web analytics
November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Debating America’s Response To The Holocaust With The U.S. Holocaust Museum

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

During a recent trip to Rwanda, former president Bill Clinton lamented his failure in 1994 to intervene in that country’s genocidal massacres. “I don’t think we could have ended the violence, but I think we could have cut it down. And I regret it.”

Clinton, perhaps in atonement, has helped raise money to build the Kilgali Genocide Memorial Center.

Clinton’s hindsight regret is relevant to a debate I recently had with another genocide memorial institution, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The debate concerned my book about the epic battle in 1943 between the Treasury and State departments over a plan by the World Jewish Congress to rescue tens of thousands of Romanian Jews trapped in the hellish land of Transnistria in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

The patrician diplomats in the State Department blocked the rescue while the middle class lawyers in the Treasury Department (all Christians) fought for it. The battle led directly to the formation of the War Refugee Board in early 1944, which is credited with rescuing 200,000 Jews, including surviving Transnistrian Jews.

In a critique, the museum’s historians disputed my book’s criticism of the State Department. Ordinarily, authors don’t direct readers to a negative review but because this one was so heavily dependent on a hindsight analysis to justify a failure to rescue (the opposite of President Clinton’s hindsight regrets), that is just what I am doing.

Now, the museum’s website displays remarks by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at the 2012 National Day of Remembrance ceremony in Washington. He described how “State Department officials were systematically undermining efforts to save Jews in Europe” including in Transnistria, and “blocking the spread of information about the Holocaust.”

Without contesting these facts, the museum’s critique argued that the rescue would never have succeeded because, at least based on more recent information about “machinations” in Europe, the “Germans were stringing the Allies along . . .without any intention of freeing the Jews.”

Further, “the overwhelming majority of Jews who died in Transnistria were already dead” by the time rescue was proposed; there were limited “available resources,” such as ships, with which to transport the Jews from Transnistria; and an “evacuation by sea” would have exposed “Jews who would survive the war to lethal danger from German or Soviet submarines in the Black Sea.”

My response was that when the War Refugee Board finally was established, its agents overcame German resistance and rescued more than 50,000 surviving Transnistrian Jews. Enough shipping was available because the Board, as Secretary Geithner pointed out, “helped purchase boats to ferry thousands of refugees out of Romania.”

Jews, warned of the risks in advance, were ready to board any ship to get out of Transnistria (or anywhere else in the hell that was occupied Europe). Not all of the “Jews who would die” were already dead. At least 7,500 more died in 1943 during the Cabinet battle over rescue and the survivors endured much suffering. When Jewish orphans finally were rescued, they raised their hands to protect their faces as if expecting beatings.

The museum’s historians are well-credentialed scholars dedicated to Holocaust studies. But, as I argued, their hindsight analysis was flawed because the necessity of rescuing Jews from the Holocaust was not a sliding scale that rose or fell on a Jew’s odds of survival, even if such odds could have been calculated then. Nor should the difficulty of rescue have relieved the State Department of its humanitarian obligations, an inherent implication of the historians’ analysis.

That’s why the museum’s critique sounded eerily like the State Department’s do-nothing arguments in 1943 at one meeting with a Treasury lawyer that “It would be probably be impossible to work out satisfactory arrangements with the Romanian authorities. German consent would not be forthcoming. The Turkish government has refused entry to Jewish refugees.”

In the final analysis, no humanitarian intervention would ever be undertaken if it required proof in advance that, absent rescue, the victims will die (or, at least, more than 7,500 will perish), deems suffering short of death irrelevant, and requires an absence of risk and certainty of success. Of course, those conditions never existed in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Treasury lawyers battled the State Department over rescue because they understood that, since both lives and core American values (if not American honor) were at stake, no matter the obstacles, this country had to at least try to rescue Jewish victims of genocide.

