FDR and His Family and Friends:
Franklin Roosevelt grew up in a home with people who were products of the mid-19th century, but neither his father James, who was born in 1828, nor his mother Sara who was born in 1854, (1854-1941) exhibited any overt racial or religious prejudice. The senior Mr. James Roosevelt (1828-1900) dealt with Jews through his business interests and Jews were welcomed in his home. In 1933 Sara Roosevelt asked her friend New York Judge Benjamin Greenspan (famous for ruling in favor of the publication of the book G-d’s Little Acre) if she could attend an Orthodox Jewish service with his four children. She went and was “so thrilled and talked and talked about it, and the sincere piety shown by his children.” (Sara and Eleanor, page 288.) When some of her old acquaintances criticized her “for the type of people” she knew, her answer was “Oh, dear, I suppose I should change my ways and learn to be a snob.” (Sara and Eleanor, page 304.)
“In April of 1938 Sara humbly accepted the Einstein Medal for Humanitarianism, given by the Jewish Forum in honor of her broad sympathy and activities in alleviating the conditions of all people throughout the world who suffer from poverty, oppression and hatred” (Sara and Eleanor page 309.) Later in October of 1938, Sara Roosevelt became active in the effort to save German Jews and was in direct contract with the Women of the League for the Honor of Israel, regarding getting more orphaned Jews into the United States.
In 1940 for the second year in a row, Sara attended the large mother-daughter Hadassah tea for the purpose of aiding Palestine projects, including the resettlement off Jews escaping from Germany and Poland. Hadassah planted 700 trees in the Sara Delano Roosevelt Grove with monies from the previous event. Hadassah was able to resettle over 250,000 Jews and created orphanages to care for 9000 children. Among the many people attending the tea were her biographer and confidant Rita Kleeman, a Jewish woman, several members of the Warburg family and the mother of George Gershwin. She gave money to many organizations including the National Jewish Hospital. She was guest of honor at a dinner in 1940 of Youth Aliyah, which supported the transport of Jewish children to Palestine, and then at age 85 she traveled to Ontario to address the Toronto Hadassah meeting. (Sara and Eleanor, Jan Pottker) Right up until her death in 1941 she was concerned about the problems of refugee Jews in Europe.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s activities had a great influence on FDR. Though the Roosevelt’s did not usually socialize with people outside of their class, they started to understand at first hand the inequities of society. Interestingly when one reads their early letters, it is Eleanor who expresses her disdain regarding the materialism of many of the nouveau riches Jews of the period. Throughout her life she would shy away from the symbols and trappings of the upper classes. In a sense, she had inherited from her Uncle, and not from her drunken loutish father, the sense of the “rugged life.” In her early letters she specifically did not like Bernard Baruch and Felix Frankfurter, who were early associates of her husband.
FDR was never quoted in any way, shape or form in a prejudicial manner. Did he have prejudices, of course! But in all of his writings (which we know were always carefully written with careful considerations) FDR never lowered himself to the level that others of his time often did. FDR had few if any friends his whole lifetime. He wasn’t bred to have friends, and for sure, after his affliction with polio, the few he had from his earlier days were either gone, dead or forgotten.
But amongst the few he may have had, he always called Henry Morgenthau his friend. Of course, in truth, Morgenthau knew FDR quite well, and knew that he depended on no one for friendship. People were associated with FDR, no one controlled his views, and he was highly influenced by Theodore Roosevelt, Al Smith and Woodrow Wilson in that order. Later on, he became very dependent on many inside advisors, of which many, were Jews and many, had an excellent working relationship with him. But in fact, his inside circle was small; Louis Howe, (Livingston “Livy” Davis, before his Presidency), Missy LeHand, and Harry Hopkins. They were his only (Livingston Davis a friend from Harvard) four intimates and the four never talked or wrote about anything regarding FDR before their deaths. So stating for the record, FDR was not a prejudicial man! In fact, in 1944, FDR went on the record with his calling for Palestine to be the location of a Jewish Homeland.
In those early days there is no evidence of FDR’s antipathy towards Jews or any other group. True, at Harvard as an undergraduate, there is no evidence that he came in contact with any Jews. He was active in campus politics and spent an extra year there to edit the Harvard Crimson. Later, after graduation, he attended Columbia Law School and had a number of Jews in his class. One Jewish fellow student commented that he did not like Roosevelt, but there seems to be scant evidence that they had much contact, since FDR missed a great many classes in the two years he was there.
FDR and Zionism:
FDR steadfastly supported Zionism throughout most of his career. In those tumultuous eight years that culminated with our entry in to World War I, FDR became active in both national and international politics. After the war, he attended the Versailles Peace Conference in Paris and became familiar with the problem of Palestine, the ensuing Mandate, and the cause of Zionism. Here he met Benjamin V. Cohen who was the counsel for the American Zionist movement (1919-21). Later, Cohen would come to Washington D.C. and work for FDR and the New Deal. Cohen and his famous partner, the lawyer Thomas Corcoran would author all of the early Securities Laws that were the cornerstone of the famous “First 100 Days” of legislation.
Roosevelt became a supporter of the Zionist Movement from that period through the rest of his life. Cohen would be an unofficial advisor to FDR on the issue of Zionism throughout their relationship in Washington.
