The Vassar Temple, Robert Rosen and Setting the Record Straight!
February 25, 2007
Richard J. Garfunkel
It’s a cold gray day in the Hudson River Valley, and the threat of snow hovers over all the travelers, on their hurried way, along the Taconic River Parkway. Long ago, I planned to go north to Poughkeepsie to hear Mr. Robert Rosen speak about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I had made contact with him many months ago after reading his important book, Saving the Jews, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust.
Mr. Rosen, who is from Charleston, South Carolina, and not related to the Rosens on my wife’s side of the family, and I, started talking in August of 2006. We exchanged a number of emails and we eventually had a few phone conversations. I was decently familiar with Charleston, a lovely city, whose harbor contains the famous Fort Sumter and Hyman’s Seafood Restaurant, located at 215 Meeting Street. We had been there in the fall of 2004 and during a conversation with one of the owners, Eli Hyman, the subject of “Jewish Politics” came up. Of course, one of the sub-contexts of our conversation and my subsequent letter to him was the role of FDR vis-à-vis immigration in the 1930’s. This part of what I wrote him on October 24, 2004.
“FDR had to balance many, many interests at one time. During the period between 1933 and 1938 over half the immigrants to the United States were Jewish, far above the quotas allowed for Germany and Austria. The “quota issue” became a hot button in Congress and the conservative FDR haters in that body threatened the termination of all quotas. Therefore many Jews reached the US through non-legal channels. The government tended to look the other way, when it could, regarding this “underground” immigration. In regards to more “public” immigration process, like the “Oswego” community that involved a tiny amount of people (8000), the Jews were interned for basically the duration of the war and for public “show”. Therefore the public “saw” that Jewish immigration was not being “prejudicially” favored. But realistically many hundreds of thousands of Jews found there way to America. But remember public opinion and Congressional pressure was totally against immigration and especially Jewish immigration. Also, at that same time, a vast majority of Jews left Germany (over 75% of the pre-war 500,000, or less than 1% of the population), assuming it would be until Hitler was overthrown or contained. Most went or were forced to Poland and other countries to the East and many went to France, Holland and other western European countries including England. But of course history proved that they weren’t secure outside of Germany, as long as they were within the grasp of the Nazi military.
The bottom line to this all is that the Jews did not face extermination in Germany between 1933- and the start of WWII. Even up to Kristalnacht, in late 1938, only a few thousand Jews had even been interned in camps no less executed. Many of the Jews that remained in Germany still thought that this “political” problem would “all blow over.” Many Jews did not want to give up their property, and their ancestral homes.”
As one readily can see, and most know, this subject has been disturbing to many members of the Jewish community, here and abroad. The lingering question in many minds, was why weren’t more Jews let into the United States? Did the Roosevelt Administration and FDR do enough to help immigration and escape to the west? Why wasn’t the German ocean liner Saint Louis and its 900+ passengers allowed into the United States? Finally, did the Allies know of Auschwitz, and could it have been bombed out of existence? These are all daunting questions which I have studied, like many other scholars and non-scholars, for decades. There are many answers that for some, like myself, are quite plausible when framed in the context of history. Many books have been written on the subject and of course to many, the one great paradox will always remain. Why Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a virtual god to the Jewish community, could seemingly be oblivious to their needs in such a crucial moment? In that sense, that is why Robert Rosen’s book is so important. For many of us he has started to “set the record straight.”
Of course in retrospect, President Harry S Truman, FDR’s successor, who is revered by the Jewish community to this day, was in reality no real friend the Jews. His help with Israel’s recognition, seen in the harsh light of political necessity is understood. Truman was a pragmatist that brought German scientists into America and also allowed many from the Nazi intelligence machinery to enter America without an iota of conscience or a question of morality: pure bottom line Cold War politics. Please note some of Truman’s observations on Jews and the Holocaust.
