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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘FDR’

A Leading Democrat’s Secret Advice On ‘The Jewish Vote’

Friday, September 21st, 2012

A senior member of President Harry Truman’s own administration secretly gave American Zionist lobbyists advice in 1946 on how to pressure Truman to support creating a Jewish state.

According to a documents I recently found at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, when Zionist lobbyists needed advice on how to use the 1946 midterm elections as leverage on the White House, they turned to Truman’s own Solicitor General (the official who represents the administration before the Supreme Court), J. Howard McGrath.

A lawyer by profession, McGrath rose quickly in the ranks of the Democratic Party in his native Rhode Island. He was vice-chairman of the state party by 1928 and chairman two years later. After a four-year stint as U.S. district attorney in Providence, McGrath was elected governor in 1940. In 1944, he was one of the organizers of the Democratic National Convention and helped line up the votes to replace Vice President Harry Wallace with Senator Harry Truman. In the process, McGrath forged close ties with both Truman and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Yet at the same time, he was straying far from the party line on Jewish issues. Starting in 1942, McGrath’s name began appearing among the endorsers listed on newspaper ads by the Bergson Group, a political action committee that criticized the Roosevelt administration on the issues of Jewish refugees and creating a Jewish state. He also served as a sponsor of Bergson’s 1943 Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe.

Associating with Jewish critics of President Roosevelt was a risky move for a rising Democratic politician. Certainly McGrath would need to maintain good relations with the White House to advance his political career.

Why McGrath took an interest in Jewish affairs is not clear. Perhaps his Irish heritage and resentment of British control of Ireland created a sense of solidarity with the Jewish struggle to oust the British from Palestine. Other Irish-Americans who were active in the Bergson Group, such as attorney Paul O’Dwyer and Congressman Andrew Somers of Brooklyn, cited their resentment of the British as a factor. The feeling was mutual: in one internal British government memo I located, a Foreign Office staffer slurred Somers as “the less happy type of Irish-American Catholic demagogue.”

It is unlikely McGrath was motivated by pursuit of Jewish votes, since Jews comprised barely three percent of Rhode Island’s population. But McGrath had plenty to say on the subject when Benjamin Akzin, a senior lobbyist for the American Zionist Emergency Council (precursor of AIPAC), came seeking advice on “the Jewish vote.”

Akzin, who in later years would found and chair Hebrew University’s political science department and would serve as president of Haifa University, met with McGrath on March 14, 1946. He began by expressing his distress at “the lag between promise and performance” in the Truman administration’s Palestine policy. “Friendly statements” about Zionism were not matched with deeds.

“I came to ask what he could advise,” Akzin reported afterward to his colleagues, “and what he could do to help us in order to obtain some action.”

McGrath responded that “not being in the Cabinet, he could not raise the Palestine issue.” Moreover, “he has to stick to his own job, and any attempt by him to influence the policy of other Departments would be strongly resented.”

Then he turned around and proceeded to advise Akzin on how best to influence those other departments.

The Zionists’ “technical arguments” about rights and history would not succeed, McGrath said. They needed to adopt “a political approach” that would highlight the likelihood that Jewish voters would turn away from the Democrats in the upcoming midterm congressional elections. “He was very emphatic on this point.”

McGrath suggested organizing “a group of Democratic congressmen in threatened areas” to “take up the [Palestine] matter collectively with the Administration…After all, the real issue in the coming elections concerns the control of the House, rather than that of the Senate.” The administration might take heed if warned that the Democrats could lose control of the House over the Palestine issue.

Another “effective means of pressure on the Palestine issue, McGrath said, would be for the Zionists to contact “the Democratic candidates for governorships and for the Senate in the key states with a considerable Jewish population.” Each of those candidates “is going to have several talks with the President, with [national Democratic Party chairman Robert] Hannegan, and with the other key persons of the Administration.”

The Moral Disgrace Of America’s Aristocracy

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

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.

Most of the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto perished but the American diplomats went on to comfortable, if not highly successful, careers – and to largely avoid the wrath of historical judgment.

One might ask, given all of the articles and books written about the American response to the Holocaust, hasn’t the diplomats’ role been thoroughly examined? Remarkably, the answer is no, not because their conduct has been ignored but rather because it has been submerged in the American collective guilt approach that underpins many historical assessments.

