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January 17, 2017 / 19 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘FDR’

Ethnic Politics and the Bombing of Auschwitz

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Conference on Allies’ Failure to Bomb Auschwitz


The Wyman Institute’s one-day conference on “The Failure to Bomb Auschwitz” will take place Sunday, September 13 at Fordham University Law School, 140 West 62 St. (near 9th Ave.), New York City. Register by calling 202-434-8994 or visit www.WymanInstitute.org.



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Breckinridge Long, the State Department official in charge of refugee matters in the 1940s, did not think much of Jews. He called them “exponents of Communism and chaos.”

Long did not think much of Poles, either. In a 1944 diary entry complaining about Polish-American pressure on the Roosevelt administration, he wrote, “by temperament they are not a reasonable race.”

Yet when it came to U.S. military strategy, the Jews and the Poles were treated very differently. Roosevelt administration officials adamantly rejected the idea of using U.S. planes to stop the mass murder of European Jews. Yet they rushed to send U.S. planes on a hopeless mission to aid the Polish underground.

Documents I discovered while researching the American presidential election of 1944 help clarify this disturbing discrepancy and shed light on the role of Jewish and Polish voters in the most enduring question of the Holocaust: why the U.S. refused to bomb Auschwitz.

The day after Easter Sunday is a Polish holiday, dating back to medieval times, known as Dyngus Day. On April 10, 1944, Dyngus Day was celebrated by the huge Polish-American community in Buffalo, New York, with parties, polka contests, and an ancient tradition in which young men and women flirtatiously swat each other with willows and sprinkle water on one another. But the swatters and sprinklers of April would also be voters come November, and thus more than a few politicians in search of Polish-American votes took part in the celebrations. The holiday was at once a cultural celebration and a de facto reminder of Polish-American political power.

That same day, four thousand miles away, two young Jews staged one of the very few successful escapes from Auschwitz. While hiding in a woodpile on the outskirts of the death camp, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler heard Allied planes flying overhead. Soon those planes would figure prominently in the fate of both Jews and Poles.

Over the course of the next eleven days, Vrba and Wetzler walked eighty miles across southwestern Poland. They crossed into Slovakia, where they met with local Jewish leaders and dictated a thirty-page report that came to be known as the “Auschwitz Protocols.” They provided details of the mass-murder process and drew maps pinpointing the location of the gas chambers and crematoria.

In response to the Auschwitz Protocols, rescue activists in Slovakia, led by Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel, sent a series of letters to Allied officials and Jewish leaders in the Free World, urging the bombing of “the death halls” of Auschwitz and the railway lines leading to the camp.

The bombing requests reached the West at a time when the Allies were, in fact, well positioned to carry out such raids. By early 1944, the Allies had established control over the skies of Europe, and throughout the spring U.S. planes flew repeated reconnaissance missions in the area around Auschwitz. Allied military planners were very interested in that region because the Nazis were using its rich coal deposits for the manufacture of synthetic oil for their war effort.

Polish-American Fears

Polish-Americans, too, were extremely interested in what was happening in Poland, but not for the same reason. As Soviet troops advanced into eastern Poland in early 1944, Polish-Americans grew increasingly concerned that the Russians would permanently occupy part of the country. The Dyngus Day celebrations in Buffalo and other Polish-American communities that spring were tinged with apprehension, especially after a February 22 statement by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill acquiescing in Soviet demands for changes in the Soviet-Polish border.

“We Poles are wild as a result of Mr. Churchill’s statement,” declared Victor Alski, editor of Pittsburczanin, a Pittsburgh Catholic weekly. “It seems to us that Mr. Churchill is ready to sell the Poles down the river.”

Determined to make sure that President Roosevelt did not follow in Churchill’s steps on Poland, the leading Polish-American organizations announced plans to hold the first-ever Polish American Congress, in Buffalo, on the weekend of May 29-30.

Nervous Roosevelt administration officials feared that the growing Polish-American agitation could help the Republicans in that November’s presidential election. A memo by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) warned that the Buffalo gathering “is expected to draw 5,000 delegates…to demonstrate ‘in defense of Poland’…. This is counted upon in a year of presidential election to impel the Administration toward action of some kind favorable to Poland.”

The OSS staff recognized that the people who had flocked to the Dyngus Day celebrations a few weeks earlier were a potent political force. But the OSS underestimated the depth of Polish-American anger. In the end, 10,000 took part in the Buffalo event – more than 2,600 delegates from 26 states, as well as nearly 7,000 other attendees.

The State Department’s Breckinridge Long watched these developments with considerable alarm. “This Polish question is a great problem for us here,” he wrote in his diary on June 13. “Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, etc contain great settlements which are especially articulate in an election year…. [T]heir Buffalo convention popped off in a nationalistic direction…. The appeal to former allegiance apparently had a deciding effect on the delegates….[A] solution (or a position) satisfactory to the Poles here seems difficult-and they may hold the balance of power in votes” in key electoral states.

President Roosevelt, too, was keenly aware of the important role Polish-American votes might play in the 1944 presidential election. At the Tehran conference the previous autumn, FDR privately told Stalin that while he agreed with Soviet demands for border adjustments that would give Polish territory to the USSR, he was unwilling, because of “internal American politics,” to do anything soon on the subject.

According to the transcript of the meeting, Roosevelt explained “that there were in the United States from six to seven million Americans of Polish extraction, and as a practical man, he did not wish to lose their vote[s].”