American Zionists led by Stephen Wise, Abba Hillel Silver, (1893-1963 US Rabbi, Zionist Leader, chief spokesman in front of the UN on the Palestine Hearings, 1947) Julian W. Mack (1866-1943, American jurist and Zionist leader) and behind the scenes Louis D. Brandeis, (1856-1941, Supreme Court Justice 1916-1939, Zionist advocate) for the most part considered FDR a friend to their cause. During World War II meetings with the British (The Bermuda Refugee Conference of 1943) they insisted that Palestine not be even on the agenda. In the last few months of his life, and after the Yalta Conference in the Crimea, he met with King Ibn Sa’ud, who impressed on him the Arab hostility towards Zionism. In his report to Congress on March 1, 1945; Roosevelt declared that he had learned “more about the ‘Moslem problem,’ with a Jewish state, by talking with Ibn Sa’ud for five minutes” than he had ever known before. (Franklin D. Roosevelt his Life and Times, edited by Otis Graham Jr. and Meghan Robinson Wander, GK Hall & Co., 1985.) Basically, what he was saying, that for the first time he really learned the abject hostility of the Arabs towards Jews. Most histories ignore Sa’ud’s real words about Jews!
Of course, in the last few months of his life, FDR did assure both the Zionists in America of his continued support and the British and the Arabs that he would not unilaterally force a Zionist state on them without their consent. This dualism is not easily answered. In a sense FDR was continuing his balancing act with his British Allies. He understood their deep reliance on both India and their long relationship with the Arabs. Certainly he wanted not to threaten their unity with extraneous issues not related to winning the war in both Europe and Japan. He was unaware that the Atomic Bomb would be successfully tested in the coming months, and therefore he looked forward to a long bitter and bloody struggle to subdue and conquer Japan. Roosevelt was also exhausted by his 12,000+ mile trip back and forth to Yalta. FDR, by that time he had been quite sick for almost a year, and the stress regarding his campaign for re-election in 1944, along with the pressures of the war, were taking a great toll on him. In a sense, he was trying to focus on the continued effort leading to victory and he would let nothing else interfere with that goal.
FDR, Jewish Appointments and his Relationships with Jews:
Turning first to his economic advisors called the Brain Trust, FDR closed the Banks, restructured their debt, and started on what is called today the “100 Days.” As part of this activity he called upon Felix Frankfurter, of the Harvard Law School to start sending young lawyers down to Washington to staff the emerging New Deal. Roosevelt used many of the young Jewish lawyers, labor leaders and intellectuals to turn our society around. People like Herbert Wechsler, David Reisman, Robert Stern, Paul Freund, Milton Katz, Milton Freeman, Charles Kaufman, Arthur Goldschmidt, Wilbur Cohen, Edward Bernstein, Abe Fortas, Dorothy Rosenmen, Jerome Frank, David Lilienthal, Isador Lubin, Nathan Margold, Lee Pressman and Paul Herzog among many others became famous as Felix’s hotdogs.
FDR also leaned on his strong relationship with Jews throughout his whole political life: Bernard Baruch, Henry Morgenthau, his Secretary of Treasury, David Niles, Anna Rosenberg, Herbert Lehman, Governor of New York, later US Senator, and the aforementioned Frankfurter, Ben Cohen, and Judge Rosenman. With regard to his associations with Jews, they were novel and advanced for the period. Again, he had an “open” friendship with Henry Morgenthau who served in his cabinet for 12 years. Eleanor Roosevelt was also quite close to Elinor Morgenthau, the Secretary of Treasury’s wife.
Henry Morgenthau Jr., suffered, in the cabinet from being a Jew and a confidant of FDR. Many of his contemporaries felt they could not deal with him and FDR on an even footing. FDR appointed many, many Jews to high office, and had a comfortable, but distant relationship with most of his contemporaries. FDR was a secretive man, who always said, “I never let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” He had a small circle of intimates who loyally worked for him. Almost all were paragons of discretion. He trusted Jews and one of his most famous statements came when he was asked about whether Truman would be acceptable as a vice-presidential running mate. He said “Clear it with Sidney!” (Sidney “Simcha” Hillman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a labor advisor to FDR, and director of the CIO-Pac.)
Jews made up 3% of the population in the 1930’s but the New Deal, called the “Jew Deal” by anti-Semites, who often referred to FDR as that Jew “Rosenfelt,” but made up 15% of his administration. (FDR was elected with approximately 70% of the Jewish vote in 1932, and by 1944 he received over 93% of that vote.) FDR appointed, cumulatively, more Jews to office than all the previous 31 administrations and all that followed until the Clinton Administration!
FDR’s willingness to work closely with Jews and even had them routinely staying with him at the White House or Hyde Park seemed to puzzle his most admiring neighbors. One of them did his earnest best to explain this phenomenon to his son- “It just goes to show you how smart FDR is to have all those smart Jews working for him!”
With regard to foreign policy, as it related to Jews, Roosevelt quite often leaned upon his personal relationship with Rabbi Stephen Wise. Wise brought up the subject of Jewish immigration with FDR as early as 1933 and the unfilled immigration quotas. But immigration was an extremely sensitive issue in the United States during the Depression Years. As Hitler consolidated his power in Germany more and more anti-Semitic legislation was drafted and passed in Germany. This intense climate of persecution started to cause Jewish emigration out of Germany. By the start of World War II almost 80% of all German Jews had left.
The Divided Jewish Community and the Goldberg Report:
In America there was great opposition to any type of immigration during the Depression, because of welfare, unemployment, and the opposition of the labor unions. There also has been an ongoing controversy over how much the American Jewish community did for European Jewry before the war. In 1984, a commission, Chaired by former UN Ambassador and Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, (1908-1990, Secretary of Labor 1961, Supreme Court Justice 1962-65, UN Ambassador 1965-8) came to the stark conclusion that American Jewish groups did not do enough. Though there was controversy over the harshness of the report, the final report, approved by the commission and written by Professor Seymour Finger (1915-1990, Head of International Studies at CCNY 1972-81, former diplomat, Senior Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute, author of American Jewry in the Holocaust, 1984) of the Graduate School of the City University, concluded that the failure of Jewish organizations was a result of disunity, under-financing, and lack of political influence. Moreover their leaders were afraid of stirring up anti-Semitism in the United States and impeding the Allied war effort. Ambassador Goldberg said, “That the failure to act forcefully hurt most in the years between Hitler’s ascent to power and America’s entry into WWII.” Again this was a consequence that resulted from a “divided” Jewish community. Some were like all Americans; they did not want more hungry-mouthed immigrants. Others, feeling the sting of American anti-Semitism, feared an escalation of hatred coming from xenophobic anti-Semitic nativist groups. There were also some, but very few, who were prejudiced against Eastern European Jews.