Consider the State Department’s treatment in arguably the most influential book on the subject of the past twenty-five years, The Abandonment of the Jews, by David Wyman, an exhaustive scholarly study of the American response. The 29-page summation chapter titled “Responsibility” (“America’s response to the Holocaust was the result of action and inaction on the part of many people”) devotes less than a page to the State Department, while three full pages are spent on the wartime rivalries of American Jewish groups. The book also contends that “direct proof of anti-Semitism in the department is limited” and that “plain bureaucratic inefficiency” was one explanation for the State Department’s behavior.

These highly educated, patrician diplomats, in fact, rank among the worst villains in American history. They were part of a now all-but-vanished American aristocracy that existed outside the experience or even awareness of most of their fellow Americans.

Sheltered in a hermetically sealed aristocratic archipelago, many went from elite northeast boarding schools to Ivy League educations to diplomatic postings. Imbued with an intoxicating sense of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, anti-Semitic (sometimes virulently), and mindlessly conformist (at the Groton School, many of whose graduates went to the State Department, nonconformists were waterboarded by fellow students with the approval of the headmaster), they had a heartless indifference to the sufferings of human beings from different ancestries, religions, or economic classes.

In 1940, the head of the Division of European Affairs was Jay Pierrepont Moffat. As a young diplomat in Warsaw shortly after the end of World War I, Moffat had watched desperate refugees flee oncoming Soviet armies: “they sounded like so many cackling geese and generally behaved in a manner that made us pray like the pharisee, ‘Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other men.’ ”

His successor, Ray Atherton, arranged for an anti-Semitic French Nazi collaborationist to become a governor-general in liberated North Africa (where he continued to oppress Jews).

Loy Henderson, who worked in the State Department on East European issues in the 1940s, blamed “international Jewry” for support of the Soviet Union and, after a visit to New York City, commented of the inhabitants jostling him in the street that “They seemed to have little in common with me.”

William Phillips, an undersecretary of state, in the 1930s described Atlantic City as “infested with Jews.”

William Bullitt, an ambassador to the Soviet Union during FDR’s first term, called an official in the Soviet Foreign Ministry a “wretched little kike.”

Breckinridge Long, a wartime assistant secretary of state, regarded Mein Kampf as “eloquent in opposition to Jewry and Jews as exponents of Communism and chaos.”

They were lethally efficient bureaucratic operators. In 1942, when the first cable reports of Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme reached the State Department from its legation in Switzerland – “in Fuhrer’s headquarters plan under consideration all Jews at one blow exterminated” – the Division of European Affairs suppressed the information (even from American Jews). Then, in early 1943, when informed by the legation that 6,000 Jews were being killed each day at a single location in Poland, the division’s head, Ray Atherton, and three colleagues instructed the legation “in the future we suggest that you do not accept reports submitted to you” from the legation’s Jewish sources about the exterminations.

Several months later, the division blocked a proposal, endorsed by FDR, to rescue 70,000 Romanian Jews on the ground that these Jews were “enemy aliens” since Romania was a German ally, and that, even if the rescue succeeded, there were no “other areas” to put the Jews.

Finally, at the Bermuda Conference, a “facade for inaction,” as a British delegate admitted years later, Breckenridge Long forbade any proposals that would solely benefit Jews and blocked any meaningful rescue initiatives.

Christian lawyers in the Treasury Department discovered the State Department’s cover-up and battled to save the Romanian rescue plan. Outraged, they considered the diplomats an underground “movement to let the Jews be killed,” “vicious men,” “accomplices of Hitler,” and “war criminals in every sense of the term.” Few historians have rendered such a judgment.

Parshat Mikeitz

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Looking back in time it is amazing to realize that every so often we encounter a 24-hour period with a timeless impact on the trajectory of human history. These periods, though short in actual time, through the convergence of multiple factors, produced historic decisions—decisions that arguably affected humankind forever after.

A classic example of this is the 24-hour period following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. To capture the historic significance of this day, historian Steven Gillon recently published the book, Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War, (2011), which focuses on FDR’s crisis management from the time he heard about the attack on December 7 until his speech to Congress on December 8 requesting a declaration of war.

