The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 194

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 194

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:37 pm

The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945
by David S. Wyman © 1984 by David S. Wyman
Foreword © 1985 by Elie Wiesel
Preface to the 2007 Edition © 2007 by David S. Wyman




For Midgie because of the smell of summer earth after the rain, roses by the study gate, the magic of the shooting star, and all the rest.

Table of Contents:

• Foreword by Elie Wiesel
• Preface to the 2007 Edition
• Preface
• Acknowledgments
• Part 1: Background
o Chapter 1: The Setting: Europe and America
• Part II: "A Plan to Exterminate All Jews"
o Chapter 2: The News Filters Out
o Chapter 3: The Worst is Confirmed
• Part III: Fourteen Lost Months
o Chapter 4: First Steps
o Chapter 5: Struggle for Action
o Chapter 6: Bermuda
o Chapter 7: Paper Walls and Paper Plans
o Chapter 8: The Emergency Committee
o Chapter 9: The Zionists
o Chapter 10: The Cabinet War
o Chapter 11: The Rescue Resolution
• Part IV: The War Refugee Board
o Chapter 12: "When Are the Americans Coming?"
o Chapter 13: Hungary
o Chapter 14: "Late and Little"
o Chapter 15: The Bombing of Auschwitz
• Part V: Conclusion
o Chapter 16: Responsibility
• Afterword
• Appendix A: Easter at Bermuda, 1943
• Appendix B: The Conflict Between the Regular Zionists and the Bergsonites
• Notes
• Bibliography
• Index
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:39 pm

"Our only hope will lie in the frail web of understanding of one person for the pain of another." -- --- JOHN DOS PASSOS, December 1940


May 1944, three weeks before D-Day. A convoy of Jews from Hungary arrives at the railway station of a small Polish town. Auschwitz, someone on the train announces. Nobody seems to hear him. It is a name without echoes. Auschwitz? Just the name of a place. Nobody knows, nobody can guess, its terrifying implications. Nobody knows, nobody could know, that for the Jewish people this name already means the last stop, the terminus, the place where, at night, Jews from all over Europe meet to die.

The Hungarian Jews don't know this, but the leaders of the free world do. Washington knows, and so does London. The Vatican knows, and so does Switzerland. Only the victims are still in the dark.

But let's go on with our story. Under a flaming sky, a Jewish boy fends his way through the crowd in the direction of a German officer who is busy sorting people out. Some are sent to the right, others to the left. A few prisoners pass through the ranks advising old men to say they are younger and young men to say they are older, urging everybody to deny they are either ill or weak. In a few whispered words, they tell the truth about Birkenau. Impossible, the Jewish boy says to his father, they are just trying to scare us, that's all. How can they expect me to believe that in this place there are people who burn men and women alive? After all, this is the twentieth century: nobody would let a thing like that happen.

But the prisoners were not lying, as the Hungarian Jews would soon realize. It was true: in the middle of the twentieth century, in the heart of civilized Europe, a massive enterprise was manufacturing death on a large scale. Was the free world aware of what was going on? Surely not; otherwise it would have done something to prevent such a massacre. This was the consoling thought the prisoners clung to in order to protect their unwavering faith in humanity. Had they heard that all the details and all the aspects of the "Final Solution" were known to the White House, they would have sunk into despair and resignation. But they discovered the truth only after the war.

The truth. But what was the truth? Read David Wyman's courageous, lucid, painful book and you too will learn it. Read it, and you will lose all your illusions. Within the context of war, the destiny of persecuted Jews carried too little weight to tip the scales in their favor.

How else explain the semi-indifference of an FDR faced with the agony of the European Jewry? how justify the anti-Semitic political tendencies of some of the higher officials in the Department of State? how understand the passivity and lack of perspicacity of most Jewish leaders in the United States? David Wyman, gifted thinker and historian, tries to answer these questions. And his answers hurt. All those Jews waiting for help that does not arrive and will never arrive; all those refugees lining up in front of consulate doors, returning home in the evening with an empty heart and empty eyes; all those children who could have been saved from a fatal trip to Draney and Auschwitz had it not been for a slow, insensitive bureaucracy; all those unused visas, all those unheeded appeals, all those useless screams. How can we not be ashamed of the hypocrisy behind the Evian Conference, or of the cynicism that dominated the Bermuda Conference? It almost seems as if both diplomats and statesmen spent more time inventing reasons not to save the Jews than trying to find a way to save them.

Indeed, the title of this book is a perfect reflection of its content. The Jews were abandoned. And once they were delivered to their butchers, they could no longer count on anybody. Not even on those of their people who were living free in America. Sad and revolting as it might sound, both the major Jewish organizations and the most powerful figures of the Jewish community could not or did not want to form a unified rescue commission. Peter Bergson and his group-- whose energy and devotion the author praises highly -- were held back for political or personal reasons. Rabbi Stephen Wise was already burdened with too many responsibilities. As for the other leaders, most of them were much too busy thinking of the postwar period, and of the necessity of establishing a national Jewish homeland, to give much attention to the rescue operations. The Biltmore Conference barely touched upon the tragedy of European Jews, and as for the debates of the American Jewish Conference, they devoted one session to the question in September 1943, just one session, and not even a plenary one at that.

Meanwhile, from all over Occupied Europe, trains kept arriving at Birkenau. When the American government -- under the joint pressures of the Bergson group and of public opinion -- decided to found the War Refugee Board, it was already too late. It was too late for Polish Jews. It was too late for Dutch Jews. It was too late for French Jews.

Proud as we are of the generosity that America showed in fighting against Nazi Germany, we are embarrassed and dismayed by its behavior toward Hitler's Jewish victims.

Roosevelt's politics was only part of the problem; the rest had to do with the particular mood of the country at that time. David Wyman provides us with a few striking instances of it: the Congress's unequivocal opposition to immigration, the Christian churches' near-silence, the press's burial of news of the death factories in the back pages of their newspapers. It is all very clear: this open, generous country closed its doors and its heart to the European Jews of the ghettos. Even in 1945, after the victory, it still did not want to have anything to do with them.

This is why it is so important to read, to reread, and to encourage others to read this disturbing book. It might help us understand how, by abandoning a people, we can jeopardize our own future.

Elie Wiesel
September 1985

(Translated from the French by Anna Cancogni)
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:41 pm


To mark the twentieth anniversary of The Abandonment of the Jews the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, the leading scholarly publication in its field, devoted its Fall 2003 edition to an assessment of the significance and impact of Abandonment. In my afterword to that issue I emphasized the need for additional research on many aspects of America's response to the Holocaust. I had never expected Abandonment to be the last word on the subject. On the contrary, I have been pleased to discover that my work has played some role in stimulating younger scholars to delve into topics that I had not addressed in depth, since they were not central to my narrative.

Scholarly interest in these subjects has increased significantly in recent years. Moreover, there has been a continued, even growing, public interest in understanding the ways in which Americans responded to the persecution of German and Austrian Jewry in the 1930s and then the mass murder of Jews throughout Axis-occupied Europe in the 1940s.

An important example of this trend is the surge of interest in the rescue mission to Vichy France by the young American journalist Varian Fry in 1940-1941. I had the good fortune to interview Mr. Fry for my first book, Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941, and to make reference to his lifesaving activity. In recent years, Fry became the first American to be named one of the "Righteous Among the Nations" by Israel's Holocaust center, Yad Vashem; he was the subject of two biographies; his own memoir, Surrender on Demand, was republished by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; a dramatic film about Fry debuted at the White House, and a documentary by the filmmaker Pierre Sauvage is in the works; a street in Fry's hometown, in New Jersey, was renamed in his honor; and a campaign is underway to have his likeness appear on a U.S. postage stamp.

The latter honor is being pursued in the wake of the issuing, in early 2006, of a postage stamp honoring Fry's "partner in the 'crime' of saving lives," as he dubbed him, the U.S. vice-consul in Marseille, Hiram Bingham IV. The Bingham stamp came about as a result of a years-long nationwide petition campaign, itself indicative of the growing public awareness of the handful of Americans who took part in rescue activity. Nor is Bingham the only one of Fry's collaborators to win belated public recognition. The Reverend Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha in 2006 became the second and third Americans to be named "Righteous Among the Nations." As emissaries of the Unitarian Church, they worked closely with Fry to rescue refugees from the Nazis in France. The forthcoming book by Dr. Susan Sabak will shed important additional light on the Unitarian movement's rescue activity in Europe.

The tragic corollary to the Sharps' extraordinary bravery was the silence and indifference with which most American Christians responded to the news of the annihilation of Europe's Jews. I briefly revisited this topic in the aforementioned issue of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, in a previously unpublished exchange between Dr. Eugene J. Fisher of the United States Catholic Conference and myself, concerning U.S. Catholic responses to the Holocaust. Further studies of the responses of America's various Christian churches and organizations to the Holocaust are long overdue. While there were some American Christian religious leaders, and some church organizational structures, who did press for U.S. rescue action, they were very few. We need to know more about what happened and why.

Fry and his network were able to bring more than two thousand Jewish and political refugees from Vichy France to the United States on the eve of the Holocaust, but that was a very small number compared to what was needed. The desperate search for havens for European Jews in the late 1930s was almost always unsuccessful. Still, small rays of hope did shine on some far-flung corners of the globe. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Racelle Weiman, founding director of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, the public is learning about how the American governor of the Philippines, Paul McNutt, brought more than one thousand German Jewish refugees to that U.S. territory during 1937 to 1939 over the objections of the State Department.

The pursuit of those elusive havens emerges more deafly when seen through the lens of the U.S. consul officials in Europe prior to 1941. Bat-Ami Zucker's important recent book, In Search of Refuge: Jews and U.S. Consuls in Nazi Germany, 1933-1941 (Vallentine Mitchell, 2001), chronicles the efforts these gatekeepers made to keep Jewish refugees away from America's shores.

Much additional research needs to be done on many aspects of the U.S. response to the plight of German Jewry in the 1930s. I am pleased to note the significant work undertaken recently by professors Stephen Norwood and Laurel Leff. Norwood's studies of the academic community's response to Nazism break new, albeit painful, ground, as he has uncovered evidence that the leaders of America's elite universities sought to develop good relations with the Hitler regime. His lengthy essay on the relations between Harvard president James Conant and the Nazis, published in American Jewish History, is jarring.

Leff's most recent research found that very few U.S. newspaper publishers, and only one of the dozens of American journalism schools, were willing to hire German Jewish refugee journalists -- their own professional colleagues -- who were seeking positions in the United States in order to escape Hitler. (The school that was the exception hired just one refugee, as a researcher.) In response to Leff's findings, the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies mobilized more than eighty journalism school deans and faculty to pressure the Newspaper Association of America to express regret for its predecessor's actions in the 1930s.

Although such expressions of remorse obviously cannot undo the damage done seven decades ago, they constitute an important step in the necessary process of our society coming to grips with the Allies' woeful response to the Holocaust and learning lessons from that dark experience.

Professor Leff has also recently authored the award-winning book, Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper (Cambridge University Press, 2005), a masterful study of how the New York Times covered the Holocaust, and how that coverage affected public knowledge and the Roosevelt administration's response. It is the best book yet written on media coverage of the Holocaust and is likely to remain the gold standard for the topic for a long time to come.

Other U.S. publications of prominence, such as Time, Newsweek, The New Republic, and The Nation, merit scholarly scrutiny as well. Columnists and commentators should also be considered, ranging from Max Lerner, who actively promoted rescue, to Walter Lippmann, who refused to mention the plight of Europe's Jews in his columns.

Much further study of American Jewry's response is needed, including examination of Jewish leaders, organizations, local communities and synagogues, as well as the Jewish press. At the same time, I am glad to note the work that has been done in recent years, including essays in several scholarly journals by Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff and the book he and I coauthored, A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust (The New Press, 2002).

Other books of note concerning the activities of Bergson's group include Medoff's Militant Zionism in America: The Rise and Impact of the Jabotinsky Movement in the United States, 1926-1948 (University of Alabama Press, 2002) and Prof. Judith Tydor Baumel's The "Bergson Boys" and the Origins of Contemporary Zionist Militancy (Syracuse University Press, 2005). Prof. Joseph Ansell's biography, Arthur Szyk: Artist, Jew, Pole (Littmann, 2004), helps us understand Szyk's unique dual position as one of the leading artists of his generation and a senior activist with the Bergsonites.

The Bergson group's impressive ability to forge alliances with disparate groups should be more closely examined. Within the Jewish community, the Bergsonites collaborated with the Orthodox rabbinical leadership to bring more than four hundred rabbis to Washington in October 1943 to march for rescue. Already, recent scholarship by Efraim Zuroff, Haskel Lookstein, and David Kranzler has added significantly to the literature on U.S. Orthodox Jewry's response to the Holocaust, including that historic march.

Beyond the Jewish community, Bergson managed to forge important alliances with prominent members of other ethnic groups to bolster his campaigns for U.S. rescue action. The Wyman Institute has undertaken pioneering research on the involvement of prominent African Americans in the Bergson group. Additional scholarly exploration of the topic will help fill the gaps in our understanding of how various segments of American society reacted to the persecution of European Jewry.

Studies are needed of members of Congress who were important to the issue of rescue. They would deal with those who fought for rescue action, especially senators Guy Gillette, Elbert Thomas, and Edwin Johnson, and Congressmen Will Rogers Jr., Emanuel Celler, and others. The governor of Utah's 2005 decision to proclaim a statewide "Elbert Thomas Day" (another Wyman Institute project) to commemorate the senator's Holocaust rescue work is an appropriate honor that needs to be followed by scholarly examination. Those who stalled or blocked rescue action also merit attention. They would include, for example, Congressman Sol Bloom, and such people as Senator Robert R. Reynolds and others involved with the adamant and active anti-immigration movement.

The roles of President Franklin Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and FDR's cabinet members and senior advisers also require further exploration and analysis. Prof. Greg Robinson's study of Roosevelt's decision to intern Japanese Americans, By Order of the President (Harvard University Press, 2001), revealed significant new information about FDR's racially exclusionist conception of American society. Understanding the role Roosevelt envisioned for Asian Americans, Jews, and blacks in the life and culture of the United States may provide another clue to the mindset that shaped his policy decisions concerning Jewish refugees from Hitler.

The second volume of Prof. Blanche Wiesen Cook's magisterial biography, Eleanor Roosevelt (Viking Penguin, 1999), helped clarify the First Lady's knowledge of the unfolding disaster for German Jewry and the factors affecting her ability and willingness to influence FDR's refugee policy. The forthcoming third and final volume, which will cover the period including the Holocaust, should be even more enlightening.

Dr. Bat-Ami Zucker's recent research on Labor Secretary Frances Perkins sheds light on one of the few cabinet members who actively lobbied for aid to the refugees. The time has also come for full-length studies of the efforts on behalf of rescue by Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., as well as the senior Treasury aides who subsequently staffed the War Refugee Board, such as John Pehle and Josiah E. DuBois Jr. Many years ago, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, my academic home throughout my teaching career, offered me the opportunity to name my chair; I chose to name it after DuBois. More recently, I was pleased to speak about him at a Wyman Institute conference focusing on DuBois's life and work.

The illusory search for havens in the 1930s took on added urgency, indeed desperation, in the 1940s, when being trapped in Europe meant facing near-certain death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. Monty Noam Penkower's Decision on Palestine Deferred: America, Britain and Wartime Diplomacy, 1939-1945 (Frank Cass, 2002) describes how the fate of Palestine, the most feasible of the prospective havens, fell victim to the cold calculations of Allied diplomacy.

No part of Abandonment generated more controversy than my chapter on the Roosevelt administration's rejection of requests to bomb the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz and the railroads leading to Auschwitz. Scholarly and popular interest in the topic remains high, more than two decades after I first wrote about it. Public discussion of the issue has benefited greatly from Stuart Erdheim's important documentary film, They Looked Away, and the videotaped interview by Erdheim and Israel Television's Chaim Hecht with George S. McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee who as a young U.S. pilot in 1944 overflew Auschwitz to bomb nearby oil factories. The Wyman Institute showed the interview to a House International Relations Committee task force in 2004. Also notable are Prof. Paul Miller's essays about the bombing issue in several scholarly publications; and Prof. Joseph Bendersky's masterful book, The "Jewish Threat": Anti-Semitic Politics of the U.S. Army (Basic Books, 2000), which documented the racist and anti-Semitic teachings prevalent in U.S. military academies during the interwar era and how they shaped attitudes toward Jews and the Holocaust -- and the bombing issue -- in the American military.

Slowly but surely, the American public is coming to grips with the tragic fact that our beloved nation failed, and failed dismally, when confronted with one of history's most compelling moral challenges. The public's interest is a heartening development, because learning the lessons from the mistakes of the Hitler years is crucial to preventing them from recurring. They are lessons of paramount importance, because at bottom, they are lessons about tolerance, human values, and justice.

David S. Wyman
September 2006
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:43 pm


This book has been difficult to research and to write. One does not wish to believe the facts revealed by the documents on which it is based. America, the land of refuge, offered little succor. American Christians forgot about the Good Samaritan. Even American Jews lacked the unquenchable sense of urgency the crisis demanded. The Nazis were the murderers, but we were the all too passive accomplices.

Between June 1941 and May 1945, five to six million Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. Germany's control over most of Europe meant that even a determined Allied rescue campaign probably could not have saved as many as a third of those who died. But a substantial commitment to rescue almost certainly could have saved several hundred thousand of them, and done so without compromising the war effort. The record clearly shows, though, that such a campaign would have taken place only if the United States had seized the initiative for it. But America did not act at all until late in the war, and even then, though it had some success, the effort was a very limited one.

This book is a report on America's response to the Nazi assault on the European Jews. It is not a new subject; others have written on it already, as have I, in my earlier book Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941. What is new about the present volume is that it brings out much information not previously published; and it offers several new answers to the key question: Why did America fail to carry out the kind of rescue effort that it could have?

In summary form, these are the findings that I regard as most significant:

1. The American State Department and the British Foreign Office had no intention of rescuing large numbers of European Jews. On the contrary, they continually feared that Germany or other Axis nations might release tens of thousands of Jews into Allied hands. Any such exodus would have placed intense pressure on Britain to open Palestine and on the United States to take in more Jewish refugees, a situation the two great powers did not want to face. Consequently, their policies aimed at obstructing rescue possibilities and dampening public pressures for government action,

2, Authenticated information that the Nazis were systematically exterminating European Jewry was made public in the United States in November 1942. President Roosevelt did nothing about the mass murder for fourteen months, then moved only because he was confronted with political pressures he could not avoid and because his administration stood on the brink of a nasty scandal over its rescue policies.

3. The War Refugee Board, which the President then established to save Jews and other victims of the Nazis, received little power, almost no cooperation from Roosevelt or his administration, and grossly inadequate government funding. (Contributions from Jewish organizations, which were necessarily limited, covered 90 percent of the WRB's costs.) Through dedicated work by a relatively small number of people, the WRB managed to help save approximately 200,000 Jews and at least 20,000 non-Jews.

4. Because of State Department administrative policies, only 21,000 refugees were allowed to enter the United States during the three and one-half years the nation was at war with Germany. That amounted to 10 percent of the number who could have been legally admitted under the immigration quotas during that period.

5. Strong popular pressure for action would have brought a much fuller government commitment to rescue and would have produced it sooner. Several factors hampered the growth of public pressure. Among them were anti-Semitism and anti-immigration attitudes, both widespread in American society in that era and both entrenched in Congress; the mass media's failure to publicize Holocaust news, even though the wire services and other news sources made most of the information available to them; the near silence of the Christian churches and almost all of their leadership; the indifference of most of the nation's political and intellectual leaders; and the President's failure to speak out on the issue.

6. American Jewish leaders worked to publicize the European Jewish situation and pressed for government rescue steps. But their effectiveness was importantly diminished by their inability to mount a sustained or unified drive for government action, by diversion of energies into fighting among the several organizations, and by failure to assign top priority to the rescue issue.

7. In 1944 the United States War Department rejected several appeals to bomb the Auschwitz gas chambers and the railroads leading to Auschwitz, claiming that such actions would divert essential airpower from decisive operations elsewhere. Yet in the very months that it was turning down the pleas, numerous massive American bombing raids were taking place within fifty miles of Auschwitz. Twice during that time large fleets of American heavy bombers struck industrial targets in the Auschwitz complex itself, not five miles from the gas chambers.

8. Analysis of the main rescue proposals put forward at the time, but brushed aside by government officials, yields convincing evidence that much more could have been done to rescue Jews, if a real effort had been made. The record also reveals that the reasons repeatedly invoked by government officials for not being able to rescue Jews could be put aside when it came to other Europeans who needed help.

