It is a pity that so many American Jews, Warren Katz among them (Letters, June 17), still maintain the myth of President Roosevelt “being good for the Jews.” In fact, he was indifferent at best, and obstructionist in all probability, to the plight of the Jews about to be massacred by Adolf Hitler and his allies. While Rafael Medoff’s June 24 reply is absolutely correct, I thought it might be worthwhile to reinforce it with a graphic example, that of my own family.
In August of 1933, my father was informed by one of his employees, a Nazi but still loyal to my dad, that he was to be picked up and jailed the next day. My father, mother, younger sister and I left Nuremberg that night in a rented taxi. After stays in Italy and Switzerland, we found haven in France. My father realized, however, that no Jew would remain safe on European soil, and he applied for a visa for the United States. For nearly five years, he went to the consulate in Lyon almost monthly to plead for that visa. Certainly we were eligible under the generous German quota, but the authorities found many ways to stymie that. After Dad had collected all the necessary sponsorships and provided more than adequate financial details, my mother was asked to produce a certificate of good conduct from her native city. The police in Nuremberg were never going to provide that, and the American consulate knew that full well. It was only when a new consul arrived in Lyon, a humanitarian who was willing to buck the official instructions because he realized a family’s lives were at stake, that we got that prized visa.
My husband’s family members were not so fortunate when they were caught in another wrinkle provided by the U.S. Department of State. They also sought visas, from the consulate in Munich, which was willing to grant them to Lee and his father. However, although my mother-in-law had lived in Munich since she was an infant and was a German citizen, the consulate insisted on classifying her as Czech. Czechoslovakia’s quota was much smaller, and the waiting list was many years long. The family was not going to depart Germany and leave my mother-in-law at the mercy of the Nazis. Their choice to remain together eventually cost the life of my father-in-law, who was killed on a cattle train on the way to a Polish concentration camp.
One small family’s story! Multiply that by the 200,000 who could have come to the United States legally, under the 1920 quota, but were prevented to do so by the Roosevelt administration. And then think of how many lives could have been saved if President Roosevelt had opened the gates to refugees with a special decree, as President Eisenhower did less than two decades later.