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Man reading war news aboard streetcar. San Francisco, California

[Detail] Reading war news aboard streetcar. San Francisco, California

Historical Comprehension: Examining an Immigrant's Perspective on the United States

The background information that the interviewees in After the Day of Infamy provide about themselves allows readers to understand their stories in historical context. For example, consider the following excerpt from an interview with an Austrian refugee:

"Mr. President, I am a refugee from Austria and therefore I would much prefer not to tell you my name or my address as all my people are still on the other side and I do not dare to endanger them. I made my law degrees from University of Vienna, but right now I'm checking hats in a Spanish nightclub.

We Austrians and Germans are regarded enemy aliens, but that doesn't change our wishes or our feelings. I think that no American can deeper appreciate what it means to fight for a democracy than somebody who has never lived in a democracy, but who has barely escaped the dictatorship to find refuge in a democratic paradise.

I do not think that any American can better understand what those freedoms mean for which we are fighting right now. We have never known what freedom of speech or freedom of press means. But we have always guessed that it must be something wonderful to have them."

"Dear Mr. President", New York, New York, January or February 1942 (AFS 6409B, Cut B3)

Read the entire interview with the Austrian refugee and consider the following questions:

  • Why does this interviewee not want to give his name? How does that fact help you understand his perspective on the United States?
  • For what occupation was this interviewee trained? What is his current occupation? Do you think the discrepancy is important? Explain your answer.
  • Why does this interviewee feel that no American "can better understand what those freedoms mean for which we are fighting right now"? Do you agree with his point?
  • Use the Subject Index to find other interviews with immigrants to the United States. Look for terms related to specific ethnic groups, such as Chinese Americans or Jamaican Americans, or refugees. How do their comments compare with those of the Austrian refugee? Based on these interviews, can you draw any conclusions about the attitudes of immigrants toward the U.S. role in World War II?