Today we look back to that time with an air of inevitability. However, nothing was inevitable that day. FDR had to be forthright with the American people but not too open as to cause panic and rush to submission. He needed to galvanize the country for war, not only against Japan, but against Germany as well, without allowing his comments to focus on Germany, since many Americans still viewed the war in Europe as a European problem. Some of the most important decisions he made during those 24 hours concerned the speech he would give to Congress on December 8.

Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, opined that the speech should be a relatively long statement presenting to the American people the entire history of America’s relations with Japan and all the Japanese actions leading to war – culminating with the attack on Pearl Harbor. FDR, however, for effect, wanted to keep the speech short. He was a firm believer that less was more. FDR also worried that a longer speech would force him to reveal more details about the losses at Pearl Harbor, which would serve both to dishearten the American people and embolden the Japanese. He was afraid that once the Japanese realized how badly damaged the American military was they would strike at the United States mainland. He also realized, according to Gillon, “that focusing too much attention on the Pacific would limit his ability to lead the nation to war in Europe” (p.149).

Perhaps some of the most important decisions of that day revolved around the actual writing and editing of the speech, which FDR did himself. The original speech was dictated to his secretary with the following first sentence. “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a day which will live in world history—the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

When FDR reviewed the typed remarks, he made some handwritten tweaks. The words “world history” were replaced by the more emotion filled word infamy and the word “simultaneously” was replaced with the more frightening word suddenly. As Gillon writes: “Thus was born one of the most famous lines in presidential oratory” (p.72). Later that night, when meeting with his aid and confidante Harry Hopkins, he added the following closure at the Hopkin’s suggestion: “With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us G-d.”

The importance of recognizing an immense opportunity contained in a small amount of time, and maintaining control in order to take full advantage of the situation, is seen at the beginning of this week’s parsha when Yosef is hurriedly summoned to appear before Pharoh to interpret his dreams.

After Pharoh related his dream to his advisors and failed to receive a satisfactory explanation for it, the chief butler informed him about Yosef and his powers of dream interpretation. The Torah describes (41:14) that Pharoh sent immediately for Yosef. Due to the extreme urgency of the situation Yosef was rushed out of the dungeon. For Yosef, the next 24 hours or so were of critical importance. He had several key decisions to make—decisions that would impact his future and the future of Bnei Yisrael.

Upon being released from prison, the Torah informs us, Yosef groomed himself and changed into attire appropriate for Pharoh’s court. Rashi explains that Yosef did this out of respect for the monarchy. Later commentators expand upon Rashi’s point. According to various commentators there were halachic problems with Yosef grooming himself in an Egyptian hairstyle and dressing in accordance with Egyptian custom. However, the halachic tradition permits certain allowances for people who must interact with the secular rulers. Yosef’s first decision, as it were, was whether to rely on these allowances and demonstrate his ability to blend in or rather to maintain his separatist image.

The second decision he had to make was how to respond when Pharoh credited him with being an outstanding dream interpreter. Although he had much to gain by accepting the praise, Yosef’s integrity and fear of Hashem compelled him to acknowledge publicly that he was but a simple agent of G-d. His third decision was not to limit his words to merely interpreting Pharoh’s dreams but to dare to reach beyond his mandate as a dream interpreter and suggest a policy to guard against the dangers of the predicted famine.

FDR and the ‘Voyage of the Damned’

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Miami Beach was certainly a fitting choice as the site for this month’s reunion of passengers from the ill-fated SS St. Louis, the ship of Jewish refugees that sailed from Nazi Germany in May 1939. As children, they gazed at the lights of Miami as the St. Louis hovered off the Florida coast, hoping desperately for permission to land.

In the 70 years since that tragic voyage, the story of the St. Louis has been told and retold, taught and studied, researched and pondered. It has been to Hollywood, in the 1976 film “Voyage of the Damned,” starring Faye Dunaway. It was the subject of a U.S. Senate resolution expressing remorse over what happened. It was featured in a full-page political cartoon in the Washington Post (by Art Spiegelman of “Maus” fame and this author). It was the focus of a project by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to trace the fate of each of the more than 900 passengers.

And it continues to fascinate historians – including an Israeli scholar who has uncovered a new document that sheds light on President Franklin Roosevelt’s attitude toward the St. Louis.