9. Franklin Roosevelt's indifference to so momentous an historical event as the systematic annihilation of European Jewry emerges as the worst failure of his presidency.

10. Poor though it was, the American rescue record was better than that of Great Britain, Russia, or the other Allied nations. This was the case because of the work of the War Refugee Board, the fact that American Jewish organizations were willing to provide most of the WRB's funding, and the overseas rescue operations of several Jewish organizations.


Parts of this book are critical of the American Jewish leadership in the Holocaust era. The policies of Zionist leaders are particularly questioned, in part because their movement held the greatest potential for effective Jewish action. This criticism is made reluctantly. Yet it must be included if the report is to be honest and objective. Several of those leaders have since criticized their own failures in the face of the catastrophe. [1]

I have written not as an insider. I am a Christian, a Protestant of Yankee and Swedish descent. But I have advocated a Jewish state for a very long time, and I would undoubtedly have backed the Zionist movement during the World War II era had I been old enough to be involved in political affairs. Today I remain strongly pro-Zionist and I am a resolute supporter of the state of Israel. My commitment to Zionism and to Israel has been confirmed and increased by years of study of the Holocaust. I look upon Israel as the most important line of defense against anti-Semitism in the world. Had there been a Jewish state in the 1933 to 1945 era, it would be much less painful today for all of us to confront the history of European Jewry during World War II.

A final comment; then a question. The Holocaust was certainly a Jewish tragedy. But it was not only a Jewish tragedy. It was also a Christian tragedy, a tragedy for Western civilization, and a tragedy for all humankind. The killing was done by people, to other people, while still other people stood by. The perpetrators, where they were not actually Christians, arose from a Christian culture. The bystanders most capable of helping were Christians. The point should have been obvious. Yet comparatively few American non-Jews recognized that the plight of the European Jews was their plight too. Most were either unaware, did not care, or saw the European Jewish catastrophe as a Jewish problem, one for Jews to deal with. That explains, in part, why the United States did so little to help.

Would the reaction be different today? Would Americans be more sensitive, less self-centered, more willing to make sacrifices, less afraid of differences now than they were then?

The numbers themselves are quite staggering. According to the information presented by the UN Migration Agency in its 2018 report, by 2015 the number of migrants reached almost 40 million people. By the end of 2017, according to a classified German government report, more than 2.5 million people across the Middle East (one million in Libya alone) would still be waiting to cross into Europe.

-- The Migrant Crisis in Europe: What Will 2018 Bring?, by Ljubinko Zivkovic

In 2013, Syria was burning. And the Coalition of Regime Change -– the U.S. and the seven dwarves -– were pouring oil onto the fire. By July 2013, there were more than 1.6 million Syrians refugees; more than 100,000 Syrian civilians had died, and there was no end in sight. By 2015, 300,000 civilians had died and 8 million -– a third of the population -– were forced to flee their homes. By the way, a large portion the refugees going to Europe are not even from Syria or other war-torn countries. Most of the displaced Syrians are stuck in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

-- Chaos in Syria, Part II – Destruction, ISIS and Beyond by Chris Kanthan
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:43 pm


I gratefully acknowledge the valuable help provided by these institutions and their staffs: American Friends Service Committee Archives, American Jewish Committee Archives and Library, American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Archives, Center for Migration Studies, Division of Special Collections of Columbia University Library, Columbia University Oral History Research Office, Herbert Lehman Papers at Columbia University School of International Affairs, Special Collections Division of Georgetown University Library, Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, Interlibrary Loan Department of University of Massachusetts at Amherst, National Archives and Records Service (Legislative, Judicial, and Diplomatic Branch; Modern Military Branch; Social and Economic Branch), National Council of the Churches of Christ, New York Public Library, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, George Arents Research Library at Syracuse University, The Temple (Abba Hillel Silver Papers), Travelers Aid International Social Service of America, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Records at Tufts University, Manuscripts and Archives Division of Yale University Library, Yeshiva University Library, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Zionist Archives and Library.

For the funds that freed me from teaching during the semester in which I began research for this book, I wish to thank the Social Science Research Council and Harvard University's Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. My work was also assisted at that stage by the American Council of Learned Societies.

I am especially grateful to Eliyho Matz and Aaron Berman for allowing me to use source materials which they uncovered in their own research and which have been of critical importance to this book.

Very many other people helped in the making of this book, many of them in several ways. An attempt to acknowledge that help properly would far overrun the space that is available. I have concluded, regretfully, that the only practical procedure is to set their names down in a list and trust that each person will realize that my gratitude is deep and sincere and that it is not through any lack of warmth that I do not express it in a more personal way.

Those people are: Harry Alderman, Dean Alfange, Claire Barker, James Barker, Leora Baron, Felicity Barringer, Yitshaq Ben-Ami, Jay Berkovitz, Winfred Bernhard, Shmuel Bolozky, Jean Bowman, Randolph Braham, Irving Bunim, Henry and Lydia Cadbury, Emanuel Celler, John Conway, David Culbert, Lucy Dawidowicz, Dorothy Detzer Denny, Josiah DuBois, Ira Eaker, Alfred Eckes, Eileen Egan, Edith and Leonard Ehrlich, Barbara and Donald Einfurer, Helen Fein, Henry Feingold, Marcia Feinstein, Jerome Finster, Frank Freidel, Haim Genizi, Morris Golden, Harold J. Gordon, Jr., Arthur Goren, Marian Greenberg, Robert Griffith, Alex Grobman, Hester Grover, William Harrison, Jerry Hess, Raul Hilberg, Ira Hirschmann, Laura Z. Hobson, R. H. Hodges, Laurence Jarvik, Irene Jones, Robert E. Jones, Herbert Katzki, Warren Kimball, Rose Klepfisz, Arthur Kogan, Hillel Kook, Joseph and Mary Kovner, David Kranzler, Emil Lang, Henry Lea, Elenore Lester, Archibald Lewis, Guenter Lewy, Dwight Macdonald, Edward Mainzer, Charles Markels, Lucille and Phillip Marsh, Joseph Marshall, Barbara Matz, Roswell McClelland, Samuel Merlin, Sybil Milton, Morton Mintz, Amy Mittelman, Juanita and Wallace Nelson, Emanuel Neumann, Jeanne Nieuwejaat, Paul O'Dwyet, James E. O'Neill, Eleanot and Perry Ostroff, Robert Parks, Claiborne Pell, Mary Penxa, Claude Pepper, Jules Piccus, David Pierce, Robert Poirier, Justine Wise Polier, Jacob Price, Howard Quint, Edward Reese, Gerhart Riegner, Max Rosenberg, Halina and Robert Rothstein, Roland Sarti, Dore Schary, Andre Schiffrin, Eva Schlesinger, Shlomo Shafir, Sherry Shamash, Fred Shuster, Lawrence Suid, Jack Sutters, Marvin Swartz, Arlo and Polly Tatum, John Taylor, Ted Thackrey, Laszlo Tikos, S, M, Tomasi, Carl Hermann Voss, Rudolf Vrba, Bernard Wax, Robert Wolfe, And last, my mother and father, Midge, Jim and Norah, Teresa, Laura, and old Twig.
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:49 pm



In Europe: The "Final Solution"

During the spring of 1941, while planning the invasion of Russia, the Nazis made the decision to annihilate the Jews in the territories to be taken from the USSR. On June 22, before dawn, the German army opened its drive against the Soviet forces. Following directly behind the frontline troops were special mobile units (Einsatzgruppen) that rounded up Jews and killed them in mass shootings. Typikal of these scenes of horror is an eyewitness report by a German construction engineer:

I saw one family of about six, all already stripped naked and waiting for the order to get down into the grave. Next to the father was a boy of ten or twelve years old. He placed a hand on the boy's head and pointed the other towards heaven and said something to the boy, who, I could see, was trying to keep back his tears. The man's wife was standing near an old woman with snow-white hair, either her mother or the mother of her husband, who held a baby in her arms, singing softly to it and stroking it. Then came the order, "Next ten!" and the family started moving round the mound of earth to climb into the grave...

Then the next were called out to make themselves ready, that is, to take off their clothes. And then I heard shooting and believed that everything was over.... I then walked round the grave and saw a few people still moving. Not all the shots had killed. An S.S. man sat on the edge of the grave, with one leg crossed over the other.... I called out to the S.S. man, "Look, they're not all dead!" to which he replied, "Ach! Tonight the grave will be filled up with rubbish and so it'll all be finished!" [1]

Between June and December 1941, the Einsatzgruppen and associated support units murdered some 500,000 Jews in what had been eastern Poland and Russia. A second sweep through the occupied territory, lasting from fall 1941 through 1942, annihilated close to 900,000 more. [2]

Meanwhile, Hitler had ordered the systematic extermination of all Jews in the Nazi grip. The directive, issued on July 31, 1941, by Reich Marshal Hermann Goering, instructed Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office, to organize "a complete solution of the Jewish question in the German sphere of influence in Europe." Heydrich, who was already in charge of the mobile killing operations in Russia, began preparations for collecting the Jews in the rest of the Nazi domain and deporting them to eastern Europe. The organization of the deportations was assigned to Adolf Eichmann. [3]

Advanced planning for the extermination of the Jews took place in Berlin on January 20, 1942, at the Wannsee Conference. There Heydrich outlined the basic program to a group of German officials whose agencies would collaborate in carrying out what the conference minutes called "the final solution of the Jewish question." In the interval between Goering's directive to Heydrich and the Wannsee Conference, the Nazis had acted to hem in their victims. From October 1941 on, Jews were forbidden exit from German-held territory. [4]

Most of the slaughter of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen in the East in 1941 and 1942 involved mass shooting at large grave sites. For the rest of Europe's Jews, the Germans established six extermination centers in Poland. The first of these, at Chelmno, began its work in late 1941, with gassing vans as the instrument of murder. The victims, packed into the enclosed trucks, were suffocated by carbon monoxide from the vehicles' exhaust systems. Mass annihilation at most of the other locations (Belzec, Majdanek, Treblinka, Sobibor, Auschwitz) was well under way in the spring and summer of 1942. There gas-chamber buildings and crematoria were constructed. Gassing was by carbon monoxide fumes produced by stationary engines, except at Auschwitz, where the crystalline Zyklon B (hydrogen cyanide, or prussic acid) was used. Country by country, Jews from most parts of Europe were crowded into freight cars and carried to these assembly lines of death throughout 1942, 1943, and 1944. Nearly three million were murdered in the six killing centers. [i] [5]

The Nazis assigned very high priority to the annihilation of European Jewry. Locked in a world conflict, in which the very existence of their nation was at stake, Germany's leaders diverted significant amounts of war potential into the genocide program. Einsatzgruppen activities absorbed ammunition and able manpower. At several points in the march of murder, gasoline was used to burn the bodies of victims. The extermination process strained the overburdened German administrative machinery. But the heaviest costs were paid in transportation and labor. [7]

Moving millions of Jews across Europe to the death factories in Poland overloaded a railroad system that was hard put to meet essential transportation of troops and war material. Most important, despite a constant labor shortage, one that reached four million by 1944, the Nazis wiped out a capable work force of two to three million Jews. Even skilled Jews employed in war-related industries were deported to the gas chambers. And this occurred despite the recognition that Jewish labor productivity was frequently well above the norm, because Jews saw their best hope for survival in making themselves economically valuable. [8]

To kill the Jews, the Nazis were willing to weaken their capacity to fight the war. The United States and its allies, however, were willing to attempt almost nothing to save them.

In America: Barriers to Rescue

Until the Nazis blocked the exits in the fall of 1941, the oppressed Jews of Europe might have fled to safety. But relatively few got out, mainly because the rest of the world would not take them in. The United States, which had lowered its barriers a little in early 1938, began raising them again in autumn 1939. Two years later, immigration was even more tightly restricted than before 1938, In fact, starting in July 1941, America's gates were nearly shut. The best chance to save the European Jews had passed. [9]

After 1941, with the Holocaust under way, the need for help became acute. By then, though, saving Jews was much more difficult, for open doors in the outside world, while essential, would not be enough. Determined rescue efforts would also be needed to salvage even a segment of European Jewry. But the United States did not take rescue action until January 1944, and even then the attempt was limited. Nor were America's nearly closed doors opened. Immigration was held to about 10 percent of the already small quota limits. [ii] Thus the second-and last-chance to help the Jews of Europe came and went. [10]

In the years before Pearl Harbor, the United States had reacted to the European Jewish crisis with concern but had refused to permit any sizable immigration of refugees. Although Congress and the Roosevelt administration had shaped this policy, it grew out of three important aspects of American society in the 1930s: unemployment, nativistic restrictionism, and anti-Semitism. [11]

After Pearl Harbor, the war itself narrowed the possibilities for saving Jews. In addition, the mass media's failure to draw attention to Holocaust developments undercut efforts to create public pressure for government rescue action. But the deeper causes for the lateness and weakness of America's attempts at rescue, and for its unwillingness to take in more than a tiny trickle of fleeing Jews, were essentially the same ones that had determined the nation's reaction to the refugee crisis before Pearl Harbor.


American Restrictionism

From 1933 to 1941, opponents of refugee immigration had built their case around the high unemployment of the Great Depression. Restrictionists persistently asserted that refugees who came to the United States usurped jobs that rightfully belonged to unemployed American workers. Their viewpoint was widely accepted. The counterargument, that refugees were consumers as well as workers and thus provided as many jobs as they look, made little headway. [12]

Economic pressures against immigration had been reinforced by strong currents of nativism or "100 percent Americanism." These xenophobic feelings, which had run very high in the aftermath of World War I, had combined with economic forces during the 1920s to install the quota system, the nation's first broad restriction of immigration. Then, during the 1930s, anti-alien attitudes had played a major part in keeping refugee immigration at low levels. American nativism continued strong throughout World War II. [13]

Wartime prosperity did not dissolve the economic argument against immigration. Fear was widespread that the depression would return with the end of hostilities. Millions believed that demobilization of the armed forces and reconversion to a peacetime economy would bring, at the very least, an extended period of large-scale unemployment. [14]

Veterans' organizations were especially forceful in insisting on the protection of employment rights for returning servicemen. In their view, every foreigner allowed into the country meant unwarranted job competition. Accordingly, throughout the war, the American Legion called for a virtual ban on immigration, to last well into the postwar period. The Veterans of Foreign Wars demanded similarly tough restrictions. By August 1944, the VFW was urging a stop to all immigration for the next ten years. In the early 1940s, American Legion membership exceeded 1.2 million and included 28 senators and 150 congressmen. Enrollment in the VFW stood at nearly one million. In addition, a large array of patriotic groups actively backed the veterans' organizations in the drive to cut off immigration. In the forefront were the influential Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies, a body that represented the legislative interests of 115 different organizations with combined memberships of some 2.5 million. [15]

The anti-immigration forces wielded substantial political power. Moreover, a large number of congressmen were staunchly restrictionist, a reflection of their own views as well as of attitudes that were popular in their home districts. Many of them, typified by Senator Robert Reynolds (Dem., N.C.), Senator Rufus Holman (Rep., Oreg.), and Representative William Elmer (Rep., Mo.), embraced an intense anti-alienism that shaded into anti-Semitism. [16]

Holman, who introduced a bill in 1942 to end all immigration (except temporary visits), constantly kept an eye open for attempts to weaken the barriers that kept aliens out. He once blocked legislation in the Senate simply because it aroused his suspicion "that it relaxes the immigration laws," though he openly admitted, "I know nothing about this bill." It did not concern immigration. Elmer, equally distrustful, warned the House in October 1943 of "a determined and well-financed movement ... to admit all the oppressed, Hitler-persecuted people of Germany and other European countries into our country." [17]

Even lawmakers as far removed from Reynolds, Holman, and Elmer as Senator Harold Burton (Rep., Ohio) lined up on the restrictionist side. Burton, a committed internationalist and a liberal-minded Unitarian, believed the United States should channel refugees "toward areas other than our own." He maintained that "there are many other places in the world where there is much more room for their reception than there is here." [18]

During the war, hundreds of bills were introduced in Congress to decrease immigration. Among the most important -- and the most typical -- were three put forward in the House. Leonard Allen (Dem., La.) initiated two of them. One would have suspended all immigration until the end of hostilities; the other called for terminating immigration when the war was over. Edward Rees (Rep., Kan.) sponsored a more moderate proposal: to cut the quotas in half for a ten-year period. [19]

The tendency in Congress was clear, and it frightened the leadership of several refugee-aid and social-service organizations. On the basis of their own information sources throughout the country, they were convinced by fall 1943 that a rising tide of public opinion, along with the anti-refugee mood in Congress, endangered the entire quota system. In response, these organizations began to plan an educational and lobbying effort to head off legislation for a "drastic curtailment of immigration." Their campaign probably helped preserve the quota system and avoid a complete stoppage of immigration; none of the many restrictionist bills were enacted. But it did not succeed in widening America's virtually closed doors during the war, even to the extent of increasing the tiny percentage of the quotas that was being made available. [20]

America's limited willingness to share the refugee burden showed clearly in national opinion polls. In 1938, a year when the Nazis had sharply stepped up their persecution of Jews, four separate polls indicated that from 71 to 85 percent of the American public opposed increasing the quotas to help refugees. And 67 percent wanted refugees kept out altogether. In a survey taken in early 1939, 66 percent even objected to a one-time exception to allow 10,000 refugee children to enter outside the quota limits. [21]

Five years later, in the middle of the war, attitudes were no different. Asked in January 1943 whether "it would be a good idea or a bad idea to let more immigrants come into this country after the war," 78 percent of those polled thought it would be a bad idea. At the end of 1945, when the terrible conditions facing European displaced persons were widely known, only 5 percent of the respondents thought the United States should "permit more persons from Europe to come to this country each year than we did before the war." (Thirty-two percent believed the same number should be allowed in as before, 37 percent wanted fewer to enter, and 14 percent called for closing the doors entirely.) [22]


American Anti-Semitism

While it is obvious that many who opposed refugee immigration felt no antipathy against Jews, much restrictionist and anti-refugee sentiment was closely linked to anti-Semitism. The plain truth is that many Americans were prejudiced against Jews and were unlikely to support measures to help them. Anti-Semitism had been a significant determinant of America's ungenerous response to the refugee plight before Pearl Harbor. During the war years, it became an important factor in the nation's reaction to the Holocaust. [23]

American anti-Semitism, which had climbed to very high levels in the late 1930s, continued to rise in the first part of the 1940s. It reached its historic peak in 1944. By spring 1942, sociologist David Riesman was describing it as "slightly below the boiling point." Three years later, public-opinion expert Elmo Roper warned that "anti-Semitism has spread all over the nation and is particularly virulent in urban centers." [24]

During the decade before Pearl Harbor, more than a hundred anti-Semitic organizations had pumped hate propaganda throughout American society. At the head of the band were Father Charles E. Coughlin and his Social Justice movement, William Dudley Pelley's Silver Shirts, the German-American Bund, and the Reverend Gerald B. Winrod's Protestant fundamentalist Defenders of the Christian Faith. Within a few months of America's entry into the war, these four forces were effectively silenced, along with many of the lesser anti-Semitic leaders and their followings. Coughlin, stilled by his archbishop, also saw his Social justice tabloid banned from the mails. Pelley received a fifteen-year prison sentence for sedition. The German-American Bund disintegrated; some members were jailed and several others were interned as dangerous enemy aliens. Winrod, under indictment for sedition during much of the war, continued to publish his Defender Magazine, but its contents moderated noticeably. [25]

Organized anti-Semitism had been set back, but by no means did it go under. During the war, several of the minor demagogues remained vocal and new ones came forward. Father Edward Lodge Curran, president of the International Catholic Truth Society, worked to maintain the momentum of the Christian Front, a militant Coughlinite group. And in 1942 the fundamentalist preacher Gerald L. K. Smith came into his own as a front-ranking anti-Semitic agitator. That was the year Smith launched his magazine, The Cross and the Flag, inaugurated the Committee of One Million, and achieved a reasonably strong showing in the Republican primary for U.S. senator from Michigan. The next year, he formed the America First party, an isolationist, anti-New Deal venture. From his various platforms. Smith spread anti-refugee and anti-Semitic propaganda, along with attacks on internationalism, Communism, and the New Deal. [26]

It was during the war, too, that anti-Jewish hatreds that had been sown and nurtured for years ripened into some extremely bitter fruits. Epidemics of serious anti-Semitic actions erupted in several parts of the United States, especially the urban Northeast. Most often, youth gangs were the perpetrators. Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, synagogues were damaged as well as defaced with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans, anti-Jewish markings were scrawled on sidewalks and Jewish stores, and anti-Semitic literature was widely distributed. Most upsetting of all, in scores of instances, bands of teenagers beat Jewish schoolchildren -- sometimes severely, as when three Jewish boys in Boston were attacked by twenty of their classmates. In another incident, in a midwestern city, young hoodlums stripped a twelve-year-old Jewish boy to the waist and painted a Star of David and the word Jude on his chest. [27]

The worst outbreaks occurred in New York City and Boston. In New York, the incidents began in 1941 and continued at least through 1944. They spread throughout the metropolis but hit hardest in Washington Heights, where almost every synagogue was desecrated and where attacks on Jewish youngsters were the most widespread. In the fall of 1942, the city's commissioner of investigation, William B. Herlands, started a formal inquiry into the situation. His comprehensive report, released to the press in January 1944, analyzed thirty-one of the cases of anti-Semitic violence and vandalism and examined the backgrounds of fifty-four of the offenders. The Herlands Report criticized the city police for laxity and inaction in 70 percent of the cases. As for the perpetrators, the investigation found them to be typically in their middle to late teens, from poor and troubled home situations, and with records of low achievement in school. All had been influenced by anti-Semitic propaganda and indoctrination, received mostly at home, at school, and through pamphlets. [28]

In Boston, three years of sporadic property damage, cemetery desecrations, and beatings turned into almost daily occurrences in 1943. Most flagrant were the violent attacks on Jewish children by teenage gangs, particularly in the Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury sections. In October, pressure from citizens' groups and exposure of the situation by the New York newspaper PM impelled Governor Leverett Saltonstall to act. An official investigation that cited police negligence led to the replacement of the police commissioner. The situation improved rapidly, although some beatings did occur well into 1944. Major factors igniting the trouble were the flood of anti-Semitic literature circulating in Boston and inflammatory oratory and other provocative actions by local Coughlinite Christian Front groups. [29]

Throughout the nation, a particularly pernicious kind of anti-Semitism circulated in handbills, pamphlets, posters, and as jokes and jingles. The wide currency of this material was indicative of the extent to which anti-Jewish attitudes had spread through American society. These vehicles of hatred turned up in buses, subway stations, industrial plants, public buildings, army camps, schools, and numerous other places. The most recurrent theme involved the widely disseminated slander that Jews shirked military service, stayed home, and prospered, while Christian boys were sent off to fight and die. [iii] Here are two of the most extensively circulated items. The first parodied the Marines' Hymn.