In fact, Harry S Truman, (1884-1972, President of the United States 1945-53) 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, (1891-1955) he was never far from his anti-Semitic roots, as his letters attest. He 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)
Even 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)
“Truman courts the Jews, and had David Bernstein, a prominent Zionist (from Missouri) on the 1948 campaign committee.” (Harry Truman–and the Crisis Presidency, Bert Cochran, Harper & Row, 1973, page 96).
“Truman had grown weary of the constant pressure exerted by the American Zionists. Truman announced he no longer believed in resolution aiming at the creation of a Jewish State.” (A History of Zionism, by Walter Laqueur, Holt-Rinehart, 1972, page 570.) And of course this was after Truman had learned of the disaster of the Holocaust.
Therefore, Robert Rosen and I have some common interests regarding Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy. Mr. Rosen is a successful 59 year-old lawyer, who has written books on a number of subjects, which include the following: The Jewish Confederates, A Short History of Charleston and Confederate Charleston. Rosen, who was educated at the University of Virginia, received an MA at Harvard and a law degree at the University of South Carolina, got interested in the subject of FDR and Jewish immigration in a visit to Boston. There is a Holocaust Memorial in that wonderful town, right near the Quincy Market. It is across the street from the famous Union Oyster House, where Daniel Webster quaffed oysters and brandy. It is where I have also eaten many cherrystones and have quenched my own thirst with Sam Adams Lager. It seems Mr. Rosen, while strolling along the memorial with his daughter, saw an inscription mentioning that in 1942 the United States and the Allies knew of the “Death Camps” and did nothing about it. Of course this was inaccurate, misleading, and Mr. Rosen was infuriated. Ironically, this past December, my son Jon and I were walking in the same exact spot, just after visiting the bar at the Union Oyster House, and read the same inscription. I had also read it once or twice before. I commented to Jon that the inscription was inaccurate and an out and out falsehood. Americans and the Allies knew that there were a lot of Jews being killed in 1942. They also were unaware of specific “Death Camps,” per say, did not know therefore of their locations, and for sure were in no position to do anything about them. Jon then told me that that inscription was Robert Rosen’s inspiration to find out the truth and write his book.
When Rosen’s book came out and I read it along with another book by one Robert Beir, entitled, FDR and the Holocaust. Robert Beir’s book was a confusing retrospective regarding American Jewry’s response to the tragedy, we would later know as the Holocaust, and a mixed-up and inconsistent evaluation regarding FDR’s role. Beir, on one hand, adored FDR then (he’s 89 years old now) and now, but it took almost 300 pages of vacillating between criticism and idolatry to get to his final summation.
He stated on pages 269 and 270 the following:
The Jewish organizations in America were involved in internecine warfare, each going in different direction. The Yiddish newspaper, the Yiddisher Kemfer found it unfathomable that the “chief organizations in America Jewry… could not in this dire hour, unequalled in human history, unite for the purpose of seeking ways to forestall the misfortune or at least to reduce its scope…” Other than Henry Morganthau, the Jewish advisors around Roosevelt did not press for rescue. This makes for a bitter legacy.
Of course he cites the Jewish ownership of the NY Times, and says “…from 1939 through 1945, (The Times) printed 1,186 Holocaust stories, or an average of 17 stories per month. And yet, only 26 stories mentioning the discrimination, deportation and destruction” of the Jews made the front pages. And of those stories, only six identified Jews as the primary victim. “
Again, Beir on page 270 mentions that “ this is primarily a Roosevelt story, let us end with the protagonist. He was not an anti-Semite. He was not responsible for the Holocaust. He believed, as we had read over and over again, that the best way to say Jewish lives was to defeat Nazi Germany. His commitment to that belief never wavered.”
Beir, in a confused way, throws “bricks and bouquets” at the same time upon the Jewish community and President Roosevelt. He had all the benefits life could offer, but was an early victim of discrimination and like many his age, a great and life-long admirer of FDR.
