*Editor’s Note: This is part XXI in a series. You can read Part XX, here
Response to Bund Report
Alex Grobman, PhD
On June 30, 1942, Samuel Margoshes, editor of Der Tog, admonished American Jewry and the US Government for their complete lack of response to the Bund Report. Why, he asked, “were there no protest meetings in the greatest halls in the greatest city in the Western Hemisphere, no massive parades, no demonstrations, no nation-wide radio hook-up to express American Jewry’s outrage at this systematic extermination of a whole people.”
On July 1, The New York Times reported the Polish Government in Exile had further stated the report “implored” them to protect Polish Jewry against complete annihilation and “to influence the Allied governments to apply similar treatment against Germans and fifth columnists living at present in Allied countries.” They realized this was an extremely difficult and most unusual demand, but it “was the only way to save millions of Jews from certain destruction.”
In addition to this report, there were two other accounts reported in The New York Times, JTA, Der Tog, Congress Weekly and Opinion. On June 29, the World Jewish Congress charged that 1,000,000 Jews had been massacred since the war began. According to reports reaching the Congress, a “vast slaughterhouse for Jews” had been established in Eastern Europe. Already, 700,000 Jews had been killed in Lithuania and Poland; 125,000 in Rumania, 200,000 in Nazi occupied parts of Russia; and 100,000 in the rest of Europe. As Walter Laqueur noted, the number, which was based on the Bund report, was substantially underestimated, since the Polish Jews did not have complete knowledge of conditions in the Soviet Union and the Baltic counties. Yehuda Bauer maintained the number of deaths was three times higher.
News Conference of Stanisław Mikołajczyk, Minister of the Interior of the Polish Government in Exile
Finally, on July 9, 1942, Stanisław Mikołajczyk, minister of the interior of the Polish government in exile, held a news conference in London broadcast on the BBC, to describe the massacres that were taking place daily in German occupied Poland. On the program he declared: “The Jewish population in Poland is doomed to annihilation in accordance with the maxim ‘Slaughter all the Jews regardless of how the war will end.’ This year veritable massacres of tens of thousands of Jews have been carried out in Lublin, Wilno, Lwów, Stanislawow, Rzeszow and Miechow.”
The New York Times, the JTA and later Opinion reported that Mikołajczyk told of how on June 24, 1942 the entire Jewish population of the town of Hrubieszów, in southeastern Poland, 5,000 men, woman and children were systematically murdered. On behalf of the Polish underground, he appealed to Britain and the US to incarcerate German residents in their countries as hostages. All threats of retribution at the end of the war were meaningless they affirmed, because the Germans were confident, they would prevail.
Although much of this information had already been reported in the press, including Congress Weekly and Midstream, most American Jews refused to believe or were psychologically incapable of accepting the real possibility the Jews of Europe might not survive the war. Initially the press “did not give much notice,” to the Bund Report Lacquer said. “After all, news about Nazi persecutions came from many parts of Europe and they were probably exaggerated. The fact that Jews were not persecuted but exterminated had not yet registered.”
As the magnitude and scope of the atrocities became too much to accept in silence, segments of the Jewish community were moved to hold mass demonstrations throughout the US. The Jewish labor Committee initiated a campaign on July 14, to collect a million signatures on a petition to President Roosevelt, for the US and the Allies to warn the Nazis they would pay a severe price at the end of the war for these mass murders.
Madison Square Garden Demonstrations and a Day of Prayer
On July 21, 1942, 22,000 people attended held a demonstration at the Madison Square Garden in New York to denounce the atrocities and express America’s challenge to this mass slaughter. The American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Labor Committee and B’nai B’rith sponsored the demonstration. Although the American Jewish Committee did not actively participate in this meeting, they forwarded a note expressing their solidarity with the rally’s objectives. According to historian Rafael Medoff, one American Jewish Committee official explained the reluctance to participate in the demonstration. He said, “Parades and demonstrations” would just result in “Strengthening of the Nazi propaganda in America and the creation of a counteroffensive in this country against the Jews.”
The politically conservative Jewish Morning Journal criticized the AJCommittee’s absence: “The American Jewish Committee certainly owes an explanation as to what kind of ‘Jewish’ politics it is carrying on which holds it back from crying out at such a time when the Nazi massacres are more horrible than all the massacres of Jews in the past.”
In a message sent to this protest, President Roosevelt emphasized that all freedom-loving Americans will “hail the solemn commemoration…as an expression of the determination of the Jewish people to make every sacrifice for the victory over the Axis powers.” He promised the Nazis would not succeed in annihilating the Jewish people and they would be held accountable on the day of reckoning. Significantly, in Roosevelt’s message and the one sent by Winston Churchill, there is no mention of rescue.
The report of the demonstration, prepared by the World Jewish Congress, outlined in detail the atrocities committed, yet it did not contain any word about rescuing Jews. American Jews were expected to make every sacrifice to ensure Allied victory and have to wait until the end of hostiles to extract revenge. This message, delivered in public and private to American Jewish leaders, meant nothing could be done to save the Jews of Europe. “The plea of the Bund, of Zygielboym, of Schwartzbart, that by the time victory came there would be nobody left to be saved and that action was needed was needed immediately this plea was ignored, “asserted Yehuda Bauer. American Jewish leaders feared that if they asked the US to act specifically on behalf of European Jews, it would arouse a wave of antisemitism. No one wanted their loyalty to Roosevelt questioned, particularly during the successful German advances in the summer 1942.
In the absence of rescue options, American Jews focused their efforts on registering their anger at the Germans. On July 23, two days after the Madison Square Garden meeting, the JTA, the Forward and later the American Jewish Yearbook, reported that the US House of Representatives opened the session of the House with a special prayer for the victims of Nazi persecution. On the same day, the Federal Council of Churches and the Church Peace Union sent messages of sympathy to the Synagogue Council of America and to various members of the clergy throughout the US condemning the Nazi persecutors. The Orthodox Rabbis of the US and Canada designated August 12, 1942, a day of fasting and prayer, throughout the US and Canada. During the month of August, protest demonstrations were held in Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles and St. Paul, Minnesota.