Apologies for FDR’s inaction don’t hold water
Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust
Sidebar Exceerpt: Savior of mankind
Judging by the title of this book alone, Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust, you know the author, Robert N. Rosen, has an agenda. The appropriate title should have been Not Saving the Jews because fewer than 10 per cent of the Jews who were in Europe during the Nazi occupation survived.
It is true that during the course of the war Roosevelt could not have saved many Jews. D-Day, the amphibious Allied assault on Europe, did not take place until June 6, 1944, nearly five years after the Nazi invasion of Poland; by then, the bulk of the Six Million had already perished. But the author gives too many excuses for Roosevelt’s not having done more to save what Jews he might have.
Roosevelt was the most powerful president since Abraham Lincoln. Under his tenure, the domestic role of government was revolutionized. The president conducted World War II ruthlessly. Tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were incarcerated in California, and the Allied air campaign bombed civilian populations with impunity during the latter stages of the war. Yet the author would have us believe that despite his desire to help the Jews, this commander-in-chief could not overcome the many domestic obstacles that impeded more aggressive action.
The excuses offered are ample: anti-immigration fever fueled by opposition to a mass influx of outsiders by the labor unions, the need to keep southern conservative political support, and a hostile Congress. Much of this is true. But how do we explain Roosevelt’s enduring support for Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long, who controlled immigration to this country? Long was a notorious anti-Semite who used every bureaucratic trick to prevent hundreds of thousands of Jews from entering the United States under the quotas that then existed. Why did Roosevelt tolerate Joseph Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, who was a tad too friendly with the Nazis? Why did the president establish the War Refugee Board the only genuine action designed to saving Jews during the war only after he was threatened with a document titled “Report to the Secretary of the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews”?
Roosevelt was philo-Semitic. He had Jews as friends, in his cabinet, and as advisers. But he had other issues on his agenda. Saving Jews was simply not a high priority.
The author asserts as a major argument that by using U.S. armed forces against the Axis powers, Roosevelt did in fact save many Jews who would have been killed had the Nazis prevailed. Using this argument, we should proclaim Stalin the great savior of European Jewry because his armies liberated more concentration camps than the Western Allies and killed 75 percent of the Wehrmacht.
The author displays inconsistencies and biases in his treatment of the Irgun Tzva’i Leumi, the National Military Organization, a clandestine militant Zionist group that operated in Palestine from 1931 to 1948. For example, he savagely castigates the Irgunists and Peter Bergson the Irgun representative assigned to mobilize support for the organization in the United States and for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine accusing them of only staging political theater with very little impact on efforts to save the Jews. Elsewhere Rosen states that Roosevelt and the Congress needed to act to overcome the public relations “hype” generated by Bergson.
The author also neglects to inform the reader that the Irgun’s Menachem Begin and his comrades gave prior notice to the British military about the impending bomb blast at the King David Hotel, where they were headquartered.
In addition, he treats Orthodox Jews condescendingly and exaggerates the assimilation of American Jews during the 1940s.
The book is well written and draws a broad canvas of the war years. Rosen also sheds light on the difficult dilemma the Americans faced in considering whether to bomb Auschwitz. The World Jewish Congress, for example, opposed bombing the camp because of the many thousands of Jews who would be killed during the attack and the resultant terrible publicity. There was also the Air Force’s well documented concern about diverting air power from more “strategic targets.”
Roosevelt was the most interventionist president in the 20th century, both domestically and in foreign affairs. But the author relentlessly portrays him as a Daniel in a den of lions, who had to watch every step lest he foment political conflict or upset the political coalitions he needed to further his “greater ends.” True, there were many legitimate hurdles that confronted Roosevelt as he considered what might be done to stop or curtail the torture and slaughter of European Jewry. But Rosen’s portrayal of an anemic, helpless government leader caught in a maze of forces larger than he could control rings false. The great historian James MacGregor Burns characterized Roosevelt as “a lion and a fox.” In Rosen’s account, FDR is reduced to “a mouse who could not roar.”
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