Famous Refugees That Changed The World

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On the Statue of Liberty is inscribed a poem by Emma Lazarus about America’s traditional policy toward refugees. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

But becoming a refugee is one of those things that can happen to anyone. Education, health, finances, none of it matters. Government policy, famine or war can dislodge anyone. So, when it comes to deciding whether to take in refugees, it is useful to remember that you aren’t just getting “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” Sometimes you are getting another nation’s Best and Brightest.

Among the world’s refugees have been such talents as:


Dictators hate people who think. Ironically, the Fascists and Nazis expelled the very people who developed the atomic bomb. Hitler expelled 27 scientists who won or would win the Nobel. They might actually have proved useful in the war effort.

1. Albert Einstein (Germany)

Image Source: Viewfoo

The father of contemporary physics, Nobel Laureate, Mr. Relativity, the guy who told Roosevelt about the potential of an atomic bomb, was chased out of Germany. His crime was being a Jew while Hitler ran the Third Reich. He settled in Princeton, NJ, where he taught at the local college – Princeton University

2. Enrico Fermi (Italy)

Enrico Fermi chalkboard_0
Image Source: Atomic Heritage

Italian “architect of the atomic bomb” and a Nobel prize winner in 1938. He fled Mussolini’s Italy following imposition of the racial laws that affected his Jewish wife. He settled in the US, and he became one of the key people in the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. A “fermi” is a unit of measurement – somewhat obsolete, replaced by the femtometer (10 to the negative 15th power)>

3. Leo Szilard (Hungary)

Image Source: Nuclear Secrecy

A Hungarian Jew who moved to Berlin to study physics. When Hitler came to power, Szilard left for Britain and eventually settled in America. He persuaded Einstein to write the letter about the atomic bomb to President Roosevelt. Nominated twice for the Nobel, once in physics and once in chemistry.

4. Hans Krebs (Germany)

Image Source: Science Mag

A big deal in the medical world, Krebs fled the Nazis and settled in the UK. He is best known for the Krebs cycle, several complex chemical processes which provide living organisms with high-energy phosphate.


5. Hannah Arendt  (Germany)

Image Source: Abc

Hannah Arendt would probably be annoyed with me for calling her a philosopher because she preferred the term political theorist. She was a German-born Jew who left Nazi Germany for America.

Her books include “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” “The Human Condition,” “On Revolution,” and my favorite “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” The Hannah Arendt Award is named after her and was “created to honor individuals who identify critical and unseen aspects of current political events and who are not afraid to enter the public realm by presenting their opinion in controversial political discussions.”

6. Karl Marx (Germany)

Image Source: Biography

Love him, hate him or feel something in between, Karl Marx was a refugee from Prussia who found refuge in France and later Britain. He wrote both Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto. He founded the international communist movement.

7. Sigmund Freud (Austria)

Image Source: Karel Donk

Founder of modern psychoanalysis, Freud lived in Vienna until the Germans marched in, and he settled in London. His offspring include the artist Lucien Freud and politician and writer Clement Freud.

Artists & Musicians

8. Marc Chagall (Belarus)

Chagall was a Jew born in what is now Byelorus. He moved to France to paint, and what makes him a refugee is the German invasion of France in 1940. He came to America in 1941. He returned to France in 1948.

9. Billy Wilder (Poland)

Image Source: NYFA

One of America’s greatest influences in film, Wilder was born a Jew in Vienna. He moved to Berlin, but the Nazis forced him out. In Hollywood (after he learned English), he directed and cowrote such classics as Double IndemnitySunset BoulevardSabrinaAce in the HoleStalag 17The Lost WeekendSome Like it Hot, and The Apartment.

10. Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russia)

Image Source: Veterans Today

Soviet author, he wrote the Gulag Archipelago, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, First Circle, and Cancer Ward. Each was an indictment of Stalinism and painted a picture of life as a political prisoner. He was expelled in the 1970s and settled in Vermont. When the USSR went out of business, he returned to a hero’s welcome. He never did fit in after that, however.

11. Victor Hugo (France)

Image Source: Alliance Francaise AhmedAbad

Author of Les Mis – without the songs. He was driven into exile on the Channel Island of Guernsey when Louis Napoleon mounted a coup against the French Republic.

For 15 years, he lived in exile, and it was in exile that he wrote  ‘Les Contemplations’ (1856), ‘Les Misérables’ (1862), ‘La Legende des siecles’ (1877), ‘William Shakespeare’ (1864), ‘Les Chansons des rues et des bois’ (1865), ‘Les Travailleurs de la mer’ (1866), ‘L’Homme qui rit’ (1869), and ‘Quatre-Vingt-Treize’ (1874).

