Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Jewish Community
Richard J. Garfunkel
Speech given at Kol Ami Senior Citizens Group
November 9, 2004
In addressing you this morning I wish to thank my friend Barbara Schwarz for inviting me to share with you some of my thoughts on this important subject. Over the past 70 years one of the most wrenching questions that has faced our country and succeeding generations of both Jews and free people everywhere is what happened to the Jews from 1933-45? In other words, why did it happen, could it have been prevented, could some of it be prevented, whose ultimate fault was it, did the Western democracies fail, and what was the responsibility of its leaders?
These are daunting questions that historians, and the average citizen alike, have been struggling now for almost 60 years after the true evidence of the Holocaust was revealed in the wake of the destruction and surrender of Nazi forces all over liberated Europe.
In a sense, over the past decades much speculation has arisen over the role the United States played in this tragedy and what real relationship FDR had in its unfolding. Of course this tragedy did not start in 1933 but its seeds had germinated long before in the squalid shtetls of Eastern Europe and in the more sophisticated drawing rooms, clubs, venues and legislatures of modern Europe. The seeds of the Holocaust were sown deep in the consciousness of the Europe over the past two thousand years and only in the period of “enlightenment” did the Jews of Europe start to experience the “partial” fruits of freedom. And yet, until the Second World War there was a locked-in Jewish ghetto in Rome that was supported by the Vatican.
Of course the key player in this drama was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, who was elected in November 1932, in the throes of the Great Depression, which had started with the stock market collapse of 1929. By the time of FDR’s election in 1932, the stock market retained only 17% of its value from the pre-crash month of September 1929. So in other words by FDR’s inauguration, that took place on March 4th of 1933, conditions had gotten a good deal worse and our social and economic situation was in virtual free-fall. Also please remember, that in 1933 the President was inaugurated in March, not January. That spring event was a vestige of the earlier years of our history when the winter precluded people from traveling. So there were four long months from the election until inauguration.
Therefore when FDR took the oath of office on that cold wintry day in March of 1933 and stated that the “only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” the economic situation in this country was quite grave. Ironically a month earlier on January 30th, 1933, Hitler and his Nazi brigands were taking the reins of leadership in Germany from the aging Chancellor Paul von Hindenburg. (At Hindenburg’s death in August of 1934, Hitler assumed complete dictatorial power over Germany and abolished freedom of speech and assembly.)
We here are all old enough to remember most of that sordid history. Therefore this background foreshadows the upcoming events that would lead to first, the persecution of the Jews of Germany, and the emigration of many Jews from Germany, the expansion of Hitler’s Third Reich or Empire into Austria and the Sudetenland, and the coming of the Second World War. Eventually the war would cause the murder of at least 6 million Jews amongst the 67 million or so others who lost their lives in history’s greatest conflagration.
With respect to this background, the question that has been gnawing at Jews, all over the world, since that time, is what role could the United States have played in rescuing more Jews from the jaws of the Nazi onslaught. Of course the main player in that tragic drama was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And the question that people still ask today is what was FDR’s relationship with the Jewish people, how did it effect his thinking and actions, and what was his true role in the drama regarding the tragedy of European Jews?
Franklin Roosevelt was born to a comfortable family in Hyde Park, New York on a estate called Springwood that overlooks the Hudson River just north of Poughkeepsie. FDR was a product of the “Gilded Age” and was the only son of James Roosevelt and his much younger second wife Sara Delano. James Roosevelt’s first wife Rebecca Howland died earlier, and they had one son James Roosevelt Roosevelt, known as “Rosie,” who was 29 years older than FDR.
FDR was the product of an adoring mother, and an aging father, whose health would start to deteriorate when FDR was an adolescent. He was home educated until he was sent to the Groton School for upper class privileged boys, which was directed by the Reverend Endicott Peabody. FDR therefore was not only a product of his times, but also a captive of the prejudices and class structure that controlled America in the late Victorian Age. The Roosevelts socialized with their own landed class and basically restricted much of their interaction within the large framework of the Roosevelt family, which had two distinct branches, the Oyster Bay family of Theodore Roosevelt and the Hyde Park or Hudson River family of James Roosevelt.
It was at one of these family gatherings that FDR first met his future bride Eleanor Roosevelt, a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a fifth cousin of young Franklin Roosevelt. Later on they would be attracted to each other, and fall in love. The Roosevelts were distinctively an inward looking family and inter-marriage with cousins was not unusual. Even though FDR’s strong willed mother Sara was initially opposed to their marriage, and after they had a secret engagement for a year, they eventually were married in 1904 on St. Patrick’s Day in NYC. They were married on that day because of Uncle Teddy Roosevelt’s appearance in NYC for the parade, and he was able to give away the orphaned bride.
Of course because of Eleanor Roosevelt’s well-chronicled early life, she had developed a sense of social conscientiousness. This was not completely unusual for persons of her class. This sense of social justice did not make her immune from prejudice and her early letters reflected her negative feelings to other races and religions, including Jews. But with her work at the Henry Street Settlement, she came in contact with many of the Jewish poor, the Jewish intellectuals and social workers who were trying to help them survive.
Eleanor’s activity had a great influence on FDR whose mother also believed in charity. 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 noveaux 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 those early days there is no evidence of FDR’s antipathy towards Jews or any other group. 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 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.
Roosevelt had very little contact with minorities or Jews in those formative years. Eventually FDR was asked to run for the New York State Senate by his friend and mentor Judge John Mack, and he was elected twice from his home area of Hyde Park. His short time in the Senate was marked by some intense Democratic intra-party struggles and there he met Al Smith, a rising star in the legislature, who would be a great influence on his future political life. After campaigning vigorously for the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912, FDR was rewarded for his work with an appointment to the office of Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a post that his famous cousin Teddy Roosevelt had also served.
Of course 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.
Not long after his unsuccessful campaign for Vice-President in 1920, FDR, who was an ardent internationalist in the mode of Woodrow Wilson, was afflicted with Infantile Paralysis, or Polio. His public career was shattered, and after his close brush with death, his energies were strictly channeled towards recovery. At this time his old friendships waned, and he was left with a small circle of friends and supporters that included his wife, his friend and political advisor Louis Howe, and his secretary Marguerite “Missy” LeHand. Of course there were some others, but they started to drift away and FDR who was always a self-contained and lonely individual restricted his new life to that small circle. In those dark days FDR sought recovery away from home and in the warm waters off South Carolina in a houseboat named the Larocco. There he discovered Warm Springs, Georgia, and he would use the natural warm waters at an old run-down resort to help his rehabilitation. Eventually he would buy the Warm Springs location for $201,000 or two-thirds of his personal estate.
After this phase of his life passed, FDR came in contact with Henry M. Morgenthau, Jr., a well-off country farmer from the Hudson River Valley. He was the son of statesman Henry Morgenthau, and was married to Elinor Fatman, who was a Lehman. They both had common interests in agriculture, and the Roosevelts enjoyed the company of the Morgenthaus with the two wives becoming quite friendly. As he continued to recover, FDR was asked by Al Smith to nominate his at the 1924 Democratic National Convention and that is where FDR nicknamed Al Smith the “Happy Warrior.” FDR eventually was asked by Smith to nominate him again in 1928. Smith was nominated by the party this time and implored Roosevelt to run for Governor of New York. Of course, Smith the first Catholic nominee for President lost in a landslide, and FDR narrowly defeated Albert Ottinger for Governor of New York. Ottinger was Jewish, wealthy, the New York State Attorney-General, conservative and the uncle of Richard Ottinger who represented this district for many years. There was some anti-Semitism hurled against Ottinger, and FDR obviously and indirectly benefited from it, but he had nothing what ever to do with its promulgation. He reputed it, and the subject was soon forgotten.
As Governor he came in contact and started to depend on Jewish people like Rose Schneiderman, who was Smith’s chief of Staff in Albany, and Robert Moses, who as Secretary of State, remained in his powerful state positions and Sidney Hillman who would become one of FDR’s allies with the labor movement. He appointed Samuel I. Rosenman to be his chief associate and this relationship would last until FDR’s death. Therefore important Jewish personages surrounded FDR, as Governor of New York.
As the Depression emerged from the Stock Market collapse of 1929, Roosevelt was re-elected overwhelmingly in 1930 and became the leading Democrat to challenge President Herbert Hoover in 1932.
Of course, during this dark period in American History, anti-Semitism started to emerge much more virulently on the American stage. In the post World War I period of the 1920’s, isolationism returned as a potent political force. The Wilson internationalists, who had favored the League of Nations and the World Court, were in full retreat. Out of this isolationism came a wave of revisionist writings decrying our effort in World War I. Midwestern German-Americans were stung by the anti-German hysteria of the First World War and started to question the rationale of the effort. This wave of anti-British feeling resonated within the hearts of the large German-American population. (40% of all Americans had German blood in 1930.) Along with these feelings, the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany started to spread to their American cousins. Eventually fed by the flames of Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic newspaper, the Dearborn Gazette, isolationism, hatred for the British, anti-Semitism started to creep into the American political culture and lexicon.
In addition to this, in the wake of the Depression, the radio Priest Father Charles Coughlin started to spout anti-Semitic ravings to an audience of millions. Along with his diatribes, American neo-fascist groups like the Silver Shirts started to attract memebers all over the heartland of America. Even in the New York City area of Yorkville, the German-American Bund started to emerge as a para-military political and social threat.
As we know FDR was elected President in 1932 and when he took office on March 4, 1933, he was focused on stopping the emerging panic as banks began to close all over the United States. Business collapses, farm foreclosures, bank closings, Hooverville shantytowns, breadlines, and 30% unemployment started to cause economic gridlock, and if action wasn’t initiated with a sense or urgency and immediacy the country could face civil insurrection and collapse.
