Press Release

In Oswego, Gillibrand Announces Push To Commemorate Fort Ontario As A National Monument 

Jul 14, 2023

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum at Fort Ontario to announce her push to designate Fort Ontario as a national monument. The Fort Ontario military complex dates back to the early 1840s and during World War II, it was the only emergency refugee camp in the country for those fleeing the Holocaust. Designating Fort Ontario as a national monument would give this important historical site permanent protection and help ensure that it is preserved for generations to come. Senator Gillibrand was joined by Mayor of Oswego William Barlow, Oswego County Administrator Phil Church, Assemblymember William Barclay, Dr. Alan Goldberg of the Jewish Federation of CNY and Safe Haven Museum Board Member, President of Friends of Fort Ontario Daniel Laird and Paloma Sarkar, Board Member of both Friends of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Museum.

Fort Ontario was a place of refuge during a dark moment in history,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Giving the site federal recognition would commemorate its important role in New York’s history and honor the plight and perseverance of Jewish refugees fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust, keeping their stories alive for years to come. I am proud to be leading this push and I look forward to visiting again once Fort Ontario is finally a national monument.”

“I am thrilled that Senator Gillibrand has continued to demonstrate her support for Fort Ontario. She has been a great partner in our effort to give this truly historic site all the recognition it deserves,” said Former Congressman John Katko.

“I am so grateful to Senator Gillibrand for continuing to push for the Fort Ontario National Monument designation. Fort Ontario is a facility rich with local and national history, including the City of Oswego being the only place in the United States of American to accept Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust during World War II. Our community is enormously proud of our history, and a national monument designation would allow us to better share our story with the rest of the country,” said Mayor William J. Barlow.

“Fort Ontario’s place in American history is well chronicled, and for the people of this region few locations carry as much tradition and importance. The Fort has undergone a number of changes since its construction in 1755, but for generations has remained part of the very fabric of our nation. Families, volunteers and organizations in this region know the history here and have worked tirelessly to preserve it. Today’s announcement builds on those efforts and would enable Fort Ontario to take its rightful place among our country’s most cherished monuments. I want to commend Sen. Gillibrand for her work and advocacy to bring a ‘National Monument’ designation to this incredible site,” said Assembly Member William Barclay.

“Over the past four centuries, the Fort Ontario site’s impact on the history of native peoples, France, the British Empire, the United States and the Holocaust of World War II effected the course of events in North America and Europe. Our communities have long advocated for national park status to help tell this site’s remarkable and unique story to the world. So, we welcome and greatly appreciate Senator Gillibrand’s important initiative to designate Fort Ontario and Safe Haven as a national monument. Elevating Fort Ontario and Safe Haven to national status, along with the likely designation of southeastern Lake Ontario as a U.S. national marine sanctuary next year, will have positive economic benefits for the region and create wide-spread recognition of how our small part of the world and its peoples impacted the course of human history.” Oswego County Administrator Philip Church.

“On June 12, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt publicly announced his decision to bring nearly 1000 Holocaust Refugees from Europe to Fort Ontario in Oswego, NY. Within hours of FDR’s announcement, Oswego citizens formed a “Friends of Fort Ontario Guest Refugees Committee,” chaired by attorney Harry Mizen, who cabled the President, thanking him for the honor of selecting Oswego as the site of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter. The committee pledged complete community support of the refugees and began what grew into a successful national struggle to allow the refugees to remain in the United States after the war in Europe ended. It was Oswego’s finest hour. As President of the fort’s not-for-profit educational support group, Friends of Fort Ontario, and in the historical footsteps of Chairman Harry Mizen and the WWII Fort Ontario Guest Refugees Committee, I thank Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for the honor of supporting her in the goal of making Fort Ontario a National Monument. We are very much looking forward to this becoming a reality so that the story of Fort Ontario can reach a broader audience across the country and the world. More people need to learn about the rich history of our region and the integral part it played in world events. Daniel Laird, President, Friends of Fort Ontario.

“This legislation to name Fort Ontario a National Monument is the next step to receive national recognition and to keep the stories of all the refugees alive, not just from this community, but nationally and globally and create much needed awareness in this world. For this I am thankful to Senator Gillibrand for her advocacy with regards to Fort Ontario and beyond,” said Paloma Sarkar, Board Member of Safe Haven Museum and Friends of Fort Ontario.

“On behalf of the Safe Haven Board of Directors and former refugee families, I am grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her initiative naming Fort Ontario a National Monument. I am optimistic that Senator Gillibrand presenting this request to the President and at the same time to Congress will have a positive outcome.” Judy Rapaport, Acting President, Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum Board of Directors.

Michael Balanoff, President/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Central New York said, “The Jewish Federation of Central New York is grateful for congressional support for the establishment of Safe Haven at Fort Ontario as a national monument to keep alive the memory of those who perished during the Holocaust and to thank those who helped take care of the refugees who came to Oswego.”

A national monument can be established in one of two ways: either by Congress through legislation or by the president through the use of the Antiquities Act. Senator Gillibrand is appealing directly to President Biden to designate Fort Ontario as a national monument and is also introducing new legislation, the Fort Ontario National Monument Establishment Act, to make sure the site gets the recognition it deserves. 

Full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to President Biden is here