Deportations from Hungary

Meanwhile, the mass deportation of Hungary’s Jews to Auschwitz was underway. Between May 15 and July 6, the Germans sent some 440,000 Hungarian Jews to the death camp, where most of them were quickly gassed. At its peak, the daily murder rate reached 12,000.

In June and July, leaders of the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish Agency, Agudath Israel, the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe (the Bergson Group) and others asked the Roosevelt administration to bomb Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it.

All of these requests were met with essentially the same reply, authored by Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy. He claimed the bombing proposal was “impracticable” because it would require “diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations.” He also claimed the War Department’s opposition to bombing was based on “a study” of the issue.

In fact, no such study was ever undertaken. McCloy’s position actually was based on the War Department’s standing policy that no military resources should be allocated for “rescuing victims of enemy oppression.”

Yet while the administration was claiming that it could not “divert” planes from the battlefront, U.S. bombers flew close to, and in some cases directly over, Auschwitz on numerous occasions that summer.

On August 7, for example, U.S. bombers attacked the Trzebinia oil refineries, just thirteen miles from Auschwitz. A detour to strike the death camp would have taken them just minutes.

On August 20, a squadron of 127 U.S. bombers, accompanied by 100 Mustangs piloted by the famous all-African American unit known as the Tuskegee Airmen, struck oil factories less than five miles from the gas chambers.

Elie Wiesel, then age 16, was part of a slave labor battalion working on the outskirts of Auschwitz when the planes struck. In his bestselling book Night, Wiesel described how he and his fellow-prisoners reacted:

“We were not afraid. And yet, if a bomb had fallen on the blocks [the prisoners’ barracks], it alone would have claimed hundreds of victims on the spot. But we were no longer afraid of death; at any rate, not of that death. Every bomb that exploded filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life. The raid lasted over an hour. If it could only have lasted ten times ten hours!”

Diverting Planes – To Warsaw

While U.S. officials were insisting they could not “divert” planes to Auschwitz, they found plenty of reasons to divert them to Warsaw.

In August 1944, the Polish Home Army rose up against the Germans in Warsaw. Beginning on August 8, Britain’s Royal Air Force air-dropped supplies to the Polish rebels. The flight route between the Allied air base in Italy and Warsaw took the planes within a few miles of Auschwitz. They flew that route twenty-two times during the two weeks to follow.

The British pressed the U.S. to do its share of air-drops. But an internal Roosevelt administration assessment of the British effort warned that “the [Polish] Partisan fight was a losing one” and “large numbers of planes would be tied up for long periods of time and lost to the main strategic effort against Germany.” England’s own air force commanders concluded that the air-drops had “achieved practically nothing” because the Germans were intercepting most of the supplies.

Nonetheless, President Roosevelt ordered U.S. planes to take part in the mission. The largest air-drop took place on September 18, when a fleet of 107 U.S. bombers dropped more than 1,200 containers of weapons and supplies into Warsaw. Fewer than 300 of the containers reached the Polish fighters; the Germans confiscated the rest.

The Roosevelt administration was willing to divert planes from the war effort to aid a revolt that it knew was doomed to defeat – while at the same time falsely claiming it could not spare a few bombs to hit the Auschwitz gas chambers because that would divert resources from the war effort.

Developments on the political front may help explain some of the decisions that were made on the battlefront.

The presidential election was ninety days away, and the Democrats were worried. The Republicans had scored well in the 1942 midterm congressional elections. If the GOP could hold on to the states it won in the 1940 presidential race, and if the states that went Republican in the 1942 senatorial and gubernatorial races remained Republican in 1944, the GOP candidate would win twenty more electoral votes than the number needed to capture the White House.

FDR himself estimated in one private conversation that of the anticipated 50 million voters, 20 million each were solid for the Democrats and the Republicans, and the other ten million were up for grabs.

The Republican nominee was Thomas Dewey, the governor of New York, and Democratic Party officials were seriously concerned that Dewey might be able to win his home state, which had the most electoral votes of any state and could be the key to the election.

“New York State’s electoral votes are by no means certain for the Dem. Party,” one party official noted in an internal memo.

Another warned that Dewey could carry upstate New York “by 625,000 to 650,000 votes…. I deem it imperative that everything be done to cut this down in order to [e]nsure carrying the state for Roosevelt.” He felt the situation was sufficiently dire to warrant FDR making a special campaign trip to New York.

As late as October 2, just weeks before election day, one Democratic Party activist warned FDR aide David Niles that “if nothing happens between now and election date, Dewey will carry NY state.”

During the weeks the president and his aides were discussing the merits of taking part in the Warsaw air-drops, Dewey publicly criticized the administration for not standing up unequivocally for an independent Poland.

“The rights of small nations and minorities must not be lost in a cynical peace,” the Republican candidate warned.

Polish-Americans were not afraid to flex some political muscle. Archbishop Edward Mooney of Detroit, an important leader of Catholic Polish-Americans, let it be known that he was prepared to endorse Gov. Dewey if Roosevelt failed to air-drop supplies to the Polish fighters in Warsaw. Monsignor Kaczynski, the Polish government-in-exile’s liaison to the American Catholic Episcopate relayed Mooney’s threat to Joseph Dasher, head of the Polish Section of the OSS.

Kaczynski told Dasher that “even token aid to Warsaw would create [a] favorable impression…. Poles would be appeased and possible far-reaching Catholic political actions avoided.”

