Tag Archives: European Refugees

“Please, Ring the Bell for Us”

John Knott's cartoon Visually depicts the indecision Congress faced in the debate of the Wagner-Rogers Bill.
John Knott’s cartoon Visually depicts the indecision Congress faced in the debate of the Wagner-Rogers Bill.

The cartoon, by Francis Knott, published in July of 1939, deals with the Wagner Rogers resolution to save 20,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany. Robert Wagner was a senator of New York who called for the admission of 20,000 Jewish children from refugee camps in Europe. Edith Nourse Rogers, Republican of Massachusetts, who established a special quota for children less than 14 years old that would be spread over two years, presented Wagner’s bill to the House of Representatives. Wagner’s Bill rose in the wake of Kristallnacht (“The Night of the Broken Glass”). Where Nazi’s murdered over 400 Jews and burned down 300 synagogues. In response British and Dutch governments made provisions to allow several thousand Jewish refugees into their countries. This action inspired the introduction of the Wagner-Rogers Bill.

In February 1939, Senator Robert Wagner of New York and Representative Edith Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill that would grant special permission for 20,000 German children under the age of 14 to emigrate to the United States. The bill specified that the children would be supported privately, not by the government. The bill was designed to emulate Great Britain’s successful Kindertransport that brought 10,000 children to England. President Roosevelt never spoke a word of support for it. The Wagner-Rogers Bill died in committee. Its opponents argued that it was not right to separate children from their parents; others felt, among other things, that the children would grow up to be adults and might then take American jobs.

The article ‘A Question of Quota’ that accompanies this cartoon is a wholehearted approval of the Wagner-Rogers Bill. The article claims, “the country is asked to do an act of simple humanity in permitting non-quota admission of these children”. While also explaining that, “The number is so small that no serious economic upheaval can possibly be caused by their immigration.” In regards to legislation and quota the author states that “sensible immigration procedure now might well be to limit applications against the German Quota to the politically persecuted.” Though the author in regards to “refugee children, there is every reason in simple humanity to admit them now and respect no quota basis at all where they are concerned.”

The humor in this cartoon presents itself in a refined manner. Knott does this rightly so, as the subject of his cartoon is of a sensitive matter in dealing with the quality of children’s lives. Though refined, Knott still toys with American diplomacy as he shows congress, a man with large stature, overlooking children refugees pleading for his aid in opening the door to the us, that congress can only open. Knott’s intentions or goal for this piece was not to provide a humorous cartoon but rather shed light on America’s indecisiveness in providing humanitarian aid to refugee children. However, humor is till apparent as the title, “Please, ring the Bell for Us”, and the children refugees reaching for the door bell while look at congress for help. Knott utilizes the personified form of congress and the reality of European child refuges to further accentuate his memorandum through humor.

John Knott’s cartoon Please, Ring the Bell for Us accurately portrays the indecisiveness of Congress towards the Wagner-Rogers Bill. Though the bill never made its way to the floor of the House or Senate, due in part to amendments being made that would admit 20,000 children only if the regular German quota was reduced by a similar number. Thus, leading to the death of the bill. As the congressional debate over the Wagner-Rogers Bill became more and more apparent in the public eye, Knott pushed for further publicity through his Please, Ring the Bell for Us political cartoon.


Work Cited

Wyman, David S., and Rafael Medoff. “America’s Response to Nazism and the Holocaust.” Encyclopedia of American Jewish History. Ed. Stephen H. Norwood and Eunice G. Pollack. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008. 217-224. American Ethnic Experience. Gale   Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Robinson, Jacob, et al. “Holocaust: Responses.” Encyclopaedia Judaica.Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 9. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 352-379. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.

Dinnerstein, Leonard. “Jewish Immigration to the United States, 1938– 1946.” Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical      Encyclopedia. Ed. Kathleen R. Arnold. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara, CA:     Greenwood, 2011. 298-301. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.    2     Dec. 2014.