Snow is dumping on Oswego, New York. Five inches by the hour. When I heard this on the news, I perked up. I used to live there, and I haven’t lived in that much snow since. If anything, it’s been the opposite. From time to time I’ve even lived close to the equator. I don’t know if it’s the snow that chased me south.
I’ve thought about the Oswego snow from time to time, though. From where it sits next to Lake Ontario it can’t help but get snow. It’s called “lake effect.” Whatever it’s called, it’s a sight. Snow plows have some sort of contraption that throws snow into dump trucks so it can heaved onto the lake. The result is that streets look more like corridors that can reach chest high and the lake has mini-mountains. Cars sometimes put orange flags on the antennas so they can be seen at crossroads.
Although Oswego’s snow puts it in the national and local news across the U.S. from time to time, there is another claim to fame that not many people know about. It’s not as flashy as the snow, but it’s interesting to note just the same. During World War II almost 1,000 Jews were allowed to “temporarily” enter the United States to escape the Nazi regime in Germany. They were housed at Fort Ontario which just happens to be in Oswego.
Fort Ontario is the sight of a battleground bonanza. First built by the British in 1775 it was destroyed by the French only to be built again by the British, to then be destroyed by the Americans during the American Revolution and again destroyed again by the British in the War of 1812 (Are you keeping up?). Eventually, after wars weren’t fought in upstate New York anymore, the fort had some more incarnations until its rare use as a refugee camp between the years 1944-1946. This was the only place in the U.S. that served as such a haven and the only organized U.S. effort to bring Jews into the United States. There was fear that once people were allowed into the U.S., they wouldn’t leave. For awhile, the people who were housed at the fort had to stay there 24-7. After awhile the regulations lifted so the adults could get jobs and kids could go to Oswego’s schools. The kids going to school happened first. It wasn’t, I think, until year number two when the adults could leave for longer periods of time.
Today the fort is open as a tourist site. I’ve been there but I can’t recall how much information is on display about the fort’s role during WWII. I didn’t find out about this bit of history myself until after I had moved away and saw a program on educational television.