The Bombing of Auschwitz:
According to Martin Gilbert, (1936- ) the renowned British historian, and greatest living expert on the Holocaust, even though the Allies knew that Jews were being killed and that there were “death camps’ that were facilitating that effort, the location of the main terminus at Auschwitz-Birkenau was never identified until mid-1944. After an incredible effort, staged by volunteers of the Jewish Agency to penetrate the transportation cattle cars, evidence reached the World Jewish Congress. With this evidence, the Jewish Congress was able to warn the Allies about the Nazi’s intentions to deport the 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. This was the last large remaining group of Jews to be deported. Warnings went out by President Roosevelt and with simultaneous and coincidental bombings of Budapest and many of their public buildings; the Hungarian Fascist government did attempt to slow down the deportation. But, later on, after a hiatus of a few months, and under pressure from the German authorities, and the overthrow of the Hungarian Regent Admiral Horthy (1868-1957, Regent of Hungary until 1944), deportations began with earnest.
With regard to the issue of possible Allied bombing of “death camps,” in retrospect, there is no evidence that either the bombing of Auschwitz would have ended the killing or even retarded it. Mainstream Jewish opinion was against the bombing of those facilities even after they were identified as “death camps’ rather than as “work camps.” Only President Roosevelt or General Eisenhower could have ordered the bombing and there is no record of any kind that indicates that either one was ever asked to issue such an order, even though Jewish leaders of all persuasion had clear access to them both. In a similar vein, the bombing raids on the IG Farben/Monowitz production plants succeeded in hitting only 2.2% of the targeted buildings. Martin Gilbert points out that the details and the secret nature of Auschwitz and even its name were not confirmed until the escape of two prisoners in April 1944, two years after the murderous process had begun. It would be folly to believe that FDR was besieged by Jewish leaders, led by Secretary Morgenthau, urging him to bomb Auschwitz. In fact, no mainstream Jewish leader or organization made that request. On August 9, 1944, the first such request came to John McCloy, (1895-1989) the Assistant Secretary of War (1941-5), regarding the bombing of Auschwitz, by Leon Kubowitzki, head of the Rescue Committee of the World Jewish Congress, in which he forwarded, without endorsement, a request from Mr. Ernest Frischer of the Czechoslovak State Council (in London exile.) Ironically Mr. Kubowitzki argued against the bombing of Auschwitz because “the first victims will be Jews.” With regard to whether John McCloy ever actually asked FDR about the bombing, there is no evidence of any meeting and no evidence in any of his extensive interviews or in his personal papers that the subject was brought up. But, in a book, “The Conquerors,” by Michael Beschloss, he asserts that John McCloy had told Henry Morgenthau III, that he had asked FDR about bombing the camps.
“By early June, when over one-third of the remaining Hungarian Jewish community had been deported to Auschwitz, Jacob Rosenheim, a leader of the world’s orthodox Jews, and others wrote Morgenthau, the War Department and Joseph Pehle of the War Refugee Board imploring them to bomb the railway lines from Hungary to the death camp at Auschwitz.” Joseph Pehle, who was a great advocate for the Jews, wrote McCloy expressing his doubts about the about bombing of Auschwitz. The War Refugee Board determined that the bombing of the tracks would do little to stop the killing, because they would be swiftly repaired. Later McCloy used about the same language and rationale to veto any further requests to bomb Auschwitz itself. (The Conquerors, by Michael Beschloss, page 64.)
For decades after World War II, McCloy insisted that he had never talked to the President on that subject. He told Washington Post reporter Morton Mintz in 1983 that he never talked with FDR about the subject. Even David Wyman, in his 1984 book, The “Abandonment of the Jews,” wrote that the bombing requests “almost certainly” did not reach Roosevelt. Later McCloy, in an interview in 1986, three years before his death, had an unpublished exchange with Henry Morgenthau III, who was researching his book, Mostly Morganthaus, claimed that he had spoken to FDR about the bombing of Auschwitz, Supposedly FDR “made it very clear” to him that the bombing would do no good, and “we would have been accused of destroying Auschwitz by bombing these innocent people.” Of course McCloy was telling this to Morgenthau’s son, decades after his father, Henry Jr. had referred to him as an “oppressor of the Jews.” Maybe McCloy’s true feelings were exposed when he also stated to Morganthau’s son, “I didn’t want to bomb Auschwitz…It seemed to be a bunch of fanatic Jews who deemed that if you didn’t bomb, it was an indication of lack of venom against Hitler…” (The Conquerors, Michael Beschloss, page 65-7.)
David Ben-Guriun, (1886-1973, Prime Minister of Israel 1949-63) the Chairman of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, and later the first Prime Minister of Israel, in June of 1944, responded to a proposal that the Allies be asked to bomb the extermination camps. At a meeting presided over by Ben-Gurion, the Jewish Agency voted eleven to one against the bombing proposal.
