Visualizing a petition in support of “Free Ports for Refugees”

Dr. Abby Gondek, Morgenthau Scholar-in-Residence, FDR Library, Hyde Park, NY

PhD Global and Socio-cultural Studies, Florida International University

MA African and African Diaspora Studies, FIU

MA Women’s Studies, SDSU

This project is part of the Morgenthau Holocaust Collections Project, a digital history and path-finding initiative to raise awareness of the FDR library’s unique but under-explored resources for Holocaust Studies.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to John Tappen and Eileen Dennis for their assistance with transcription and analysis of the D, E and F folders.

In January 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board (WRB), after being convinced by a series of people, organizations and events. These sources of pressure included: Peter Bergson’s organizing and activism, the Gillette-Rogers Resolution, Breckinridge Long’s false testimony, and of course the “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews” developed by Treasury staff: Josiah DuBois, Randolph Paul and John Pehle. The WRB was tasked with “taking all possible measures to rescue and save the victims of enemy oppression, and to afford them all possible relief and assistance.”1 The WRB had contacts throughout Europe and worked with Ambassadors in London, Algiers, Spain, and with governments of allied and neutral nations to attempt to secure safety for refugees and other victims of Axis terror during World War II. In May, overpopulation of refugees in Southern Italy required that these refugees be moved elsewhere, and John Pehle and his staff at the WRB convinced the president to establish an Emergency Refugee Shelter at Fort Ontario, Oswego, New York, to house 1,000 refugees until the termination of the war (actual number rescued: 982).

  1. John Pehle, “Reply letter to Mr. and Mrs. D. N. Dannenberg,” August 12, 1944, War Refugee Board Papers, Series 4, Box 73, Folder: General D, letter no. 3163, order no. 4 in file, FDR Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY.

The petition centered in this analysis is part of the Letters from the Public collection regarding the “Emergency Refugee Shelter” at Fort Ontario in Oswego, NY. The letter and petition (no. 2948) contains 161 signatures, and was sent to FDR by Mrs. S. Drucker, in support of “Free Ports for Refugees” on July 4, 1944.

This petition was found within the War Refugee Board Papers, Series 4, Box 73, Folder D, no. 32 in the file. The data set explored here with graphs and visualizations (made using Tableau public and Palladio) covers Boxes 73-74, the A, B, C, D, E, and F folders (a total of 8 folders and 244 cases). The digital versions of these folders can be found via the “Selected Digitized Documents related to the Holocaust and Refugees” in the FDR library’s Franklin database. The relevant folders begin with the title “Records of the War Refugee Board – Admission of Refugees into the U.S.” The letters were sent from April through November of 1944. Replies were sent by John Pehle, Director of the War Refugee Board, from May through November.

Mrs. S. Drucker’s address was 837 East 22nd Street, in Brooklyn, New York. 19 other individuals who signed the petition also lived at this address.

We, the people, in the name of God before whom all men are as brothers, ask the help of Our Government in securing prompt action on the plan for “Free Ports for Refugees” to save the lives of the Jewish People of Europe.

The language of the petition

When were most of the letters of support sent?

This petition came in July. 42 letters arrived in July (17%).

Where did the majority of letters of support come from?

Graph 2a: Regional origin of letters from the public. The letters from the public primarily came from the Northeast and specifically New York and Pennsylvania. 78 percent of the letters, for which origin was known, were from the Northeast. In contrast, 9% were from the South. Thus, this petition was part of the majority of letters.

Which states were letters most likely to come from?

Graph 2b: State of origin of letters from the public. 47.5 percent of letters (with known origin) were sent from New York state, while 18 percent came from Pennsylvania. This petition was part of that 47.5 percent.

Within NYC, which boroughs did the Majority of letters come from?

Graph 2c. Cities of origin of the letters from the public. Within these states, major cities such as New York City (and Brooklyn) and Philadelphia were the primary origins for the letters. New York City was the origin of 45 percent of letters from New York and Brooklyn made up 38 percent of the letters from New York. This petition was part of that 38 percent. Philadelphia made up 77 percent of the letters from Pennsylvania.

Map visualizations using Palladio

The signatories primarily came from neighborhoods including (but not limited to): Flatbush, Midwood, Kensington, Marine Park, Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, and Brighton Beach. Based on google maps, it appears that the Midwood area is currently composed of many Orthodox Jewish institutions.

the geographic origin of the letters from the public

This map was created using Tableau Public.

Visualizing the data in Palladio

Palladio table displaying a sample of the names in the petition, their gender, address, page number of the petition, and order in which they signed.
I created an excel spreadsheet of all the names and addresses, and used google maps to find the latitude and longitude of each address. This was required in order to create the map visualization above. I also kept track of gender of the signatory, if known, as well as the order their signature appeared and the page number of the 11 page petition. Palladio’s “Table” tab allows you to change how your data is displayed (in both the rows and the columns). In this view, the data is sorted by the last name of the signatory.

I converted this excel sheet to a .csv file so that the info could be imported into Palladio. This excel sheet contains all the original columns I created based upon the information presented in the petition. There are two sheets in this excel file. The second sheet (tab) contains a key which explains the letter codes the provide the reason why I assigned Brooklyn as the borough in the case that it was not explicitly written by the signatory.


A “facet filter” in Palladio showing the breakdown of signatures based upon 5 factors: Borough, Gender, Building number, Street name and page number. This filter demonstrates how signatures were clustered around specific streets and addresses. The last filter shows how many signatures were found on each individual page of the petition.

Borough By Street name

Borough of NYC by street name: This “graph” visualization (developed in Palladio) reveals that the majority of signatories were from Brooklyn and very few were from Bronx, Manhattan or unknown.

Street name by building number

Street name by building number: This “graph” visualization (Palladio) reveals the streets which were hubs for signatories.

Gender and Borough of the signatories of the petition

Borough by Gender of signatory: 153 signatures came from Brooklyn. 63 were from females, 45 from males and 53 were gender unknown.

Gender Trends in the data (using Tableau Public)

Graph 4: Overall there were more female senders (107 female senders versus 90 male senders). Women sent 66% of the letters from individuals, but only 35% of the letters from organizations. For individuals, it was twice as likely that the sender would be female (79 female v. 40 male). For organizational senders, 64% of the time the sender was male (50/78).

Only 5 letters came from women-led groups. This petition was one of these. (4 were from male-led groups and 3 from both male and female groups.)

Graph 6: Individual senders made up 66% of all letters which explicitly mentioned Jews (43/65). Thus, if a letter mentioned Jews it was much more likely that it was from an individual than from an organization or a couple or group. Women were more likely than men to explicitly mention Jews in the text of their letters. 32% of female senders mentioned Jews (36/111), while only 20% of male senders did (19/94). 55% of mentions of Jews were in letters written by women. Males made up 29% of letters which mentioned Jews.

Groups were the least likely to mention Jews explicitly. Only 1 group did so (this petition). Since women were more likely to mention Jews in their letters than men, this petition fits into that pattern.

Gender by last name

Gender of signatory by last name: This visualization provides information on the last names of the senders by their gender. The names that are in between male and female represent couples or family members who signed.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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