From the shores of Coney Island,
Looking out into the sea,
Stands a kosher air-raid warden,
Wearing V for victory,
who chants:
Let those Christian saps, go fight the Japs,
In the uniforms we've made,

So it's onward into battle,
Let us send the Christian slobs.
When the war is done and Victory 'won,
All us Jews will have their jobs. [30]

The following piece, with minor variations, surfaced in all parts of the country, in oral and written form. It was called "The First American." No version mentioned that the bombardier who died on the same mission that claimed Colin Kelly's life was Meyer Levin, a Jew.

First American killed in Pearl Harbor -- John J. Hennessy
First American to sink a Jap ship -- Colin P. Kelly
First American to sink a Jap ship with torpedo -- John P. Buckley
Greatest American air hero -- "Butch" O'Hare
First American killed at Guadalcanal -- John J. O'Brien
First American to get four new tires -- Abraham Lipshitz [32]

Symptomatic of even more deeply negative attitudes was a small but noticeable flow of hate-filled letters to government officials and members of Congress objecting to Jewish refugees. These three excerpts are typical:

I am writing to you to protest against the entry of Jewish refugees into this country.... Their lack of common decency, gross ignorance and unbelievable gall stamps them as undesirables even if they could be assimilated into a common society, which they can't.

I see from the papers that 200,000 Refugee Jews in Hungary will not live through the next few weeks. Thats too Dam Bad what in the Hell do we care about the Jews in Hungary.

What we want is the Refugee Jews brought to this country returned where they come from.

Are we to harbor all the riff raff of Europe.... The Jews take over everything here. [33]

Ugly and bitter though it was, the coarse, mostly overt anti-Semitism of the demagogues, the street gangs, the snide leaflets, and the poison-pen letters represented only the surface of the phenomenon. Negative attitudes toward Jews penetrated all sectors of wartime America. A more subtle social and economic discrimination against Jews was accepted and practiced by millions of respectable Americans. Many millions more were not anti-Semitic in the usual sense of the term. They would not personally have mistreated a Jew. Beneath the surface, however, were uncrystallized but negative feelings about Jews. In ordinary times, this "passive anti-Semitism" would have worked little damage. But in the Holocaust crisis it meant that a large body of decent and normally considerate people was predisposed not to care about European Jews nor to care whether the government did anything to help save them. [34]

The quieter strains of wartime anti-Semitism were more difficult to gauge than the blatant, overt type. But the fact that they reached serious levels can be established from anecdotal evidence as well as from results of opinion polling.

In the middle of the war, the British government sent Freya Stark, a pro-Arab archaeologist and author, on an extensive lecture tour of the United States. Her mission was to build American support for British policies, especially for those regarding Palestine. Miss Stark, a non-Jew, was impressed by the amount of anti-Semitism she ran across among well-to-do, well-educated Americans. Dr. L. M. Birkhead, a Protestant clergyman and close observer of anti-Semitic trends, traveled through the Midwest in 1943. He found vicious anti-Jewish attitudes rampant not only among extremist groups but also in the "best circles." The respectable elements, he thought, would probably not support violence, but neither would they oppose it. The following year, in its annual review, the American Civil Liberties Union pointed out that reports from across the nation carried "an almost unanimous verdict that race tensions are increasing, affecting Negroes, Jews, and Japanese Americans. Some even described the situation as 'explosive' or 'potentially dangerous.'" [35]

Nor were the armed forces exempt. In a letter to a Jewish magazine, a Marine corporal, two years in the service, expressed frustration about attitudes that were not uncommon in the military:

I am the only Jewish boy in this detachment. I am confronted with anti-Semitism on all sides. Sorry I got into this outfit. [36]

Anti-Semitism ran through the upper ranks as well, as illustrated by the experience of an American Red Cross staff member who was working alongside the liberating Allied armies following V-E Day. One morning she set out to visit Jews at a displaced persons' center near Magdeburg, Germany. About 2,700 of them had survived Bergen-Belsen and then ten days locked in a train before American Army units found and freed them. The Red Cross worker stopped at the American Military Government office in Magdeburg to ask directions to the DP center. The officers she saw were not aware that she was Jewish. This is what happened:

Major A said to me, "Oh, you want to visit our kikes; be careful or they'll take everything you've got," and turned to the senior officer and said "Major M, Miss N wants to visit our Brooklyn kikes. Can you tell her how to get there?" . .. Major S .. . then [spoke up and] with an accent said, "So you want to visit our long-noses," pulling his nose. "Maybe you can cut down their noses to the size of some of the parts the Nazis cut off."

This incident was only one of several in which she encountered anti-Semitism in the American Military Government. [37]

Anti-Semitism was no stranger on Capitol Hill either. It was, in fact, an important ingredient in the sharp hostility to refugee immigration that existed in Congress. In early 1943, government officials and friendly members of Congress cautioned refugee-aid organizations about pushing too hard on immigration-related issues because of "the prevalence of anti-Semitic feeling in Congress." A leader of one of the aid organizations described this attitude as an "unprecedented and disturbing element throughout Congress." Several members of Congress -- for example, Senators Claude Pepper (Dem., Fla.) and James Murray (Dem., Mont.) -- sought to turn back these currents of prejudice, but without much success. [38]

For the most part, congressional anti-Semitism was not expressed openly, though a few legislators had no compunction about putting their anti-Jewish views on record. The most shameless anti-Semite in Congress was Representative John Rankin (Dem., Miss.), who regularly used his considerable oratorical talent to lash out at Jews. In June 1941, one of his verbal assaults contributed to the death of Congressman M. Michael Edelstein of New York. Edelstein collapsed and died of a heart attack in the House lobby shortly after rising to point out the unfairness of Rankin's comments. Undeterred, Rankin kept on with his diatribes. Speaking in the House in 1944, he referred to a Jewish news columnist as "that little kike." He was even petty enough to block special legislation, unanimously approved by the normally restrictionist House Immigration Committee, to allow a Jewish refugee couple and their daughter to come to the United States. The family's two sons, aged twenty-two and nineteen, were already in the United States, had joined the Army, and were about to be sent overseas. [39]

The pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in the United States during the late 1930s and the war years was confirmed by national public-opinion polls. A series of polls from 1938 to 1946 dealt with the images Americans had of Jews. The results indicated that over half the American population perceived Jews as greedy and dishonest and that about one-third considered them overly aggressive. [40]

A set of surveys extending from 1938 through 1941 showed that between one-third and one-half of the public believed that Jews had "too much power in the United States." During the war years, a continuation of the survey saw the proportion rise to 56 percent. According to these and other polls, this supposed Jewish power was located mainly in "business and commerce" and in "finance." From late 1942 into the spring of 1945, significant Jewish power was also thought to exist in "politics and government." [iv] [41]

Other surveys from August 1940 on through the war found that from 15 to 24 percent of the respondents looked on Jews as "a menace to America." Jews were consistently seen as more of a threat than such other groups in the United States as Negroes, Catholics, Germans, or Japanese (except during 1942, when Japanese and Germans were rated more dangerous). [43]

If a threat actually existed, however, it was not from Jews, but to them. An alarming set of polls taken between 1938 and 1945 revealed that roughly 15 percent of those surveyed would have supported an anti-Jewish campaign. Another 20 to 25 percent would have sympathized with such a movement. Approximately 30 percent indicated that they would have actively opposed it. In sum, then, as much as 35 to 40 percent of the population was prepared to approve an anti-Jewish campaign, some 30 percent would have stood up against it, and the rest would have remained indifferent. The threat never crystallized into organized action. But even allowing ample room for inadequacies in the survey data, the seriousness of American anti-Semitism in those years is evident. [44]


These attitudes raised formidable barriers to the development of an American initiative to save European Jews. Yet the need was critical: an entire people was being systematically eliminated by America's principal enemy. And pressures against extending help were not the only forces on the scene. Other important factors in American society created the potential for a positive response. America was a generous nation, a land of immigrants, led by a national administration known for its humanitarian sympathies. Most Americans embraced Christianity, a faith committed to helping the helpless. The country had an articulate and organized Jewish population that could play a vital role in arousing those positive forces. A truly concerned leadership in the government and in the Christian churches could have turned that potential into a powerful influence for effective action.



[i] Of the approximately 5.5 million Jews killed by the Nazis, close to 3.0 million were slaughtered in the extermination centers and almost 1.5 million were massacred in the mobile killing actions. Most of the rest died in other mass shootings, or on the deportation trains, or from the lethal conditions that prevailed in the ghettos (starvation, cold, disease, and crowding). [6]

[ii] The quotas, established in the 1920s, set specific limits on the number who could immigrate to the United States in any given year from any given foreign country. Eligibility was based on country of birth. There was, for example, a German quota, a British quota, and so on. The total of all quotas was 154,000. Almost 84,000 of this was assigned to the British and Irish, peoples who had no need to flee.

[iii] In reality, the proportion of Jews in the armed forces was at least as great as the proportion of Jews in the American population. [31]

[iv] The view that Jews had too much power in government may have reflected the widely circulated assertion that Jews exerted excessive influence in the Roosevelt administration, a notion summarized in the term Jew Deal. The belief that Jews wielded substantial power in government declined sharply in the polls directly after Truman succeeded Roosevelt. [42]
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:57 pm

Part 1 of 2



The First Reports and Their Impact

The perpetrators of annihilation sought to conceal their operations. Even in secret communications, they used code words such as final solution (for systematic extermination) and special treatment (for gassing). They told Jews destined for the death factories in Poland that they were going to labor camps in the East. From time to time, the Germans forced Jews arriving at killing centers to write postdated cards assuring friends and relatives that they were working and living under reasonably good conditions. The efforts at secrecy, along with the location of the killing centers deep inside Nazi-held territory, kept clear information about the annihilation process from reaching the outside world for many months. [1]

But so extensive and sensational a campaign could obviously not be hidden indefinitely. Initially, reports on the massacres were few, like the first spits of snow that hint at what the winter air holds in store. With time, they increased in number and clarity. Even so, throughout the war the regular American newspapers published comparatively few of these disclosures and nearly always relegated them to the inner pages. [2]

Almost from the start, intimations of the bloody swaths cut by the Einsatzgruppen reached the American Jewish press via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news bureau with extensive foreign contacts. For instance, in July 1941 the New York Yiddish dailies revealed that hundreds of Jewish civilians had been massacred by Nazi soldiers in Minsk, Brest-Litovsk, Lvov, and other places, all within the first thrust of the German attack on Russia. The same papers relayed an August broadcast from Moscow that made essentially the same charges. Several weeks later, to cite only one other example, they carried a summary from the Polish government-in-exile in London telling of the machine-gunning of thousands of Jews in eastern Poland and the Ukraine. In late October 1941, a similar report appeared in a small article inside the New York Times. The story, based on unspecified "reliable sources," drew on eyewitness accounts from Hungarian army officers who had returned to Hungary from Galicia. It included estimates of ten to fifteen thousand Jews killed in Galicia. [3]

During the first half of 1942, disclosures of slaughter on the Russian front continued to reach the United States, along with more and more reports of deportations of Jews to Poland from Slovakia, Germany, and elsewhere. These accounts, many of them taken from Swedish and other neutral newspapers, received wide coverage in the Yiddish and English-language Jewish press and occasionally appeared in major American newspapers. [4]

An extremely trustworthy source of information, used by the New York Times as well as by several Jewish publications, was a New York press conference held by S. Bertrand Jacobson in mid-March 1942. Jacobson was back from Budapest after two years as chief representative in eastern Europe for the relief activities of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He based much of his report on eyewitness statements. Estimating that the Nazis had already massacred 240,000 Jews in the Ukraine alone, Jacobson stated that the killing in eastern Europe was continuing in full fury. Among the most horrifying revelations to appear in the United States until that time (but omitted from the Times's account) was a description by a Hungarian soldier who had seen a vast burial site near Kiev. Seven thousand Jews, some shot dead but others wounded and still alive, had been thrown into the shallow grave and covered thinly with dirt. Burned into the soldier's memory was the sight of that field, "heaving like a living sea." [5]

In discussing the despair that enveloped East European Jews, Jacobson noted that the Jews of Slovakia had already been crowded into concentration centers, most likely a harbinger of wholesale deportation to Poland. In fact, two weeks after he spoke, the deportations began. By June 1942, this forced evacuation would carry away 52,000 of Slovakia's 90,000 Jews. Most went to Auschwitz. A terse message in March from the Slovakian capital to an American relief agency summarized the situation from another perspective: "Bratislava will require no matzoth for Passover this year." [6]

On May 18, the New York Times published a report by Glen Stadler, a UP correspondent caught in Germany when the United States entered the war. In Lisbon with a group of American citizens who had been exchanged for Axis nationals, Stadler revealed reports that German gunners had killed more than 100,000 Jews in the Baltic states, nearly that many in Poland, and over twice as many in western Russia. [7]

Sometime that same May, the Jewish Labor Bund in Poland compiled a summary of verified massacres and succeeded in transmitting it, along with an anguished plea for action, to the Polish government in London. The persistence of the two Jewish members of the Polish National Council in London -- Szmul Zygielbojm, of the Bund, and Dr. Ignacy Schwarzbart, of the Zionist group -- forced British and American government officials and news media to take notice. The Bund report became the decisive factor in the first breakthrough of extermination news. [8]

In their message, the Jews in Poland traced the path of murder through their country, city by city, region by region, month by month. They described the Chelmno killing center, including the gas vans: "For gassing a special vehicle (gas chamber) was used in which 90 people were loaded at a time.... On the average, 1,000 people were gassed every day." They estimated the number of Polish Jewish victims to be 700,000 already. Their conclusions: Germany had set out to "annihilate all the Jews in Europe" and millions of Polish Jews faced imminent death. To save the remaining Polish Jews, they called on the London Polish government to press the Allies for a policy of immediate retaliation against German citizens living in their countries. [9]

One of the very earliest rescue proposals, the retaliation entreaty seemed plausible to the desperate and despairing Jews in Poland. But it was not feasible. The Germans would have responded with counter-threats against Allied nationals under their control. Furthermore, even had the plan offered some hope of effectiveness, it is inconceivable that the American and British legal systems could have sanctioned the execution of individuals who were not themselves involved in Nazi crimes. [10]

On June 2, shortly after the Bund report reached England, the BBC broadcast its essence, including the estimate of 700,000 Jews killed. But the broadcast did not emphasize the conclusion that an extermination program was under way. A week afterward, the Polish National Council officially informed the Allied governments of the report's contents. On June 25, Zygielbojm released the full document to the press and on the following day broadcast a summary over the BBC. As the month ended, the British section of the World Jewish Congress held a press conference in London to which Schwarzbart brought further information on Jewish deaths. He also emphasized the impending extermination of all the European Jews. These efforts brought no reaction from the Allied governments, so the Polish National Council, on July 8, repeated its earlier notice to the Allies and added that it had new evidence of planned destruction of masses of Poles, both Jews and non-Jews. [11]

As the Allied governments marked time, newspapers slowly began to publish the information. Indicative of the early confusion was a UP report from London on June 1. In striking contrast to the figure of 700,000 slain Polish Jews that the BBC would broadcast the next day, it declared that the Nazis had killed 200,000 Jews in Russia, Poland, and the Baltic states. The Seattle Times chose this report for its top story on June 1; the paper's main headline read, "JEWS SLAIN TOTAL 200,000!" (It was one of the very few times during World War II when a Holocaust event received a front-page headline in an American metropolitan daily.) [12]

Probably the first American newspaper to carry information on the Bund report was the Boston Globe, in its morning edition of June 26. Relegated to the bottom of page 12, the Globe story was nonetheless noticeable because of its three-column headline: "Mass Murders of Jews in Poland Pass 700,000 Mark." Wired from London by the Overseas News Agency, the dispatch minced no words: "A systematic campaign for the extermination of the Jews in Poland has resulted in the murder of more than 700,000 in the past year." That evening, the Seattle Times published much the same information, on page 30, under a tiny headline, "700,000 Jews Reported Slain." Originating in London with the Chicago Daily News service, this article characterized the Bund report as "new evidence" of "the systematic extermination of the Jewish population." Polish sources, it stated, spoke of portable gas chambers at Chelmno.

The New York Times devoted two inches to the Bund report on June 27. It had picked up the information from CBS in New York, which had recorded Zygielbojm's BBC broadcast the preceding day. The Times's brief account noted that 700,000 Polish Jews had been slain, and it quoted the broadcast's disclosure that "to accomplish this, probably the greatest mass slaughter in history, every death-dealing method was employed -- machine-gun bullets, hand grenades, gas chambers, concentration camps, whipping, torture instruments and starvation." Not until July 2 did the Times publish (on page 6) a thorough summary of the Bund report, including details on the mobile gas chambers at Chelmno. [13]

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) press conference, held in London on June 29, generated additional information. Combining the Bund report with other evidence received from the Continent, the WJC compiled a country-by-country summary of the Nazi assault on the Jews. The WJC estimated that the Nazis had already killed over a million Jews, mostly in Poland, Lithuania, Russia, and Rumania. (The estimates were low as measured against today's knowledge.) In the words of WJC spokesmen, the Germans had turned eastern Europe into a "vast slaughterhouse for Jews." From Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands, Jews had been deported en masse to Poland to be shot in large groups. All of it, the WJC claimed, was part of a Nazi policy to exterminate the Jews. [14]

Full reports on the WJC press conference were carried on both the AP and the UP wires from London. But few American daily papers printed more than brief notices to the effect that the World Jewish Congress had charged the Germans with killing over one million Jews. [15]

Soon afterward, two authoritative voices in Great Britain reinforced the Bund disclosure of mass murder. In a press conference, the British minister of information, Brendan Bracken, announced that "700,000 Jews alone have been murdered in Poland." He declared in the strongest terms that when the war ended the United Nations would bring to speedy and severe punishment the persons responsible for the war crimes committed in Poland against Jews and against other Poles as well. [i] [16]

And in a special broadcast Arthur Cardinal Hinsley, the seventy-six-year-old archbishop of Westminster and Britain's leading Roman Catholic prelate, stated that "in Poland alone the Nazis have massacred 700,000 Jews." To those who might doubt the charges of Nazi mass atrocities against both Jews and Christians in Poland, Cardinal Hinsley pointed out that some people "reject offhand anything and everything that does not directly touch their own noses" and that others "dismiss even the clearest evidence with the sneer, 'Oh! British propaganda!'" "But," the Cardinal maintained, "mighty is the truth; murder will out." The outspoken Hinsley persisted in decrying the Western world's failure to respond to the slaughter of the Jews until death took him, in March 1943. [17]

Only in early July 1942 did the State Department begin to inquire into the massacres of Jews in eastern Europe. In response, the American minister to Sweden sent information to Washington indicating that at least 284,000 Jews had been executed by the Nazis in areas wrested from the Russians since mid-1941. One Estonian officer who had been with the German occupation forces in the Baltic states reported seeing an SS firing squad force 400 Jews to dig their own graves and then shoot them. Another source cited similar executions elsewhere in the Baltic area and in Kiev. From the American representative to the London Polish government, the State Department received a statement by Schwarzbart based on the Bund report as well as other sources smuggled from Poland. [18]

The flow of news about the European Jewish situation, which had surfaced here and there in the regular newspapers, flooded the American Jewish press. It set off calls for mass protests and for American and United Nations action. The American Jewish Congress, the B'nai B'rith, and the Jewish Labor Committee (later joined by the American Jewish Committee) organized a mass demonstration in New York City, where Americans could express their grief and indignation over the massacres. [19]

On the evening of July 21 -- one day before the eve of Tishab'Ab, the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, 20,000 people crowded Madison Square Garden, while thousands more stood outside, to protest the Nazi atrocities. Among the main speakers were Rabbi Stephen Wise, Governor Herbert Lehman, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, the Methodist bishop Francis McConnell, and William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor. [20]

President Roosevelt sent a message in which he expressed the sorrow of all Americans and declared that the American people "will hold the perpetrators of these crimes to strict accountability in a day of reckoning which will surely come." Repeatedly during the evening, the mention of Roosevelt's name set off ovations. A companion message from Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted that "the Jews were Hitler's first victims." Churchill reminded listeners that he and Roosevelt had spoken out on Nazi atrocities nine months earlier and had then resolved "to place retribution for these crimes among major purposes of this war." [21]

The assembly adopted a declaration that hailed the heroic spirit of the trapped Jews and called on the United Nations to take public notice of the Jewish tragedy and to express their determination to bring the Nazis to justice. It pledged that American Jewry would "make every sacrifice to support the United Nations in their struggle for freedom and human decency." [22]

American Jewish organizations expressed satisfaction with the results of the mass meeting, particularly with the strong public assurances from the highest levels that those responsible for the monstrous crimes would be brought to justice. But neither Roosevelt nor Churchill, nor the declaration adopted by the assembly, nor any of the speakers had proposed measures to rescue the Jews still alive in Hitler's Europe. Rabbi Wise even asserted that "the salvation of our people and all peoples who would be free can only come under God through a victory speedy and complete of the United Nations." [23]

Did Stephen Wise and the others who said nothing of rescue operations that night really mean that the only way to save Jews from the Nazis was to win the war? Could the trapped Jews look for no efforts to help them throughout the months and years that lay between the summer of 1942 and the Allied victory? Who among them would be alive to see that victory? After many more months and several more shocks, American Jewish leaders would respond to these questions by pressing a program of rescue on the American government. But then other questions would develop: How high a priority would these Jewish leaders place on rescue? What part of their energies and resources would they commit to it?

In July 1942, Jewish leaders may well have been in a state of shock at learning of the huge and still rising Jewish death toll in Europe. They also were sorely worried about the threat to the Jewish settlement in Palestine resulting from the German drive across Africa and toward Suez that summer. Initially, when the war was running heavily in the Germans' favor, the obstacles to mounting potentially effective programs of aid must have seemed insurmountable. Clarification and reassessment could be expected.

Other observances followed the Madison Square Garden demonstration. The Synagogue Council of America called upon all Jewish congregations to make July 23, Tishab'Ab, a day of memorial to the victims of the Nazis, and the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives opened that day's session with a prayer for the murdered Jews. The Federal Council of Churches and the Church Peace Union sent messages of sympathy to the Synagogue Council. The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada proclaimed August 12 a day of prayer and fasting. [24]

Other mass meetings were organized to protest the murderous Nazi assault on the Jews. Ten thousand people attended the one held in the Chicago Coliseum, and smaller demonstrations took place in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Hartford, and other cities. At these meetings, mayors, governors, congressmen, labor leaders, and spokesmen for Christian churches joined Jews in expressing sorrow and indignation. In Cincinnati, more than one hundred Protestant ministers endorsed a public statement to the Jews of their community declaring, "We of the Christian ministry cannot and will not remain silent before the spectacle of mass murder suffered by Jews of Nazi-controlled Europe." Expressing insights that should have been obvious, but which seem to have gone widely unrecognized in American Christian circles during World War II, the Cincinnati ministers pointed out:

This is the tragedy of your European Jewish brethren but it is also our Christian tragedy. This is an evil suffered by those of Jewish faith but it is also an evil perpetuated by men of Christian names and Christian pretension. [25]

The mass meetings undoubtedly had some effect on the American public's hitherto nearly complete ignorance about the Jewish catastrophe in Europe. Yet, although well covered in the daily press, the demonstrations fell far short of realizing their full potential for publicizing the disastrous situation. The New York Times, for instance, placed a sizable part of its report on the Madison Square Garden meeting in the middle of page 1. But nothing on that page indicated that hundreds of thousands of Jews had been murdered. In fact, Jews were barely mentioned, and the event came across as no more than a "mass demonstration against Hitler atrocities." The Chicago Tribune provided substantial publicity prior to the Chicago mass meeting, but its report on the demonstration itself, while comprehensive, offered little understanding of what had caused the meeting. The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, publicized the demonstration in Los Angeles for more than a week and made it clear throughout that the issue was "the terrible mass murders of Jews in Nazi-controlled Europe." [26]

How deeply did the disclosures about annihilation of the Jews penetrate? Obviously, the answer would differ from individual to individual and from group to group. The extent to which the information spread in the United States, and the related matter of how much credence people actually gave it, crucially influenced the American response to the Holocaust. Those who were concerned that the United States do what was possible to rescue the Jews encountered difficulties on both counts, not only in 1942, when hard evidence first appeared, but throughout the war, and this despite the increasing confirmation that came out of Europe as time passed.

By May 1943, for instance, extensive news had appeared regarding the destruction of European Jewry. Yet Dorothy Day, the leader of the Catholic Worker movement, recalled speaking at a meeting that month at which "a member of the audience arose to protest defense of the Jews and to state emphatically that she did not believe the stories of atrocities.... She was applauded by the several hundred present." "Against such astounding unbelief," Day reflected, "the mind is stunned." [27]

The tendency to discount the extermination reports arose mainly from two causes. First, many people simply could not believe them. They refused to accept the fact that civilized people would commit such barbaric acts. Schwarzbart and Zygielbojm, the men who vouched most strongly for the accuracy of the Jewish Labor Bund's report from Poland, recognized the problem. At a press conference in July 1942, Zygielbojm stated that he realized that the facts "are so horrifying that one may ask if human beings can be degraded to such a brutality." Schwarzbart granted that "it is difficult to grasp that a human being could fall so low as has the contemporary German, educated by Hitlerism. It is difficult to believe these facts -- and yet they are true." [28]

Skepticism about the annihilation reports also stemmed from the abuse of the public's trust by British propagandists during World War I. The British historian A. J. P. Taylor has noted that some of the atrocity charges leveled at Germany in World War I were true but most were inflated; "the violated nuns and babies with their hands cut off were never found." Yet "nearly everyone believed the stories." [29]

During the late 1920s and the 1930s, historians had laid bare the falsity of Britain's World War I atrocity propaganda. By the late 1930s, these exposures had worked their way into the popular mind, and atrocity stories in the first stages of World War II consequently met with much skepticism. As the war ground on, however, and as an increasing volume of information on Nazi crimes against occupied populations issued from numerous trusted sources, and as hatreds built, most Americans came to believe much of the news. Nevertheless, a tendency to see the atrocity reports as at least partly exaggerated persisted throughout the war and weakened the impact of the disclosures. [30]

Besides the problem of the credibility of the reports, two additional factors regarding the flow of information impaired the growth of American concern for rescue. For one thing, only a limited amount of news about the murder of the European Jews reached the American public. The mass media reported it only sporadically and almost always without emphasis. Newspapers printed comparatively little of the available knowledge and commonly buried it in inner pages. Radio seems to have offered even less information. Government-sponsored and independently produced films alike gave almost no hint of the attempt to exterminate the Jews. Mass circulation magazines hardly noticed it. [31]

Of course, Jewish magazines and weekly newspapers and the Yiddish daily press provided thorough coverage of the catastrophe. A few limited-circulation periodicals, such as the Nation and the New Republic, also made readers aware of the issue. But most Christian publications, both Protestant and Catholic, had little or nothing to say. Only a few Christian church leaders tried to inform their constituencies of the Jewish situation in Europe. Except for a small number of voices, those who spoke with the authority of government either kept silent or very infrequently referred to the Jewish disaster. The main American channels for publicizing events did not entirely black out the extermination news, but they did little to bring it to the attention of the public. [32]

The impact of Holocaust information was further diluted by the background against which it appeared. Throughout World War II, reports of Nazi terror against civilian populations in occupied countries repeatedly made the news. Accounts of German reprisals, mass killings of hostages, executions of suspected anti-Nazis, and other atrocities were regular features in newspapers and news magazines. These war crimes most often were related to the Nazi tactic of terror to control populations and to counter sabotage and assassinations.

Several times, disclosures of Nazi mass killing of Jews appeared within stories of the more general German crimes against civilian populations. News services frequently provided summaries of Nazi repression, country by country. Incorporated into these dispatches were accounts of mass executions of Jews. Even when massacres of the Jews were reported separately, they blended into the background of Nazi terror against civilians all across Europe. Thus, quite by chance, widespread Nazi repression of all subject peoples obscured the fact that a distinct program of systematic extermination of Jews was in progress. [33]

In mid-1942, an especially virulent wave of Nazi terrorism swept over Europe. Mass killings of Poles, both Jews and non-Jews, had increased since SS Chief Heinrich Himmler had visited Poland in the spring. Other reports of severe repression came steadily from all across the Continent. In June, the world was stunned to learn that the Germans had obliterated the small Czech mining village of Lidice in reprisal for supposed complicity in the assassination of Heydrich. (The 190 men of Lidice were shot, the women deported, mostly to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and the children dispersed among German families.) [34]

In response to the campaign of intensified terror, and at the initiative of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, prime minister of the Polish government-in-exile, the leaders of nine occupied European countries urged President Roosevelt to retaliate for the atrocities. Following State Department advice, Roosevelt rejected the appeal, as well as Sikorski's specific proposal to bomb German cities in reprisal for the mass executions, especially those of Polish Jews. According to the Polish ambassador in Washington, Roosevelt explained that the Allies had not yet attained full air strength and that, furthermore, Germany might respond with an even higher level of terror. [35]

Actually, the Allies were already bombing German cities as a war measure and surely would not have ceased if massacres of the Jews had stopped. In addition, German Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels had preempted the issue some weeks before. In mid-June, he had publicly declared that American and British Jews were responsible for the bombing of German cities and that the German people were suffering intensely from the attacks. Germany, said Goebbels, would repay "blow by blow," by "mass extermination of Jews in reprisal for the Allied air bombings of German cities." The Sikorski proposal had reached a standoff.
Extermination of the Jews had been going on for a year. Little hope for stopping it could be placed in a tactic already in use against Germany and in response to which a top Nazi promised to exterminate the Jews. [36]

Although Roosevelt did not agree to the call for retaliation against Germany, he again warned the Axis, on August 21, 1942, that perpetrators of war crimes would be tried after Germany's defeat and face "fearful retribution." During the rest of the year, American and British officials worked on plans to set up a United Nations commission to investigate war crimes. In October, in the midst of these negotiations, Roosevelt once more spoke out about war crimes, declaring that those responsible would receive "just and sure punishment." But he also announced that mass Allied reprisals would not take place. Neither in this statement nor in the one the President had issued in August did he refer to Jewish victims. During the same months, efforts by the United States and other governments to persuade the Vatican to voice public condemnation of Nazi atrocities against civilians came to nothing. [37]

By the time of the July 21 Madison Square Garden mass meeting, American Jewish leaders and much of the Jewish public recognized that the European Jews were suffering terrible losses. They probably did not realize, however, that Nazi barbarism had actually gone as far as the most horrifying reports indicated. And despite increasing use of the term systematic extermination, none quite understood then that a planned, step-by-step program to annihilate all of European Jewry was in progress. The outlines of that hideous scheme were only vaguely coming into sight.
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:58 pm

Part 2 of 2

Destination Unknown

Within a few days of the July demonstrations, another important dimension of the "final solution" began to become apparent. From the Nazi perspective, this development was an obvious part of the extermination plan, but it could not yet be recognized as such from the outside. It was a massive deportation of Jews from western Europe to "an unknown destination" in the East. Labor service was the announced purpose. But in reality these evacuations were part of the Europe-wide transportation of Jews to the still-secret killing centers already in operation in Poland. [38]

The deportations from France in 1942, especially those from the Vichy, or Unoccupied, Zone, were more fully exposed to the scrutiny of the outside world than any other Holocaust development. At work were the usual European news outposts in Switzerland, England, and Sweden. Beyond that, the peculiar status of Vichy France, which was partially autonomous and maintained diplomatic relations with the United States, meant that American newsmen could operate in the Unoccupied Zone, yet bypass Vichy censorship by dispatching their reports from Switzerland. Even closer to the deportation events were Americans and others who had been assisting some of the many thousand Jewish refugees who had earlier fled to France to escape Nazi persecution. These relief workers were in touch with their agencies in other countries and could thus transmit to the outside world detailed information on events in the Unoccupied Zone.

The relief organizations had been active in southern France for some time, helping refugees in applying for visas to countries abroad and in arranging the necessary transportation. After mid-1940, emigration became more and more difficult as overseas nations, the United States included, all but closed their doors to immigration. Accordingly, the relief agencies had increasingly concentrated on supplying food, clothing, and other assistance to the refugees caught in France. By the time the deportations struck, two years of hard work had raised conditions to a barely livable level in the squalid detention camps in which the Vichy government had incarcerated thousands of the fugitives. [39]

Whatever stability Jewish refugees had attained in France was smashed by a series of ruthless roundups that began in mid-July 1942 in the Occupied Zone. Lacking sufficient forces to carry out mass seizures, the Nazis had to secure the collaboration of the Vichy government and the French police. The price of that cooperation was the exemption of French-born Jews from deportation, at least temporarily. Left vulnerable were 75,000 Jewish men, women, and children, most of whom had already endured a variety of hells in their attempts to escape the Nazis. [40]

At four o'clock on the morning of July 16, the trap was sprung in Paris. French police dragnets swept up 13,000 refugee Jews amid scenes of anguish and terror. Buses backed up to apartment buildings and were filled with screaming, crying people. Hospital beds were emptied. A cancer patient operated on the previous day was carried away. One woman gave birth while police waited to haul off mother and baby. Younger children were permitted to be left behind, and many parents desperately accepted that choice in the hope that neighbors or orphanages would take them in. Family groups, comprising some 9,000 people (half of them children), were funneled into the winter sports arena (Velodrome d'Hiver) and penned up like animals. Water and food were scarce; some infants died for lack of milk. Since only ten latrines were available, people stood in line for hours to use the toilet. After five days of this nightmare, adults and children were separated and transferred to different deportation centers to await shipment to Poland. [41]

Relief organizations in the Unoccupied Zone learned later what had become of the children left behind in Paris. Many were hidden. But French police gathered up thousands of others who were found in apartments, wandering the streets, or crying at locked doors of houses. Nearly 4,000 of them, aged two to fourteen, were sent to "unknown destinations," packed into windowless boxcars without adult escort, without food, water, or hygienic provisions, without so much as straw to lie on. They were even without identification. The Nazis had destroyed their papers. [42]

Close to 50,000 refugee Jews were deported to Auschwitz from the Occupied Zone, mostly from Paris, before France was liberated in 1944. More than half of them were seized in the roundups of July, August, and September 1942. [43]

Early in August, the Vichy chief of government, Pierre Laval, began the evacuations from the Unoccupied Zone. The Vichy police started with refugees who had already undergone misery and degradation in the internment camps of southern France. In the words of an American relief worker, they were now exposed "like fowl in a chicken pen with a hawk circling overhead, only here very few, if any, escape." [44]

In rapid order, 3,600 Jews were collected from the camps and dispatched to the Occupied Zone for transshipment to Poland. The first train pulled out of the camp at Gurs on August 6, carrying a thousand refugees into the night. Within four days, two more trains swallowed the rest from Les Milles, Rivesaltes, Vernet, and other camps which, though their names had come to mean wretchedness, had not killed all hope of survival. [45]

A French citizen who witnessed a deportation recorded what he saw:

We were at the Camp des Milles the day the last train left. The spectacle was indescribably painful to behold. All the internees had been lined up with their pitifully battered valises tied together with bits of string. Most of them were in rags, pale, thin, worn out with the strain. ... Many of them were quietly weeping. ... Their faces showed only hopeless despair.

The YMCA's Donald Lowrie, an American relief worker, described the evacuation:

The actual deportation was as bad as could be imagined: men and women pushed like cattle into box-cars, thirty to a car, whose only furniture was a bit of straw on the floor, one iron pail for all toilet purposes, and a police guard. The journey, we were told, would take a fortnight or eighteen days. . . . All of us were curtly refused permission to accompany the trains or even to organize a service of hot drinks and refreshments at the frontier where they passed into German occupied territory. [46]

In the first stage of the deportations from Unoccupied France, refugee parents were allowed to leave children under eighteen behind. Fearing the worst from their return into German hands, most chose separation. After watching the leave-taking, relief workers felt they could "never forget the moment when these truck loads of children left the camps, with parents trying in one last gaze to fix an image to last an eternity." Later in August, however, the powers in Vichy betrayed both children and parents with an order requiring deportation of all refugee youngsters. "We are solving the problem humanely," lied the Vichy spokesman. "We want children to go with their parents." Many whose parents had already been carried away were now deported. The others remained in constant danger of evacuation. [47]

After clearing the camps, the Vichy government moved to hunt down the thousands of foreign Jews who had managed to avoid detention or had gained release from the camps before the deportations had commenced. Houses and hotels were searched before dawn. Mass arrests took place. Frantic parents, hearing of the raids, besieged the relief groups, begging them to hide their children. But French police had also started tracking down children who were in orphanages and care homes throughout Vichy France. These roundups of children, frequent in the summer and fall of 1942, continued sporadically throughout the war. This firsthand account is typical:

There was the first raid on the nursery at 4 o'clock in the morning with two trucks. There were similar raids in all of L___ that same night. The big trucks were to be seen everywhere. ... Within a quarter of an hour the children [some as young as three years] had to be awakened, dressed and their belongings packed. [48]

The great tide of Vichy roundups outside the camps lasted from late August until mid-September 1942. It swept another 7,000 Jews onto trains to Occupied France and then to Auschwitz. These large-scale deportations from the Unoccupied Zone in August and September carried away about 10,600 Jews. Before the Germans were driven from France, nearly 4,000 more were transported to Auschwitz, making a total of over 14,000 delivered to the Nazis from the southern sector of the country. [49]

Shock waves from the calamity that struck in the Unoccupied Zone quickly registered in the offices of relief organizations in the United States. As early as August 10, Donald Lowrie traveled to Geneva to send the first in a series of thorough reports to the YMCA in New York. The New York headquarters of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee began receiving detailed information by cablegram from its Lisbon office by August 13. Many starkly brief messages of despair were dispatched from Marseilles to the American Friends Service Committee office in Philadelphia. These telegrams reported on people for whom the Quakers had been trying to arrange immigration to the United States. Filed away a generation and a half ago, they may stand as the only epitaphs that scores of Jews ever received. These three are representative:




The deportations were devastating on the personal level, even before people realized that evacuation meant murder by gas. A family that had done everything possible to escape from the Nazi grasp offers an example. The fragments of information that remain show that the S__ family had fled German territory some time before and had made its way to southern France. It succeeded in moving one young son into safekeeping in Switzerland. And a second boy, C__ , had been lucky enough to reach the United States earlier in 1942. But the parents had to remain in France, even though the relevant American immigration quotas were 90 percent unfilled at the time. The manner in which U.S. immigration laws were administered during World War II kept most refugees out. [51]

After reaching the United States, C__ wrote to his parents several times. He became increasingly concerned when he received no response. The explanation came in November in a letter from C__ 's sponsoring agency in New York to his case worker in the city where he lived with his new foster parents. Enclosed was one of C__ 's letters to his father. The agency worker wrote:

What we feared would happen has actually taken place. C__'s father was deported, because the enclosed letter, as you will note, came back with the famous stamp "partisans addresse." [52]

Several other children who reached the United States from southern France in July 1942 sent postcards to their parents. Most of the cards came back marked "DEPARTED -- DESTINATION UNKNOWN." [53]

In France, the deportations brought a barrage of denunciation. Several Roman Catholic prelates, including the archbishops of Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse, protested vigorously. The cardinals and archbishops of the Occupied Zone united in condemnation. [ii] [54][/quote]

A statement by Bishop Pierre Theas, of Montauban, read in all the churches of his diocese, was representative of the attitude of the Catholic leadership:

Hereby I make known to the world the indignant protest of Christian conscience, and I proclaim that all men, whether Aryan or non-Aryan, are brothers because they were created by the same GOD; and that all men, whatever their race or religion, have a right to respect from individuals as well as from States. [56]

Pastor Marc Boegner, leader of the Protestant Federation of France, assailed the Vichy government for its collaboration in the roundups and the deportations. With the explicit support of the archbishop of Lyon, Pastor Boegner insisted on an audience with Laval in September in a last, unsuccessful attempt to halt the evacuations. [57]

The outrage of church leaders was shared by many others in the French population. It broke out even within the ranks of the police, many of whom resigned or accepted dismissal rather than round up Jews. The military governor of Lyon was removed because he refused to send his troops to hunt out Jews. [58]

Although the protests failed to stop the evacuations, they may have contributed to the fact that the Nazis never undertook large-scale removal of France's native-born Jews. Moreover, the denunciations voiced by church leaders and spread by local clergy shattered the secrecy that the Vichy regime tried to impose by banning the news from the French press and radio. Several religious leaders sent out pastoral letters calling on church members to help Jews. Many French families took in Jews and hid them. Children, especially, could be concealed, and, despite some betrayals and disasters, about 8,000 were saved by the combined efforts of Jewish organizations, private families, schools, youth groups, and Catholic convents and monasteries. [59]

Interfaith cooperation flourished. The head of the Jewish Boy Scouts in France came to the leader of a Protestant youth federation and simply stated, "Mademoiselle, I have 600 foreign Boy Scouts to be hidden from the police." They were hidden. Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Protestant village, successfully concealed scores of Jews, despite persistent police searches as well as government threats to reduce the town's food rations. Again, a force of Protestant and Catholic social workers broke into a prison in Lyon and "kidnapped" ninety children who were being held there with their parents for deportation. The parents signed releases placing their children under the care of a Christian organization, with the assurance that it was simply acting as a protecting cover. The parents were deported the next day; the children were hidden in convents. When Pierre Cardinal Gerlier, archbishop of Lyon, refused an order to surrender the children, Laval struck back by arresting Father Pierre Chaillet, a member of the cardinal's staff. Cardinal Gerlier responded by again instructing the priests in his diocese to conceal Jews. His personal commitment and prestige enabled him to face down Laval; the children remained hidden and Father Chaillet was released. [60]

Americans also spoke out vigorously against the deportations. As soon as they learned of the crisis, American relief workers in France alerted the news agencies and moved to press the issue with the Vichy government. Early in August, Donald Lowrie, a spokesman for several of the relief agencies, and Father Arnou, a special representative of Cardinal Gerlier, saw the chief of state, Marshal Henri Petain. The aged leader, who seemed barely aware of the developments, agreed that the matter was regrettable but indicated that he was helpless to change it. "You know our situation with regard to the Germans," he said. That same day, Roswell McClelland and Lindsley Noble, of the American Friends Service Committee, had a conference with Laval in which he offered no hope of moderation. Instead, he broke into a long tirade against the Jews generally and the damage Jewish refugees allegedly had caused to France. During their visit to Vichy, the American relief workers gave the U.S. embassy its first detailed information about the roundups and evacuations. [61]

Following an exchange of communications with the State Department, Pinkney Tuck, charge d'affaires at the embassy, saw Laval and registered an extremely sharp protest against the "revolting" and "inhuman" treatment of the Jews. In fact, Tuck's deeply felt vehemence disturbed middle-level policymakers in the State Department who complained to Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles that Tuck had exceeded his instructions. Tuck, in fact, was even in advance of the leadership of the main American Jewish organizations, which on August 27 submitted a joint letter to the State Department calling on the United States to protest to the Vichy government. Welles replied that the American embassy in Vichy, "in compliance with instructions sent by the Department," had already made "the most vigorous representations possible." [62]

Some two weeks later, Secretary of State Cordell Hull followed up by personally delivering a blunt condemnation of the "revolting and fiendish" deportations to the Vichy ambassador to the United States, Gaston Henry-Haye. (The next day, Henry-Haye privately expressed his own disgust, with respect both to his rough handling by American officials and to the situation in France. He reportedly told a visitor that his ambition when he went back to France was to become a farmer "so that his dealings will be with animals instead of people. He feels that his dealings with people have spoiled his enjoyment of their society.") [63]

While in Vichy to see Petain and Laval, Lowrie and the two American Friends workers had asked the Vichy leaders and the American embassy about the possibility of permitting some of the Jewish refugee children to leave for safety in the United States. Laval offered almost no hope but did not refuse outright. At the suggestion of American relief workers in France, their organizations' home offices appealed to the State Department for 1,000 immigration visas for Jewish children stranded in France. Actively aided by Eleanor Roosevelt and the President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees, the plea was successful. On September 18, the State Department cabled its consuls in France authorizing the 1,000 visas and instructing the consuls to waive virtually all the usual red tape involved in visa issuance in order to hasten the process. Because of increasingly dire reports from France, the American relief agencies soon asked Washington to raise the number to 5,000. By the end of September, the State Department had compiled. [64]

But the great difficulty was extracting exit visas from the Vichy regime. While the children were being collected and readied, a sleight-of-hand game was played out in Vichy. On September 30, Tuck sought Laval's cooperation. Laval replied that he agreed "in principle" to the exodus of the children, adding, as Tuck reported it, "that he would be only too glad to be rid of them." But when it came to arranging the details with Laval's underlings, it turned out that a combination of German pressure and Vichy recalcitrance had shifted the ground. [65]

Throughout October, the Vichy government stalled on releasing the children, falling back on sham arguments to drag out discussions. Some religious groups, asserted the secretary-general of police, had illegally hidden children. For the government now to allow those children to emigrate would be to justify illegal acts and encourage such conduct in the future. Vichy officials hypocritically spoke of their government's great concern about separating families and its belief that eventual reunion was more likely if the children remained on the same continent as the parents. [66]

Tuck's constant pressure finally wrenched out of Laval a promise of 500 visas. It was then the end of October, and before a convoy of children could be assembled, moved through the documentation process, and placed on a train for Lisbon, the entire project ended precipitously. On November 8, Allied forces landed in French North Africa. The Vichy government severed diplomatic ties with the United States the next day. By then a group of a hundred children with the precious exit visas had reached Marseilles and needed only their U.S. visas. But the American consulate was closed. On November 11, the Germans occupied the southern sector of France and demolished the chances of salvaging anything from the project. Until spring 1944, diplomatic efforts were made, chiefly by the Swiss government, to persuade the Vichy regime to allow at least the promised 500 to leave. These attempts were fruitless. [67]

American newspaper readers in the summer of 1942 could follow the main configurations of the Jewish tragedy in France. Most metropolitan dailies provided fairly thorough coverage of the mass arrests of mid-July in Paris. The fearful and chaotic conditions connected with those roundups appeared in many of the major newspapers, and some of them carried partial descriptions of the Velodrome d'Hiver episode. Almost none reported the barbaric shoving of 4,000 children into boxcars for shipment across the Continent without the necessities of life and without adult escort. But the UP did reveal that outrage, and the Los Angeles Times, for one, ran the dispatch. [68]

The deportations from the camps in southern France and the roundups in the Unoccupied Zone received widespread notice. Nothing specific appeared, however, concerning conditions on the deportation trains. But the protests raised by the French archbishops and other members of the clergy drew repeated coverage. Accounts of the church's role in hiding children and the Vichy government's challenge to the church by arresting a priest also ran in most major newspapers.

Much of the French deportation story thus appeared in the American press. But it was almost never featured. For instance, the New York Times published some twenty-five items but placed only two on the front page. Those reports reached page 1 apparently because they involved leaders of the Catholic church. Even so, each story received only a few inches of type at the foot of the page. One told very little, the other nothing, about what was actually happening to the Jews. Other major newspapers generally conformed to the same pattern. They printed considerable information, but almost always on inner pages, and even there it was often barely noticeable. [69]

In sum, the American daily press carried fuller information on the calamity of the refugee Jews in France than it did on any other development in the Nazi extermination program. As with all news about the Holocaust, though, American newspapers gave this information very limited emphasis.

The disaster that struck France in the summer of 1942 was the most noticeable part of a large wave of deportations from western Europe to the gas chambers in the second half of that year. Though the Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway were nearly walled off from the Allied world, bits of information filtered out about the mass arrests and evacuations there. In July a roundup of 60,000 Jews began in Amsterdam. Convoys rolled to the East, despite the protests of Dutch Protestant and Catholic church leaders. Popular demonstrations against the deportations, urged on by broadcasts from the Dutch government-in-exile in England, obliged the Germans to reschedule train deportations for the middle of the night. But the transports continued to move. (The first of the trains to reach Auschwitz from Holland arrived while SS Chief Heinrich Himmler was there on an inspection tour. Himmler observed the whole murder process, from opening the railway cars to removal of the bodies from the gas chamber.) [70]

The few accounts to break out of Belgium mentioned nighttime roundups and mass deportations. Isolated reports from Norway told of the arrest and later removal by Ocean freighter of many members of that country's tiny Jewish population. [71]

The massive deportations from western Europe in 1942 were one step in the still-secret program of genocide. The Nazi explanation -- labor service at an unnamed destination in the East -- seemed plausible at the time. It especially appeared to make sense in view of the poor response to the Vichy government's effort to recruit 150,000 French workers to go to Germany to help fill the labor shortage there. News reports concerning the deported Jews regularly referred to "forced labor" and "slave labor" as their fate, a view that was generally accepted. But some observers, especially those close enough to witness the events, had doubts. [72]

Commenting in August on the announcement that the Jews were being sent to a labor area in Poland, Donald Lowrie pointed out certain inconsistencies:

Since children, the aged and ill (we know some cases of epileptics, palsied, insane and even bedridden put into the corral for deportation) are taken, and since their destination is uniformly reported (by Laval, Petain, the Police) as the Jewish reservation in Poland, the need for labor does not totally explain this action. In view of the present transport difficulties in Germany it is hard to understand a German desire to have these unfortunates.

Two months later Lowrie was still suspicious, although he did not speculate on what was actually happening:

By no stretch of the imagination, however, can the majority of the unfortunate Jews thus delivered to the Germans be considered as capable of labour service. Of one convoy totalling 700, not more than 60 were in physical condition to do any useful work. [73]

A Jewish refugee physician working at the Unitarian Service Committee's medical facility in Marseilles had just about figured it out. Months of hoping for a favorable decision on his application for a visa to the United States had run out. Shortly before being forced onto the deportation train, he said, "I waited for the help that was promised.

Now it is too late. We know that nobody returns from the East. Thanks for what all of you have done -- alas in vain." [74]

In the midst of the disclosures from France came news from the London Polish government concerning the hundreds of thousands of Jews who had been crowded into the Warsaw ghetto since late 1940. The report revealed that the ghetto mayor, Adam Czerniakow, had committed suicide rather than obey orders to prepare deportation lists that would help the Nazis in their announced plan to evacuate 100,000 Jews to "an undisclosed place in Eastern Europe." (The real destination was death in the killing centers, principally Treblinka. Deportation of the 380,000 Warsaw Jews began on July 22; by the end of 1942, over 310,000 were gone. The remnant included those who would ignite the Warsaw ghetto revolt of April 1943.) [75]

During the summer of 1942, another shocking report was smuggled from Poland by the Jewish Labor Bund, the group that had sent word in May of the murder of 700,000 Polish Jews. A gruesome account of the mass-gassing process at Chelmno, it was the first thorough description of a German killing center to reach the West. The victims, told to undress for a bath, were led down a hallway and suddenly forced into a large truck. Shut and sealed, the truck drove to a deep ditch in a nearby wood, where it became an execution chamber. Exhaust gases killed those trapped inside. A squad of Jewish gravediggers unloaded the bodies. After German workers stripped rings, gold teeth, and other valuables from the corpses, the gravediggers buried the dead Jews in layers in the ditch. Six to nine truckloads were murdered in this way daily. The gravediggers themselves were killed after a time, but three escaped in late January 1942. They succeeded in reporting their experiences to the Polish Jewish underground, which was already aware that thousands of Jews sent to the Chelmno area had disappeared without a trace. [76]

The American affiliate of the Jewish Labor Bund printed the gravediggers' account on August 5, 1942, in a special issue of its publication The Ghetto Speaks. A month later, a closely allied journal, the Workmen's Circle Call, carried the same report, as did the Jewish Frontier.

The American mass media did not mention the gravediggers' revelations. Nor did most of the Jewish press, apparently because the story seemed so incredible. The quandary of the Jewish leadership is illustrated by the case of the Jewish Frontier, an important American labor Zionist monthly. Its editors could not believe the report. (We were then "psychologically unschooled for the new era of mass carnage," explained one of them a quarter of a century later. "Such things did not happen in the twentieth century.") But they hesitated to ignore an account that came from a most dependable underground source. So they compromised by printing the story in small type in the back of the September issue. There it appeared, placed with unintended irony among advertisements bearing New Year's greetings from commercial enterprises. This decision, taken by a conscientious and deeply concerned segment of the American Jewish leadership, was not, as one of the editors later termed it, "gross stupidity." Rather it was a reflection of the confusion that gripped American Jewish leaders when first confronted with explicit descriptions of such unprecedented barbarism."


The summer of 1942 revealed disaster after disaster for European Jewry. It was also a time when the war was still running against the United States and its allies. The Germans continued to advance in Russia. The Wehrmacht swept to the Don River early in July and opened the assault on Stalingrad in August. Other forces took Rostov late in July and began to move on the Caucasus oil fields. Rommel's drive across North Africa toward the Suez lifeline and the Mideast reached El Alamein as July opened. Though the Germans were stopped there, the struggle, only 200 miles from the Suez Canal, remained in doubt well into the fall. In the Pacific, the Japanese outward thrust was not halted until June, in the naval battle of Midway. It was August before a limited American offensive, the landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, planted the earliest small footholds on the long road back across the Pacific.

But the turning point was approaching. The Russian winter, an ominous threat to the Germans with their overextended supply lines, was approaching. At the start of November, the British would shatter Rommel's forces at El Alamein and Allied troops would storm ashore in northwest Africa. Six months later, the two Allied drives would force the Axis out of Africa. The fight in the Pacific, where the United States applied only 15 percent of its war resources until V-E Day, would be halting and very costly, but the balance was beginning to shift there too.

As the autumn of 1942 unfolded, the situation for America and its allies was becoming more hopeful. For American Jews, though, even more terrible news about the fate of their people in Europe was soon to hit.



[i] The term United Nations was beginning to be used by early 1942 to refer to the countries allied in the war against the Axis.

[ii] At the time, the American press reported that the Pope protested to the Vichy government three times during August. But apparently this did not happen, for no confirmation of it has been found. [55]
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

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News of the existence of a plan for the systematic extermination of Europe's Jews reached the United States in August 1942. Sent from Switzerland, the shocking revelation circumvented State Department roadblocks and came into the hands of American Jewish leaders. They found it credible. State Department officials, however, were skeptical. They asked the Jews not to publicize the disclosure until the government had time to confirm it. Not until late November was the news, along with corroborating evidence, released to the press.

During the first days of August, as desperate Jews were being forced onto deportation trains in France, in Warsaw, and elsewhere, a message from a prominent German industrialist reached Dr. Gerhart Riegner, the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva. This industrialist, whose position in the German war economy gave him access to confidential Nazi sources, had arrived in Switzerland from Berlin at the end of July. He carried news of a Nazi plan to kill all the Jews of Europe. The German revealed the information to a Jewish friend who brought it to the attention of a Swiss Jewish leader, Dr. Benjamin Sagalowitz. Sagalowitz. who conveyed the report to Riegner, also checked into the reliability of the industrialist and found him completely trustworthy. [1]

Riegner, thirty years old and trained for a career in international law, was himself a refugee from Germany. On Saturday morning, August 8, he took the information to the American consulate in Geneva. There ne talked with Vice-Consul Howard Elting, Jr., whose summary of the discussion noted that Riegner had come to him "in great agitation" with a report from an apparently thoroughly reliable source

to the effect that there has been and is being considered in Hitler's headquarters a plan to exterminate all Jews from Germany and German controlled areas in Europe after they have been concentrated in the east (presumably Poland). The number involved is said to be between three-and- a-half and four millions and the object is to permanently settle the Jewish question in Europe. [2]

When Elting mentioned that the report' seemed fantastic, Riegner replied that it had looked that way to him at first, but it did mesh exactly with the recent mass deportations from France, Holland, and other countries. He handed Elting a summary of the message and asked that it be telegraphed to Washington and the other Allied governments and to Rabbi Stephen Wise in New York. Elting immediately sent Riegner's information to the American legation in Bern, along with his endorsement of Riegner as "a serious and balanced individual," and his recommendation that the report be dispatched to the State Department. [3]

The American legation telegraphed Riegner's message to Washington on August 11, adding that it had no information to confirm the report, which it characterized as having the "earmarks of war rumor inspired by fear." The recipients, middle-level officials in the State Department's Division of European Affairs, dismissed Riegner's disclosures as totally unbelievable. They were convinced that Jews were being deported for labor purposes. The only disagreement within the State Department was on the question of whether the message should be delivered to Rabbi Wise. [4]

Paul T. Culbertson, who could see no justification for the Bern legation "to have put this thing in a telegram," nonetheless spoke for releasing it to Wise on the grounds of caution:

I don't like the idea of sending this on to Wise but if the Rabbi hears later that we had the message and didn't let him in on it he might put up a kick. Why not send it on and add that the Legation has no information to confirm the story.

Elbridge Durbrow, another official in the Division of European Affairs, thought it inadvisable to transmit the dispatch to Wise, citing as reasons "the Legation's comments, the fantastic nature of the allegation, and the impossibility of our being of any assistance if such action were taken." Durbrow's view prevailed. [5]

Durbrow also wanted to instruct the Bern legation to refuse to send any more such messages "for possible transmission to third parties unless, after thorough investigation, there is reason to believe that such a fantastic report has in the opinion of the Legation some foundation or unless the report involves definite American interests." This suggestion, however, was not implemented. and the information channels from Switzerland remained open. But the idea had been planted. Six months later, State Department officials would attempt to cut off the flow of extermination news from Switzerland. [6]

To the State Department's experts on European affairs, the German industrialist's disclosure was only another war rumor, a "fantastic" one at that. They saw it in isolation from numerous other reports that had reached the department concerning the Jewish calamity. Riegner, relating the new information to earlier accounts, recognized it as the key. It brought into focus the previously hazy picture of what was befalling the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. The information would have the same impact on American Jewish leaders, because it revealed an overall pattern that explained the terrible events reported by the Polish Jewish Labor Bund, the other accounts of large-scale killings, and the ongoing mass deportations "to the East."

Despite the Division of European Affairs, Riegner's message reached Wise, but not until late August. Riegner had given the British consulate in Geneva a summary identical to the one he delivered to Elting. He asked that it be telegraphed to the Foreign Office in London and passed on to Samuel Sydney Silverman, a member of Parliament and chairman of the British section of the World Jewish Congress. Riegner had prudently added one line to the version he took to the British: "Please inform and consult New York." [7]

Riegner's message reached London on August 10. The Foreign Office hesitated for a week, then delivered it to Silverman, but advised him that "we have no information bearing on or confirming this story." Silverman cabled the report to the United States on August 28. Addressed directly to Wise, Silverman's telegram apparently did not attract the attention of the Division of European Affairs, for the War and State departments both cleared it, and it went on to Wise. [8]

Unaware that the State Department already had the Riegner report, Wise sent Silverman's cable to Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles on September 2. In his covering letter, Wise vouched for Riegner as "a scholar of entire reliability" and "not an alarmist but a conservative and equable person." He asked Welles to have the American minister in Bern confer with Riegner to find out what added substantiation he might provide. Wise also suggested that the information be brought to President Roosevelt's attention. [9]

Shortly after receiving the message, Welles phoned Wise. The undersecretary seems to have been unwilling to take Riegner's report to Roosevelt, for the next day Wise wrote Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter suggesting that he inform the President. Wise also told Frankfurter that Welles had tried to be reassuring: "He seems to think that the real purpose of the Nazi government is to use Jews in connection with war work both in Nazi Germany and in Nazi Poland and Russia." Welles had also asked Wise not to release the Riegner information until the State Department had a chance to confirm it. [10]

Meanwhile, the Division of European Affairs suppressed another telegram to Wise, this one from the World Jewish Congress in London. It called for urgent steps in response to Riegner's report: a press conference, a public declaration by political and religious leaders of the democratic nations, and appeals for action to the Vatican and the United Nations. [11]

In the midst of the developments connected with Riegner's message, another bombshell exploded in the faces of the Jewish leaders. On September 3, Jacob Rosenheim of New York, president of the Agudath Israel World Organization, received a telegram from Isaac Sternbuch, the Orthodox group's representative in Switzerland:

According to numerous authentical informations from Poland German authorities have recently evacuated Warsaw ghetto and bestially murdered about one hundred thousand Jews. These mass murders are continuing. The corpses of the murdered victims 8ce used for the manufacturing of soap and artificial fertilizers. Similar fate is awaiting the Jews deported to Poland from other occupied territories. Suppose that only energetical steps from America may stop these persecutions. Do whatever you can to cause an American reaction to halt these persecutions. [12]

Rosenheim did try to "cause an American reaction," although he was "physically broken down from this harrowing cable." That same day, he telegraphed Sternbuch's message to Franklin Roosevelt. Much of the following day, Rosenheim and other Orthodox Jewish leaders conferred in New York with James G. McDonald, chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees. McDonald, who was on good terms with Eleanor Roosevelt, sent a copy of Sternbuch's telegram to her, along with a message saying that he did not know what could be done, but felt she should. be informed. No reaction from Franklin or Eleanor Roosevelt is recorded. [13]

Rosenheim also notified Wise and other Jewish leaders. These men met to exchange views. Wise gave the others the Riegner information, but expressed some hesitation about the credibility of Sternbuch's report, even though he did see it as circumstantial confirmation of Riegner's disclosure. The group decided to send a delegation to the State Department to ask that American intelligence check into what had happened at Warsaw. Welles received the Jewish leaders on September 10 and agreed to have an investigation made. Within a few weeks, most of Sternbuch's disclosures were authenticated by further reports from Poland. [i] [14]

A sidelight on Sternbuch's message is that it reached Rosenheim through two independent telegraphic channels. The cablegram that came on September 3 was transmitted through the coded facilities of the Polish government-in-exile. The same dispatch arrived soon afterward through a conventional route, from the American legation in Bern to the State Department and then to Rosenheim. Use of the Polish channel for such communications was illegal. But Polish diplomats in New York and Bern relayed messages to and from Europe for Agudath Israel and related Orthodox rescue committees. Although this process sometimes involved delays, it avoided censorship, especially that of the very stringent American censor. Sternbuch, the Orthodox representative in Switzerland, had underground communication lines into much of Axis Europe. From mid-1942 until the end of the war, use of the Polish facilities between Bern and New York enabled him to transmit messages secretly between sources in Nazi-controlled Europe and Jew ish leaders in the United States. [16]

In accord with Welles's request, Wise kept the Riegner information out of the press. During September and October, though, he revealed both the Riegner and the Sternbuch disclosures to several individuals -- to government and Jewish leaders, as part of a desperate behind-the-scenes effort to develop some sort of action to help the doomed Jews, and also to a few close friends to ease his own psychological burden. Among the latter was the prominent Protestant clergyman John Haynes Holmes, to whom Wise confided, "I am almost demented over my people's grief." [17]

Wise's attempts to devise some means for countering the extermination plan began with his steps in early September to alert Washington (his approach to Welles and his appeal to Frankfurter to inform Roosevelt). After Rosenheim showed him Sternbuch's report, Wise took the lead in forming a temporary committee of Jewish leaders to seek ways to help the European Jews. Shortly afterward, he met in New York with the President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees, a small, quasi-governmental organization formed in 1938 to counsel Roosevelt on refugee matters. He urged Myron C. Taylor, the President's personal representative to the Vatican, to appeal to the Pope to intervene. And during September and October he journeyed to Washington several times. [18]

On one such trip, he showed the terrible telegrams to Vice-President Henry Wallace and Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson in an effort to obtain support for allowing food shipments to Jews in Poland. In October, he carried the same news to a very sympathetic Harold Ickes, secretary of the interior, and asked him to attempt to convince the President to open the Virgin Islands as a temporary haven of safety for perhaps 2,000 refugee Jews. [19]

Throughout those weeks, Wise was pessimistic about achieving any results. In Washington, he found many officials unable to perceive the deportations from Warsaw and from western Europe as anything other than part of a forced-labor program. He felt uncertain whether Pius XII could wield any real authority and doubted that he would even try. During this highly depressing time, Wise believed that even Roosevelt could not intervene effectively. [20]

As Wise had feared, his overtures to prominent officials brought meager results; only a few reacted at all. Ickes, whose Interior Depart ment administered the Virgin Islands, did write to the President asking whether he would be willing to consider using the islands as a small-scale refuge. Roosevelt turned this request down. The State Department offered to approve a very limited program for sending individual food parcels, but not bulk shipments, from Portugal to people in German-occupied countries, including Jews in the Polish ghettos. Under this arrangement, $12,000 worth of food bought in Portugal could go to Polish Jews each month, an amount privately described by one high State Department official as "infinitesimal." Ironically, Dean Acheson, the official Wise bad thought most approachable on the issue, was the only one in the State Department who opposed this feeble gesture. [21]

Meanwhile, as the autumn of 1942 unfolded, more signs of a campaign of planned extermination appeared. In late September, the New York Yiddish-language Jewish Morning Journal published information derived from a Swedish businessman who had traveled through Poland, stopping at Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow, and Lvov. He had learned that half the Jews in those ghettos had been killed. Relying on an entirely different source, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported in early October that "in Lodz thousands of Jewish families are taken away from the ghetto systematically and nobody ever hears from them again. They are poisoned by gas." [22]

Before October ended, observations from two widely dissimilar quarters indicated that people who followed European developments very closely were about to piece together the puzzle of genocide. National Jewish Monthly, the B'nai B'rith magazine, asked in its October issue why the Nazis were clearing western Europe of Jews and moving them to Poland. This step, maintained the editors, "doesn't make sense, even from the Nazi point of view," because Hitler's war industry badly needs labor in Germany. Even granting that masses of Jews in Poland might be moving into occupied Russia to carry out German construction projects, the writers could not break loose from the enigma: "but they still need workers in Germany." Furthermore, they pointed out, Soviet guerrilla forces report no Jews in all of Nazi-controlled White Russia, including Minsk and Vitebsk, formerly large centers of Jewish population. Then where are they? Not in Germany, because news dispatches from there declare that Germany is "Jew-free," except for some tech nical workers. Are they all in the Polish ghettos? Apparently not, for another report points out that 300,000 Jews have disappeared without a trace from the Warsaw ghetto. This analysis forced the National Jewish Monthly to the very edge of the appalling reality: "it is feared that the Nazis may be resorting to wholesale slaughter, preferring to kill all Jews rather than use their labor." [23]

In England, the archbishop of Canterbury, unconvinced by the "forced labor" explanation for the mass deportations from France, was quoted in the press as being almost certain that planned annihilation was under way. Speaking in late October to a London mass meeting to protest Nazi persecution of the Jews, William Temple declared that it is "hard to resist the conclusion that there is a settled purpose to exterminate the Jewish people if it can be done." [24]

Only days later, another voice declared with no hesitation whatever that Europe's Jews were being systematically wiped out. The editors of Jewish Frontier, whose earlier uncertainty had led them to place the gravediggers' account of the Chelmno gassings at the back of their September issue, had been apprised of Riegner's disclosures. Convinced that planned annihilation of the Jews was indeed in progress, they omitted their October issue to put full effort into collecting all the trustworthy documentation they could find for a special edition on the mass murder of the Jews. Printed with black borders, the Jewish Frontier for November 1942 declared:

In the occupied countries of Europe a policy is now being put into effect, whose avowed object is the extermination of a whole people. It is a policy of systematic murder of innocent civilians which in its dimensions, its ferocity and its organization is unique in the history of mankind. [25]

Realizing that people would find the information hard to accept, the editors had worked cautiously. Their estimate of one million Jews killed "through massacre and deliberate starvation" represented a conservative reading of reports then available. And they carefully avoided the use of "material whose authenticity was in any way doubtful." Even so, the documentation that they printed definitely pointed to extermination. Viewed against that evidence, the Jewish Frontier maintained, "the deportation of Jews from France and Poland to unknown destinations allows of only the most sinister explanation." [26]

The Jewish Frontier's main editorial closed with a call to the Allied governments "to do whatever may be done to prevent the fulfillment of this horror." The vagueness of the appeal testified to the state of mind that prevailed among American Jewish leaders in the last part of 1942. Stunned by the dimensions of the disaster now revealed to them, they seemed unable for a time to devise concrete proposals for action. [27]

Rabbi Wise, who had been wrestling since late August with the problem of developing practical action, continued to work under the additional handicap of having to withhold his information from the public. Although Sumner Welles had agreed on September 10 to initiate attempts to confirm the Riegner and the Sternbuch disclosures, the State Department did not notify Wise of its progress until late November.

Neither Welles nor others in the State Department pursued the inquiry with much energy. On September 23, a request for information that might authenticate the reports was sent on its way to the Vatican. An unsigned, informal response from the Holy See arrived in Washington three weeks afterward. The Vatican stated that it, too, had reports of "severe measures" taken against the Jews, but that verification had not been possible. (Near the end of November, the Vatican did send Washington a message it had from Warsaw with explicit verification of much of the worst that previously had been asserted, including killing in specially built gas chambers.) [28]

By October 5, a day when Wise saw Welles and pointed out that reports of mass murder in eastern Europe were continuing to reach American Jewish leaders, the only corroborative information received at the State Department was a brief message that Jews in Warsaw and other ghettos in Poland had been "shipped east" in lots of five to ten thousand. Their whereabouts and fate were unknown. This news had been relayed to Washington by Leland Harrison, the American minister to Switzerland, who had obtained it from the Polish exile government's mission in Switzerland. [29]

Right after this discussion with Wise, Welles wired Harrison asking him to make contact with Riegner and telegraph back whatever additional information he could supply. Harrison delayed for more than two weeks, then relayed his findings in two slow-moving letters. [30]

Before Harrison's letters arrived in the United States, other evidence of extermination reached the State Department. Late in September, Riegner, on his own initiative, conferred with Paul C. Squire, the American consul at Geneva. He handed Squire photostats of two letters that had recently reached him. They offered persuasive evidence that the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto were being deported and exterminated in vast numbers. The letters were written in German and enclosed in envelopes bearing the marks of the German censor. They had been sent to Switzerland from a Jew in Warsaw on September 4 and 12. Innocuous on the surface and thus able to pass German censorship, the letters were actually written in a semicode. A literal translation of part of the September 4 letter follows. The meanings of the coded words, as interpreted to Squire, are in brackets.

I spoke to Mr. Jager [hunter, thus the Germans]. He told me that he will invite all relatives of the family Achenu [our brethren, thus the Jews], with the exception of Miss Eisenzweig [apparently ironworkers, thus heavy-industry workers], from Warsaw, to his countryside dwelling Kewer [tomb]. I am alone here; I fed lonely.... Uncle Gerusch [deportation] works also in Warsaw; he is a very capable' worker. His friend Miso [death] works together with him. Please pray for me.

Wholesale extermination was reiterated in the letter of September 12, which began, "I too was in sorrow, for I am now so lonely. Uncle Achenu has died." [31]

Squire forwarded photostats of the Warsaw letters to Washington on September 28. Sent via the diplomatic airmail pouch, the material reached the State Department only on October 23. It was not brought to Welles's attention until much of November had passed. [32]

By that time, Welles had received Harrison's two letters from Bern. When supplemented by a follow-up telegram that Harrison sent on November 23, they revealed that a prominent non-Jewish Swiss had disclosed to Squire, "privately and not for publication," that he, too, had learned, through two separate high government contacts in Berlin, that an order had been issued in Hitler's headquarters for the physical elimination of the Jews. The Swiss informant was Dr. Carl Burckhardt, a high official of the International Red Cross and an unimpeachable source. [33]

The materials from Squire and Harrison, weighed with other reports sent that autumn from Europe to American Jewish leaders, convinced Welles. On Tuesday, November 24, he telegraphed Wise to come at once to the State Department. Late that day, Wise arrived at Welles's office. [34]

As Welles handed the rabbi several documents sent from the American legation in Switzerland, he conveyed the terrible news: "I regret to tell you, Dr. Wise, that these confirm and justify your deepest fears." Welles added, "There is no exaggeration. These documents are evidently correct." As for releasing the information to the news media, Welles stated, "For reasons you will understand, I cannot give these to the press, but there is no reason why you should not. It might even help if you did." [ii] [35]

That same evening, while still in Washington, Wise called a press conference. He told reporters that through sources confirmed by the State Department he had learned that two million Jews had been killed in an "extermination campaign" aimed at wiping out all the Jews in Nazi Europe. He disclosed that only about 100,000 of the 500,000 Jews formerly in Warsaw were still there and that the Nazis were moving Jews from all over Europe to Poland for mass killing. [37]

Wise returned to New York the same night. The following day, he met with a committee of Jewish leaders. By then, he had independent confirmation of Welles's news from Myron C. Taylor, Roosevelt's special representative to the Vatican. That afternoon, Wise held another press conference, at which he spoke as a representative for most of the leading American Jewish organizations. He announced that the Jewish groups were convinced, on the basis of the State Department documentation, that Hitler had ordered the annihilation of all Jews in areas under Nazi control. The purpose in publicizing the extermination information, he stated, was "to win the support of a Christian world so that its leaders may intervene and protest the horrible treatment of Jews in Hitler Europe." [38]

Just as Wise was revealing the annihilation plan to the world, additional evidence of genocide was appearing in Jerusalem and London. On November 23, the Jewish press in Palestine published black-bordered reports of systematic extermination brought from Poland by Jews who had recently been exchanged for German citizens from British-controlled territories. The following day, information released in Jerusalem included an account of concrete gas-chamber buildings in eastern Europe and a report that trains were carrying Jewish adults and children "to great crematoriums at Oswiecim, near Cracow." (Although mass murder of Jews at Oswiecim, the Polish name for Auschwitz, had been under way since mid-1942, this was one of the first indications of it to reach the outside world.) [39]

In London, dire reports were again coming to the Polish government- in-exile from underground sources in Poland. On the same day that Wise received the documents from Welles, the London Polish government asserted that Heinrich Himmler had ordered half of the three million Jews of Poland destroyed by the end of 1942 as the first step in their complete annihilation. The Polish statement included graphic descriptions of Jews packed into freight cars and deported to "special camps" at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor. Many died of suffocation or lack of water en route; the rest were murdered at the camps. "Under the guise of resettlement in the east," advised the Polish authorities, "the mass murder of the Jewish population is taking place." [40]

The very next day, Ignacy Schwarzbart, a Jewish member of the Polish government, informed the press that one million Polish Jews had perished since the war began. They had been killed by shooting, gassing, and the intentional creation of ghetto conditions characterized by starvation, crowding, and disease. Two days later, in New York, Henryk Strasburger, the Polish minister of finance, announced that "at least a million Polish Jews have been killed." At about the same time, a Catholic underground organization reported from Poland that "the total of Jews murdered already exceeds one million." [41]

German documents seized after the war reveal that almost 1.5 million Polish Jews had been deported to killing centers by December 31, 1942. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews had perished either through starvation and ghetto conditions or at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen in what had been pre-war eastern Poland. It turns out that the statistics dispatched by Polish underground sources were cautiously compiled indeed. It is also apparent that Wise's estimate of two million Jewish dead in all of Europe was long out of date by November 1942. [42]

The emerging picture of the Jewish catastrophe was not well defined in its particulars. It could not be. Reports that filtered out were at times confusing and contradictory. Only after the war did a definite understanding of the six killing centers and their operations crystallize. Even Auschwitz was not widely recognized as the pivotal installation that it was until 1944. But after November 24, 1942, it was evident that the reports were basically correct. A hideous and unprecedented mass murder program was in progress. Hitler had been serious when he ad. dressed the German nation from the Berlin Sports Palace in September 1942. Referring to a speech delivered in 1939, he asserted that he had then warned that

if Jewry should plot another world war in order to exterminate the Aryan peoples of Europe, it would not be the Aryan peoples which would be exterminated, but Jewry.

Now, in 1942, he threatened:

At one time, the Jews of Germany laughed about my prophecies. I do not know whether they are still laughing or whether they have already lost all desire to laugh. But right now I can only repeat: they will stop laughing everywhere, and I shall be right also in that prophecy. [43]

The events traced so far throw light on two questions which have been raised frequently since World War II; one concerns Gerhart Riegner's August report, and the other Stephen Wise's handling of it. The first asks why Riegner's information from the German industrialist proved to be the key to decisive recognition that the Jews were undergoing systematic extermination. Why not one of the earlier revelations?

One authority has maintained that the Jewish Labor Bund document that reached England from Poland near the start of June 1942 "should have been far more effective (than Riegner's report) in awakening both the Jewish and the non-Jewish worlds to what was going on." After all, it not only listed specific killing actions and provided an estimate of 700,000 Polish Jews dead but also pointed out that the Germans had determined to "annihilate all the Jews in Europe." In fact, the Bund report and the publicity it received were of pivotal importance in the emergence of a coherent view of what was happening to the Jews in Nazi Europe. And it was effective in starting to break down the barriers of disbelief that tended to wall extermination information out of people's minds. It was also instrumental in setting off mass protest demonstrations in the United States. [44]

As it worked out, the Bund report, the other accounts of Jewish slaughter, the mass meetings, and the deportation news from France all combined to form a milieu that made Riegner's information credible -- "fantastic" though it may have seemed to State Department functionaries. The disclosure that an authoritative person had knowledge of a specific plan of annihilation made a vital difference. It not only fit into the previous knowledge but crystallized it all into a meaningful pattern. The deportations from the West, the accounts of killing sites in the East, the mass slaughter of Polish Jews came into focus around a Hitler order. It was equally significant that the source of the report was Berlin. Events outside Berlin could be used to infer a campaign of total extermination, but evidence that an actual plan existed in the decision center was compelling. Moreover, the fact that Riegner's report was finally released through the American State Department endowed it with an important stamp of authenticity.

The other question revolves around Wise's acquiescence in Welles's request not to release the Riegner information until the State Department had confirmed it. Wise has been criticized on the ground that his silence cost three irretrievable months desperately needed to build pressure on Washington. True, time was already short by September 1942 and the Roosevelt administration needed strong prodding before it would act. But three points need to be considered before this burden is placed on Wise. [45]

For one thing, there was strategic advantage in awaiting State Department confirmation. The Riegner report might have been discounted if based only on Jewish authorities. Government verification made it far more credible. (The State Department, of course, could have moved much more expeditiously to confirm the information.)

More important, Wise had no viable choice in the matter. The State Department was responsible for American rescue policy. Had Wise contravened Welles's request, he would have alienated the department of government whose cooperation was essential in the effort to help the European Jews.

And finally, if Wise is to be criticized in this instance, numerous others should be also. The British section of the World Jewish Congress had the Riegner report, as well as the British Foreign Office's permission to publicize it. Moreover, it might have used the House of Commons as a forum, since its chairman, Samuel Silverman, was a Labour MP. In addition, Wise showed Riegner's information to many Americans, including the temporary committee of Jewish leaders that formed in New York in early September and the distinguished members of the President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees, as well as Felix Frankfurter, Myron C. Taylor, Dean Acheson, Henry Wallace, and Harold Ickes. Anyone of more than twenty prominent Americans could have called a press conference and broken the news. [46]


November 1942 was a pivotal month in World War II. During its opening week, the British broke Rommel's line at El Alamein and began the chase westward, reaching Benghazi two weeks later. On the eighth, Eisenhower landed forces in French North Africa; by the end of the month, they had driven nearly to Tunis. And in mid-November the great Russian counteroffensive at Stalingrad began to encircle and isolate an army of a quarter-million Germans. The war was still far from over, but the Germans were dearly in serious trouble.

November 1942 was also crucial in the American response to the Holocaust. The month dosed with Rabbi Wise's shattering announcement of confirmed reports that the Nazis were carrying out a plan to annihilate all Jews under their control. November had opened with another development, far less momentous, but nonetheless potentially harmful to prospects for helping European Jewry. That was the sizable gain registered by conservatives in the American congressional elections of 1942.

Although liberal congressmen, both Democratic and Republican, had generally sympathized with the persecuted Jews throughout the Hitler years, few had been willing to press for increased immigration or other measures to aid them. But liberals had not attempted to block the few small steps that the President had taken. Southern Democrats and conservative Republicans, on the other hand, had consistently resisted Roosevelt's moves to help Jewish refugees. [47]

Illustrative of the power of congressional conservatives to thwart proposals to help European Jews, and of the failure of liberals to challenge that power, was the fate of legislation introduced into the House in September 1942 by Emanuel Celler, a Democrat from New York. Appalled by press reports of the mass deportations from France, Celler, a Jew, hoped to convert the widespread indignation aroused by that news into practical action. His bill called for opening America's doors to refugees in France who could prove they were facing roundup, internment, or religious persecution at the hands of the Nazis or the Vichy authorities. [48]

Celler's measure went to the House Committee on Immigration, where it languished almost unnoticed while the great crisis in France passed. A handful of Jewish organizations and the Yiddish press spoke out for it; otherwise silence prevailed. Congressman Samuel Dickstein, another Jew and a New York Democrat, was chairman of the House Immigration Committee. He agreed to hold hearings on the bill, but only after the elections. The hearings were never held, however, and the bill died in committee. Dr. Samuel Margoshes, a columnist for the Day, a New York Yiddish newspaper, explained that Jewish leaders had not launched a campaign for Celler's proposal because the question of large-scale immigration was an "extremely delicate" one. [49]

The heavy Republican gains in the 1942 elections surprised even the most optimistic GOP leaders. And conservative Democrats from the South retained their near monopoly on that region's seats. Although the Democrats continued to control Congress, the conservative coalition of southern Democrats and right-wing northern Republicans was the main force on Capitol Hill. A liberal victory in the off-year elections would not have meant a sustained American effort to help European Jewry. But the decisive conservative gains signaled that even limited steps in that direction would probably encounter stubborn opposition. [50]

Bolstered by the election's results, conservatives did not wait for the convening of the new Congress to display their new resolve. Almost immediately, they smashed the President's Third War Powers Bill, legislation that he had requested at the beginning of November. The response to rhis measure provided a barometer not only of anti-Roosevelt sentiment in Congress but also of anti-refugee and anti-immigration strength on Capitol Hill. [51]

The bill would have given the President the power, during the war, to suspend laws that were hampering lithe free movement of persons, property and information into and out of the United States." Roosevelt wanted to bypass the maze of complicated forms and procedures required by the tariff, customs, and immigration laws. [52]

These requirements were hindering the war effort in various ways. For instance, for secrecy's sake, citizens of Allied nations flown to the United States for military or industrial consultation frequently landed away from the ports of entry where immigration officials were available. To comply with the law, such persons then had to travel to a port of entry, slowing their missions and increasing the risks to their confidentiality. Again, prisoners of war, even those shipped through New York under full guard en route to Canada, had to be processed individually and inspected like any aliens entering the United States. The tariff and customs laws, for their pan, were delaying deliveries of imported materials essential to war production. It was not the fees that were at issue, for the government ultimately paid these to itself. Rather, it was the precious time and manpower that the legally required paperwork was absorbing. [53]

The President's proposal, though a reasonable step to facilitate war production, set off a furor in Congress. Conservatives saw it as yet another Roosevelt attempt to grasp more power and as a thinly disguised device for sneaking open the gates to let in thousands of European refugees. Republican Roy Woodruff (Mich.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, spoke for many of his colleagues when he asserted that the legislation would "make the President a virtual dictator." Norwegian-born Harold Knutson (Rep., Minn.) voiced another anxiety abroad in Congress: "As I read it, you throw the door wide open on immigration." The conservative press took up the cry, led by the Chicago Tribune, which expressed "shock" (along with geographical confusion) at finding politicians attempting "to flood this nation with refugee immigration from Europe and other nations." [54]

The Ways and Means Committee tabled the original legislation by a vote of twenty-four to nothing. A subcommittee redrafted the measure, deleting the word persons from it, thus removing the, immigration aspect. But even then opponents stalled the bill until the session ended, thereby killing it. They correctly foresaw that in the new, more conservative Congress the proposal would have no chance. [55]

The centrality of the refugee issue in the uproar over the Third War Powers Bill was noted by an insider, Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, who testified before the Ways and Means Committee. Long, the architect of the State Department's extremely stringent immigration policy, steadfastly opposed any increase in the small numbers of refugees then entering the United States. And he realized that Roosevelt had no intention whatever of using the proposed legislation to increase that trickle. But he recognized what the problem was and recorded it in his office diary:

The entire trouble and the cause of the whole opposition, which apparently was coming from every member of the committee present, was simply because of the word "persons" -- for that meant immigration and that meant that the President could (but he would not) throw open the doors. [56]

Long was convinced that if the bill that first came to the committee had not involved immigration, it would have sped through Congress. Newsweek magazine, which saw the refugee problem as a mostly Jewish refugee problem (as indeed it was), made the point more explicitly:

The ugly truth is that anti-Semitism was a definite factor in the bitter opposition to the President's request for power to suspend immigration laws for the duration. [57]

With a more conservative Congress due in Washington in January 1943, prospects for congressional support to help the stricken Jews of Europe were bleak. Furthermore, in the face of the shift to the right, Roosevelt, reluctant in the past to run political risks to aid the persecuted Jews, would be very slow to respond to appeals for rescue action. [58]


Seventeen months of systematic, cold-blooded murder ran their course between the time the Einsatzgruppen were turned loose on the Russian front, in June 1941, and the day in late November 1942 when the extermination plan was confirmed to the world. The Nazis perpetrated their genocide program for nearly a year before the Jewish Labor Bund in Poland recognized what was happening and managed to send an alarm to the outside. Two months later, at a time when approximately 1.5 million Jews had already perished, Gerhart Riegner transmitted solid proof that planned annihilation was in motion. Three more months of calamity for European Jewry then passed before Western officialdom accepted the facts. In those three months, about one million more Jews were killed. The second sweep of the Einsatzgruppen was operating at full speed, and train after train rolled from the Polish ghettos and from western Europe, through the suffocating heat of sum mer, the chill autumn nights, and the numbing cold of November to meet the timetables of death. [59]

Delays in gaining the attention of the world were costly for the European Jews. Although much of that critical time may have been unavoidably lost, some of it had been dissipated by bureaucratic inertia and the indifference of government leaders. Even more tragic, fourteen additional months of mass murder were to pass before President Roosevelt and his administration, although fully cognizant of the ongoing genocide, could be persuaded to act. And when they did act, it was only in response to pressures that could no longer be disregarded.



[i] Production of soap from human remains, however, was not definitely established.  But rumors to that effect circulated in various parts of Axis Europe. [15]

[ii] This paragraph is based on Wise's account of his meeting with Welles. Officials in the Division of European Affairs maintained for months afterward that the State Department had never confirmed the extermination reports. But all the evidence indicates that Wise's description of the meeting was accurate. [36]
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Re: The Abandonment of the Jews: American and the Holocaust,

Postby admin » Fri Apr 13, 2018 8:50 pm



November 24, 1942, marked a turning point in Holocaust history. From then on, the news of Hitler's plan to annihilate the Jews was available to everyone in the democratic world who cared to know. But those not especially concerned were hardly confronted with the problem, because the news media gave it little prominence.

American metropolitan newspapers did a mediocre job of informing their readers of Rabbi Wise's disclosures. His November 24 press conference in Washington was widely reported, but it was not a major story anywhere. [i] The news conference he held in New York the next day received even less exposure. [ii]

This early pattern of minor press coverage became the rule. During the next month, there were several additional developments concerning the Holocaust. They included a nationwide Day of Mourning and Prayer, a meeting between President Roosevelt and Jewish leaders, a United Nations declaration condemning the extermination program, and an extensive UN report on the mass killing. Most newspapers published something about these events, but none consistently featured that news. [2]

The New York Times printed considerable extermination-related information during late November and December 1942. But, except for a front-page report on the UN declaration, it relegated that news to inside pages. Moreover, during the five Sundays of late November and December the paper's weekly ten-page "News of the Week in Review" section included only one brief notice about the European Jewish tragedy. Yet the Times provided by far the most complete American press coverage of Holocaust events. [3]

Lack of solid press coverage in the weeks immediately following the November 24 announcement muffled the historic news at the outset. The press's failure to arouse public interest and indignation thus handicapped efforts to build pressure for government action to aid the Jews. Proponents of rescue were soon driven to seek alternative ways to bring the information before the public.

Two or three clear statements from Franklin Roosevelt would have moved this news into public view and kept it there for some time. But the President was not so inclined, nor did Washington reporters press him. In retrospect, it seems almost unbelievable that in Roosevelt's press conferences (normally held twice a week) not one word was spoken about the mass killing of European Jews until almost a year later. The President had nothing to say to reporters on the matter, and no correspondent asked him about it. [4]

Understandably, the American Jewish press focused strongly on the news of the Nazi annihilation program. One analyst has observed that the coverage in the Yiddish dailies was "enormous" compared with that of regular American newspapers. In New York, the Day, the Forward, and the Jewish Morning Journal published accounts, often under main front-page headlines, throughout late November and all of December. [5]

The English-language Jewish press likewise informed its readers of the terrible news. The Anglo-Jewish weeklies, newspapers of general Jewish interest published in many cities across the United States, spread the basic information, mainly through syndicated news columns and Jewish Telegraphic Agency dispatches. [6]

Fuller coverage and a great amount of editorial comment reached American Jews through dozens of English-language periodicals issued by the many political, religious, fraternal, and other Jewish organizations. For instance, a leader among these publications, Congress Weekly, brought out its December 4, 1942, issue in a funereal black cover, while the magazine itself was given over largely to documentary evidence of the mass killing.

Throughout December and on into 1943, Jewish publications reported the continuing Jewish tragedy. They called on Americans of other faiths to join them in protest and appealed to the United States and its allies to act to stop the mass murder. [7]

The plea for non-Jewish support went largely unanswered. Exceptions were the liberal periodicals Nation and New Republic, which publicized and decried the "Murder of a People," as the Nation termed it. Throughout the war, both journals continued to speak out on the issue and to demand government rescue-action. [8]

The American Mercury also confronted readers with the agony of the European Jews through a powerful article by Ben Hecht, a prominent playwright and Hollywood scriptwriter. Hecht's essay reached a much wider audience when the Reader's Digest published a condensed version in early 1943. But the American Mercury and the Reader's Digest were alone among mass-circulation magazines in bringing the extermination issue to public attention in the weeks following the revelations of late November 1942. Except for. a few inconspicuous words on the UN declaration, such news magazines as Time, Life, and Newsweek overlooked the systematic murder of millions of helpless Jews. [9]

Leaders of the American labor movement protested Germany's extermination program. In late November, AFL vice-president Matt Woll, addressing a Jewish labor group, declared, "I speak to you as a Christian and a trade unionist. There ace no words in the lexicon of the human race to express the horror." AFL president William Green and CIO president Philip Murray both denounced the slaughter of the Jews in Christmas messages. [10]

A few other prominent non-Jews reacted to the Nazi horror. In the forefront was the noted news columnist Dorothy Thompson. In December, she planned a series of moves designed to stir resistance in Germany itself to the mass murders and concomitantly to bring the annihilation issue to the American public. She proposed two appeals to the German people, one from Americans of German descent and another from American Protestant churches. She also conceived of a special Christmas prayer by the Protestant churches for the stricken Jews of Europe, and a visit to President Roosevelt by a delegation of German Americans to request that he and Winston Churchill broadcast a direct appeal to the German people. [11]

Dorothy Thompson was able to find support only for the first of her proposals. A full-page advertisement, published in ten metropolitan newspapers, was the sole fruit of her efforts. Yet this minor step marked the high point for months to come of American non-Jewish action to help Europe's Jews. [12]

The advertisement was a "Christmas Declaration" signed by fifty prominent Americans of German descent. They included theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, news correspondent William L. Shirer, George Herman ("Babe") Ruth, and orchestra conductor Walter Damrosch. The statement denounced the "cold-blooded extermination of the Jews" as well as the atrocities against other conquered peoples. It called on Germans to overthrow the Nazi regime. The declaration actually placed little emphasis on the Jewish catastrophe; there is evidence that it had to be toned down in order to obtain the fifty names. Miss Thompson, in fact, had to turn to the American Jewish Congress to cover the costs of the advertisements. Whatever its shortcomings, the declaration was widely disseminated. Newspapers reported it as a news story, and it was broadcast over all major American radio networks. The Office of War Information beamed it to the U.S. armed forces and to Axis Europe as well. [13]

The Jewish appeal to non-Jews for help was frequently addressed to the Christian church leadership. Since Christianity is a religion committed to succoring the helpless, the Christian churches might have been expected to rise to the challenge. In England they did respond positively. But in the United States both the Protestant and the Catholic churches remained nearly silent and seemingly indifferent in the face of this crisis in Western and Christian civilization.

Commonweal, a liberal Catholic weekly, was among the few American Christian voices to speak. Before Pearl Harbor, its editors had stood in the sparse ranks of those who called for widening the nation's gates for Jewish refugees. Now, in December 1942, Commonweal pointed with horror at the "policy of complete extermination." It recognized the unfolding tragedy as a "crisis ... not only for the Jewish people, but for all peoples everywhere." [14]

Another outpost of Christian care for Jewish victims was the Church Peace Union, whose general secretary, Dr. Henry A. Atkinson, urged that the churches of America "in the name of our Lord, our religion and suffering humanity ... denounce these crimes against the Jews as major crimes against our common humanity." Atkinson called on the churches to insist that the United States, England, and other countries open their doors at once to those Jews who could get out of Hitler's grasp. [15]

The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, an organization through which twenty-five Protestant denominations cooperated on programs of common concern, began late in 1942 to consider practical aid to the Jews. Out of its biennial meeting in December came an official declaration that the reports on Jewish extermination had stirred Christian Americans to "deepest sympathy and indignation." The Federal Council resolved to do its "full part in establishing conditions in which such treatment of the Jews shall end." In discussions with Jewish leaders soon afterward, the council promised to launch a movement to involve its tens of thousands of local congregations in a Sunday of services focused on the tragedy of Europe's Jews. This "Day of Compassion" did not take place, however, until May 1943. [16]

While most American Christian institutions took little or no notice of the extermination disclosures of late 1942, the nondenominational Protestant weekly Christian Century reacted immediately. The very day that word of Stephen Wise's Washington press conference appeared in the newspapers, the Christian Century telegraphed the State Department asking whether it actually had, as Wise claimed, confirmed the information he had given out. [17]

The State Department evasively replied that it had no statement for publication regarding Wise's disclosures, since its role had been only "to facilitate the efforts of his Committee in getting at the truth." Thus all questions about the material should be put to. Wise. Although the State Department's response neither affirmed nor denied Wise's statements, the Christian Century chose to view it as a denial. [iii] [18]

The editors decided to challenge Wise's disclosures, a move that, whether intended or not, spread' skepticism and dampened pressures for rescue action. The Christian Century's editorial, entitled "Horror Stories from Poland," conceded that "beyond doubt, horrible things are happening to the Jews in Poland" and "it is even probable" that the Nazis are moving all the European Jews to Poland "with the deliberate intention of exterminating them there." But the writer questioned whether "any good purpose is served by the publication of such charges as Dr. Stephen S. Wise gave to the press last week." The editorial went on to discredit Wise's disclosures and to argue that he had greatly exaggerated the numbers of Jews killed. [20]

Three weeks later, reacting to the United Nations statement condemning the annihilation of the Jews, the Christian Century granted that "extermination of a race has seldom, if ever, been so systemically [sic] practiced on a grand scale as in the present mass murder of Polish Jews by the Nazi power." But the editorial pointedly noted that the UN declaration had ventured no definite statistical estimate of the dead. The Christian Century commended the UN statement, especially its "rhetorical restraint" and "calm tone." These signified, it said,

a cold determination not to expend in vain outcry one unit of emotional energy which can be better employed in bringing the war to such a conclusion that this gigantic crime can be stopped and the criminals punished. The right response to the Polish horror is a few straight words to say that it has been entered in the books, and then redoubled action on the Tunisian, Russian, Italian and German fronts and on the production lines. [21]

The Christian Century had spelled out an argument that people both inside and outside of government would raise throughout the war: the only effective way to save European Jews was to win the war as soon as possible. This assertion also implied that pressure for direct rescue action was in effect unpatriotic, since it would entail some diversion of the War effort. Both positions were false. Many possibilities existed while the war was in progress to save Jews who were still alive in Nazi Europe, and most could have been acted upon without hampering the war effort. Proof of this came in 1944 when the Roosevelt administration finally made a commitment to rescue Jews through a specially created War Refugee Board.

In line with its own advice that "the right response" to extermination was "a few straight words to say that it has been entered in the books" and then harder work for victory, the Christian Century spoke out for rescue action only four or five times in the two and one-half years that passed before Hitler's defeat. It thereby defaulted on an opportunity to serve the Christian conscience as well as the needs of the desperate Jews. This was all the more tragic since the journal was highly influential among liberal, social-action-oriented Protestant clergymen and lay leaders. Because of its social sensitivity, that constituency might have become a leading edge of Protestant-backed pressure for rescue action. It did not. [22]

The reasons for the Christian Century's attack on Wise's credibility are not clear. Probably the most important factor was Wise's position as the foremost leader of the American Zionist movement. The Christian Century had a strong record of anti-Zionism. [23]


Once freed to release the confirmed news of extermination, Jewish leaders were anxious to spread the information as effectively as they could. They sought to build the public support that would be necessary to move the American and other Allied governments to rescue efforts. [24]

The group that charted a basic course of joint action during late 1942 (and again in spring 1943) was. a rather loose council of representatives of the major American Jewish organizations. Essentially, it was a continuation of the committee of Jewish leaders that had formed around Stephen Wise and Jacob Rosenheim in early September and had met sporadically thereafter to discuss information coming from Europe as well as possible ways to respond to it. Before March 1943, when the council was reorganized as the Joint Emergency Committee on European Jewish Affairs, it was usually referred to as the Temporary Committee. This was the body that Wise called together on November 25, the day after his meeting with Welles, to decide on an initial plan of action. [25]

To lessen confusion about the numerous Jewish organizations involved in the American response to the Holocaust, it may be helpful to describe the seven groups represented on the Temporary Committee. The first four were the major defense organizations then active in American Jewish life; they worked to protect the religious and civil rights of Jews in the United States and throughout the world.

American Jewish Committee. Formed in 1906, the committee was still dominated in the early 19408 by wealthy, older-stock (German-back ground) Jews. Although its membership was small, it possessed substantial prestige and influence, had entry to some high levels of government and American society, and controlled considerable funds. Because it shunned overt political action and mass demonstrations and was non-Zionist, it was usually reluctant to participate in joint projects, especially with activist Zionist organizations. [26]

American Jewish Congress. Established in 1922, the congress was a mass-membership body built largely on a middle- and lower-middle-class constituency that was mainly of East European origin. Activist in approach and Zionist in outlook, it was the most politically involved of the major Jewish organizations.

Jewish Labor Committee. This committee was created in 1934 to rep resent the organized-labor side of American Jewish life in the struggle against Nazism and fascism. Membership consisted of national and local units of its affiliated bodies, including the Workmen's Circle, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, and other labor unions and Jewish socialist groups. The Labor Committee indirectly represented a constituency of half a million; in addition, it could call on some support from the American Federation of Labor because of its close ties with that organization. Oriented toward democratic" socialism, the Jewish Labor Committee was for the most part anti-Zionist.

B'nai B'rith. Founded as a Jewish fraternal and service organization in 1843, B'nai B'rith had come to combine those functions with educational work and defense of Jewish rights. Formation of its Anti-Defamation League in 1913 added to its capability in the latter area. A mass-membership organization, it had over 150,000 men, women, and youth on its rolls in 1942. B'nai B'rith aimed for neutrality in political affairs, but a trend toward Zionism was gathering strength in its ranks during World War II.

World Jewish Congress. This worldwide organization was established in 1936 to deal with attacks on Jewish political and economic rights. Zionist oriented, it was based on mass-membership affiliates, including the American Jewish Congress, the British section of the World Jewish Congress, and Jewish organizations in several other countries. During World War II, its world executive moved from Geneva to New York, where it added special committees of Jewish leaders from the occupied European nations.

The following two religious groups were also part of the Temporary Committee:

Synagogue Council of America. Organized in 1925, the council was made up of delegates from rabbinical and lay organizations of the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches of American Jewry. It provided a means for united action to forward the common religious interests of its constituent bodies. Many government agencies as well as Catholic and Protestant organizations recognized the Synagogue Council as their main religious liaison with American Jewry.

Agudath Israel of America. This organization of nearly 30,000 members had been established in 1921 to assist and maintain the spiritual life of Orthodox Jews throughout the world. Closely aligned with the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, it represented the ultra-Orthodox wing of American Jewry, a segment not connected with the Synagogue Council of America. Agudath Israel was anti-Zionist on religious grounds.