Dasher gave the information to the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, John Winant. He, in turn, passed the message to FDR aide Harry Hopkins – with a note saying he himself (Ambassador Winant) had just had a similar conversation with Archbishop Francis Spellman of New York.

The White House got the message. The president could not risk being seen by Polish-American voters as abandoning Poland.

Abandoning the Jews, however, did not seem to carry with it much political risk. Roosevelt believed, correctly, that he had the Jewish vote in his pocket. The overwhelming majority of Jewish voters supported FDR in 1932, 1936, and 1940, and there was little evidence that would change in 1944.

In their book Growing Up Jewish in America, Harvey and Myrna Frommer quote theatrical producer Arthur Cohen saying, “Jewish people are not suppose to worship graven images, but my mother used to kiss this little bust of Franklin Roosevelt that was on top of the big old radio.”

Thanks to that kind of adoration, the president thus felt no political pressure to bomb the gas chambers or take any other serious steps to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

Timeworn stereotypes denigrate Poles as unsophisticated and Jews as clever political operators. But in 1944, Polish-Americans showed they understood far better than Jewish-Americans how to exercise effective political pressure.


 Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies (www.WymanInstitute.org).

Dr. Rafael Medoff

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

No Citizenship For Ruth?
    Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar seems to advocate throwing out the baby with the bath water. Jews are seriously praying for Mashiach ben David, yet Rabbi Amar (front page news story, Nov. 24) would reject giving ancestor Ruth the Convert rights of automatic citizenship.

Ira Friedman

Brooklyn, NY



Sderot Double Standard
    On Nov 22, Israeli government officials said that while Kassam rocket fire was extremely painful, it did not pose a strategic threat to the country. Therefore, there would be no dramatic change in IDF operations.
    I was always under the assumption the government protected the lives of all its citizens. Is Sderot part of Israel? I believe it is. Does the government’s statement mean the lives of citizens of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are worth more than the lives of citizens of Sderot?
    If there is no strategic threat to the country, and the buildings and schoolhouses in Sderot are not fortified against Kassams, why did the Knesset allocate five million NIS to fortify the Knesset building? Are the people in the Knesset worth more than the citizens of Sderot?

Barbara Ginsberg

Maale Adumim, Israel



Where’s The Arrogance?
    Reader Amy Wall (Letters, Nov. 24) writes that she was “offended by the arrogant tone” of Rabbi Yehuda Levin’s Nov. 17 op-ed piece dealing with the opposition to the gay parade in Jerusalem.
    I’m amazed at Ms. Wall’s bias. The title of the op-ed said “WE” stopped the parade. Rabbi Levin referred to his activities in just two paragraphs in what was a 13-paragraph article. In one of those he mentioned Jerusalem councilwoman Mina Fenton’s activities as well. Ms. Fenton would be the first to inform Ms. Wall of her respect for Rabbi Levin, an American who made nine trips to Israel in three years to help jump-start opposition to the parade.
    Perhaps Ms. Wall didn’t get to the third paragraph, which Rabbi Levin began with the following words: “But the people who really made the parade not happen were a few hundred teenagers disenchanted with the continuing spiritual rape of Jerusalem.”
    Arrogant tone, Ms. Wall?

Shlomo D. Winter

Brooklyn, NY



Credit Due
    With all the squabbling over to who should get the credit for the cancellation of Jerusalem’s gay parade, we’re missing one important factor. Although everyone who helped in any way had a hand, The Jewish Press deserves a lot of credit for publishing a number of op-eds, editorials and letters protesting the scheduled event.
    My hat is off to The Jewish Press.

Mark Elbaum

Brooklyn, NY




Positive Blogs
    I agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Harry Maryles’s defense of blogs (“Time for Agudah to Widen the Tent,” op-ed, Nov. 17).
    While the blogosphere has many malicious individuals who are determined to spread lashon hara, divide the community and break our faith, there are also plenty of observant bloggers who spread Torah, defend Israel, and uphold the honor of our people. Rabbinic condemnations of blogs will not make them go away – many bloggers are either anonymous or refuse to accept rabbinic authority.
    Agudath Israel should step up to the gossipers by fighting fire with fire. I hope that in the near future Orthodox organizations will promote blogging as a tool of self-defense by using blogs to highlight the positive deeds, ideas, and image of the Torah-observant community.

Sergey Kadinsky

Forest Hills, NY



Sympathy For Neturei Karta? (I)

    Unfortunately, Reader Chana Ravinsky (Letters, Nov. 17) is na?ve and gullible to fall for Neturei Karta. Neither Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl, zt”l, nor the Satmar Rebbe, zt”l, would have agreed to the massive chillel Hashem of embracing and marching with our Arab enemies. It’s one thing to be anti-Zionist, quite another to be pro-Arab.

    I’ve heard a tape of the Satmar Rebbe crying bitter tears for the Israeli soldiers who died in the Six-Day War. He sobbed, “Oy vey – der Yiddesher neshomas.”
    Chazal say about Jews like those who join Neturei Karta: “Oser l’rachem al mi sh’ein bo deah” – It’s prohibited to have pity or mercy on those who lack basic common sense and knowledge to know what’s right or wrong.

Rabbi Moshe Shochet

Brooklyn, NY



Sympathy For Neturei Karta? (II)
    Ms. Rovinsky’s whitewash of Neturei Karta’s association “to some extent with Muslims” is either na?ve or malicious, but either way disgusting. Neturei Karta fraternizes with leaders of Hamas, Hizbullah, the Palestinian Authority, and the government of Iran, all of whom seek to kill Jews or, at the very least, oppress us. So when Ms. Rovinsky claims to support that movement, she’s jumping in with a bunch of misguided fools who support the murder of their fellow Jews.
    I am closely related to many chassidim who qualify as anti-Zionist. Despite my “modern” ways and IDF veteran status, I am warmly embraced by this side of my family and have spent many a Shabbos and Yom Tov with them. These chassidim also recoil at the thought of associating with the murderers of Jews. And during the darkest days of the “disengagement” last year, many of my relatives, while being ideologically opposed to the Jewish state, expressed the deepest sympathy with the Jews of Gush Katif.
    Ms. Rovinsky was undoubtedly hypnotized by Neturei Karta’s propaganda, which self-servingly twists the Torah in ways that would do Noam Chomsky proud. I have a hard time believing that the seforim and gedolim Neturei Karta likes to quote would advocate holding love-fests with terrorists and murderers of Jews. She should take the time to read the sefer Eim Habanim Smeichah by R’ Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal (Hy”d) and step back from sympathizing with those who give aid, comfort, and material support to the enemies of the Jewish people.

Heshy Rosenwasser

Asbury Park, NJ




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Defending FDR: Robert Rosen

Responds To Readers, Round II


         I am bemused by Dr. Rafael Medoff’s accusing me (Letters, Nov. 24) of a “severe distortion” of the record on the issue of the bombing of Auschwitz, as I find myself in good company. Dr. Medoff’s own Wyman Institute claims that another Roosevelt biographer, Conrad Black, “severely distorts FDR record on the Holocaust”; that the “Roosevelt Museum distorts FDR’s record on the Holocaust”; and the “History Channel Documentary Distorted FDR’s Response to the Holocaust.”

         Evidently, if one disagrees with Dr. Medoff and the Wyman Institute, one isipso facto guilty of distortion. As the Talmud teaches, one is judged by the company one keeps.

         I do not agree with Dr. Medoff’s and the Wyman Institute’s portrayal of FDR’s record and the record of the Greatest Jewish Generation who fought the Nazis with guns, not words, and defeated them.
         Dr. Medoff wants readers to believe the unbelievable – namely, that a major organization, the World Jewish Congress (WJC), was actually in favor of the bombing of Auschwitz when the organization’s chief spokesman on the issue, and the head of its Rescue Department, Leon Kubowitski, wrote numerous letters to the government decision-makers opposing the bombing and no letter from the WJC exists to those same officials (John Pehle, director of the War Refugee Board and John McCloy, assistant secretary of war) in favor of the bombing.
         The WJC, like any organization, had a governing body and an executive committee. Obviously Kubowitski wrote Pehle and McCloy representing the organization’s position. He was the point man for the WJC on the rescue of European Jewry. When, on November 26, 1944, he spoke at the War Emergency Conference of the WJC, he made no mention of bombing Auschwitz. Committee minutes, resolutions, letters, publication, reports – none reflect a WJC policy in favor of bombing Auschwitz.
         Dr. Medoff keeps repeating that Nahum Goldmann wrote a letter on July 3, 1944 to Jan Masaryk telling him that “we have discussed” the bombing of the death camps. This letter does exist. But it proves nothing. Kubowitski wrote John McCloy on August 30 that “we [meaning the WJC] did not ask for the destruction of the death installations by bombing from the air.” Ernest Frischer wrote the WJC on September 15, 1944 complaining about the organization’s well-known policy against the bombing. Try as he may, Dr. Medoff cannot force a square peg into a round hole.
         But set the WJC aside for a minute. I said in my last letter (Nov. 10) regarding Dr. Medoff’s and Dr. David Wyman’s contention that American Jews favored the bombing, that a meeting was held on August 16, 1944 with the staff of the War Refugee Board and the American Jewish Committee, Vaad Ha-Hazalah, the Jewish Labor Committee, the WJC (represented by Kubowitski) and the American Jewish Conference (representing B’nai B’rith, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, the Jewish War Veterans, the National Council of Jewish Women, sisterhoods, brotherhoods, the Zionist Organization, Orthodox, Reform councils and unions among many others).
         Dr. Medoff ignored this meeting because he cannot explain it away. The minutes state “that [according to Pehle] a proposal to bomb the facilities had been objected to by Jewish organizations because it would result in the extermination of large numbers of Jews there.” No document from this meeting reflects any disagreement whatsoever with this position as there was none.
         American Jewry almost unanimously thought bombing Auschwitz was a bad idea. Had the Jewish Agency Executive in Palestine disagreed and changed its position against the bombing of Auschwitz, as argued by Dr. Medoff, (the vote in June 1944 was 11 to 1 against the bombing) the JAE certainly would have lobbied American Jewish organizations to speak up at the August 16 meeting. It did not do so.
         Now, in retrospect, the bombing appears to some people to be a good idea. It certainly allows us to vent our anger. Rabbi Robert Shechter says he thinks the bombing was “obligatory.” That is easy to say sixty years later, when no human lives depend on his opinion. But rabbis who were alive, and who would have had the blood of innocent Jews on their hands, when Allied victory appeared near, overwhelmingly disagreed with that view.
         Harry Eisenberg claims that FDR “gave strict orders” not to bomb Auschwitz and he was asked what his policy was “time and again.” No evidence for this statement exists. I doubt that FDR was ever asked about bombing Auschwitz, because no American Jewish leader or organization of any consequence thought it should be done and none came to him with the idea.
         But we are making progress. Mr. Eisenberg agrees that the passengers on the S.S. St. Louis did not return to Germany. Next he may take pleasure in contemplating that it was the Roosevelt administration and the leaders of American Jewry who saved those Jewish passengers in June 1939 from returning to Nazi Germany.
         The Roosevelt critics remind me of an old rural South Carolina judge who used to say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.”