Therefore when I started to read Robert Rosen’s book, I was curious to see how he dealt with the same issues. But for sure, no matter what one individual believes, there is no doubt that the American Jewish community was divided. Every credible student of history, and this issue, specifically knows that no people speak with one voice. In the case of immigration, many old-line German Jews were fearful always of unlimited Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe. They feared that Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe would exacerbate American anti-Semitism. Many nominally supported Zionist yearnings and wanted these Jews to immigrate to Palestine and set up a Jewish Homeland. There were other Jewish groups who supported any effort to rescue any and all Jews and, were not particularly interested in Palestine. There were others who were active Zionists who supported groups like the Irgun and followers of Jabotinsky who recommended armed insurrection against British rule and even the physical expulsion of indigenous Arabs from the Mandate area. Besides these individuals who were more active politically, there were millions of American Jews who were poor, politically powerless, and still recovering from the Depression and not cognizant of the issues regarding Jewish persecution and Zionist politics. Many of these people were assimilated Jews who were struggling to be treated as equals with regards to jobs, housing, education and public accommodations. The arguments, between the various interest groups regarding foreign policy, were not paramount in their minds. They looked at Franklin D. Roosevelt as their personal advocate. They voted for him in overwhelming numbers. They represented 90% of the Jewish vote. The question, therefore is, which Jews made up the 10%?
After finishing his book, I believed that he had written the book that I always wanted to author myself. Upon visiting Hyde Park on January 30, 2007, the 125th anniversary of FDR’s birth I wrote this email to Jonathan Alter, the Newsweek columnist and author of an excellent book FDR and the Defining Moment and forwarded a copy to Robert Rosen.
Noting the occasion of the upcoming 125th Anniversary of the birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on January 30th.
I read Robert Rosen's masterful book, and we have talked many times about his work. I sent him my paper on “FDR and the Jewish Community” and he graciously said “you should have written this book 10 years earlier!” I'll be up there and I hope that his book will eventually reverse the FDR hater's effort to continue to sully his great name and legacy. Any one who is interested in this most important period of history should get his book and learn the real truth regarding FDR's efforts for Jewish survival and humanity's triumph. James McGregor Burn's calling FDR the “Soldier of Freedom” was right on the money decades ago. Without FDR, the author of the “Four Freedoms,” the “Atlantic Charter,” and “Lend-Lease,” the architect of the “Arsenal of Democracy,” the creator of the United Nations, and the leader of the Free World, we would not be here today. No man in history, in the words of Winston Churchill, who was referring to the RAF's heroic defense of England, in the Battle of Britain, could be more associated with his quote, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” In that sense humanity owes its survival in a world of light, as opposed to darkness, to the “few” of whom one, Franklin Delano Roosevelt stands out above all.
As Churchill stated in a speech to the House of Commons on April 17, 1945, “He (FDR) died in harness, and we may well say in battle harness, like his soldiers, sailors and airman, who side by side with ours are carrying their task to the end all over the world. What an enviable death was his.”
Of course in honor of his birth, one must also recall again Winston Churchill who said, “Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest man he had ever known.” President Roosevelt's life, he said must be regarded as “one of the commanding events of human destiny.”
You can read my essay FDR and the Jewish Community at http://www.richardjgarfunkel.com/blog
Of course this brings us up today’s trip. One can reach Poughkeepsie by traveling north on the Taconic Parkway, approximately 44 miles, until reaching NY State Road, Route 55. I turned west towards the Hudson and headed through LaGrange, and within 7 miles, or so, I was in the heart of Poughkeepsie.
Poughkeepsie, which is the capital of Duchess County, where Hyde Park is located (9 miles up Route 9), was founded in 1687 and incorporated as a city in 1854. For a short time it was the capital of New York (1777) and its population (in 2000) of 29,871 is only slightly more that it was in 1900 (24,029). The Poughkeepsie Journal is the 3rd oldest newspaper in the United States and it is the home to Vassar and Marist Colleges.