The Saddest Ship Afloat

Hans Fisher, today a professor at Rutgers University, grew up in the German city of Breslau. He still vividly remembers the torments he and other Jewish children endured there in the early years of the Hitler regime.

“When my friends and I would come out of our school building, members of the Hitler Youth would be waiting nearby,” he recalls. “They would chase us, and if they caught us, they would beat us.”

His father, George Fisher, was one of the tens of thousands of Jewish men arrested during the November 1938 Kristallnacht program and sent to concentration camps. After nearly two months in Buchenwald, George was released on condition he leave the country within two weeks. He secured a visa to Cuba and immediately upon his arrival there began making arrangements for Hans, his sister Ruth, and their mother to join him. They purchased tickets to sail on the SS St. Louis in May 1939.

Hans’s grandparents, Wolf and Emma Gottheimer, chose to stay behind.

“My grandfather was convinced that since four of his sons had given their lives for Germany in World War I, the Nazis would never persecute him,” Hans explains. “In fact, my grandparents had gone to Palestine in 1935, but then returned to Germany, to the shock and amazement of their friends.”

Hans’s grandparents would eventually perish in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

The two-week voyage from Hamburg to Havana proceeded without incident. “I was young, I was happy that we were getting away from Nazi Germany, I certainly couldn’t appreciate how tenuous our position was,” Hans says.

“When we reached Havana, all of our suitcases were brought up to the deck as we got ready to disembark. It was a terrible shock to be standing there by the rail, our suitcases in hand, and told we could not get off the ship.”

All but thirty of the passengers held documents granting them entry to Cuba as tourists, which they had purchased in Germany, at the astronomical sum of $500 each, from an unscrupulous Cuban government official. Cuba’s authorities, furious at the backroom profiteering and sensitive to domestic anti-Semitism, refused to recognize the validity of the entry documents.

The St. Louis remained in the Havana port for several days as officials of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee negotiated with Cuban leaders. Meanwhile, relatives of the passengers rented small boats and rowed close to the St. Louis, hoping to catch a glimpse of their loved ones.

Roosevelt: Greatest American Friend Of The Jewish People

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Dr. Rafael Medoff’s articles contain half-truths, distortions and reflect out-and-out hatred for FDR (“Could Europe’s Jews Have Been Rescued?” front page essay, Sept. 9; “While Six Million Lived,” front page essay, Sept. 16).

He ignores many efforts FDR made on behalf of the Jewish community. He also has conveniently ignored the high level of anti-Semitism in America at the time.

He forgets that Rabbi Stephen Wise publicly supported FDR on many issues regarding the problem of quotas, immigration and American xenophobia. He forgets that FDR’s lawyer was Samuel I. Rosenman, that Benjamin V. Cohen, the counsel for the American Zionist Movement was hired by FDR, and that Henry Morgenthau was a personal friend.

In fact, Roosevelt hired more Jews (15 percent of his administration) to top governmental positions than all the presidents from Washington to Clinton.

Medoff forgets the verdict of the Goldberg Commission’s conclusions regarding the American Jewish response to the rising threat of Nazism to the Jews. I happen to have read Richard Breitman’s book on FDR and the problem of Jewish refugees, which Medoff mentions. I had Breitman on my program, “The Advocates,” on September 15, 2010. (The broadcast can be heard at www.advocates-wvox.com.)

Medoff shapes the facts to bolster his argument.

When FDR made his “Quarantine Speech,” he was excoriated in over 400 editorials around the country. Many of these papers called for his impeachment. The immigration issue was radioactive and was opposed by 100 percent of the Southern Dixiecrats, many of whom controlled the committees of Congress.

Even the Sabath-Celler refugee bill to bring in basically 20,000 Jewish children was completely opposed by Congress and had to be withdrawn. FDR was trying to find an excuse to go to war against Germany, and he fought an undeclared naval war in the Atlantic to help the British.

Almost 95 percent of the Jews killed were beyond the Oder-Niese border of Poland and Germany. Lucy Dawidowicz, in her definitive book on the Holocaust, The War Against the Jews, barely mentions FDR or the United States. FDR understood the limits of his power – and, by the way, he made many public statements about the Nazis as early as 1933.

Medoff is quite selective in his accusations. He has exploited the issue of the 400 protesting rabbis, the non-bombing of Auschwitz, and almost every other issue in his quest to defame FDR.