Robert Rosen

Charleston, SC

Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Offensive Parade

   It’s gratifying to hear that the planned gay parade in Israel will meet with massive resistance from Jews, Muslims and Christians (news story, Oct. 27).
   It took a lot of nerve, though, for gay activist Noa Satat to chastise the opposition to the parade with words from, of all places, the Torah: Love thy brother as thyself.
   What happened to the part of the Torah that condemns the gay lifestyle as an abomination?
   What’s really ironic is that with an overwhelming majority of Israelis – Jews, Muslims and Christians – opposing the gay parade, “brotherly love” would call for canceling the parade so as not to offend so many people. To so selfishly proceed with plans for the parade and chide others with words like “Love thy brother as thyself” is the height of hypocrisy.

Josh Greenberger

Brooklyn, NY


Equal Assistance

   In an October 20 letter, reader Ken Abrams expressed dismay that UJA Federation is distributing aid to all the residents of war-torn Northern Israel and not discriminating against Arab residents.
   I think what Mr. Abrams is promoting is discrimination, pure and simple. Let’s put this into proper perspective. Let’s say the KKK distributed aid to Katrina evacuees in New Orleans but only if they were white and Gentile. That would be blatant racism and no American would stand for it. I don’t see how that’s any different than a Jewish organization only helping Jews in Northern Israel and leaving everyone else who was affected by the war in the dark.
   During this time of calamity people need to work across ethnic and cultural lines and put aside their differences in order to help one another. Arabs and Jews in Israel were equally affected by the war, and they are both equally deserving of assistance in rebuilding their communities.

Oren Balaban

Brooklyn, NY


Sages Opposed Discrimination


   The view expressed by reader Ken Abrams probably reflected the reaction of many Jews to the news that money raised by Jewish organizations ostensibly to help Jewish victims of the recent war with Hizbullah is, in fact, being directed to Arab families as well.
   I think it’s important to point out, however, that our Sages seem to have had a different viewpoint. The Gemara records: “Our rabbis have taught: ‘We support the poor of the heathen along with the poor of Israel, and visit the sick of the heathen along with the sick of Israel, and bury the dead of the heathen along with the dead of Israel, in the interests of peace.’ “

Gilbert Braverman




Frum Vs. Ehrlich (I)
   Dr. Yitzchok Levine’s excellent Oct. 20 front-page essay “Frum or Ehrlich?” reminded me of a statement made by Rav Ahron Soloveichik, zt”l, at a Rabbinical Council of America convention some years ago:
   “Don’t tell me about frum Jews. Frum Jews you find in jail. Tell me about ehrlicher Yidden.”
Rabbi Howard Finkelstein

Ottawa, Canada

Frum Vs. Ehrlich (II)
   Frum or Ehrlich?” was especially timely to me as I was recently acquainted with a frum family who were so focused on the external aspects of their observance that they neglected the observance of the foundations of Judaism. And in doing so, they were clearly anything but ehrlich.
   I liken it to a house that may look beautiful on the outside and magnificently decorated on the inside – but of what value is that house if it rests on a weak and eroded foundation?
Laurie Tansman

New York, NY




FDR: Hero Or Villain?

Readers Respond To Robert Rosen


Incomplete Picture
      Robert N. Rosen claims he is trying to set the record straight in his book Saving The Jews (“FDR Was a Hero, Not a Villain,” op-ed, Oct. 27). However, he omits that portion of the record where FDR’s secretary of the treasury and confidant, Henry Morgenthau, late in the war presented him with a report entitled “The Acquiescence of the United States Government in the Murder of the Jews of Europe.”
      It was only at that late point that FDR finally permitted some real action to save the Jews of Europe by creation of the War Refugee Board, which enabled true heroes like Raoul Wallenberg to rescue some of our people at the end of the war.
      Mr. Rosen is a clever attorney, but a more accurate picture of FDR can be seen from cabinet member Morgenthau, an eyewitness to the appalling indifference of FDR’s administration to the plight of the six million martyrs.

Harvey Herbert

(Via E-Mail)


Conflicting Accounts

      I am currently reading Stella by Peter Wyden, a book on the life of Stella Goldschlag that details her complicity with the SS. The book is quite specific concerning the plight of the St. Louis and differs considerably from the account offered by Robert Rosen.
      According to Wyden (pp. 86, 87), “The remaining 200-plus, unacceptable to the various governments for one bureaucratic reason or another, were returned to Hamburg and the mercies of the Nazis.” Rosen claims nobody was returned to Germany.
   Which account is accurate?