Once into the city I found my way to Hooker Street, not far from the campus of Vassar College. Vassar founded in 1861, is one of the most selective colleges in the United States, ranked 12th in the US News and World Report liberal art college survey, and was the first of Seven Sisters to go coed in 1991. On the occasion of FDR’s 124th Birthday in 2006 and my visit to his gravesite, I wrote this selection from a piece about FDR and Vassar.
So I stood there with others, and listened to the keynote address by 87-year-old Ms. Elizabeth Daniels, the Vassar historian who told us what good neighbors the Roosevelt’s were to Vassar College. FDR was asked to be a trustee of the college in 1923 while he was still practically bed-ridden with the effects of polio. He would be a great friend of the college and a trustee (honorary 1933-45) until his death in 1945. Ms. Daniels, who graduated Vassar in 1941, remembered fondly the many times she heard Mrs. Roosevelt speak at the college, and few times she personally met the President. It was a moving and personal recollection of those far removed times. The fifth President of Vassar, Henry Noble McCrackan (1915-46) was a pacifist who had opposed both World War I and World War II. But a vast majority of the faculty (over 125), under the leadership of Dean Mildred Thompson, signed a personal letter to the President commending his efforts up and to the start of the war. After the start of the war Vassar’s president came on board wholeheartedly. But the cordial relationship between McCrackan, that had started in 1923 and had been nurtured during and up to the late 1930s and the President, was never the same.
The Vassar Temple is located at 140 Hooker Street and has been a Reform Jewish congregation since 1848. At its centennial in 1948, former Treasury Secretary, Mr. Henry Morgenthau Jr., was the honorary Chairperson of the event. So it was here that I found Robert Rosen and many members of that illustrious synagogue. The building itself is an unobtrusive modern structure that obviously is not original home of the congregation. A beautiful ark dominates the sanctuary, with a velvet red covered podium that overlooks the rows of wooden seats in its large sanctuary. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Temple in 1954 and Henry Morganthau Jr. was a member. In fact, I was pointed out where he sat when he had attended services.
It was here that I saw our host, Frederica “Fritzie” Goodman, a native of Poughkeepsie, and a founding member of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. Along with Ms. Goodman were Mr. Chris Breiseth, the former President of Wilkes College, and the President Emeritus of FERI, and Ms. Cynthia Koch the Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. In November of 2004, Linda and I visited Little Rock, Arkansas, and went to the official opening of the Clinton Presidential Library. Linda and I attended a symposium at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock campus, on presidential libraries. This is what I wrote, at the time, about our meeting with Cynthia Koch.
We finished up our business and then got directions to University Street and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Linda had found a symposium on presidential libraries and had gotten us tickets. We found the school, parked, found the right building and located ourselves in the front row. The symposium included all of the heads of the 10 current Presidential libraries. Of course, to our surprise (not really) and delight, Cynthia Koch, the director of the FDR Library, was one of the participants. She looked down at us and asked, “What are you doing here?” All of the directors got a chance to speak about the libraries and how they were established. That was a unique experience and from our perspective, never to be duplicated. After it was over, Linda and I said hello to Cynthia, and talked about our visit. We also met the director of the JFK Library that is located in Charlestown. Dana, our daughter, had worked at the JFK Library when she was in graduate school in Boston. Anyone who has a chance should visit both libraries, which are easily within driving distance of New York. They are both great!
Along side Cynthia and Fritzi Goodman was Robert Rosen, whom I had never met in person, but I had talked to him many times on the phone, and with whom I had exchanged numerous emails. He was astounded that I had made the trip, was surprised I was so big, and thought that I was a bit younger than he was. How polite. I told him that I was a few years older, but stayed young by playing tennis and keeping active in politics. The latter may keep one younger, but certainly grays one’s hair.
Meanwhile the proceedings were promised to start at 2:30 pm and they did. Rabbi Paul Golomb welcomed us all to the Vassar Temple and invited Ms. Goodman to start the program. She spoke for a moment or so, and brought Mr. Chris Breiseth to the podium to introduce Robert Rosen. The audience was made up of 50 to 60 middle-aged and older folk who had come to listen.
Mr. Rosen gave a detailed and impassioned defense regarding the roll American Jewry played in trying to alert America to the plight of Europe’s Jews and reviewed some important aspects of his book, which were the story of the German ocean liner the Saint Louis and it voyage to Cuba and back again to England and Antwerp. With regards to the continued spate of misinformation about that ship, I wrote a letter to the Jewish Chronicle of Westchester.
Letter to the Editor
The Westchester Jewish Chronicle
January 5, 2007
In the January issue of the “Chronicle”, Ms. Rhea Tauber wrote a column titled “Memories of Cuba as a Haven for Jews.” Unfortunately her memory is a bit clouded and her facts are incorrect. 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 Jews 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 the Cubans were blackmailing them. Ms. Tauber stated that the passengers were “returned to Germany and certain death for all abroad.” She also stated that that “…Jews trying to escape the Holocaust, came into Havana harbor.” 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 Nazis murdered the remaining 227. 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. The Holocaust really emerged from a number of distinct occurrences. The first was the invasion and conquering of Poland, and the fact that millions of Jews in Poland came under the direct control of the Nazis. The second would be the invasion and conquering of the Baltic States and the siege of the Soviet Union, where millions of other Jews came under Nazi control, and third would be the Wannsee Conference, in a Berlin suburb, on January 12, 1942 where the “Final Solution” was articulated and planned. By that time, no power on earth could have saved the vast majority of 6 million or so Jews that were eventually killed. In June of 1939, few in Europe really believed there would be 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.
Of course, Mr. Rosen was able to explain to all of us the above story in his own words. In essence, the Roosevelt Administration along with the JDC, or the “Joint Committee” worked hard to get these Jews into friendly countries and not back to Germany. Again, we were not at war, the Holocaust was years away, and the United States was not a country that was looking favorably on immigration. In fact, our State Department, without FDR’s direct knowledge, was antagonistic to immigration, and especially Jewish immigration.
Mr. Rosen states on page 102, of his book that with all of the JDC’s and the Roosevelt Administration’s efforts, the following was true:
“One condition on which the passengers were permitted to enter these four countries (Great Britain, Holland, France and Belgium) was that their say would be temporary and that efforts would be made to effect their permanent immigration to another country. More than 700 of the refugees had affidavits and other documents for visas to the United States, and many already had their quota number to enter. They would have come to America but for the advent of war in September 1939.”
In other words, it wasn’t easy for any immigrants to enter any country illegally. Roosevelt and the JDC were working behind the scenes to get these people legally into the country, and at the same time avoid the criticism that they were being put ahead of everyone else. This would show to the American people that the administration was focused first on American security and defense!
Why was this necessary? Mr. Rosen describes the atmosphere of America when the subject of Lend-Lease came to Congress as Bill 1776. On page 153 he says:
“Lindbergh testified in Congress against Lend-Lease. Unmoved by the plight of France and Britain, the American celebrity was completely out of touch with political reality. He and his anti-Roosevelt friends on the American First Committee trumpeted the idea that a strong Germany was in America’s interest as a bulwark against communism. Remarkably, many in America agreed. Thousands of students at Yale cheered Lindbergh when he spoke in October 1940. The Nazis, of course supported the efforts of the America First Committee.”
Of course, Mr. Rosen also described Roosevelt’s response to American bigotry, on page 164.
“Roosevelt’s response to American anti-Semitism was to equate anti-Semitism with disloyalty. He gave FBI director J. Edgar Hoover enlarged powers to fight anti-Semitic groups.”
“Acting secretly and cautiously at first, but with increasing determination, Roosevelt and Hoover discredited and destroyed the anti-Semitic right and the American Fascist and Nazi movements by portraying them as fifth columnists, dupes of foreign powers, and traitors.
“Roosevelt and Hoover took on Father Coughlin, FBI agents infiltrated the Christian Front, and fourteen men were indicted for sedition. When Coughlin defended them, he lost credibility even though they were all acquitted. Other Catholics revealed that Coughlin was financed by the Nazis, Harassed by federal agents and finally abandoned by the Catholic Church hierarchy, the Radio Priest was driven of the radio by 1942.”
The last point Mr. Rosen raised was the dispute over the so-called request to bomb Auschwitz and all the misinformation that surrounds that dark chapter in world history.
I wrote about this issue in 2004:
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 the 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. 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 recent 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.)
Of course the reading of the aforementioned transcript of the McCloy-Morgenthau interview nowhere mentions any conversation regarding the request to bomb Auschwitz!
(Comments on Michael Beschloss’ The Conquerors, by William vanden Heuval) The exact quote was the following
Henry Morgenthau III: “But didn’t he ‘Morgenthau’ get involved in the bombing of Auschwitz that was all ex post facto.
John McCloy: “They came to me and wanted me to order the bombing of Auschwitz. He ‘Morgenthau’ wasn’t involved in that nor was the President…”
Auschwitz was raised peripherally as the conversation with Mr. McCloy was about to end. He was 88 years old –never in all of the extensive interviews he gave in his life, nor in his papers, is there any indication of his ever discussing the bombing question with the President. Henry Morgenthau III never cited the interview in the family memoir nor in his frequent public appearances in discussions relating to the Holocaust.” (Comments on the Michael Beschloss’ The Conquerors, by William vanden Heuval.)
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.”) who made it of the purpose, or role of Birkenau and it’s 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 marshalling 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.
So in his limited time Mr. Rosen summarized what I had written in the above piece. Basically, he stated that the world Jewish leadership did not want the Allies to bomb Auschwitz and kill Jews. The Jewish leadership understood the futility of bombing the death camp and put its effort into trying to prevent the remaining Jews in Hungary from being deported. It was FDR, as Mr. Rosen stated, who, with the help of the Joint Committee got Raul Wallenberg directly involved in the effort to save these remaining Jews.
Rosen states on page 383:
On June 7, the day after D-day, Yitzak Gruenbaum, of the Jewish Agency met with L.C. Pinkerton, American consul in Palestine. Gruenbaum requested Americans to warn the Hungarian government against killing Jews, to bomb the railway lines, and ‘that the American air forces receive instructions to bomb the death camps in Poland.’ ‘Won’t bombing the camps also cause the death of many Jews?’ he asked Gruenbaum. Gruenbaum replied that the Jews in the death camps were destined to die anyway and might be able to escape in the confusion. The camp’s destruction might disrupt the killing process. Apparently appalled at the idea of killing Jewish prisoners, Pinkerton advised Gruenbaum to present in writing his suggestion to bomb the death camps. On June 11 Gruenbaum handed his proposal to the Executive Committee of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The motion to bomb the camps was overwhelmingly rejected.
Of course there is much, much more, and Robert Rosen documents the background behind many of these “folk myths” regarding the fate of Europe’s Jews. Historians and revisionists who have their own personal agenda have promulgated many of these controversies. FDR had to balance all of these factors in prosecuting the war and keeping the American people unified in this incredible effort.
In a sense, and in the same vain, as James McGregor Burns characterized him in his masterly written book, FDR, The Lion and the Fox,
British historian D.C. Watts wrote:
Like an agile predator, he knew when to emerge, reveal his design, and execute it. And once determined to lead opinion and implement a policy, he was unflappable, devious, utterly determined, an unusually inspiring. Now, in early 1939, his course, though indiscernible to others, was clear to him. It could be summarized in six points.
First, he had to complete the conquest of the Depression by arming America.
Second, he would arrange a virtual draft to a third term as the candidate of peace through strength.
Third, he would complete the acquisition of an overwhelming level of military might.
Fourth, and assuming a new world war was already in progress, he would engineer righteous hostilities with Germany and the lesser dictatorships, ensuring that the dictators would be seen as the aggressors.
