This month I am privileged to engage in one of my favorite pursuits: revealing an unsung hero (actually, setting the stage for his revelation in a later column). Best of all, this story is not only about a fine gentleman and his remarkable determination to be of help to his people, but it contains a take-home message for everyone.
Although the United States had voted for the Partition Plan, Truman had yet to go ahead with committing to the establishment of a Jewish state. A report from the newly founded CIA claimed that partition would not work and Truman’s most trusted advisor, Secretary of State George Marshall, claimed that the United States was “playing with fire while having nothing to put it out.” Hence, after already voting for partition, which would mean Israel’s sovereignty and independence, the State Department was calling for nothing other than trusteeship, which meant neither.
America’s position towards Israel independence was so uncertain that 74-year-old Dr. Chaim Weizmann, in ailing health, set sail for America to lobby President Truman. The President, however, had had it with all of the pressure that was being imposed on him. Hundreds of thousands of postcards flooded the White House from pro-Israel individuals. Forty governors and more than half the Congress signed petitions in support of a Jewish state. Zionist picketers circled in front of the White House, and Truman was informed that if he did not emphatically support the creation of Israel, his reelection was doomed in New York State.
This all had an adverse effect on the President who refused to talk about Palestine and even denied permission to meet with Dr. Weizmann, whom he liked and admired from their private meeting in November 1947. Every effort to change the President’s mind proved fruitless and only strengthened his resolve.
But when you are desperate, giving up is never an option, and the situation for the Jews in post-Holocaust Palestine was one of supreme desperation. Frank Goldman, head of B’nai Brith, then a leading Jewish organization, called Eddie Jacobson in the middle of the night, beseeching Truman’s former army pal and business partner to intervene.
Readers of this column will recall how Harry Truman had volunteered to serve in WWI (even though he was not eligible for the draft) and was assigned to manage a canteen at his army training base in Oklahoma. In order to make this endeavor a financial success (most of them weren’t), he partnered with a former clerk in a Kansas City clothing store, Sergeant Edward Jacobson. It was thanks to Jacobson, as Truman always acknowledged, that the business was successful, and they became fast friends. The canteen, which kept expanding from the initial wares of candy and cigarettes, turned a profit of about $1,000 a day.
To finance the canteen, every soldier in the regiment was assessed two dollars. Because of the success of the operation, all were paid back handsome profits on their initial fee, which made Truman and Jacobson very popular. The two of them concluded that they were an unbeatable business combination and opened up a haberdashery shop in Kansas City in 1919. There were no signed agreements between the two, for as they had all their lives, they fully trusted one another.
The shop’s first year was very profitable, but by 1922 the business failed, and the partners decided not to file for bankruptcy and instead attempted to pay off their creditors. Generally, when a business fails, the partners’ relationship becomes acrimonious. But nothing of the sort occurred in this instance. Never did the two ever quarrel, and each admired the other’s honesty.
This friendship would prove vital for the United States’ recognition of Israel, and the courageous decisions that President Truman took against the advice and caution of his State Department.