Published by Humanity in Action in 2013, Civil Society and the Holocaust: International Perspectives on Resistance and Rescue examines the different ways that European countries and the United States responded to the Holocaust. This anthology was created as part of “Civil Society: Reactions to the Holocaust,” a series of events in Copenhagen commemorating the 70th anniversary of the flight and deportation of Danish Jews in October 1943.
During the two years before World War II American Jewish organizations and most Jewish politicians approved of recent changes in American immigration policy tailored to the refugee crisis in Europe.
The Holocaust was an unprecedented catastrophe. Everyone who studies it hopes to learn from it, but clear lessons are often difficult to find. This essay highlights the political contributions of some key Americans (without any claim to be comprehensive) who helped to save lives. American Jewish leaders and some non-Jews concerned about the Holocaust debated priorities and strategies for moving the government to act. Still sensitive among American Jews, this chapter of history may have some bearing on current and future humanitarian crises.
During the two years before World War II American Jewish organizations and most Jewish politicians approved of recent changes in American immigration policy tailored to the refugee crisis in Europe. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his executive powers to loosen immigration regu- lations for those seeking exit from Germany and Austria. If immigration law (quotas) set upper limits to the numbers admissible to the United States and Congress opposed any expansion, the Roosevelt administration used the full quotas and stretched them a bit. Administration officials, diplomats, and special envoys also pressed for Germany to allow Jews and other victims of persecution to leave, and they urged other countries to admit more of them. FDR put particular pressure on Britain to allow more Jews into Palestine, and on Latin American countries to accept Jewish immigrants. (1)
American sympathy for Nazi victims diminished sharply: Nazi victories and American fears of a Fifth Column turned refugees into potential Nazi agents. (2)
The popular level of fear and mistrust of aliens may be compared with that after September 11, 2001.
The war transformed American government policies and the political climate. Nazi Germany’s military takeover of Norway, the Low Countries, and especially the bewilderingly rapid and thorough defeat of France convinced many that Nazi espionage, combined with propaganda, had eaten away resistance in these countries; a Nazi “Fifth Column” was at work there and had spread to the United States. American sympathy for Nazi victims diminished sharply: Nazi victories and American fears of a Fifth Column turned refugees into potential Nazi agents. (2) Anti-Semites were quite willing (and eager) to believe Jews spied for Germany out of pure greed, while others feared that Germany was forcing refugees to cooperate through threats against their relatives caught at home. (3) The popular level of fear and mistrust of aliens may be compared with that after September 11, 2001.
In this climate all the liberal American initiatives of 1937-1939 vanished. New State Department regulations and a bureaucratic labyrinth screened out most of those who were able to emerge or escape from Axis territories. Would-be immigrants had once benefited from American relatives or friends supplying affidavits of support to vouch for them financially, but now even well-connected applicants found it impossible to surmount security-related “paper walls.” Among those who failed to gain entry, we learned more than five years ago, were the members of Anne Frank’s family. (4)
Republican critics and some Southern Democrats already regarded him and his administration as overly dependent on Jewish influence.
Politics also played a role in the shift. Once President Roosevelt decided to run for an unprecedented third term, he could ill afford cases of refugee spies or Nazi agents passing for Jewish refugees. Republican critics and some Southern Democrats already regarded him and his administration as overly dependent on Jewish influence. Well after his 1940 re-election, such criticism continued. In a speech at Des Moines, Iowa, on September 11, 1941 isolationist leader Charles Lindbergh charged the British and Jewish races with trying to push America into war “for reasons which are not American.” Jews allegedly endangered America, Lindbergh claimed, through their in- fluence in Hollywood, the press, radio, and government. (5) Many Americans debated whether the United States should enter the war.
After Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Soviet military situation was dire, and most Western observers expected a quick German victory. Nazi officials used the cover of war to veil their programs of genocide in the East. Nonetheless, some information about mass killings leaked to the West. In the fall of 1941 mainstream American newspapers covered escalating Nazi atrocities against Jews with headlines such as “Death Rate Soars in Polish Ghettoes” (New York Times, September 14); “New Anti-Jewish Drive Seen,” (New York Times, October 5); “200 Jews Kill Selves Over Nazi Order to Wear a Star,” (Chicago Tribune, October 13,); “Berlin is Swept by New Wave of Anti-Semitism” (Chicago Tribune, October 16); “Nazis Will Move Jews to Poland,” (Washington Post, October 19); “German Atrocities,” (Washington Post, October 24), and “Nazis Seek to Rid Europe of All Jews,” (New York Times, October 28). Whatever the American press failed to report or emphasize later, it captured clues about the first phase of what soon became a continent-wide Nazi campaign for exterminating Jews. (6)
The unnamed author wondered how President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill could condemn Nazi reprisal killings of a hundred hostages in Nantes and Bordeaux and remain silent about these much larger crimes?
At the end of October 1941, Congress Weekly, an organ of the American Jewish Congress, dramatically announced: “From Kovno in the North to Odessa in the South, a wave of outright slaughter, mass deportations and incarceration of Jews in concentration camps….” Congress Weekly noted that the general British and American press as well as Jewish newspapers had reported the deportation of 15,000 Hungarian and Galician Jews from Hungary to Ukraine, where they were murdered in cold blood, as well as many other killings. The unnamed author wondered how President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill could condemn Nazi reprisal killings of a hundred hostages in Nantes and Bordeaux and remain silent about these much larger crimes? The author then supplied his own answer, even if he rejected its validity: “Condemnation of Nazi atrocities in France are a weapon against isolationism… [but] condemnation of the atrocities against Jews would add fuel to the isolationist propaganda that the war against Hitler is a ‘Jewish war.’” The general secretary of the Jewish National Workers’ Alliance sent a copy of this editorial to presidential Press Secretary Stephen Early, calling for FDR to speak out on behalf of millions of suffering Jews. But until 1944 the president did not do so. (7)
In the eyes of American officials, Nazism was a threat to all humanity, not simply to the Jews.
After Pearl Harbor and the German declaration of war against the United States, America entered the war with overwhelming public support. The Roosevelt administration had determined that Germany represented a greater threat than Japan and decided to give the war in Europe priority over the Pacific. Still, the Allies lacked the capacity to invade or seriously threaten Axis territory in Europe. The only short-term prospect for weakening Germany was psychological warfare designed to drive a wedge between the Nazi regime and the German public. Public opinion experts hoped to avoid publicity about the fate of European Jews, since the German public was saturated with Nazi anti-Semitism. Nazi propaganda was even more strident than American isolationists in blaming the war on international Jewry. A government committee on war information policy discouraged the use of atrocity material at home as well unless it directly illuminated the nature of the enemy. In the eyes of American officials, Nazism was a threat to all humanity, not simply to the Jews. The U.S. government’s most ambitious domestic propaganda initiative, the documentary film series Why We Fight, illustrates the official skittishness: released from 1942 to 1945, it barely touched upon Nazi killings of Jews. (8)
British authorities, worried about Arab loyalties and the attitudes of its own Moslem troops, declined to raise anything more than a Jewish brigade, and American military officials backed the British view.
One advocate of loud public protest against what the Nazis called the Final Solution was a young Palestinian Jew, Hillel Kook, a Revisionist Zionist who came to the U.S. in 1940 and took the name Peter Bergson. At first, Bergson tried to use newspaper advertisements to raise American support for a Jewish army in Palestine. He wanted American pressure on Britain to mobilize Palestine’s Jews in case German forces reached Palestine. David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, and Chaim Weizmann, also wanted Britain to arm more Jews in Palestine, but operated without Bergson’s public, anti-British clamor: they tried lobbying with key American officials, including FDR (who met with Weizmann). British authorities, worried about Arab loyalties and the attitudes of its own Moslem troops, declined to raise anything more than a Jewish brigade, and American military officials backed the British view. So did New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who publicly denounced agitation for a Jewish army as dangerous to the Allied cause. (9)
By mid-1942, the government and a number of American Jewish organizations had moved apart. Government officials focused exclusively on the war and the general threat of Nazism. Jewish organizations were increasingly distressed about much larger incidents of mass murder of Jews in Eastern Europe and the Nazi threat to Jews in Palestine. On June 16, even the New York Times reported that Nazis had murdered 60,000 Jews in Vilna, Lithuania, although the story noted that accounts of the massacre from an eyewitness refugee could not be confirmed. Sources associated with the Polish-Jewish Bund, which was allied with the Jewish Labor Committee in the U.S., estimated Nazi murder and brutality had claimed the lives of 700,000 Polish Jews by the spring of 1942. The sources said that the Nazis had deployed mobile gas chambers in Poland to exterminate Jews systematically. Bund leaders called for reprisals against Germans living in Allied countries as the only way to save “millions of Jews from certain destruction.” The New York Times, first in a brief notice on June 27 and then in a full page 6 story on July 2, carried this report with no qualifications. The mainstream press also widely covered a World Jewish Congress estimate in late June 1942 that the Nazis had killed more than a million Jews since 1939. (10)
He said that Americans of all faiths shared in the sorrow of Jewish fellow citizens over Nazi savagery against helpless victims. The Nazis would not succeed, he pledged.
On July 21, 1942 the American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith, and the Jewish Labor Committee drew 20,000 people to a rally in Madison Square Garden to protest Nazi atrocities. Roosevelt sent a delicately worded statement for the organizers to read. He hailed the determination of the Jewish people to make every sacrifice for Allied victory. He said that Americans of all faiths shared in the sorrow of Jewish fellow citizens over Nazi savagery against helpless victims. The Nazis would not succeed, he pledged, in “exterminating their victims any more than they will succeed in enslaving mankind.” This may have been the president’s first public mention of Jews as Nazi victims, but he did so in a way that linked them to the general threat. He (and Prime Minister Churchill) offered only the Allied threat to punish Nazi war criminals at the end of the war as a deterrent. (11)
Clearer evidence of Nazi intentions changed the political dynamics in a number of ways. Wise and several other Jewish representatives were able to meet at the White House with FDR on December 8: that meeting, along with efforts by the Polish underground courier Jan Karski in London, led directly to an inter-Allied government statement on December 17 denouncing the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe, which received greater publicity. (13)
Critical information about the Holocaust emerged from Europe in the late summer and fall of 1942. World Jewish Congress and Agudath Israel sources in New York each received independent reports of a continuing Nazi effort to eliminate Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. The most accurate (and most famous) report came in a telegram from Gerhart M. Riegner, representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland: he had learned about Nazi use of poison gas based on prussic acid and the Nazi intention to exterminate 3.5 to 4 million Jews. A flurry of meetings within Jewish organizations and among different organizations produced ideas such as an appeal to the Nazi regime to stop the killing; an appeal to neutral countries to intercede with Germany; and a threat to take reprisals against Germans in the U.S. Even if there had been a consensus, none of these ideas had much prospect of success with the American government, let alone with the Nazi regime. Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, head of the American Jewish Congress, brought Riegner’s telegram to the attention of Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, who launched an investigation and asked Wise to avoid publicity for the time being. This investigation dragged on until late November. Once Welles told Wise that it confirmed his deepest fears, Wise immediately called a press conference and got substantial (if inadequate) coverage of the story. (12)
Clearer evidence of Nazi intentions changed the political dynamics in a number of ways. Wise and several other Jewish representatives were able to meet at the White House with FDR on December 8: that meeting, along with efforts by the Polish underground courier Jan Karski in London, led directly to an inter-Allied government statement on December 17 denouncing the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe, which received greater publicity. (13) Equally important, the news reports and an official Allied statement mobilized a larger portion of the Jewish communities to get involved. They also gained some political support. As reports of the Final Solution circulated through Washington, 63 senators and 181 members of the House of Representatives signed a resolution drafted by Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York reaffirming their support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. (14) In a sense, it was a significant gesture of sympathy, but it promised no action during the war. In fact, it avoided the most immediate problem – what could be done, if anything, in Europe without any military options?
After reading of the evidence of the Final Solution, Bergson dropped his demand for a Jewish army in Palestine and recast his organization into the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People in Europe, which gained some non-Jewish backing.
While the British and American governments began to organize a confidential conference on refugee problems in Bermuda for mid-April 1943 in order to show some kind of government activity, American Jewish organizations mobilized. Jewish leaders proposed that the Allies guarantee financial support for all refugees who escaped to Turkey, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. Britain could admit any who reached the British Isles. The United States could house refugees in some place such as the Virgin Islands for the duration of the war. The American Jewish Congress, in cooperation with non-Jewish organizations, organized a March 1 rally in Madison Square Garden and attracted an overflow crowd, which heard speaker after speaker plead for support to “stop Hitler now.” A wide range of Jewish organizations – Zionist and non-Zionist – then formed a Joint Emergency Committee on European Jewish Affairs to strengthen their reach toward such goals. But the Joint Distribution Committee and the United Palestine Appeal sent representatives only as observers in order to avoid participating in any political goals – a sign of skittishness. Some of the mainstream organizations hoped to “educate” Allied governments; others did not mind challenging them. Even where there was agreement on goals, there were differences on means and traditional organizational rivalries. (15)
Because of its confrontational style and its advertising and fundraising techniques, the independent Bergson group aroused strong feelings – positive and negative. After reading of the evidence of the Final Solution, Bergson dropped his demand for a Jewish army in Palestine and recast his organization into the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People in Europe, which gained some non-Jewish backing. Bergson’s organization planned its own rally for Madison Square Garden, an event cast as a memorial service or pageant called “We Will Never Die.” With his knack for securing celebrity assistance, Bergson persuaded playwright Ben Hecht to write the script and composer Kurt Weill to arrange the score. The pageant filled the Garden twice in a single day and then began a tour of other cities, including Washington, D.C, where Eleanor Roosevelt, and some members of the Supreme Court and Congress attended. (16)
In spite of growing awareness of the Final Solution both the American and the British governments remained focused on winning the war.
Bergson’s committee also advertised in newspapers that the Romanian government would release Jews in return for a payment of $50 per person. Zionist leaders such as Rabbi Wise denounced as misleading and unethical appeals for donations to pay for the release of 70,000 Jews deported to Romanian-occupied Transnistria. In fact, Bergson exaggerated. Romanian intermediaries wanted more money, the Romanian government did not guarantee release of the Jews, and Germany firmly opposed Romanian plans to allow some Jewish emigration. The scheme also required the United States to repudiate its economic restrictions against financial transactions with an enemy nation and to overcome its resistance to paying ransom. Few American citizens wanted to risk violating American economic restrictions against sending funds into Axis countries when they hoped to persuade or induce the government to do more to encourage rescue or supply relief. (17)
Both the State Department and the Foreign Office tended to see problems with humanitarian proposals or even neutral government suggestions, rather than opportunities to save lives.
In spite of growing awareness of the Final Solution both the American and the British governments remained focused on winning the war. Both the State Department and the Foreign Office tended to see problems with humanitarian proposals or even neutral government suggestions, rather than opportunities to save lives, which explains why only tiny proposals emerged from the April 1943 Bermuda Conference on Refugees. In a May 1943 speech in Boston Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle, by no means the least humanitarian State Department official, declared that Germany had organized a program of national murder and coerced its allies to take part, a campaign that was unique in modern Western history. But “nothing can be done to save these helpless unfortunates except through the invasion of Europe, the defeat of the German arms, and the breaking of German power. There is no other way.” (18)
But there were some plausible prospects for saving lives. In April 1943 Sweden offered to try to persuade Germany to release Jews without ransom payments. The Swedish cabinet approved a proposal to take in 20,000 Jewish children if the Allies paid to maintain them and guaranteed their removal at war’s end. (Some Jews had already escaped Denmark and arrived in Sweden, which had allowed them to stay.) Sweden thought these proposals might impress officials in London and Washington, but neither government offered the required guarantees. (19)
When the Allies considered rescue, however, they considered Jews as part of a general problem of civilian suffering, for which the only real solution was military victory.
By the second half of 1943 more information about Nazi extermination camps began to filter into the general press, with some effect on media opinion-makers. Although the New York Times lagged in its coverage of the subject, other voices appeared loud and clear. Syndicated columnist Samuel Grafton, associate editor of the New York Post, wrote a scathing critique of contradictions in the Allied response to the Nazi slaughter of Jews. When the Nazis gassed Jews in “execution caravans” in Poland, the world considered them a special problem, and Allied warnings to the Nazis against poison gas warfare did not apply. When the Allies considered rescue, however, they considered Jews as part of a general problem of civilian suffering, for which the only real solution was military victory. The first step toward breaking this mindset was to put an independent agency in charge of determining feasible forms of rescue, Grafton wrote. (20)
Oscar Cox, a well-connected government official (then in the Foreign Economic Administration), had recently begun to push a draft proposal to establish an independent American board, headed by high officials, to deal with all aspects of the war refugee problem not the direct responsibility of the State Department. Cox’s move implied that the State Department was mishandling relief and rescue of Holocaust victims, something that he said more or less explicitly later. It appears that Cox also had direct access to the President or to someone who knew FDR’s views. It helped politically that Cox was a Catholic who had ties with both mainstream Jewish leaders and with Bergson’s group. (21)
One specific point of disagreement among Jewish organizations, however, was over Palestine.
One specific point of disagreement among Jewish organizations, however, was over Palestine. Many of the mainstream Jewish organizations had committed themselves to Jewish homeland in Palestine; therefore, they wanted Palestine available for refugees who could escape from Europe. That would undercut the argument that there was no place for substantial numbers of European Jews to go, and it would advance their ultimate cause. When another effort at Jewish unity called the American Jewish Conference endorsed the establishment of a Jewish “commonwealth” in Palestine, two important non-Zionist organizations – the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Labor Committee – pulled out. (22)
Wise relied on a direct meeting with FDR and lobbying with high Jewish officials such as Treasury Secretary Morgenthau and White House ad- viser and speechwriter Samuel Rosenman. Wise had to wage two separate – if related – battles. The first was to get government approval of World Jewish Congress plans to arrange for food and medicine to reach Jews in such countries as Romania and France without sending in funds violating Allied economic restrictions. The second was to ward off American endorsement of British policies in Palestine and even an Anglo-American statement that Zionist agitation had dangerous military repercussions. He had some success in both areas – calling the president’s attention to the possibilities of relief and as well to the dangers of the proposed Anglo-American statement on Palestine–only to find that the State Department and the British threw up further roadblocks to relief measures. (23)
He put his efforts elsewhere into mobilizing support in Congress for rescue. Even a determined minority there could block action on anything controversial.
Bergson, the one-time agitator for a Jewish army in Palestine, concluded that relatively few Jews could reach Palestine and debate about Palestine might get in the way of rescue in Europe. He put his efforts elsewhere into mobilizing support in Congress for rescue. Even a determined minority there could block action on anything controversial. But Bergson at least made inroads in Congress with the introduction of a proposed (non-binding) resolution, sponsored by Senator Guy Gillette of Iowa and Representative Will Rogers, Jr. of California, urging the president to establish a rescue commission. (24)
Defying fears about stoking anti-Semitism, about 450 Orthodox rabbis marched to the Capitol and the White House delivering a petition calling for quick rescue action, the establishment of a rescue agency, and the opening of Palestine to Jewish immigration.
Bergson found a way to up public pressure in October, striking an unusual alliance with the Orthodox Jewish rescue organization Vaad ha-Hatzala. Defying fears about stoking anti-Semitism, about 450 Orthodox rabbis marched to the Capitol and the White House delivering a petition calling for quick rescue action, the establishment of a rescue agency, and the opening of Palestine to Jewish immigration. Declining to meet with them, the President found a military event to attend. Bergson’s allies also stepped up activities in Congress, forcing the State Department to counter with late November testimony by Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long. In a confidential session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Long read prepared testimony that inflated the numbers of refugees admitted to the U.S. since 1933 by at least 250%. When, on December 10, the committee decided to release Long’s remarks in order to dampen criticism of the State Department, Long instead suffered a public relations disaster when his error became known. (25)
It was too late: Morgenthau now backed the establishment of a refugee agency.
By that time, Morgenthau and his mostly non-Jewish subordinates had discovered worse problems. The American ambassador to Britain related that the British Foreign Office opposed World Jewish Congress proposals because of “the difficulties of disposing of any considerable number of Jews should they be rescued from enemy-occupied territory…” The Treasury group also uncovered evidence that State Department officials had tried to stifle the flow of information about the Holocaust from Switzerland. In a showdown meeting with Secretary of State Hull and Long, Morgenthau as much as accused Long of being anti-Semitic. Hull found it necessary to break the common front with the British, but it was too late: Morgenthau now backed the establishment of a refugee agency.
Treasury official Josiah DuBois, Jr. spent much of Christmas drafting a report “on the acquiescence of this government in the murder of the Jews.” He warned that Long had deliberately created a bottleneck for issuing visas to the United States. He related how other State Department officials had tried to suppress information from Switzerland about Nazi killings of Jews – and then sought to cover up what they had done. He warned that without drastic changes in American policies, the U.S. would have to share responsibility for Nazi extermination. Privately, DuBois warned Morgenthau that if the President did nothing, he would resign and take his case to the press.
Only Morgenthau had sufficient weight to persuade FDR to break cleanly with British policies toward the Jewish question in Europe. At a meeting in the White House on January 16, Morgenthau, Randolph Paul, and John Pehle summarized the report DuBois had written: Morgenthau had toned down its title to Personal Report to the President. When Roosevelt admitted that Long had soured on refugees as security risks, Morgenthau reminded the President that according to Attorney General Francis Biddle, only three Jews admitted to the U.S. during the war presented any security issues. If FDR did not act, Congress might. The President needed little persuading, quickly approving the concept of a War Refugee Board, along with an executive order that Cox had drafted establishing it. (26)
Although a comprehensive history of the War Refugee Board remains to be written, several works have devoted chapters to the Board’s efforts to save lives of civilian victims of the Nazis during the last seventeen months of the war. One of David S. Wyman’s chapters is entitled “Little and Late,” a judgment supported in part by his next chapter detailing the Board’s unsuccessful efforts to persuade the War Department to order the bombing of gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz. Wyman believed that such a bombing might have forced the Nazis to reconsider their policies of mass murder. (27) Although the specialists still debate the merits and feasibility of bombing Auschwitz, few would agree that such bombing would have forced Hitler to change course. (28)
Calculations of how many people the War Refugee Board helped to save vary widely.
More than 75,000 others there survived, simply because late 1944 killings by Nazi squads and Arrow Cross thugs were less efficient than the deportations.
Calculations of how many people the War Refugee Board helped to save vary widely. American warnings, orchestrated by War Refugee Board officials, to the Hungarian government not to allow deportation of Hungarian Jews, were among the reasons the Horthy regime decided, in early July 1944, to suspend deportations, giving the Jews of Budapest a three-month respite. During that time, Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz, and others were able to distribute protective papers and otherwise shelter tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest. More than 75,000 others there survived, simply because late 1944 killings by Nazi squads and Arrow Cross thugs were less efficient than the deportations. If those 75,000 are counted, altogether, the War Refugee Board may have helped as many as 200,000 people survive. (29)
Sweden gave Wallenberg a diplomatic appointment and sent him to Budapest with conservative instructions. The War Refugee Board encouraged him to go and to pursue humanitarian goals aggressively. It also gave him resources with which to operate and followed his reports carefully. In his last communication to Wallenberg, sent via the American Legation in Stockholm on December 8, 1944, War Refugee Board Director John Pehle struck a balance of successes and failure:
We have followed with keen interest the reports of the steps you have taken… and the personal devotion which you have given to saving and protecting the innocent victims of Nazi persecution…. I think that no one who has participated in this great task can escape some feeling of frustration [that] our efforts have not met with complete success…. [Yet] it is our conviction that you have made a very great personal contribution to the success which has been realized in these endeavors. (30)
Arrested by the Soviets, Wallenberg undoubtedly never got this message.
Most perpetrator regimes and organizations have taken time to prepare for genocide. There were obvious advance warning signs of the Holocaust, such as Kristallnacht. Some people in the West saw disaster looming in Central Europe. But because the scale of Nazi killing was not yet large and there were many other forms of persecution elsewhere, relatively few people committed themselves to extracting and resettling potential Nazi victims. Getting any kind of political consensus for American governmental action was extremely difficult. Individual initiatives – inside and outside of government – mattered. It was easier to save Jews before World War II and during the early part of the war than after the Holocaust began – however one dates the start of it.
Information about the Holocaust quickly began to leak out, but the scale and magnitude of the military conflict dwarfed humanitarian concerns for most Americans. To promote humanitarian intervention in the midst of an all-out war with the survival of Western civilization at stake was an uphill battle for Jewish organizations and individuals. The time spent fighting each other could not have helped their causes.
It was also much easier for the Nazis and their allies to kill than it was for outsiders far away to save. Despite these obstacles, the United States established a War Refugee Board that managed to help save perhaps as many as 200,000 people. There was no substitute for a dedicated agency – whether public or private–intensely committed to a humanitarian effort. Despite the delay in response to news of the Holocaust, from a humanitarian perspective, what happened late in World War II was more impressive than what the United States did in late twentieth century cases of genocide, where knowl- edge of crimes was clearer and military options abounded.
• • •
Breitman, Richard. “Washington: Focused on winning the war.” In Civil Society and the Holocaust: International Perspectives on Resistance and Rescue, edited by Anders Jerichow and Cecilie Felicia Stokholm Banke, 96-108. New York: Humanity in Action Press, 2013.
- Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman,FDR and the Jews (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2013), 98-141.
- Francis MacDonnell,Insidious Foes: 1he Axis Fifth Column and the American Home Front (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 167-170.
- David S. Wyman,Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941 (New York: Pantheon, 1985). Richard Breitman, “Blocked by National Security Fears,” http://www.yivoin- stitute.org/index.php?tid=154&aid=402.
- “Flyer Names War Groups,”Los Angeles Times, 12 September 1941, p. 3.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 194.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 195-196.
- Michaela Hoenicke Moore,Know Your Enemy: The American Debate on Nazism, 1933-1945 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 152-153. Jeffrey Herf, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2008). Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933-1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 171-172. Michael P. Rogin and Kathleen Moran, “Mr. Capra Goes to Washington,” Representations (fall 2003): 241.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 243-244.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 196.
- “Nazi Punishment Seen by Roosevelt,”New York Times, 22 July 1942, p. 1.
- Walter Laqueur,The Terrible Secret: Suppression of the Truth About Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’” (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 1998). Walter Laqueur and Richard Breitman, Breaking the Silence (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1994), esp. 143-163. Breitman and Lichtman, FDR and the Jews, 199-205.
- Richard Breitman,Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned; What the British and Americans Knew(New York: Hill and Wang, 1998), 144-154.
- “Senate, House Join Palestine Plea,”New York Times, 5 December 1942, p. 9.
- Rabbi Stephen S. Wise to Rabbi Morton Berman, 15 February 1943, Stephen S. Wise Papers, reel 74-66, American Jewish Historical Society, New York, New York. “Save Doomed Jews, Huge Rally Pleads,”New York Times, 2 March 1943, p. 1. Participating members of the Joint Emergency Committee were the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith, the Jewish Labor Committee, the Synagogue Council of America, Agudath Israel, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, and the American Emergency Committee for Zionist Affairs.
- See the interviews with Bergson in “Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust,” 2012 film directed by Pierre Sauvage. Favorable works on Bergson’s organizations include David S. Wyman and Rafael Medoff,A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust (New York: New Press, 2002); Judith Tydor Baumel, The “Bergson Boys” and the Origins of Contemporary Zionist Militancy (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), espec. 116-119.
- David S. Wyman,The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 82-87. Wise to John Haynes Holmes, 22 March 1943, Wise Papers, reel 74-40, American Jewish Historical Society. Breitman and Kraut, American Refugee Policy, 185.
- Breitman,Official Secrets, 186-87.
- Breitman,Official Secrets, 183-185.
- On the problems and coverage at theNew York Times, see Laurel Leff, Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). On Grafton, Breitman and Lichtman, FDR and the Jews, 231.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 226, 228, 233-234.
- Wyman,Abandonment of the Jews, 161-169. Henry L. Feingold, Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995), 220.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 227, 252-254.
- Wyman,Abandonment of the Jews, 193-202.
- For the latest version of now well-known events, Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 229-232.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 234-235.
- Wyman,Abandonment of the Jews, 255-307, 335: judgment on the bombing’s effect on the Nazis on 304.
- The best collection of views regarding the bombing proposals and possibilities isThe Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It?, eds. Michael J. Neufeld and Michael Berenbaum (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000). But many articles have appeared in journals since then.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 290-294.
- Breitman and Lichtman,FDR and the Jews, 288-291. Paul Levine, Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest: Myth, History, and Holocaust (London: Valentine Mitchell, 2010), 318.