12. Bela Bartok (Hungary)

Hungarian composer and collector of folk tunes, he was an opponent of Nazism and anti-Semitism. Naturally, this forced him from home in 1940, and he found his way to the US.

13. The Von Trapp Family (Austria)

Image Source: Trapps

Yes, the Sound of Music family. They didn’t actually sneak out of Austria over the Alps wearing climbing gear and carrying their instruments. They left by train. However, they weren’t going to stick around while Hitler devoured Austria.

14. Freddie Mercury (Zanzibar)

Image Source: History

Lead singer of Queen, the guy who penned “We Are the Champions,” he was born of Asian parents in the African colony of Zanzibar. Farrokh Bulsara would leave with his parents after independence and they would settle in England.

15. Gloria Estefan (Cuba)

Image Source: TN Relaciones

One of the Queens of Latin music, lead singer of Miami Sound Machine and subject of a new Broadway musical (On Your Feet!), Gloria is one of numerous Cubans who fled Castro to settle in the US.

16. Wyclef Jean (Haiti)

44th NAACP Image Awards - Portraits
Image Source: Mtv

Rapper, guitarist and music producer, Clef was one third of the ridiculously talented and successful Fugees (from refugees). His family left Duvalier-rule Haiti and the fearsome TonTon Macoutes for Brooklyn in 1970.

17. K’Naan (Somalia)

Canadian-based rapper K’Naan, born Keinan Abdi Warsame, fled Somali, where he was born, when civil war broke out. K’naan has described the violence that razed Somalia as “a fire coming into your house, and you not having a place to exit.”

He fired his first gun at age eight. At 11, K’naan and his three best friends fled from gunmen in a deadly footrace through Mogadishu. He escaped; the other boys were shot and killed. Toronto looks pretty good by comparison.

18. Mika (Lebanon)

Image Source: Vanity fair

OK, I confess when I first heard his stuff, I thought it was a b-side by Prince. But he’s not bad if you are into alternative dance sort of sounds. Mika was born in Beirut in the mid-1980s, and moved to Paris to avoid the civil war in Lebanon.

19. M.I.A. (Sri Lanka)

Born Mathangi Arulpragasam in London in 1975, her family moved back to Sri Lanka when she was six months old. Dad led a Tamil independence movement, and that kept the family on the move – avoiding the government. Eventually, she and the family left, returning to London in 1986.

20. Alex Wek (Sudan)

Image Source: Euro Web

Alex is one of the fashion world’s brightest stars, starting a modeling career at 19 in the UK. However, she was born in what is now South Sudan. When she was five, civil war broke out, and her family fled to Europe.


21. Michael Marks (Belarus)

Marks was the child of a Jewish refugee from Belarus. He teamed up with Thomas Spencer in 1884 to form Marks & Spencer, the British retail institution.

22. Ari Onassis (Greece)

Image Source: E Thessalia

Known in history as the man Jackie Kennedy married after JFK’s assassination, Onassis was a shipping billionaire back when a billion was a really big amount of money. A Greek born in Smyrna – part of Turkey now – Onassis fled his home town went Kemal Ataturk’s men marched in.

23. Maurice and Charles Saatchi (Iraq)

Saatchi and Saatchi was the firm that sold Margaret Thatcher to the British voter. Their father moved the family out of Baghdad to London after the Second World War. He believed that as Jews they would be better off in Europe.


24. Tom Lantos (Hungary)

Congressman Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress. When he was 16, the Nazis entered his native Hungary. Lantos spent his career in Congress arguing for human rights.

25. Madeleine Albright (Czechoslovakia)

Image Source: Here and Now

America’s first female Secretary of State was born in Prague in 1937. Her family, who were Jews, fled to England when the Germans invaded. They came back to Czechoslovakia after the war, but when the communists took over in 1948, they moved to Denver, Colorado.

26. Henry Kissinger (Germany)

Former U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger looks on during a meeting with Russia's PM Putin in Moscow

Image Source: Salon

Henry Kissinger was a German-Jew who was born in Bavaria, Germany. In August 1938, his family embarked for America. He would later serve as US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor during the Vietnam war.

27. Michaelle Jean (Haiti)

Michaelle Jean

Image Source: The Star

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, her father and mother opposed the Duvalier regime. She was home schooled so she wouldn’t have to swear allegiance to “Papa Doc.” In 1967, the family escaped to Quebec, Canada. Jean would go on to be Canada’s Governor-General – personal representative of Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state.

Enjoy This Video From The Epic Lists Channel: 9 Refugees Who Became Famous

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9 REFUGEES Who Became Famous ★ RITA ORA is also a Refugee (HD)

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