About the Author: Gregory J. Wallance is a lawyer and writer in New York City and a long-time human rights activist. His most recent book is “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department, and the Moral Disgrace of An American Aristocracy.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “Debating America’s Response To The Holocaust With The U.S. Holocaust Museum”

  1. Wallace should know over 30 million American Indian were killed in N. America. As late as 1865 still being shot in the back? What's 7,500 Jews? In any case, dates are important when discussing who knew what when. I doubt this is earlier than when Thomas Mann went negative on Nazi Germany.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry .
NYT Ignores US Condemnation of PA Incitement, Prints Info on Ferguson Cop
Latest Indepth Stories
Kessim (religious leaders) mark the opening of a synagogue in the village of Gomenge, Ethopia, one of five built in Gondar with JDC aid, 1988
Courtesy of American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, New York.

In a world where people question whether they should be engaged, we are a reminder that all Jews are responsible for one another.

Greiff-112814-Levaya

My son is seventeen; he didn’t want to talk about what happened, or give any details of the Rosh Yeshiva’s words of chizuk.

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri

All involved in the Ferguson debate should learn the laws pertinent to non-Jews: the Noahide Laws.

Charley Levine

Prominent Jewish leaders acknowledged that their predecessors had mistreated the Bergson Group.

Abbas has been adding new layers of rhetoric to his tactical campaign to de-Judaize Jerusalem

The Jew’s crime is his presence.

Hamas’s love for death tried to have as many Palestinian civilians killed as possible

Israel recognizes the fabrication called a Palestinian nation; So what do we want from the Swedes?

Arab attacking Jews in the land date back a century, long before Israel was created or in control.

Creativity without clarity is not sufficient for writing. I am eternally thankful to Hashem for his gift to me.

Golden presents a compelling saga of poor but determined immigrants who fled pogroms and harsh conditions in their homelands for a better life in a land of opportunity.

It seems to us that while the Jewish entitlement to the land of Israel transcends the Holocaust, the Jewish experience during that tragic time is the most solid of foundations for these “national rights.”

Too many self-styled civil rights activists seemed determined to force, by their relentless pressure, an indictment regardless of what an investigation might turn up.

Unfortunately, at present, the rabbinate does not play a positive role in preventing abuse.

More Articles from Gregory J. Wallance
Wallance-070513

How did we move so quickly from complacency to last-minute weapons deliveries and a possible no-fly zone?

Gregory J. Wallance

A just-released Israeli commission report vehemently disputes the France 2 video made in 2000 of a Palestinian father and his son crouching for shelter from bullets allegedly fired by Israeli soldiers. This is a media controversy but it parallels the decades-long dispute between Israel and the human rights organizations that have issued reports on violent clashes in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon. Simply, the reporting process on these confrontations has broken down.

The debate in the Jewish community over Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his response to the Holocaust has been bitter and emotional, a family divided against itself. On the one hand, FDR was the polio-stricken man who, after being knocked flat on his back, rose and revived an America that had been knocked flat on its back and then led it to wartime triumph over Hitler and to global destiny.

During a recent trip to Rwanda, former president Bill Clinton lamented his failure in 1994 to intervene in that country’s genocidal massacres. “I don’t think we could have ended the violence, but I think we could have cut it down. And I regret it.”

This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day is the anniversary of two starkly contrasting events of April 19, 1943 – the first day of the gallant but doomed Warsaw Ghetto uprising and of the ignominious Anglo-American Bermuda Conference on the Refugee Problem, which State Department diplomats organized to deflect pressure to rescue Jews from the Nazi death machine.

Recently, the Romanian government unveiled a long overdue memorial to the 300,000 Romanian Jews and Roma who perished in World War II at the hands of their own government and the Nazis. Unfortunately, the U.S. State Department, whose wartime diplomats doomed tens of thousands of the Romanian Jews commemorated by the memorial, has yet to acknowledge its own role in the Romanian Holocaust.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/debating-americas-response-to-the-holocaust-with-the-u-s-holocaust-museum/2012/09/25/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: