In “FDR and the Jews,” Breitman & Lichtman’s questionable conclusion is that FDR did more than any other world leader to save the Jews of Europe. Jonathan Lazarus offered a balanced review of the book (May 23).
FDR was revered by Jews during his lifetime and generally treated with kid gloves by most historians of the 20th century.
It’s not that FDR did nothing to save Jews, it’s that he did not do enough.
FDR was told about the genocidal plans of Hitler and his henchmen, so it was not for lack of knowledge. But tragically FDR failed to comprehend that he was dealing with the greatest crime in the history of mankind, and he failed to exert the moral leadership and take the necessary actions to save Jewish lives.
Britain had its Kindertransport, which saved 10,000 children. Sen. Wagner proposed a similar plan to bring 20,000 children to America but without FDR’s imprimatur, it never happened.
FDR and the U.S. Coast Guard knew about the St Louis as its heroic captain cruised Florida’s coast, desperately looking for a port of entry. With America’s doors shut tight, it was forced to return to Europe. Ultimately 254 passengers died.
In an unusual show of unity, 400 Orthodox rabbis peacefully marched on the White House in 1943 to plead for American help for the Jews of Europe. Roosevelt discreetly left through the back door, without meeting the delegation. (Vice President Wallace did meet them but was powerless.)
Breckinridge Long was an immigration obstructionist who amassed great power in the State Department. Immigration quotas were consistently underfilled while thousands clamored for entry. But Long was an old Roosevelt crony and political appointee who could and should have been axed.
There are many more examples I can cite. I urge every reader to do your own reading and careful study of documents that are available at FDR archives at Hyde Park, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, David Wyman Institute, and elsewhere, and come to your own conclusions.
FDR’s inaction and indifference on behalf of the Jews of Europe does not minimize the legislative accomplishments of the New Deal and FDR’s role as wartime commander in chief, but it does greatly tarnish Roosevelt’s reputation and brings to question his historical legacy.