Shelly Chasan

(Via E-Mail)


Improper Context

      Robert Rosen quotes me as having written that during World War II, “the American Jew … could not stand up proudly … his natural posture was bowed and bent,” and Rosen implies that I portrayed American Jews as “cowards.”
      In fact, I never referred to them as “cowards,” and the phrase “bowed and bent” was used in the context of discussing statements on the subject that were made by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and Justice Louis D. Brandeis.
      As quoted on pp. 79-80 of my book Were We Our Brothers’ Keepers? The Public Response of American Jews to the Holocaust, 1938-1944, Ickes wrote in a 1938 diary entry: “I spoke to him [Brandeis] of the cowardice on the part of the rich Jews of America. I said that I would like to get two or three hundred of them together in a room and tell them that they couldn’t hope to save their money by meekly accepting whatever humiliations others chose to impose upon them. [Ickes added that they must be more aggressive and active in defense of Jews as the Catholics were.] Justice Brandeis agreed with me completely. He said there was a certain type of rich Jew who was a coward. According to him, these are German Jews and he spoke of them with the same contempt that I feel for them.”
      Every serious historian of twentieth-century American Jewry has taken note of the atmosphere of rising anti-Semitism in the United States in the 1930’s, which intimidated many American Jews and made them reluctant to speak out forcefully for the Jews in Hitler Germany. The words of Ickes and Brandeis may have been jarring in tone, but they raised important questions about a well-known phenomenon of American Jewish life.
      Rosen’s real quarrel is with Ickes and Brandeis, not me.

(Rabbi) Haskel Lookstein

New York, NY

‘Severe Misrepresentations’

      Robert Rosen severely misrepresents the positions taken by Jewish leaders in the 1940’s concerning the idea of bombing Auschwitz.
      Rosen writes that in June 1944, “the Jewish Agency Executive in Palestine [including David Ben-Gurion] voted 11-1 against asking the Allies to bomb Auschwitz.”
      If Rosen had bothered to read the transcript of that Jewish Agency meeting, he would know that they voted against bombing Auschwitz only because they believed that it was “a labor camp,” not a death camp.

      But later that month, Richard Lichtheim, in the Agency’s Geneva office, sent the Agency leadership in Jerusalem the first eyewitness account of the mass-murder process in Auschwitz. In response, Agency representatives in various countries repeatedly urged Allied officials to bomb Auschwitz.

      Chaim Weizmann and Moshe Shertok, in London, lobbied the British. Also lobbying for bombing were Moshe Krausz, the Agency’s representative in Budapest; Richard Lichtheim, in Geneva; Yitzhak Greenbaum, chairman of the Agency’s Rescue Committee, in Jerusalem; and Eliahu Epstein, chief of the Jewish Agency’s Middle and Near East Division, who lobbied Soviet officials in Cairo. Epstein reported on his efforts to Ben-Gurion.

      Rosen writes: “The World Jewish Congress consistently told the Department of War and the War Refugee Board that it was opposed to bombing …”

      Wrong again.

      Only one official of the WJCongress, A. Leon Kubowitzki, said that the Allies should attack the camp with paratroopers rather than bombing from the air. But Kubowitzki’s WJC colleague, Maurice Perlzweig, sent U.S. officials requests to bomb the camps. Their boss, World Jewish Congress co-chair Nahum Goldmann, lobbied U.S., British and Soviet officials to bomb Auschwitz. On p. 614 of Rosen’s own book, he mentions a July 3, 1944 letter from Goldmann to exiled Czech leader Jan Masaryk.

      What Rosen did not tell his readers is that Goldmann wrote: “We have discussed with the War Refugee Board [a U.S. government agency] the idea that the Russian and American Governments be asked to look for a way to destroy these camps by bombing or any other means. This would certainly stop or at least hold up the massacres since all the infernal instruments used, such as gas chambers, vans, etc., would have to be rebuilt.”

      Rosen claims: “Very few Jewish leaders asked the British and American governments to bomb the camps … Most Jewish groups and leaders opposed the bombing of Auschwitz …”

      Wrong yet again. Bombing was advocated not only by the Jewish Agency and World Jewish Congress, but also the Labor Zionists of America; the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe (the Bergson Group); Slovak Jewish leaders Gisi Fleischmann and Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel; Czech Jewish leader Ernest Frischer; and Swiss Jewish businessman and rescue activist Robert Goldschmidt. The American Jewish Conference, a coalition of all major U.S. Jewish organizations, called for “all measures” to be taken by the Allies to destroy the death camps-clearly not ruling out bombing.

      The editors of the Independent Jewish Press Service urged bombing the camps, as did columnists for Opinion (the magazine edited by Stephen Wise) and the Yiddish daily Morgen Zhurnal. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported sympathetically on the bombing idea, as did the National Jewish Ledger. The aforementioned A. Leon Kubowitzki was the only official of any Jewish organization who is known to have expressed opposition to the idea of bombing.

      Yes, Jewish leaders were too quick to accept the Roosevelt administration’s rejections of their bombing requests. They should not have so readily taken “no” for an answer when twelve thousand Jews were being murdered in Auschwitz every day. But timidity is not the same as opposition. And the Jewish leadership’s timidity did not absolve the Roosevelt administration of its own moral responsibility to make at least some minimal effort to save innocent lives.

Rafael Medoff, Director

The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies

Washington, D.C.

      Editor’s Note: Mr. Rosen will reply in next week’s issue.

Letters to the Editor

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Three-State Solution

   In his fine column of Sept. 15, Louis Rene Beres noted that Israel was not the aggressor in 1967 and as such was justified in using anticipatory self-defense. That point should be clarified: Israel used preemptive self-defense only against Egypt. Both Syria and Jordan initiated hostilities with attacks against Israel.
   Indeed, Israel had promised Jordan’s King Hussein that it would not attack Jordanian-occupied Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank) and East Jerusalem if he remained neutral in the event of hostilities with Egypt. Hussein chose not to do so, and thus lost his Western Palestine lands.
   It bears reiteration that Jordan, created in 1946 out of 78 percent of British Mandate Palestine, is Eastern Palestine. It is the Arab state in Palestine, just as Israel, which controls Western Palestine, is the Jewish state in Palestine. In other words, the so-called Two-State Solution is in fact a Three-State Solution.

