacrifice of our nation’s military and families at the old army post from the French and Indian War to the War on Terrorism, and its unique role as the only Emergency Refugee Shelter in the United States for mostly Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust during World War II,” said Paul A. Lear, Historic Site Manager.
The Fort Ontario Military Complex dates back to the early 1840s and is built on the ruins of three earlier fortifications from the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812. Fort Ontario is now a part of the NYS Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.
The Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum commemorates the 982 European refugees who called Fort Ontario home in 1944 after President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited them as his “special guests” creating an emergency shelter to maneuver around the difficult immigration policies of the time.