Before tracing the actions undertaken by the Temporary Committee, it might be well to take a closer look at Dr. Stephen S. Wise, the foremost American Jewish leader of the 1930s and 1940s. Reform rabbi and longtime Zionist, Wise had been in the front ranks of the American social-justice movement since the turn of the century. Working closely with Christian reform leaders, he had battled for such causes as free speech, workers' rights and labor unions, black rights, and honest city government. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, he had spoken out early for adequate relief and for unemployment insurance. This was the background out of which he developed a relationship with Franklin Roosevelt, whom he supported for governor of New York in 1928 even though the Republican candidate was Jewish. ("I never voted as a Jew," Wise declared in his autobiography, "but always as an American.") Despite the GOP avalanche of 1928, Roosevelt won the governorship by a very thin margin. He was no doubt helped by Jewish voters influenced by Wise. [27]

In 1932, however, Wise refused to back Roosevelt for President because of his evasive stance on the Tammany regime in New York City. But in 1933 Wise moved back into the Roosevelt camp. ("He re-won my unstinted admiration, and I spoke of him everywhere I went with boundless enthusiasm.") From then on, Wise was strong and vocal in his support of the President, coming out wholeheartedly for him in the 1936 election, remaining loyal through the Supreme Court debacle of 1937, and never wavering afterward. [28]

Wise's autobiography, completed shortly before he died, shows that Roosevelt remained his hero until the end. It also leaves the clear impression that after about 1935 Wise was unable to be critical of, or even objective about, the President. He was convinced that FDR was personally anxious to help the persecuted European Jews in the 1930s, that he wanted to do everything possible to rescue Jews during the Holocaust years, and that he fully, though quietly, supported the Zionist movement. These assessments were wide of the mark and should have been recognized as such at the time. In retrospect, in view of Wise's position as the foremost Jewish leader, his total trust in Roosevelt was not an asset to American or European Jews. [29]

Wise's myriad responsibilities, which attested to his importance in American Jewish life, may also have hampered his effectiveness. During the Holocaust years, he was simultaneously director of, or a high officer in, over a dozen Jewish organizations. [iv] Sixty-eight years old in 1942, Wise was not in good physical condition. He wrote to an associate that year, "I am far from being well and have a chronic ailment [he had polycythemia, an enlarged spleen, and an inoperable double hernial which necessitates X-ray treatment rather frequently." Yet Wise pushed himself hard and undertook an immense amount of travel, moody by train (his condition ruled out flying). Despite Wise's willingness to drive himself, one has to question whether his health permitted him to deal effectively with his host of responsibilities. Reason indicates, and some observers at the time suggested, that he should have passed some of them on to others. [30]

Wise was imposing in appearance, his strong, craggy profile set off against swept-back hair. His oratory was superb. His letters, which carry touches of humor, reflect a person warm and close to family and friends.

As to the seven organizations represented on the Temporary Committee, disputes and even sharp conflict normally marked their interrelationships. Despite this volatility, they briefly achieved a fair degree of cooperation in the wake of Wise's important conference with Welles. At the meeting that Wise convened on November 25, agreement was reached on five actions. [32]

The first, to announce to the press. the newly confirmed facts of genocide, was carried out that afternoon when Wise held a news conference to supplement the one he had called the preceding evening in Washington. Press coverage, however, was disappointing. [33]

A second step was to dispatch telegrams to over 500 newspapers requesting them to publish editorials on the issue. Comparatively few did so. [v] [34]

The third move was to telegraph a few hundred important non-Jews to invite them to make statements regarding the Jewish situation in Europe. Several responses were printed in the Congress Weekly, but nothing more appears to have come of the project. [36]

Each of the other two actions taken by the Temporary Committee precipitated a brief flurry of national publicity about the European Jewish catastrophe. These were the sponsorship of a Day of Mourning and Prayer and a meeting of Jewish leaders with President Roosevelt.

The Day of Mourning and Prayer, held on December 2, was observed in twenty-nine foreign lands and throughout the United States. Because of its large Jewish population, New Yolk City, summoned to prayer by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, was the center of the day's solemn activities. Yiddish newspapers came out with black borders. Several radio stations were silent for two minutes. During the morning, half a million Jewish union laborers, joined by non-Jewish fellow walkers, halted production for ten minutes. [vi] At noon, a one-hour radio program was broadcast. And special services were held at live o'clock in synagogues throughout the city. [37]

In many other American cities, the Day of Mourning was marked by religious services and local radio programs. Late in the afternoon, NBC broadcast a special quarter-hour memorial service across the nation. [39]

In addition to the religious values and the feelings of solidarity that were generated, the commemorations on the Day of Mourning offered emotional release. The Dallas Morning News, for instance, commented on the impressive ceremony held in that city but seemed most deeply affected by the sobbing heard at the service. Another important outcome of the special day was that it focused some public attention on the disastrous situation of the European Jews. A little radio time was devoted to the issue. And many newspapers reported the day's events and their significance, though for the most part inconspicuously. [40]

Soon afterward, a delegation from the Temporary Committee succeeded in meeting with President Roosevelt despite a definite reluctance on his part. A letter that Wise addressed to "Dear Boss" may have overcome the President's disinclination to confer with the Jewish leaders. The rabbi wrote that "the most overwhelming disaster of Jewish history," Hitler's extermination program, had been confirmed through the State Department, and that a few people from his committee would like to talk with the President about it. Wise assured Roosevelt, "I do not wish to add an atom to the awful burden which you are bearing with magic and, as I believe, heaven-inspired strength at this time." But, he added, "it would be gravely misunderstood if, despite your overwhelming preoccupation, you did not make it possible to receive our delegation and to utter what I am sure will be your heartening and consoling reply." He concluded with the plea: "As your old friend, I beg you will somehow arrange to do this." [41]

The half-hour conference with Roosevelt took place at noon on December 8; it included Wise, Henry Monsky (B'nai B'rith), Rabbi Israel Rosenberg (Union of Orthodox Rabbis), Maurice Wertheim (American Jewish Committee), and Adolph Held (Jewish Labor Committee). Held's notes provide a thorough description of this interview, the only one concerning the Holocaust that FOR ever granted to a group of Jewish leaders. [42]

The President received the delegation very cordially and immediately launched into a semi-humorous story about his plans for postwar Germany. Wise then read aloud a two-page letter from the Temporary Committee which stressed that "unless action is taken immediately, the Jews of Hider Europe are doomed." [43]

The only action proposed in the letter, however, was the issuance of warnings about war crimes. The message asked Roosevelt "to warn the Nazis that they will be held to strict accountability for their crimes." It also urged formation of a commission to collect the evidence of Nazi barbarism against civilians and to report it to the world. [44]

As he finished reading the message, Wise handed Roosevelt a twenty-page condensation of the extermination data and appealed to him "to do all in your power to bring this to the attention of the world and to do all in your power to make an effort to stop it." [45]

Roosevelt's reply was significant because it showed beyond doubt that by December 1942 he was fully aware of the extermination program. Thus his subsequent reluctance to act for rescue cannot be attributed to lack of knowledge or disbelief that the destruction of the European Jews was in progress. Held's notes quote the President:

The government of the United States is very well acquainted with most of the facts you are now bringing to our attention. Unfortunately we have received confirmation from many sources. Representatives of the United States government in Switzerland and other neutral countries have given us proof that confirms the horrors discussed by you. [46]

Roosevelt readily agreed to issue the war-crimes warning. He then asked for other recommendations. The Jewish leaders had lime to add; this part of the conversation lasted only one or two minutes. The President then opened a monologue on topics unrelated to the Jewish disaster in Europe. He continued until an aide entered, signaling the end of the conference. [47]

As the group left, Roosevelt, referring to the war-crimes warning, said, "Gentlemen, you can prepare the statement. I am sure that you will put the words into it that express my thoughts." As he shook hands with the Jewish leaders, he remarked, "we shall do all in our power to be of service to your people in this tragic moment." According to Held's estimate, Roosevelt had talked 80 percent of the time. [48]

After clearing the group's press release with the White House, Wise informed reporters that Roosevelt had authorized him to say "that he was profoundly shocked to learn that two million Jews had perished as a result of Nazi rule and crimes" and that "the American people will hold the perpetrators of these crimes to strict accountability in a day of reckoning which will surely come." Wise also furnished the press with copies of the delegation's letter to Roosevelt and the twenty-page sum mary of extermination data. [49]

News reports of this press conference emphasized that two million Jews had been killed and five million more faced extermination. And some data from the twenty-page summary were published. But the coverage of this event was spotty, and most newspapers that did report it gave it little prominence. The New York Times, for instance, provided a very thorough account, but it appeared on page 20, unusually deep in the paper for any news directly concerning the President. The Washington Post printed only a small report and placed it far inside the paper. [50]

The meeting with the President completed the five-pan plan undertaken by the Temporary Committee. On the initiative of Wise and the American Jewish Congress, the committee was dissolved, ending this two-week venture in united Jewish action. [51]

Soon after the White House visit, the Jewish leaders' hope for a stern war-crimes warning materialized. The statement did not arise from the meeting with Roosevelt, however. The British government was already pressing it on the United States and the Soviet Union when Wise and his colleagues talked with the President. British public feeling and hard work by the British section of the World Jewish Congress had pushed the British government into action. The American State Department cooperated with great reluctance. [52]

The limited publicity about extermination that American Jewish efforts had achieved had already gone too far for some functionaries in the State Department. Soon after the Day of Mourning, R. Borden Reams, who was the specialist on Jewish issues for the Division of European Affairs, suggested that higher officials seek to persuade Wise

to call off, or at least to tone down, the present world-wide publicity campaign concerning "mass murders" and particularly to ask Dr. Wise to avoid any implications that the State Department furnished him with official documentary proof of these stories. [53]

Reams was somewhat more cautious, though, when Congressman Hamilton Fish (Rep., N.Y.) phoned to ask whether the State Department had official verification of the reports of the mass murders. Reams replied that the whole matter was "under consideration," hut the reports were to the best of his knowledge "as yet unconfirmed." He suggested an inquiry to Cordell Hull or another top-level departmental official. Only two days before, one of those high officials, Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle, Jr., had shown, in another context, that he had no doubt whatever about the situation. Speaking to the representative of the Finnish government, Berle strongly advised against handing over to the Germans any Jewish refugees then in Finnish territory. That, warned Berle, "was the equivalent in most cases of condemnation to a horrible death." [54]

When the British government sent its proposed war-crimes declaration to Washington, it went to Reams for evaluation. He informed the heads of his division:

I have grave doubts in regard to the desirability or advisability of issuing a statement of this nature. In the first place, these reports are unconfirmed and emanate to a great extent from the Riegner letter to Rabbi Wise. ... The statement . .. will be taken as additional confirmation of these stories and will support Rabbi Wise's contention of official confirmation from State Department sources. The way will then be open for further pressure from interested groups for action which might affect the war effort. [55]

The next day, W. G. Hayter, first secretary of the British embassy, conferred with Reams. Hayter stated the British belief that the declaration would do neither good nor harm. However, the British government was anxious to release it soon because of extreme pressure coming from several quarters, including the House of Commons. [56]

Reams warned Hayter that the British statement

was extremely strong and definite. Its issuance would be accepted by the Jewish communities of the world as complete proof of the stories which are now being spread about.... In addition the various Governments of the United Nations would expose themselves to increased pressure from all sides to do something more specific in order to aid these people. [57]

Reams informed his division chiefs that the best course would be simply to have the United Nations issue another general statement that war criminals would be punished. If the declaration proposed by the British were accepted, however, the phrase "reports from Europe which leave no room for doubt" (that extermination of the Jews is in progress) should be replaced with "numerous and trustworthy reports from Europe." Officials higher in the State Department decided to endorse the British proposal, but weakened the wording even more than Reams had suggested. In the final version, the line read "numerous reports from Europe." [58]

The UN declaration, signed by the three main Allies and the governments of eight occupied countries, was issued on December 17. It pointed specifically at the German government's "intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe," and it condemned "in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination." It affirmed that "the necessary practical measures" would be taken to insure that those responsible for the crimes would be brought to retribution. Despite the State Department's weakening modification, it remained a forceful statement, the strongest concerning atrocities against Jews to be issued by the Allied powers during World War n. Furthermore, it committed the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union for the first time to postwar prosecution of those responsible for crimes against the European Jews. [59]

When the declaration was read in the House of Commons, everyone there rose simultaneously and stood in silence for two minutes, a demonstration of sympathy reported as unprecedented in Parliament's history. The Vatican's silence was also impressive. Asked by the American representative to the Holy See whether the Pope could make a similar declaration on the extermination of the Jews, the papal secretary of state replied that the Vatican could not condemn particular atrocities publicly but that it had frequently denounced atrocities in general. [60]

The UN declaration was better publicized in the American press than most developments connected with the Holocaust. Most newspapers reported on it, and several ran the story on the front page. The joint warning thus helped spread the facts of genocide. So, to a lesser degree, did a development that occurred shortly afterward. [61]

On December 19, the United Nations Information Office in New York released a report that once again authenticated the accounts of genocide. It was a comprehensive summary of the most telling data then available, including evidence concerning the killing centers at Chelmno and Belzec and a country-by-country analysis of the fate of the Jews, which proved the "continent-wide consistency" of the Nazi campaign of annihilation. Poland, the bulletin declared, had become "one vast center for murdering Jews." Released on a Saturday, the new report received wide coverage and fairly prominent exposure in the Sunday press. [62]

The UN declaration of December 17 brought a small measure of hope to American Jews; at last the powers had taken public notice of the European Jewish agony and seemed concerned about it. Stephen Wise considered it an additional gain that "the declaration places the official stamp of authenticity on the reports which have shocked the world." An editorial in the New York Times bore him out: the joint statement, it noted, is "based on officially established facts; it is an official indictment." Reams's fear that the declaration would be seen as confirmation of the extermination reports was realized. But his other concern, that the governments "would expose themselves to increased pressure ... to do something ... to aid these people," was only slowly becoming a reality. [63]

The same Times editorial expressed a view frequently heard during the Holocaust years: "The most tragic aspect of the situation is the world's helplessness to stop the horror while the war is going on. The most it can do is to denounce the perpetrators and promise them individual and separate retribution." A complete halt to the mass murder was indeed virtually impossible short of victory over the Nazis. Proponents of rescue recognized that. But they rejected the view that nothing could be done except to denounce the perpetrators. Inability to halt the entire genocide machine was no valid argument against attempting to rescue those who might be saved. Wise, reacting to the UN declaration, asserted that, important as it was, other steps "to save those still alive" were essential and possible. That viewpoint gained strength steadily during December among those concerned for the stricken European Jews. Before the month ended, several rescue proposals had emerged. [64]

One frequent suggestion called for providing havens of refuge for Jews who might succeed in getting out of Axis territory. England, the United States, and the other Allies should open their doors and the British should remove restrictions on immigration to Palestine. In addition, the United Nations should encourage neutrals such as Turkey, Switzerland, and Sweden to accept Jewish refugees by agreeing to share maintenance costs and to move them elsewhere after the war. Another plan called for sending food and medical supplies, under proper safeguards against Nazi confiscation, to the starving Jews in Axis Europe. Yet another suggested an appeal from the United Nations to the people in the occupied countries to aid and shelter Jews and to help them with escape efforts. [65]

One other recommendation, first voiced by the Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews, called for the establishment of an "American Commission of military and governmental experts" charged vaguely with finding "a way to stop this wholesale murder." With time, it became increasingly clear that a special government rescue agency offered the best hope for saving significant numbers of Jews. [66]

Throughout December 1942, the organization most active in developing rescue proposals and seeking support for them was the Zionist-oriented American Jewish Congress, aided by its affiliate, the World Jewish Congress. A special Planning Committee was formed that designed an ambitious campaign to arouse public opinion. Effective pressure could then be brought on the government to induce it to act. [67]

Plans called for marches of hundred of thousands of Jews through the streets of New York and other large cities. Jewish children were to leave school to join the processions. Appeals were to go out to Americans of Polish, Czech, Yugoslav, and other national backgrounds to join the processions or hold parallel demonstrations. On the day of the marches, Jewish stores were to close, and a work stoppage was to be arranged through the cooperation of the AFL and the CIO. And, as an offshoot of the processions, Jewish mass delegations were to travel to Washington and appeal to Congress. [68]

Another project looked to the Christian churches to hold Days of Mourning and to explain the facts of the extermination at church services. Additional plans called for enlisting the support of newspaper editors, radio broadcasters. educators' and women's organizations, liberal groups, congressmen, and other political leaders. [69]

The Planning Committee also tried to persuade the Office of War Information (OWI) to publicize the extermination news. But the OWI director, Elmer Davis, insisted that his agency's function was to transmit statements that represented government policy. If the State Department had issued the extermination statements, Davis pointed out, it would have been comparatively easy for the OWI to publicize them. He advised Wise and his colleagues to persuade the State Department to release the information officially. Such an effort, of course, was doomed to fail. [70]

The OWI's reluctance to act without State Department authorization eliminated another promising project. The Advertising Council was an association set up to mobilize advertising in support of the war effort. Its director believed the chances were excellent for getting national advertisers to finance a publicity campaign focusing on the Nazi massacres of civilians, including Jews, and calling for rescue measures. If the OWI had supported the plan, the Advertising Council and the nation's leading advertisers unquestionably would have cooperated. But the OWI would not, without State Department endorsement, and that ended the proposal. [71]

In the end, the American Jewish Congress carried out very few of its plans. Why? For one thing, cooperation from non-Jews was meager. In addition, some Planning Committee members had reservations about marches and other mass-action projects, fearing they "might make the wrong kind of impression on the non-Jewish community." Probably most important, the American Jewish Congress was trying to do too many things with too few capable people and with resources that were too limited. The Planning Committee did not work steadily at its task, and its leaders were heavily occupied with numerous other matters. [72]

There is no way to assess the potential of the unfulfilled projects. But mass processions in several cities and a mass delegation in Washington would at least have brought the issue to the public's attention. And they might conceivably have forwarded the cause of rescue considerably more than that. The mere threat of a march on Washington by 50,000 to 100,000 blacks in 1941 had extracted an executive order from President Roosevelt that helped increase employment opportunities for black Americans. In January 1944, when pressures finally became great enough, FDR agreed to an executive order establishing an agency to rescue European Jews. A massive demonstration of concern in late 1942 or early 1943 might have influenced him to take action many months sooner than he did. [73]

During the last weeks of 1942, several Zionists, among them Wise and other members of the Planning Committee, applied part of their energies to the rescue problem. Most Zionist resources, however, continued to be concentrated on the postwar goal of a Jewish state in Palestine. In 1943, the pattern persisted, as rescue remained a secondary priority. Even so, the Zionists of the American Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Congress were more active and effective in pressing the rescue issue in the United States than any of the other major Jewish organizations. None of them, the American Jewish Congress included, managed the dramatic change in course that would have been necessary to wage an all-out rescue campaign. [74]

Nevertheless, by the end of 1942, concrete rescue proposals had begun to appear and the first steps had been taken to arouse public opinion. Along with continued advances in those areas, 1943 would bring a marked increase in pressures on the United States government to act.



[i] Analysis of nineteen important newspapers throughout the United States shows that only five placed the story on page 1, none of them prominently. Two of the nineteen did not carry the report at all.

That same day, virtually all the newspapers found room on the front page for essentially frivolous "human interest" stories. This was also the case on the many other occasions when important news of the Holocaust appeared on inner pages or was omitted altogether. [1]

[ii] Of the nineteen newspapers, only ten reported Wise's November 25 press conference at all, and then mostly inconspicuously on inside pages.

[iii] When questioned on this point, the editors explained in print that they had asked the State Department whether it had authorized Wise's statements. The State Department had responded, the Christian Century wrote, but would not permit its answer to be published. "We have that reply in our files; it does not support Dr. Wise's contention."  It did not deny Wise's contention either, but the Christian Century left that fact unmentioned. [19]

[iv] To name only his most important posts, he was president of the American Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress, and the Jewish Institute of Religion (a theological college), chairman of the American Emergency Committee for Zionist Affairs, vice-president of the Zionist Organization of America, and co-chairman of the American Jewish Conference. He edited Opinion magazine and was a force in the journal Congress Weekly. He was also rabbi of the large Free Synagogue of New York City, though for part of the war he relinquished much of his work there. [31]

[v] The Washington Post, which did nor print such an editorial, carried five editorials during late November and December on the terrible Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston, which claimed more than 400 lives. Horror closer at hand had an impact. [35]

[vi] A one-hour shutdown had been considered, but the leadership decided against it out of concern that Jews would be accused of hampering the war effort. The ten-minute stoppage was the result of worker pressure; the time was made up the following day. [38]
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