The fifth stage would be winning the war and leading the world to a post imperial Pax Americana, in which, sixth, Woodrow Wilson’s goals of safety for democracy and international legality would be established in some sort of American-led international organization.
Nothing less can explain Roosevelt’s conduct from Munich on. No other American leader has ever conceived an immensely ambitious plan for making over the world.
Hans Dieckhoff, the German ambassador in Washington up into late 1938, recognized that Roosevelt had a ‘pathological hatred’ of Hitler, and was ‘Hitler’s most dangerous opponent,’ The President had persuaded the ‘credulous and mentally dull American people’ that Germany was ‘America’s enemy number one.’ The observant chargee Hans Thomsen headed the Embassy after the withdrawal of Dieckhoff. Thomsen constantly warned the Wilhelmstrasse and the Reichsfuerher himself that Roosevelt sought the ‘annihilation of Nazi Germany and the nullification of the New Order in Europe.’ Thomsen also predicted that Roosevelt would, in the event of war, try ‘creating the conditions for, and a skillful timing of, the entry in to war on their side (Germany’s enemies’) side.’ He cleverly foresaw that ‘Roosevelt will not neglect the possibility that as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces he has the power to issue orders which in the course of execution might lead to the creation of a state of war. In the face of this Congress is powerless.’ Thomsen told Berlin that Roosevelt has ‘pathological hatred’ of Hitler and Mussolini, and even predicted that Roosevelt, in furtherance of his goals, might seek a third term as president.
The duel between Roosevelt and Hitler would become increasingly elaborate, like a primeval war dance, until the two mortal enemies came to grips with each other.”
There is enough evidence, available for all of us to understand, that without Franklin Roosevelt’s strong and brilliant leadership, the war against worldwide Fascism could have been lost. Even with just the loss of Europe and Asia, Jews would have been virtually wiped out wherever the Axis controlled and dominated. For sure, besides Palestine, the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East would have been the next group to be liquidated. How long would Fascist leaning South America tolerate Jews in their midst? Even in America, where anti-Semitism ran rampant in the 1930’s, how long would the so-called “Jew Deal” (as the anti-Semites called it!) have existed without FDR? Therefore, if FDR had not run in 1940, and others, without his values, would have taken control of the country, would American Jewry eventually disappear? It could have!
Robert Rosen builds a great case, with his research and perseverance that FDR did what he could do to arm a weakened nation, fight domestic Fascism at home, straddle the delicate balance between peace and war, and create an atmosphere of tolerance. He shows that FDR’s struggle against our own climate of hate and bigotry could be changed, and that we would be able to save the world, and save the remaining Jews from destruction.
But FDR was only the President of the United States. In a sense, he could only go so far in changing the world and reversing the calculus regarding people’s prejudices. On page 137 of his book, Rosen reflects on the world condition in May of 1940 when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.
The “great” humanitarian Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I do not consider Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted.” Neville Chamberlain told Ambassador (Joseph) Kennedy “America and the world Jews had forced England into the war.” (What about Britain’s treaty with Poland? Did he forget that?) Gandhi alleged that the Jews “wanted America and England to fight on their behalf.”
There are many more examples that could fill volumes, which reflect the terrible state of anti-Semitism that existed outside of Fascist-controlled Europe and the United States. It is an ongoing lesson to all of us, Jew and Gentile alike. It was Lincoln who said, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” Therefore, we all should learn that no group is immune from prejudice and discrimination. By tolerating the politics of hate and discrimination we innately undermine the precepts of our democracy. Robert Rosen demonstrates to all, who will open their minds, that Franklin D. Roosevelt was truly the “Soldier of Freedom” and one of the greatest friends that Jews and all liberty-loving people have had.
So it was a worthwhile trip, I finally got to meet Robert Rosen, and heard his strong message in person. I was able to get back on the road by 4:40 pm. The snows that were predicted, held off until the evening, and before long I was sailing south on the Taconic.