There is no doubt that according to intelligent reports, “It is clear from this analysis that nothing was known by those (Allied Combined Intelligence Unit who prepared a Top Secret report on the principal sites of German synthetic oil production. At Auschwitz-Monowitz. It was clear, ‘progress has been made with the construction’ of the Buna plant.”) of the purpose, or role of Birkenau and its sidings.” (Auschwitz and the Allies, by Martin Gilbert, Henry Holt, 1981, page 331.)
In other words there were many air reconnaissance photos taken over the area that included Auschwitz, and there were also numerous raids, late in 1944, directed at the various known industrial plants in the near vicinity, like the synthetic oil production plant at Monowitz. But unfortunately when Allied long-range bombers were able to make flights from our airbase in Foggia, Italy, with log-range fighter support, they were unaware of what was going on down below in the “death camps.” Could they then have bombed the marshalling yards at Birkenau? Yes, they could have, but by that time all activity had really ceased and the Germans by November 29, 1944 were dismantling the crematoria at Auschwitz, and making efforts to re-locate, or kill the balance of the Jews that remained. By the December 27th roll call, 18,751 Jews remained. In fact during some of those late December days when the crematoria was being dismantled, errant bombs dropped by Allied raiders did hit Auschwitz, killing some German guards.
Also, with regard to the bombing of railroad tracks, leading to any of the known “death camps,” no Axis trains were able to run during daylight, for fear of destruction from the air. Tracks were virtually impossible to hit from high-level strategic bombing. Even when individual tracks were hit and destroyed they were almost immediately repaired. Low-level medium bomber and fighters had a greater effect on rail lines but they did not have the range to hit rail targets in Poland. Most of the important railroad destruction came with massive continual strategic daylight bombing of marshaling yards near railroad stations. The effect on this type of bombing was worthwhile, but German work crews, numbering thousands, would spend the nights repairing these yards. Remember, as Martin Gilbert points out, “the details and even the name of Auschwitz were not confirmed until the escape of two prisoners in April, 1944.” The Nazis treated the Auschwitz, like every other extermination camp, as a top-secret project.
The Morgenthau Plan:
Franklin Roosevelt was a confirmed “German-hater.” He told the NY Times in August 1944, “If I had my way, I would keep Germany on a breadline for 25 years!” He wrote Cordell Hull, (1871-1955, US Secretary of State 1933-44) “Every person in Germany should realize that this time Germany is a defeated nation… and that the whole nation has been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decency of modern civilization.” It was FDR who advocated, against the wishes of Winston Churchill (1874-1965) the policy of “unconditional surrender” and a tough peace. He said that Germany should be dismembered and their leaders punished. Roosevelt never rejected the “Morgenthau Plan” that called for the economic destruction of post-war Germany, authored by Henry M. Morgenthau. Even when Secretary of War Stimson (1867-1950, US Secretary of War 1940-45) took a softer line and complained about its brutality to the President, he found FDR unwavering in its support, for the concept of a destroyed industrial state, surviving only on agriculture. Whether the plan was sensible or not, or whether the plan was even viable, Truman scrapped the plan and accused Morgenthau of Jewish vindictiveness. Both Truman and Stimson agreed that no Jews, especially Morgenthau, should be at any peace conference determining the fate of Germany
The Holocaust was the fault and creation of the Nazis, and with the prevailing anti-Semitic opinions of Europeans of that era, and their relatives in the United States, any ability to prevent it, short of world war, was impossible. Ironically, with all that Hitlerism stood for, a large majority of Jews escaped or were chased out of pre-WWII Germany. The thought that a war of extermination against the Jews would ensue once hostilities existed was beyond anyone’s thinking. In fact, until the Wansee Conference, January 20, 1942, there was no established plan regarding the “Final Solution.” Yes, the Nazis had murdered many Jews in Poland, the Baltic States and through their rampage into the Soviet Union, but it wasn’t until millions of Jews became under their control that their plans for Jewish annihilation was set. Therefore, again, who knew their plans in 1937, though the invasion of Poland and onward?
FDR allowed Secretary of Treasury Morgenthau to attend the Quebec Conference with Winston Churchill, and to promote his idea, the Morgenthau Plan, for the dismantling and dismemberment of Germany and turning it into a collection of agricultural states. Of course, whether that really would have happened is pure conjecture. FDR did listen to Morgenthau and his ideas on Germany. FDR literally forced a reluctant Churchill to sign off on the Morgenthau Plan.
FDR was the sole author and original advocate of the “Unconditional Surrender” edict, against Churchill’s wishes. When the news of the Quebec Conference was revealed to the world, Joseph Goebbels, (1897-1945) the Propaganda Minister of Nazi Germany, exploited the news from Quebec and the revelation of the Morgenthau Plan and Churchill’s endorsement. No matter how it was accomplished, Churchill initialed the Morgenthau Plan for post-war Germany. Goebbels claimed, “Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to the Jewish murder plan.” German radio announced that Roosevelt’s “bosom” friend Henry Morgenthau, the “spokesman of world Judaism” was singing the same song as the Jews in the Kremlin,”- dismember Germany, destroy its industry and “exterminate forty-three million Germans.” (The Conquerors, by Michael Beschloss, page 144.)
FDR and the Subject of the Murdering of Jews:
With regards to the claim that FDR did not identify Jews specifically in the repeated Allied war warnings that the Nazis, collectively and individually, would be held accountable for their barbaric crimes, that is not true. There was a time earlier in the war when it was thought best not to identify the Jews specifically in the reporting of Nazi crimes. Interestingly, it was Churchill who started this practice of not drawing attention to the Jews, for fear it would be seen as special pleading and would fuel Nazi propaganda.
“In 1942 FDR made it clear through governmental statements and messages to the mass rallies organized in those years that Nazis would be held collectively and individually accountable for their crimes against the Jews.” Even with this strong statement, Rabbi Stephen Wise, head of the American Jewish Congress, prevailed upon Felix Frankfurter to visit with FDR in September of 1942 and to remonstrate with the President. According to Frankfurter the President had assured him that most of the deportations of Jews was for forced labor. The decision to exterminate every Jew in Europe, and millions of others was only taken at Wannsee in January 1942, when almost all doors had been closed… (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Champion of Freedom, Conrad Black, page 815). (I have no idea over the veracity of this account. FDR certainly knew this was not true as indicated by his June 1942 statement, and by the various news reports. Also Frankfurter knew it was not true that there were mostly deportations for the purpose of forced labor.)
In 1944, FDR, in his statement to the people of the United States and of Europe, on March 24th, said, “In one of the blackest crimes of all history—begun by the Nazis in the days of peace and multiplied by them a hundred times in time of war- the wholesale systematic murder of the Jews of Europe goes unabated every hour…it is therefore fitting that we should proclaim our determination that none who participate in these acts of savagery shall go unpunished…That warning applies not only to the leaders but also to their functionaries and subordinates in Germany and in the satellite countries. All who knowingly take part in the deportation of Jews to their death in Poland or Norwegians and French to their death in Germany are equally guilty with the executioner. All who share the guilt shall share the punishment.” (Comments on Michael Beschloss’ “The Conquerors,” by William vanden Heuval.
In summation, with all we know today, could the Holocaust been avoided? Could many more Jews have been saved? Who bears responsibility for this chain of events that destroyed not only 6 million Jews, but also 61 million others? Was the West partially at fault?
Only the early destruction of Hitler and his Nazi brigands could have prevented most, if not the entire Holocaust. How that could have been accomplished will be debated forever. Could the West have saved more Jews? Yes! Could the West have saved more of the Eastern European Jewish community? In most cases very little of the eastern European Jewish community could have been saved. Would massive bombing of the “death camps” saved Jews? In retrospect the destruction of Auschwitz would have backed up the timetable of death quite a bit. Would that have helped? Probably so! But, all in all, Lucy Dawidowicz, the author and an imminent expert on the Holocaust wrote that “killing the Jews” was a war aim of the Nazis and nothing but destroying the Nazis would have put a halt to that effort. Certainly once the war was begun, and Europe was overrun little could be done. But French complicity in the hunting down, and deportation of Jews is a great stain on the West. Also the fact that the French hid behind their so-called vaunted Maginot Line, when Germany attacked Poland contributed to the success of Germany and sealed the fate of Europe’s Jews.
In retrospect, there some obvious conclusions that can be drawn regarding the above questions. More Jews could have been rescued by a greater effort by the United States. Every extra Jew saved would have been a “blessing,” but attitudes in America, from all quarters, were against immigration, certainly not pro-Jewish and certainly against a unilateral effort by the President to get us into the war, especially on behalf of the Jews. Divided Jewish thinking in this country also hindered the effort to change public opinion to force a greater and more overt effort to rescue Jews. Could more Jews have been rescued by an easing of immigration laws from Eastern Europe? Probably not! They had no access to freedom, they were overrun quickly in Poland, and they had little help from unfriendly fascist allied governments in the neighboring countries. In the Soviet Union they had no thoughts or ability to leave Russia or the Ukraine even if they wanted to.
Immigration; a Secret Conspiracy to Keep the Jews out of the US:
Was the President complicit in a “secret” conspiracy to keep Jews out of the United States? Assuredly no! FDR was again much more focused on the problem of keeping England in the war against Germany. All of his efforts were to keep the Congress and the military supplying Britain with the “tools of war.” He knew that he must make America “The Arsenal of Democracy” first.
Were the Jews a victim of domestic American politics? There is no doubt that FDR, under the pressure from the America First xenophobes, who were loosely aligned with the Liberty Lobby, and other anti-interventionist groups, understood the problem facing the future of the United States. He also knew that to make an issue out of Jewish immigration, or to be seen as leaning over to help non-English speaking foreigners was political suicide. He felt that he needed to be able to build an argument based on American self-interest. Would an effort by him to ease Jewish or other refugee immigration restrictions hurt his re-election bid in 1940? Probably yes! Even later in the war when the effort was made to bring Jewish children into the country on a humanitarian basis, the Congress balked. On the other hand, the Congress never balked when it came to British children. Roosevelt only ran for a third term with the idea of being the only one who could eventually save this country from eventually falling under the “boot” of fascist oppression. In retrospect, none of the contenders for the nomination of the presidency in 1940 had shown any proclivity, in their careers, to be pro-Jewish or certainly pro-interventionist. Whether his successor would have been Taft, Willkie, Garner, Farley, or someone else, there was no indication that anyone of them would have even continued support for Britain, no less worked to ease immigration quotas. Roosevelt took great risks opposing the “neutrality” laws, backing “Lend-Lease,” arming our freighters and sending out our fleet into the Atlantic to fight an undeclared naval war against Germany. But until Pearl Harbor, the America public stood wholeheartedly against going to war, no matter how great the potential threat. After Pearl Harbor all things changed. The United States, under the inspirational leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to mobilize and unite the country into a mighty force.