Despite all that, long after Medoff is dust, FDR will still be known and understood to have been the greatest American friend of the Jewish people.

Richard J. Garfunkel is host of “The Advocates” on WVOX, 1460 AM.

Do The Right Thing

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

In 2001, the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, my husband and I were both in mourning for close relatives. As a woman, I did not have the responsibility of attending a minyan to recite Kaddish. So I never realized how complicated it could get.

My husband, who never misses minyan, was ultra-conscientious during this time because he wanted to attend minyan in his shul three times daily. This was usually not a problem, since he worked in Brooklyn and was close to our shul. However, on one cold December day, he had to travel to Monsey for a closing. He scheduled the closing so that he would have no trouble getting back to Brooklyn in time for Mincha.

As he was about to leave Monsey, someone asked my husband if he could drop him off in Manhattan. My husband, always the first one to do a person a favor, was a little hesitant. Since 9/11, traffic did not flow smoothly, and he was afraid of missing minyan. He told the man that he was trying to avoid going through Manhattan, but that he could drop him off near the entrance to the Triborough Bridge where he could get a train. My husband would then go through Queens to Brooklyn.

The man agreed to the arrangement and was grateful for the ride.

As my husband got closer to the Triborough Bridge, he began to think that maybe it wasn’t nice to leave his passenger midway, and he decided to take the man to his destination. The man tried to talk my husband out of it, but he made up his mind that this was the right thing to do. He left the man on 47th Street and continued to the FDR.

Near the exit for the tunnel to Brooklyn, all traffic came to a standstill. The police instructed traffic to get off the FDR and take an alternate route. My husband began to panic. He started wondering if he had made the right decision. But how could doing one mitzvah get in the way of doing another one? He was sure that Hashem would not let that happen.

As darkness set in, he raced to the shul. He made it exactly on time and was able to recite the Kaddish. What a close call! After davening, he overheard some people talking about the Triborough Bridge. It seems that there had been an accident there, and people were stranded for hours. Had he gone that way, he would surely have missed the minyan. Hashem had sent him a mitzvah to perform so that he would get to shul on time.

If you do what is right, Hashem will take care of you!

Needed: Greater Government Transparency

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Much has been written in recent weeks about the dangers posed to governments by the indiscriminate release of previously classified documents. Some think the antidote lies in even greater secrecy. Actually, what’s needed is greater transparency.

Transparency can actually eliminate one-sided leaks and is our best insurance of an informed public making an intelligent decision.

The lack of transparency is no small matter. For example, if transparency had been practiced during the Holocaust years, history might have turned out differently. American Jewry’s untarnished image of President Franklin Roosevelt remained intact only because Jewish leaders never revealed totally what FDR was saying in private.

At a December 8, 1942 meeting, Rabbi Stephen Wise, longtime leader of the American Jewish Congress and the American Zionist movement, headed a delegation of five Jewish leaders to the White House. Afterward, Wise said the president was “profoundly shocked by the Nazis’ mass murder of European Jewry,” that Roosevelt told them “the American people will hold the perpetrators of these crimes to strict accountability,” and that he promised the Allies “are prepared to take every possible step to save those who may still be saved.”

But another participant, Jewish Labor Committee President Adolph Held, privately told his colleagues that FDR began the meeting by joking about his choice of Gov. Herbert Lehman, a Jew, to head the postwar administration in Germany. Wise then spoke briefly about the atrocities. Roosevelt replied that he was very well acquainted with the massacres, but it would be “very difficult to stop them since Hitler was an insane man.”

FDR asked the Jewish representatives for their suggestions. Four of them spoke. The entire conversation on the part of the delegation lasted only a few minutes.

What would the American Jewish public have thought if it were known that Roosevelt spent 23 of the 29 minutes telling jokes and commenting on subjects other than Europe’s Jews?

Fifteen months later, Wise and fellow Zionist leader Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver met with Roosevelt. The British White Paper of 1939, which had almost completely shut the doors of Palestine to Jewish refugees, would expire shortly and Wise and Silver hoped the president would oppose its renewal.

The rabbis told the press afterward that Roosevelt said the U.S. “has never given its approval to the White Paper and had the deepest sympathy” for the goal of a Jewish National Home.

Once again, American Jewry felt confident it had a stalwart friend in the Oval Office.

But private accounts of the next day’s Cabinet meeting by Vice President Henry Wallace and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. filled in some crucial blanks.

Roosevelt boasted to the Cabinet that he had told Wise and Silver “where to get off.” He berated the Jewish leaders, “Do you want to start a Holy Jihad? If you people continue pushing this recommendation [for a Jewish National Home in Palestine] on the Hill, you are going to be responsible for the killing of a hundred thousand people.”

It was only after this dressing down, Wallace wrote in his diary, that Roosevelt proceeded “to cause Rabbi Wise and Rabbi Silver to believe that he was in complete accord with them and the only question was timing.”

Not knowing Roosevelt’s true feelings, American Jews trusted their leaders’ assurances and gave FDR their overwhelming support. Roosevelt, convinced of Jewish support, felt little pressure to address Jewish concerns.

Though widely perceived by Zionists and other Jews as a devoted friend, Roosevelt repeatedly vacillated in his support for a Jewish state. A week before his death, he assured Saudi Arabia’s King Ibn Saud, a virulent anti-Zionist, that he would not adopt a stance hostile to the Arabs. He also informed Judge Joseph Proskauer, president of the American Jewish Committee, that “on account of the Arab situation, nothing could be done in Palestine.”

Roosevelt aide David Niles later said, “There are serious doubts in my mind that Israel would have come into being if Roosevelt had lived.”

Today, Barack Obama also feels confident that most American Jews support him, even though he expects Israel to give up the West Bank and accept a two-state solution with the Palestinian capital in part of Jerusalem – while at the same time he won’t press the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. All this before Israel and the Palestinians even start to negotiate a peace treaty.

FDR Defenders Top List Of Absurd Holocaust Statements

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

This is one “top ten” list no author wants to find himself on.

The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies has just released its annual list of the “ten most absurd statements about the Allies’ response to the Holocaust.” Those who made the 2009 list range from old time Franklin Roosevelt diehards to legitimate historians who should know better.

The Wyman Institute publishes the list each year in conjunction with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is commemorated on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, some FDR apologists still claim there was nothing he could have done to rescue Jews from the Holocaust,” said Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff.

“Like the last Japanese soldier holding out on a remote island years after World War II ended, these diehards simply refuse to face the facts.”

Medoff said the purpose of the annual Absurdities list is to “expose the most severe misrepresentations of the Allies’ response to the Holocaust, so that the public will have an accurate and balanced account of those crucial historical events.”
 
Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, a key figure in implementing the Roosevelt administration’s policy of keeping European Jewish refugees out of the United States. Several statements defending the administration’s policy appear in the new list of the “most absurd” statements about the Allies and the Holocaust.

At the top of this year’s “Absurdities” list is a statement made by William J. Vanden Heuvel, longtime president of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, who told a New York Times reporter, “The only meaningful way to save the intended victims of Hitler’s murder machine was to win the war as quickly as possible.”

Medoff said Vanden Heuvel’s statement was “especially absurd because it is the exact same line taken by the Roosevelt administration during the Holocaust, which was exposed as false in 1944.”

Medoff pointed out that in 1944, under pressure from Congress, Jewish activists, and the Treasury Department, President Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board, which during the final months of the war helped rescue an estimated 200,000 European Jews. Part of the Board’s work involved sponsoring and assisting rescue hero Raoul Wallenberg.

“How can anyone still claim, 66 years later, that there was no way to rescue Jews, when the War Refugee Board and Raoul Wallenberg obviously helped rescue so many?” Medoff asked.

Historians and coauthors Richard Breitman, Severin Hochberg, and Barbara Stewart McDonald made the “Absurdities” list for two statements in their recent book Refugees and Rescue: The Diary and Papers of James G. McDonald 1935-1945.

In one, they claimed to have uncovered a “previously overlooked” episode in 1938 in which President Roosevelt “promised, under the right circumstances, to ask Congress to appropriate $150 million to help resettle [Jewish] refugees in various parts of the world.”

The Wyman Institute noted, however, that the episode was previously recounted in such books as Prof. Wyman’s Paper Walls, in 1968, and Prof. Henry Feingold’s The Politics of Rescue, in 1970. Moreover, Dr. Medoff said, since FDR never kept his promise to ask Congress for those funds, it was misleading for the authors to claim Roosevelt’s promise proved he secretly tried to save the Jews.