Edward M. Siegel

New York, NY


Beware Dem Takeover

   Ed Lasky’s Oct. 6 op-ed article (“The Implications for Israel If Democrats Recapture the House”) should be a wake-up call for all those who care about the U.S./Israel relationship. The Democratic Party’s support for Israel has paled, of late, when compared with that of the Republicans. And several recent polls indicate that Democratic voters are far less inclined than their Republican counterparts to support Israel.
   There is one point that Mr. Lasky overlooked: If the Democrats do take control of the House of Representatives, you can be sure that impeachment proceedings against President Bush will promptly follow. This would, of course, undermine if not totally immobilize the Bush administration.
   Not only would Israel suffer – Bush has been a remarkably strong friend of Israel and has treated Palestinian leaders with far more skepticism than his predecessors in the Oval Office – but the war against terror will be doomed and our efforts to install democracy in Iraq will come to naught.

Harold Frankel

Cincinnati, OH
Count On Rangel

   Ed Lasky certainly paints an alarming picture of what might happen if the Democrats retake Congress. As he says, some of the Democrats who are in line to assume the chairmanship of key committees have disturbingly negative records when it comes to supporting Israel.

   But while I generally share his concerns, I do not think that Congressman Charles Rangel – one of the politicians Mr. Lasky warns about and who would become chair of the enormously powerful Ways and Means Committee – should be lumped together with the others.
   Rangel is the quintessential politician, and as a New Yorker with many Jewish acquaintances in both his public and private lives, he can be counted on to do the right thing.
   Lasky may well be accurate in his assessment of the other Democrats he mentions, but in Rangel’s case he offers pure speculation. I do agree, though, that in general the Democratic Party has a pro-Third World mindset that in many cases translates into antagonism toward Israel.

Robert Kravitz

(Via E-Mail)
Deception And Kashrus

   I write to add my voice to that of reader Pinchas Hammerman (Letters, Oct. 6) on the Monsey kashrus scandal. I find absolutely infuriating the tendency in some rabbinic circles to maintain that anything even remotely or indirectly involving halacha is the exclusive purview of rabbis.

   The Monsey scandal was not fundamentally about halachic standards for supervision but about a system that allowed a person to deceive his kosher supervisor – and to do so for a very long time.
   Adherence to halacha in this case was obviously not enough – but there was no “heads-up” given by the supervising rabbi that the possibility for deception even existed. Should we not now demand disclosure as to the actual extent of supervision? Is the rabbi, no matter how fine a man or how big a talmid chacham, blameless even if he was going by the book, so to speak?
   What exactly did this rabbi think his imprimatur meant to consumers if not that he, as the certifying supervisor, was certain beyond a doubt that the product was kosher?

Dov Grossman


 Free Speech For All

   While I found last week’s editorial “Fear of Muslim Power” very insightful, I feel it failed to address a question that should have immediately suggested itself: Is there a substantive difference between what the Muslims do when they seek censorship and what the Christian and Jewish communities do when they seek to stop anti-Christian museum displays or anti-Jewish and anti-Israel advocates from speaking in the public square?

   I do appreciate that your editorial drew the distinction of Muslim violence and threats of violence. But there have been a number of recent instances where appearances on campus by anti-Israel spokesmen were called off for fear of a potentially violent reaction on the part of pro-Israel students. I certainly don’t agree with the position of the pro-Palestinian provocateurs, but I wonder whether our community is best served by seeking to curtail mere speech.
   Personally, I am repelled by Holocaust deniers and those who defend the murder of little children. It behooves us, however, to respond to these challenges with our heads, not our hearts.

Morris Finnestan

(Via E-Mail)



FDR And The Holocaust

 Roosevelt’s Inaction

      Thank you for publishing Rafael Medoff’s highly informative article on the failure of Franklin Roosevelt to concern himself with the savagery of the Holocaust, which of course was ongoing during his watch (Whitewashing FDR on the Holocaust,” front-page essay, Oct. 6).
      Given the enormity of the crimes, FDR’s inaction was and remains inexcusable. Had he taken even minimal action, who knows how many Jewish lives might have been spared? Perhaps a Jew such as Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter would not have said “I don’t believe the reports” when confronted with the evidence of the Nazi genocide.
      And perhaps – had FDR’s blas? attitude toward saving Jews not permeated the corridors of power in Washington – FDR’s successor, Harry Truman, would have sent Israel the arms it so desperately needed in its war of independence.

Jerry Boris

Philadelphia, PA


Jewish Culpability
      Despite repeated attempts to whitewash the truth, there is little doubt that many Jews in Europe were not saved due to the interference and obstructionist behavior of several high-profile American Jews.
      Chief among them, as Dr. Medoff amply demonstrates, were Samuel Rosenman of the American Jewish Committee and Stephen Wise of the American Jewish Congress.
      Wise stood out as an insidious instigator who worked counterproductively against attempts by others to save European Jewry. His tremendous influence in Washington and on Jewish opinion could have swayed the U.S. government to pursue a more aggressive course of intervention. In light of his completely negative influence during this horrific time in history, I find it abhorrent that several Jewish landmarks are named in his honor.
      There have always been attempts to excuse the inexcusable and justify the unjustifiable. But certainly when it comes to the Holocaust, there should be no excuses made for the disgraceful actions of those who were in a position to save their fellow Jews but didn’t.
      To add insult to injury, in order to spare the reputations of those who thwarted all efforts to assist Europe’s Jews, slanderous allegations have been made in an attempt to tarnish one of the few heroes of that time – Peter Bergson.
      Justice is well served whenever the real activities of the obstructionists are exposed and the heroics of Bergson and his equally valiant allies are trumpeted.