Immigration and the US Attitudes:
As early as 1924 there were very strict immigration laws regarding National Origin. In 1930, because of the severity of the economic depression, President Herbert Hoover ordered the State Department, whose Consular Division issued entry visas to applicants, to be quite strict in enforcing restrictions against persons “likely to be become a public charge.” Unfortunately when it came to Jews these actions were taken with unusual severity. Under FDR, Breckinridge Long, (1881-1958) who headed that division of the State Department, and who had wide spread Congressional support, exercised tremendous prejudice against Jews when it came to visa applications. He did not believe that there was a “universal right of anyone to enter the United States.” The Roosevelt Administration admitted over 90,000 German Jews, about 18 percent of the Jewish prewar German population. Long disliked and resented Jewish and Catholic leaders and felt they all hated him. In the summer of 1940 he wrote a memo to James Dunn and Adolph Berle (1895-1971, former member of the “Brain Trust”, asst. Secretary of State 1938-44) that he advised our counselor people overseas to “put every obstacle in the away of and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone, and postpone the granting of visas.” (Franklin Roosevelt, Champion of Freedom, Conrad Black, page 815.) Author Conrad Black believes that FDR must have been aware of Long’s actions. But of course there is no proof of that. But even though the Wannsee Meeting wasn’t to be held until 16 months later there was a profound amount of Nazi murders of Jews, and there was an opportunity during that period to get more Jews out of Europe.
Only when Secretary Morgenthau became aware of Long’s actions did he come straight to the President. With that knowledge at hand, FDR created by Executive Order the War Refugee Board. In January of 1944, this Board was to facilitate and attempt to rescue any and all refugees that could be reached. Again it is hard to believe that FDR was really aware of Long’s actions, and by that time (1942-3) there would be no real purpose for him to support those actions.
Immigration, the Quotas, the Cellar and Wagner Bills:
With respect to America’s xenophobia regarding the Jews, immigration and our entrance into World War II short of being attacked, in 1937 two out of five Americans voiced anti-Jewish sentiment. In March of 1938, 41% of Americans believed that Jews had too much power, and 50% believed that they were to blame for their own persecution. After the German invasion of Austria and the resulting Anschluss, FDR asked for a greater expansion of the German immigration quota, Congress rebuffed him. Regarding this effort, when Congressmen Emmanuel Cellar of NY, and Adolph Sabath (1866-1952, Member of Congress for 44 years) of Ill., introduced a bill to increase the quota, they were told by their southern colleagues, that if they continued their efforts, the quota would be removed by Congress. Their bill was withdrawn. Ironically when there was talk of opening the quotas or increasing them, almost all of the European countries demanded an “equal” opportunity to deport their “Jews” to the United States. In a sense it spread the virus of “Judenrein” which the Nazis had originally authored. When Senator Robert F. Wagner, Sr., (1877-1953, US Senator from NY 1927-49) proposed a bill, with Congresswoman Edith Rogers, to bring German refugee children into the United States (20,000 who were understood to be almost all Jewish), the bill was forced to be withdrawn for lack of support. Later a bill to allow English children to come to the United States sailed through without opposition. A poll of Southern Democratic Representatives and Senators regarding the Wagner-Rogers Bill, reflected their opposition to by 0-223. When it came to Lend Lease, these same Congressman favored it 223-0.
Americans were so opposed to intervening on behalf of Britain that in the last Gallup Poll taken in November, 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor, 90% of the public said that American should not physically help Britain even it meant their invasion and collapse! Actually between 1933 and 1937 only 40,000 Jews came legally to the United States, of course many had left Germany for other countries, never expecting their lives to be threatened outside of Hitler’s grasp. Also, please note, that in the early years of the FDR Administration; 1933, 4, 5, and before the enactment of the restrictive German racial laws, requests for visas from German Jews were much less and the quotas were not filled. One national poll in 1938, reflected that over 77% of the American population did not want one more German Jew allowed into the country.
Most Jews never anticipated a world war and they surely never expected to be victims of the “Final Solution.” After Kristallnacht, almost all Jews filled the American national origin quota and over 110,000 Jews legally immigrated to the United States. In fact during those years over half of the immigrants to the United States were Jewish. There was also much illegal immigration and the administration did not make an effort to prevent it from happening.
From a political perspective Roosevelt was being attacked from all quarters on his international positions. Knowing the American people were against any type of immigration he urged the British to allow more Jews into Palestine. In that regard FDR attempted to bring worldwide attention to the need to find places of refuge for Jewish immigrants. In 1938, President Roosevelt proposed a major conference to discuss aiding refugees, and the United States invited twenty-nine nations to meet that summer at Evian-les-Baines, France. But nothing of value came from the meeting. Of course there was no war going on, so there was no concept of an immediate threat to the life and limb of European Jewry. The book, co-authored by Richard Breitman, “Refugees and Rescue, the Diary and Papers of James G. McDonald, 1935-1945,” goes a long way to explain FDR’s secret and behind the scenes efforts to save Jews in the period before the start of WWII,” I suggest many read it! Subsequently Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, in their book, “FDR and the Jews,” discusses many of these same issue
The Saint Louis and Cuba:
The German ship, “St. Louis” was one of three ships that brought passengers, including Jews, to Cuba at that time. Cuba, because of the influence of local Nazis, put onerous restrictions on Jewish immigration. Already 6000 Jewish immigrants were living in Cuba, most without legal documentation. Also a house-to-house check was being made for all German refugees and there was great fear from the Joint Distribution Committee in the United States that a pogrom was being planned if more Jews were granted asylum. When a $500 cash bond was put up for each passenger, amounting to $500,000, the Cubans refused. There were definitive conflicts between Batista and Manuel Benitez, who was receiving bribes for each illegal alien allowed into Cuba. Strongman Colonel Fulgencio Bastista wanted his “cut” or would end the practice. Two other ships had already just arrived, the British ship “Orduna” and the French ship, “Flanders.” Within a twenty-four hour period more than 1200 refugees had arrived from three European ports. The Cubans had just passed a law limiting to 1500 the number of immigrants that could be yearly allowed to land. Eventually, after a collapse in negotiations, the ship left port and while off Florida, on June 4, the figurehead President Bru relented and said that they could land for $650 per head. The Joint Committee refused to pay the extra dollars. They thought there would be more ships and the price would continue to escalate. The “St. Louis,” amidst all of the negotiation with Cuban and the American officials, who were trying to get around our strict immigration laws, turned seaward to Germany. The JDC was besieged with criticism from the American Jewish community and its friends, but felt they were being blackmailed by the Cubans. It has been erroneously reported that the passengers were “returned to Germany and certain death for all abroad.” Of the 936 Jews on board who had left Hamburg, 29 disembarked in Havana, 907 sailed back to Europe; 288 disembarked in England and lived through the Holocaust. The remaining 619 went to France, Belgium and Holland. The 392 of 619 who had disembarked at Antwerp, survived the war. The remaining 227 were murdered by the Nazis. The US Holocaust Museum estimates more than two-thirds of the passengers survived the war. Also, in June of 1939, it certainly was not yet the Holocaust. War had not been declared, over 75% of the Jews living in Germany, at the time of Hitler’s ascendancy to power, had either left Germany or had been forced out. German policy was “Judenrein” not extermination. Up until Kristalnacht, under 1000 Jews had been killed in Germany from 1933 until late 1938. Even up until the war, which started on September 3, 1939, relatively a small percentage of the remaining Jews from the 1930 population of 500,000 had been killed. In June of 1939, few in Europe really believed there would be a”real” war, no less World War. Few Jews, outside of Germany, thought their lives were eminently at risk, and the Low Countries and France were not invaded until the spring of 1940. Most Jews believed that Germany only was interested in ridding itself of Jews. But, it is true, that many Jews wished fervently to get out of Europe. These are incontrovertible facts reported in numerous histories of that era.