The other statement by Breitman, Hochberg, and McDonald concerned the 1939 Wagner-Rogers bill, which would have admitted 20,000 refugee children from Germany outside the U.S. quota system. They said Roosevelt refused to endorse the legislation because he “saw that bill as a gesture – not a solution. He was a man of grand vision who wanted to resettle a much larger number of refugees from Germany.”

According to the Wyman Institute, however, “there are no known documents in which FDR states that he disliked Wagner-Rogers because it would have saved too few Jewish refugees.”

Also making the Absurdities list was World War II historian Gerhard Weinberg. In a radio interview in Tennessee, Weinberg said America’s immigration laws in the 1930s “prohibited more than 100,000 people coming into this country a year.” Weinberg then defended FDR’s anti-immigration position on the grounds that “the fact that a president doesn’t like a particular law doesn’t somehow mean that there is automatically a change in the law.”

The actual maximum number that could have been admitted in any one year was 154,000, not 100,000. As for FDR’s position, “The fact that President Roosevelt could not unilaterally alter the immigration law does not change the fact that the Roosevelt administration could have saved many German Jews without changing the law, simply by permitting the existing quotas to be filled each year,” Medoff noted.

“A total of 184,525 immigrants could have been admitted to the U.S. from Germany between 1933 and 1939, but the actual number of German Jews admitted during those years was only about 70,000 – because the administration looked for every excuse to deny entry to refugees.”
 
Renowned artist Gerry Gersten drew this portrait of President Roosevelt averting his eyes (from the Holocaust) for the cover of Arthur Morse’s classic 1968 book While Six Million Died.

Making the list for the second time in three years was South Carolina attorney Robert Rosen, the author of a pro-Roosevelt book called Saving the Jews. In a speech in Michigan last year, Rosen claimed that Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, who helped shape the administration’s policy toward European Jewry, has been criticized by historians because “he’s a very convenient target, because he’s kind of a WASP, mildly anti-Semitic guy, who belong[ed] to some clubs in New York that Jews don’t belong to, and so he’s kind of a good guy to make into a villain.”

According to the Wyman Institute, however, scholars have criticized McCloy not because he belonged to exclusive clubs, but because of his record regarding European Jewry, which includes opposing the use of any U.S. military resources to aid the Jews; ordering an aide to “kill” requests to bomb the railways to Auschwitz; falsely claiming that such a bombing would require the diversion of planes from elsewhere in Europe, when U.S. planes were already in the area, bombing German military targets next to Auschwitz; and pardoning numerous Nazi war criminals when he served as High Commissioner of Germany after World War II.

Another statement by Rosen that made this year’s Absurdities list was his remark that after 1940, the Jews in Europe “were prisoners . They couldn’t get out. It didn’t matter whether we let ‘em in, they couldn’t get out.”

The Wyman Institute, in response, pointed to a number of instances in which Jews did escape from Europe after 1940: more than 26,000 European Jewish refugees succeeded in fleeing to Palestine between 1941 and 1944; about 8,000 Jews escaped to Sweden, from German-occupied Denmark, in 1943; thousands of Jews fled from German-occupied territory to Soviet territory during 1940-1945; several thousand refugees, mostly Jews, were smuggled out of Vichy France in 1940-1941 by Varian Fry’s rescue network; and thousands of Jewish refugees escaped to Allied-liberated Italy from elsewhere in Europe, about one thousand of whom were brought to the United States in 1944.

The nominees for this year’s Absurdities awards were judged by a panel of scholars who have researched the Allies’ response to the Holocaust: Prof. David S. Wyman, author of The Abandonment of the Jews; Prof. Laurel Leff, author of Buried by The Times; Dr. Racelle Weiman, founding director (emeritus) of Hebrew Union College’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity education; Prof. Bat-Ami Zucker, author of In Search of Refuge; Prof. Judith Baumel-Schwartz, author of Unfulfilled Promise; Dr. Alex Grobman, author of Denying History; and Wyman Institute director Medoff, author of several books including Blowing the Whistle on Genocide.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/news-magazine/fdr-defenders-top-list-of-absurd-holocaust-statements/2010/01/27/

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