New York City in the 1930s and 1940s – “If you can make it here…”

Contrary to the myth of New York as a welcoming melting pot, the history of migration in the 1930s and 1940s to the United States in general and to New York in particular shows that the city opened its doors to comparatively few, especially during this dark period when millions sought refuge from German fascism and Nazi persecution. This period puts Sinatra’s lines “If you can make it here” in a completely different light: it wasn’t about making it to the top in the capitalist rat race – that came later. Rather, it was about making it here in the first place. Yet despite the comparatively small number of New New Yorkers during the 1930s/40s, those who made it here during that period continued to make a decisive mark on the city to this day. New York, in turn, left its mark on the lives of the new arrivals.

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“I am poor, I cannot help with money, but I would like to help with what I can, I would like to train the women, I would like to give courses, without payment of course. If only I had a suitable room, because in our “home” I can not ask anyone. Help me to find a room, I said to the secretary, unaware that she knew my name from over there, even if she did not know me personally.”