Was FDR Jewish or part Jewish?
When the question was brought up about his ancestry, he stated, “In the dim distant past my ancestors may have been Jews, Catholics or Protestants, but what I am more interested in is whether they were good citizens and believed in G-D. I hope they were both. (His Dutch progenitor was one Claes von Rosenvelt.) It seems both anti-Semites and the some Jews claim FDR was Jewish. Some Jews, out of some strange sense of ownership and or pride, want to claim that he was Jewish! FDR’s ancestor, Nicholas Martens, the son of Martin, had a charge of slander brought against him by Philip Teyler at the Council of New Netherlands in 1638. Whatever Martens had said against Teyler has not been recorded. The charge was dismissed. Nicholas Martens held his tongue for 11 years and over that period of time it is not recorded where he had been. He came back to New Amsterdam in 1649, bought a farm from one Lambert van Valkenburgh, and had a wife Jannetje. It would have been located between present day 4th Avenue (in 1942) and 29th Street in NYC. The farm was known as Rose Hill-maybe it was known also as the Field of Roses from Zeeland where he was born. This Nicholas Martens or as he was variously known as Claes, was also known as the “The Little One” because he was so big and strapping. The legend about him said that he was the son of Martin and Anna of the village of Het Rosen Velt (Field of Roses) on the island of Tholen, near Zeeland.
Therefore, from all evidence available, his name was taken, either in New Amsterdam (New York) or Holland, from the Dutch translation of a hill or field of roses, not a Jewish sounding derivative name like Rosenvelt. The Martens were Dutch Protestants in New Amsterdam from the 1640’s. There is no evidence that he or his forbearers were Jewish in Holland. FDR was certainly a believer in G-d, was somewhat influenced by the Reverend Endicott Peabody’s (headmaster at Groton) concept of Protestantism but did not have a consistent history of attending church services. As a young man he did tend to agree with his illustrious cousin Theodore Roosevelt that G-D looked favorably upon the United States, but nowhere does history seem to indicate that he had any sort of messianic complex. According to Conrad Black, in his book Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Champion of Freedom, he states, “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s G-d was indulgent but exacting, fair and condign and ultimately forgiving. Beyond this, his exact ecclesiastical views, like most of his inner thoughts, are indiscernible.”
As for Sara Delano, one ancestor of Sara was Richard Warren from London. He was a religious man, and was not a member of the Church of Leyden when he sailed on the Mayflower. He was a signer of the Compact. Another passenger on the Mayflower and a descendent of FDR was one Degory Priest, who had married Isaac Allerton’s sister Sarah. He died in the first winter and his widow married again and one of her daughters married a Frenchman named John Coombs. Among some of the other people that felt oppressed and settled in Leyden was a family of French origin named de la Noye. A son of that family; Philippe, eventually, after going from Leyden to England and then to the New World on the ship “Fortune,” married an English girl named Hester Dewsbury from Duxbury, Ma. After establishing himself in Duxbury, he answered the call by the Connecticut General Court to fight the Pequot Indians along with some 90 others and several hundred warriors from the Narragansett tribe. Under the influence of the English colonists with who he associated, his name soon lost its French spelling, and became Delano.
Basically, in conclusion, there is no evidence that his earliest recorded paternal ancestor, Claes Martens was Jewish or that his maternal descendants, Richard Warren or Phillipe de la Noye were Jewish either.
The Truman Myth:
In fact, Harry S Truman, a man revered by many Jews as a great friend of the Jewish people and the one who recognized the State of Israel, was from a virulently anti-Semitic background. Even though he had a Jewish partner in the haberdashery business, named Eddie Jacobson, he was never far from his anti-Semitic roots, as his letters attest. Even Truman, when told of the vast, but stilled generally hidden evidence of the massive killing machines of the “death camps,” initially stated, that “the Jews brought it upon themselves!” (Recently quoted from an article by William Safire in the summer of 2003.)
