web analytics
December 19, 2014 / 27 Kislev, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
8000 meals Celebrate Eight Days of Chanukah – With 8,000 Free Meals Daily to Israel’s Poor

Join Meir Panim’s campaign to “light up” Chanukah for families in need.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Ed Koch, FDR, and the Holocaust

In a world of cynics and naysayers, where too many people almost instinctively assume the worst of their fellow citizens, our generation was fortunate to have Ed Koch.

On a visit to Jerusalem in 1990, former New York mayor Ed Koch was hit in the head by a rock thrown by a Palestinian. Here he recounts the incident to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Mr. Koch died last week at age 88.

On a visit to Jerusalem in 1990, former New York mayor Ed Koch was hit in the head by a rock thrown by a Palestinian. Here he recounts the incident to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Mr. Koch died last week at age 88.

“Mayor Koch last night took on the ghost of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,” an item in the New York Daily News in 1988 began, which probably surprised no one, since Ed Koch had spent a lifetime taking on everybody who deserved to be taken on, whether they were alive or dead. Indeed, his willingness to vigorously battle for what he believed and let the chips fall where they may was precisely what endeared Koch to so many people across the political spectrum.

As a historian who has written about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust, what intrigued me about that 1988 speech was the unique way in which the New York City mayor framed his criticism of FDR: “I will never forgive him for closing the doors to Jews who could have left Germany. Never will I forgive him. If you believe in purgatory – and I don’t even know what it is – that’s where he is, for that sin.”

In the years to follow, as Mayor Koch and I became friends and then coauthors, I had the opportunity to speak with him about that “purgatory” remark. And when a reporter from Italian National Television who was scheduled to interview Koch on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz asked me what topics I thought he should raise, I suggested bringing up the purgatory issue.

“I think it’s a Catholic expression,” Koch told him. “I’m not Catholic, I’m Jewish. I don’t think Jews have purgatory. I’m not really sure, I’m not religious myself, although I believe in God. But ‘purgatory’ [means] that you have an opportunity to deal with your sinful life and ultimately get to Heaven…you have to spend a time in purgatory, winning the right to enter Heaven.”

President Roosevelt “did many, many good things,” Koch emphasized, recalling FDR’s role in “saving the United States from the Depression” and leading America against Hitler in World War II. But FDR “also had an opportunity to save Jews before World War II,” and his failure to do is what landed him in purgatory, Koch explained. He cited Roosevelt’s decision to turn away the refugee ship St. Louis; his refusal to instruct the State Department to permit Jewish immigration up to the maximum allowed by law (the quotas were woefully under-filled); and the sham Evian Conference of 1938, which the Roosevelt administration convened to give the impression of concern for the Jewish refugees, without actually doing anything to aid them.

For me, however, perhaps the most significant part of the interview was Koch’s analysis of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s. Given the public mood in those days, was it politically possible for FDR to have done much for the Jews? Scholars looking at this issue tend to rely on newspaper reports, public opinion polls about prejudice, and statistics about the size of anti-Semitic organizations. But an eyewitness account can be very revealing. And Koch, having grown up in hardscrabble neighborhoods in Newark and Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s, had much to say about the subject.

“Yes, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in America in those years, but that is no excuse for Roosevelt’s inaction, which was vile,” Koch asserted. “A leader has to lead. He has to try to change minds.”

What about claims that helping the Jews would have undermined Roosevelt’s ability to convince the public to fight Hitler? “I don’t accept that,” Koch said. “I believe that the American public could have accepted saving Jews.” He wasn’t a sociologist. He just knew what he had experienced among the people he met in the neighborhoods where he lived and worked. Some were bigots. But most weren’t.

Koch wasn’t just speculating when he expressed his faith in the basic decency of most Americans. In April 1944 – while the Holocaust still raged, and before the deportations of Hungarian Jews began – the White House quietly commissioned a Gallup Poll on the subject. It asked the public about offering “temporary protection” to Jews fleeing Hitler. The supposedly anti-Semitic American public supported the idea by a margin of seventy percent to twenty-three percent. Despite that overwhelming public sentiment, President Roosevelt agreed to create just one refugee camp – in upstate New York, where some nine hundred eighty-two refugees were brought in the summer of 1944.

About the Author: Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C., and author of 14 books about the Holocaust, Zionism, and American Jewish history. His latest book is 'FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith,' available from Amazon.


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 “Ed Koch, FDR, and the Holocaust”

  1. Mark Peters says:

    IHR.org will present you with truth in history.If the truth offends then you need to change or continue to lie.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
False Alarm 2
Rocket Fire Returns to Southern Israel – Again!
Latest Indepth Stories
The annual  Chabad menorah lighting in Sydney has been called off this year because of the murders in the Lindt cafe.

The decision to not publicly light the Menorah in Sydney, epitomizes the eternal dilemma of Judaism and Jews in the Diaspora.

Greiff-112814-Men

Am Yisrael is one family, filled with excruciating pain&sorrow for losing the 4 kedoshim of Har Nof

Two dreidels from the author’s extensive collection.

What is its message of the dreidel?” The complexity and hidden nature of history and miracles.

Keeping-Jerusalem

Police play down Arab terrorism as mere “violence” until the truth can no longer be hidden.

The 7 branches of the menorah represent the 7 pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.

Obama obtained NO verifiable commitments from Cuba it would desist from acts prejudicial to the US

No one would deny that the program subjected detainees to less than pleasant treatment, but the salient point is, for what purpose?

For the past six years President Obama has consistently deplored all Palestinian efforts to end-run negotiations in search of a UN-imposed agreement on Israel.

It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.

For Am Yisrael, the sun’s movements are subservient to the purpose of our existence.

Israelis now know Arab terrorism isn’t caused by Israeli occupation but by ending Israeli occupation

Anti-Semitism is a social toxin that destroys the things that people most cherish and enjoy.

Amb. Cooper highlighted the impact of the Chanukah/Maccabee spirit on America’s Founding Fathers

Zealousness has its place and time in Judaism; Thank G-d for heroic actions of the Maccabees!

More Articles from Dr. Rafael Medoff
Charley Levine

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

Armenian Orphan Rug

The long ordeal of the Armenian Orphan Rug, held hostage to fears of angering Turkey, has finally ended. Or has it?

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

With generous support from the Egyptian Jewish community, the exiled family built a new life for itself in the Mafruza and Gabbari refugee camps near Alexandria.

While grateful not to be returned to Germany, the passengers understood they were still in the middle of a danger zone.

These “Jewish Amazons” were living proof of the failure of the enemies of the Jewish people.

Jewish soldiers in the Polish forces often encountered anti-Semitic prejudice.

Sulzberger, one of the most famous “religious Jews” who opposed Zionism did not change his mind even after the Holocaust.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/ed-koch-fdr-and-the-holocaust/2013/02/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: