Truman and the Jews
I am not surprised at all by the op-ed written by William Safire. I was quite aware of Truman's real self when it came to Jews and others. I liked Truman because he was a decent Democrat who was able to straddle the silliness of the left and the neo-colonialism of the right. He was in a difficult position in his succession and FDR didn't particularly like, love or hate HST. FDR was deathly afraid of Wallace's judgment, and thought that Wallace would hurt his chances for re-election. His famous statement about Truman, “clear it with Sidney” summed up his attitude. FDR was very, very secretive and did not speak to indiscreet people and he didn't write down his private thoughts. He picked Truman because he thought he could help him win and would be a good bridge to the less than pure, New Deal Democrats.
I always knew HST didn't love Jews. He had a partner Eddie Jacobson (who my grandfather knew quite well) in the men's clothing business. I think he was always embarrassed by the constant reference to his former partnership. Also remember their business went bankrupt and 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 he took a great deal of heat for that relationship from his family, in-laws and friends. It was and is well known that his family and that of his wife Bess were 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, and 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. I am sure that after Israel was recognized Truman never spoke or saw Jacobson again privately. 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!)
At this time I cannot remember any specifics from his autobiography or the Merle Miller book or Dave McCullough's biography. But I do know that 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 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 high considerations) FDR never lowered himself to the level that Truman did constantly. FDR had few if any friends his whole lifetime. He wasn't bred to have friends. But amongst the few he may have had, he always called Henry Morgenthau his friend. Of course, in truth, Henry M. 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 TR, Smith and 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. He had many, more Jews in his (almost) inside circle than Truman. But in fact, his inside, inside circle was small; Howe, (Livingston “Livy” Davis, before his Presidency), LeHand, and Hopkins. They were his only (Livingston Davis a friend from Harvard) four intimates and the four never talked about anything until their deaths. So going on 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. 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.
It is too bad that these remarks come out. Unfortunately truth isn't always pretty!