His record is mixed. I don’t think it can be said that he set out in a deliberate and methodical way to block reports from Europe of massacres or to sabotage a rescue plan [as the State Department did].
Some people say Roosevelt abandoned the Jews, others say he saved the Jews. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.
In a recent letter to the editor to The Jewish Press, Wyman Institute director Rafael Medoff disputed your claim that your book is the first to properly examine the State Department’s role in the Holocaust. He argued that books like The Abandonment Of The Jews by David Wyman already covered the topic in depth.
In these books, the State Department’s role tends to get submerged in what I call the “collective guilt approach” to the American response to the Holocaust, which is that everybody was guilty: the press, Roosevelt, Congress, the churches, Jewish American groups, etc.
I came away from my research with the sense that, while very few of these actors are really free from responsibility, the State Department didn’t simply neglect the issue, which you could accuse Roosevelt of doing for example. It actually used its authority and power to block reports of the [Holocaust] and then obstructed efforts to save 70,000 Romanian Jews. These actions struck me as a different order of misconduct that needed to be examined on its own.
Your first two books (published in 1981 and 2005, respectively) were about corruption in the NYPD and the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision. How did you get from these topics to the State Department and the Holocaust?
A couple of years ago, I was reading newspaper accounts about the discovery of letters written by Otto Frank to friends in the U.S. seeking their assistance in getting visas for himself and his family. The visa obstacles proved too much, though, and he decided to take his family into hiding in Amsterdam. We all know the rest of the story. I just was struck by the notion that American visa regulations and policies might have doomed the Frank family. So I started reading up on the subject and felt that not enough attention had been paid to the State Department’s role.
The second reason I decided to write this book is these Treasury Department lawyers; I found their outrage at the State Department morally redeeming. In part, they morally redeemed the good name of the United States. I can’t say enough about them. I’d like to see their story and all that they did really widely known because it’s an inspiration.