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Memory of DuBois’s Heroism Overshadows Futile Defenders of FDR’s Reputation
More than six decades after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, even the youngest of his contemporaries are now fading from the scene. World War II and the Holocaust are, to most Americans, as distant as the Civil War and the battle of Gettysburg.
And yet, the arguments over his legacy are not going away. That is the only conclusion you can draw from the publication of a new book that modestly describes itself on its dust jacket as a “fearless, outstanding example of historical detective work.”
Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust by Robert N. Rosen is a partisan riposte to the decades of serious work on the subject that has depicted the indifference of the American government to the slaughter of European Jewry and the unwillingness of the president to use his power to make a difference on the issue.
This is a difficult piece of history whose examination requires us to discard the godlike image of FDR that has been burnished by his idolaters.
Chipping away at this stained-glass image to the point where his less than praiseworthy record on the Holocaust could be dispassionately examined was not easy. Though there were other important books on the subject, it was not until the publication of the seminal The Abandonment of the Jews by David S. Wyman, which first appeared in 1984, that a change in the way Roosevelt’s record was viewed took hold.
Wyman debunked the widely held belief that no one knew about extermination prior to the liberation of the death camps, and that little could have been done to help. But to those who prefer the myth of FDR to the unvarnished truth, there is Robert Rosen’s new book, published by Thunder Mouth’s Press, a publication house created by the far-left Nation magazine.
Rosen is well-suited to such a task; his last historical work, The Jewish Confederates, was a book whose aim was to portray Jews who supported the effort to preserve slavery as heroes and their abolitionist Yankee opponents as the bad guys. To anyone capable of that astonishing feat, rewriting the history of World War II is mere child’s play.
As was the case with his Confederate book, Saving the Jews is chock-full of footnotes and references to give the impression of scholastic weight. But all it proves is that Rosen has read a great deal of history and understood little of it. As with his rebel heroes, Rosen gives Roosevelt every benefit of the doubt. Every piece of evidence that showed the government’s indifference is credited to others, while all instances of sympathy for rescue are considered his doing.
Even worse, Rosen adopts the despicable attitudes of those Jews and non-Jews who resisted rescue by denigrating those like Hillel Kook and his Emergency Committee to Rescue the Jews of Europe who worked to force the administration to act. He even condescendingly describes the October 1943 pro-rescue march on Washington by 400 rabbis as the work of “bearded, foreign-looking” and “medieval” men.
If, as some assert, Roosevelt refused to meet with those rabbis because his feckless Jewish advisers told him these were not the sort of Jews whom he wanted to associate with, then Rosen seems to follow in their footsteps. In short, the book is a travesty that no serious reader should bother with.
But for those who worry that the study of this important chapter is being left to the likes of Robert Rosen, there is some comfort. Though the brilliant David Wyman has retired, an institute named in his honor is carrying the fight to pursue the historical truth about the American reaction to the Holocaust.
About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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