Neighbors Project collects stories, memories for Safe Haven Museum

Apr 24, 2014

Seventy years ago, nearly 1,000 European refugees came to Oswego to escape the Holocaust during World War II. Now the city's Safe Haven Museum is collecting and cataloging stories from those living in the city at the time, for what it calls the "Neighbors Project." The refugees, many of them Jewish, were housed at Fort Ontario from 1944 until 1946. The camp was the only one of its kind in the United States.

"This is the Statue of Liberty of Oswego County, so it's important for us to know this story and to celebrate it," says Nola Heidlebaugh, board member at the Safe Haven Museum.

She says the museum wants to hear from people who remember the refugees and can share their experiences.

"We want to gather everything we can," Heidlebaugh said. "I think sometimes people think their stories are everyday or maybe they're not as interesting as someone else's story, and of course that's never true. Of course they're interesting stories, we want them all."

And it isn't just stories that the group is looking for.

"If they have artifacts or anything like that they'd like to share, we'd like to consider doing something with those too, or at least having a look at them," Heidlebaugh said.
She says it's growing more difficult to collect stories though, because fewer people are alive to talk about it.

Although the collection period for the "Neighbors Project" ends April 30, Heidlebaugh says the Safe Haven Museum will continue collecting stories year round. Surviving refugees and their families will gather for the 70th reunion of Safe Haven in June in Oswego.