Truman’s partner Eddie Jacobson (who my grandfather knew quite well) owned a men’s clothing business in the early 1920s. I think he was always embarrassed by the constant reference to his former partnership. Also, remember their business went bankrupt Truman prided himself in making sure all of his creditors were paid back! I have no real idea whether Jacobson helped with that effort. I am sure Truman took a great deal of heat for that relationship from his family, in-laws and friends. With regards to Eddie Jacobson, (1891-1955), as his letters attest, Truman had only a “cordial relationship with Jacobson- but (later) needed Jews for the 1948 nomination.” (Harry Truman and the Crisis Presidency, Bert Cochran, Harper & Row, 1973, page 96). The head of Truman’s financial team in the Midwest was a leading Zionist from Kansas City.
It was and is well known that his family, and that of his wife Bess, was at times, virulent anti-Semites. Truman was quite flattered, but not personally changed by all of the attention paid to him by the Jewish community. The Jews in the Democratic Party and the intellectual and labor circles certainly supported him. What else could they do, and where else could they go? He recognized Israel reluctantly against the advice of George Marshall and others. He hated the pressure that Jacobson brought on him and he berated him about using an emotional appeal. For years after Israel was recognized, Truman never spoke or saw Jacobson until they got together a few years before Jacobson’s death. I am sure that Truman felt that Jacobson had been paid back sufficiently and their relationship was closed. I watched interviews with HST very closely from the last years of his life. I waited in vain for any remark that favored Israel or reflected his support for the Jewish people or against anti-Semitism. I never remember any support or statement, made by him, in that vein. He had ample opportunity to capitalize on the adulation the Jewish community had given to him. He had ample opportunity to thank or compliment the Jewish community. He was quite silent on those subjects. He was too honest and non- hypocritical to send a “beau geste” to the Jews. Personally I believe he never really liked Jews, saw them as courtiers and sycophants or individuals with hidden agendas. He regarded himself as a very crafty experienced individual. His reputation was made in the Senate as the thrusting sword of the Truman Committee that spent its time investigating war profiteering and wartime government waste. (He may have come in contact with some Jews in that regard!)
I do know that some foolish Jews started to believe that FDR was anti-Semitic and that HST was their true liberal hero. Nothing could be further than the truth. FDR shunned his traditional class anti-Semitism that was rife at the time. His mother initially and Eleanor were not friendly towards Jews, but both came around to his thinking. FDR was never quoted in any way, shape or form in a prejudicial manor. Did he have prejudices, of course! But in all of his writings (which we know were always carefully written with the highest considerations) FDR never lowered himself to the level that Truman did constantly. In fact, in 1944 FDR went on the record with his calling for Palestine to be the location of a Jewish Homeland. Unfortunately Truman’s remarks regarding the fate of the Jews, at the hands of the Nazis, reflected his primitive stereotypical view of the average Jew.
Truman, when President, was told of the vast, but still generally hidden evidence of the massive killing machines of the “death camps,” initially stated, that “the Jews brought it upon themselves!” (Recently quoted from an article by William Safire, in The NY Times in the summer of 2003.)
Of course Truman also said “The Jews claim G-d Almighty picked ‘em out for special privilege. Well I’m sure he had better judgment. Fact is I never thought G-d picked any favorites.” (Off the Record- The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman, edited by Robert Ferrell- Penguin Books, 1980, page 41.)
“Miami is nothing but hotels, filling stations, Hebrews and cabins.” (Truman, by David McCullough, Simon and Shuster, 1992, page 286)
Bluma Jacobson, Eddie’s wife said “Eddie and I were never at the Truman’s house.” (Plain Speaking, by Merle Miller, GP Putnam, 1973)
Were the Jews a victim of domestic American politics? There is no doubt that FDR, under the pressure from the America First xenophobes, who were loosely aligned with the Liberty Lobby, and other anti-interventionist groups, understood the problem facing the future of the United States. He also knew that to make an issue out of Jewish immigration, or to be seen as leaning over to help non-English speaking foreigners was political suicide. He felt that he needed to be able to build an argument based on American self-interest. Would an effort by him to ease Jewish or other refugee immigration restrictions hurt his re-election bid in 1940? Probably yes! Even later in the war when the effort was made to bring Jewish children into the country on a humanitarian basis, the Congress balked. On the other hand, the Congress never balked when it came to British children. Roosevelt only ran for a third term with the idea of being the only one who could eventually save this country from eventually falling under the “boot” of fascist oppression. In retrospect none of the contenders for the nomination of the presidency in 1940 had shown any proclivity, in their careers, to be pro-Jewish or certainly pro-interventionist. Whether his successor would have been Taft, Willkie, Garner, Farley, or someone else, there was no indication that anyone of them would have even continued support for Britain, no less worked to ease immigration quotas. Roosevelt took great risks opposing the “neutrality” laws, backing “Lend-Lease,” arming our freighters and sending out our fleet into the Atlantic to fight an undeclared naval war against Germany. But, until Pearl Harbor, the America public stood wholeheartedly against going to war, no matter how great the potential threat. After Pearl Harbor all things changed. The United States, under the inspirational leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to mobilize and unite the country into a mighty force. But until Pearl Harbor the America public stood wholeheartedly against going to war, no matter how great the potential threat. After Pearl Harbor all things changed. The United States, under the inspirational leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to mobilize and unite the country into a mighty force.
FDR, the Soldier of Freedom, the author of the Atlantic Charter, the creator of the Arsenal of Democracy, the initiator of Lend-Lease, and the architect of world-wide victory over the forces of darkness and evil was the key player and force in producing the effort that saved all of our lives here today. Without his leadership and immense effort, the war would probably have been lost. No Jew would have been safe in the new or the old world. Israel would have never existed and the western culture as we know it would have been snuffed out as a new Dark Age emerged.