Adina Kutnicki

Elmwood Park, NJ



      Tremendous work by Rafael Medoff, and kudos to The Jewish Press for featuring it so prominently. Dr. Medoff absolutely decimated Robert Rosen’s foolish book, which should have been titled Ignoring the Jews rather than Saving the Jews.

      Unfortunately, Jews never learn, and most still worship the memory of Roosevelt. Ironically, the same lemmings who adore FDR positively hate George W. Bush, despite the latter’s resolute backing of Israel. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that had Mr. Bush been in the White House in the 1940’s, a lot more Jews would be alive today. And Jewish liberals would still despise him.

Yitzchak Heimowitz
Ramat Gan, Israel


Rosen Is Right

     Robert Rosen had it right in his book. Without FDR’s superb leadership, World War II would have been lost and world Jewry would eventually have been destroyed. If the critics think that Farley, Garner, Taft or others who might have been elected in 1940 would have saved any Jews, they are sadly mistaken.

      If FDR had died in 1940 or had not run and we had not won the war, the Jews would have been a bargaining chip for our own homemade fascists: Lindbergh, Coughlin, Ford, and countless others. Read Lucy Dawidowicz‘s book The War Against the Jews.

Richard Garfunkel

(Via E-Mail)


Letters to the Editor

Whitewashing FDR on the Holocaust

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Sixty-two years ago on Oct. 6, more than four hundred rabbis from around the country marched in Washington, D.C., to plead with President Franklin Roosevelt for action to rescue Europe’s Jews. It was the only such rally in the nation’s capitol during the Holocaust.

The marchers included many rabbinical giants of the era, among them Eliezer Silver and Israel Rosenberg, co-presidents of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis; Solomon Friedman (the Boyaner Rebbe), president of the Union of Grand Rabbis; and Bernard Levinthal, known as the Chief Rabbi of Philadelphia. Also present were a number of younger scholars who would later emerge as leaders, including Moshe Feinstein.

Three days before Yom Kippur, they left their homes and pulpits to travel to Washington, in some cases coming from as far away as Ohio, Illinois, and Massachusetts.

Some prominent Jews feared the march would embarrass the president or stir anti-Semitism. Congressman Sol Bloom of New York, a staunch supporter of the State Department’s refugee policy, argued that “it would be very undignified for a group of such un-American looking people to appear in Washington.”

One of President Roosevelt’s closest advisers and speech-writers, American Jewish Committee member Samuel Rosenman, urged FDR to avoid the rabbis, and regretted that he had been unable “to keep the horde from storming Washington.”

American Jewish Congress president Dr. Stephen Wise condemned the march as “a painful and even lamentable exhibition.”

Six decades later, the rabbis who took part in that protest are under attack again. A new book, Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust by attorney Robert N. Rosen, denigrates the rabbis and praises President Roosevelt for refusing to meet them.

Rosen mocks the rabbis as “foreign-looking” with “their long black velvet coats, big hats, and Hasidic garb.” (In fact, many – perhaps most – of the rabbis were not chassidim, and they were not all dressed alike.) It was natural, according to Rosen, that FDR was not interested in “seeing a group of Orthodox rabbis sent by an unpopular, unrepresentative Palestinian terrorist front group.”

The “terrorists” to whom Rosen refers are the Bergson Group, a political action committee headed by Hillel Kook (nephew of Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook), better known as Peter Bergson. The Bergson activists conceived the march and collaborated with the Union of Orthodox Rabbis to bring the marchers to Washington.

Prior to World War II, Kook had been involved with the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the militant Zionist underground group in British Mandatory Palestine. When Kook came to the U.S. in 1940 (and adopted the name Bergson), he chose to undertake his own independent activism. The Irgun, meanwhile, hd declared a truce with the British at the outbreak of the war, and was almost completely inactive for the next four years.

The link between Bergson and the Irgun is thus irrelevant to the story, but Rosen is obsessed with pinning the “Irgun” label on him and his colleagues. Rosen cannot even bring himself to use the names that historians normally use, such as “Bergson Group” or “Bergsonites.” Instead, Rosen continually refers to them as “Irgunists” – in one 17-page span, he uses that term no less than twenty-five times.

By emphasizing Bergson’s Irgun link, regardless of how dormant that link was, Rosen is able to smear the Bergson Group as “terrorists.” This sleight of hand, in turn, justifies FDR’s snub of the rabbis: according to Rosen, FDR spurned them because “he did not want to raise the stature of the Irgun.”

In fact, there is no record of Roosevelt ever mentioning the Irgun in his remarks on Jewish subjects, and indeed he may never even have heard of it, given its inactivity during that period. What Roosevelt really did not want to raise was the stature of those who were asking legitimate questions about his refusal to lift a finger (as Fowler Harper of the Interior Department once put it) to help Europe’s Jews.

Dr. Rafael Medoff

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/whitewashing-fdr-on-the-holocaust/2006/10/04/

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