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.
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’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!”
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.)
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.
In and out of the United States, there was conflict in the Jewish community over what direction immigration should take. Many Zionist-leaning-Jews did not want vast immigration to the United States, but wanted any and all Jews to go to Palestine. They felt without the resulting consequence of large numbers of European Jews there would be no future Jewish State!
Generally there was great opposition to any type of emigration to America 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. A 1984 Commission Chaired by former UN Ambassador and Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg 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 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.”
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 Cellar of NY, and Sabath of Ill., introduced a bill to increase the quota they were told by the 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., 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.
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.)
Americans were so opposed to intervening on behalf of Britain, that in the last Gallup Poll taken 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. They never anticipated a world war and they surely never expected to be victims of the “Final Solution.” After Kristalnacht, 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. As early as 1924 there were legislated 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, 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. Only when Secretary Morgenthau became aware of this 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.
Of course the America’s mindset was preoccupied with domestic issues during the Great Depression, and when war clouds started to darken the European horizon with regard to the rise of totalitarian governments, FDR started his lonely effort to re-arm America, but faced constant opposition from an isolationist Congress. When he made his famous “Quarantine Speech,” in October of 1937, he called for the economic quarantine of “aggressor” nations through sanctions; he was vilified in the press. He was castigated in Congress and was threatened with impeachment. He was so shocked from the negative reviews from friend and foe alike that he was literally shocked into silence. The public was horrified that any President would have the foolishness to risk America getting into another European or foreign war.
Roosevelt understood the dual problem of a Nazi victory in Europe and the lack of preparedness in the United States. Of course up until the time of Krystalnacht only a few thousand Jews had been arrested and incarcerated in “concentration” camps, a term and a system invented and used by the British in dealing with Irish revolutionaries. Not long after that Krystalnacht, Hitler invaded Poland and World War II broke out in Europe, and as a result most of Europe’s Jewry would be trapped forever in Eastern Europe. We now know that one of the ultimate war plans of Hitler and his Nazi cohorts was the elimination of European Jewry. In her well regarded and documented book The War Against the Jews. Lucy Dawidowicz outlines the massive effort to kill Jews even when the war was apparently lost. Most of the Jews were killed in the last two years of the war, as they were a people living in hostile lands, and caught between two surging armies and retreating armies. The vast numbers of European Jews lived mostly in Poland, Lithuania, the USSR, Hungary and Romania. They were far beyond the reach of allied armies. When the Nazis started their murderous campaign against the Jews it was done by forward units of the SS called Einsatzgruppen. This monstrous campaign tied up thousands of soldiers and ordinance, and in actuality it wound up being psychologically debilitating to many of those who carried out these heinous acts. For those issues of morale and logistics the “death camps” were designed.
According to Martin Gilbert, the renowned British historian, 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 late 1944. After an incredible effort staged by volunteers of the Jewish Agency to penetrate the transportation cattle cars, evidence reached the World Jewish Congress.
Of course, 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, the Assistant Secretary of War, 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. David Ben-Gurion, 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.
Also, with regards 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 stations. The effect on this type of bombing was worthwhile, but German work crews, numbering thousands, would spend the nights repairing these yards.
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, “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 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 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.
Of course 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. 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 summation FDR, who in the second half of his life had few personal friends, was a product of American aristocracy. He was brought up in a privileged atmosphere like few other Americans. He was educated at the best private schools usually reserved for the financially and social elite.
Through all of this, he probably went through an epiphany with regards to his crippling by polio. He was always a democrat like his father, and became a progressive like his famous cousin Theodore Roosevelt. He learned about the disadvantaged through his wife’s social concerns, and his experience in New York State politics with the reformer Al Smith. He understood the politics regarding minorities that made up New York, and he learned principles from his association with Woodrow Wilson. Through his life he indulged in some small examples of class prejudice, but all in all, through his vast collections of letters, both personal and private, there is no real example of bigotry. With regard to his associations with Jews they were novel and advanced for the period. He had an “open” friendship with Henry Morgenthau who served in his cabinet for 12 years. Morgenthau 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.)
With regard to politics, FDR was a bold man, but could be described as James McGregor Burns did, as being the combination of the “lion and the fox.” FDR knew innately, from his long and agonizing experience with Woodrow Wilson, regarding his last months in office, that if a politician gets too far ahead of his constituents, and looks over his shoulder and sees no one following, he is in trouble. FDR knew also from his experience in World War I and the struggles over the League of Nations, that alliances are fragile. FDR understood the need to build a unified people for the war against totalitarianism, and he also knew the difficulty of keeping the Allies together. FDR thoughts were always focused on the defeat of the Nazis and the Japanese aggressors. He also knew that the public would not fully back a war to “save the Jews!” Quite often he heard feedback that American participation in the war was being egged on by the Jews and the British. Long before Pearl Harbor, he was hearing this every day first hand from the popular Charles Lindbergh and his American First Group and his Liberty Lobby allies. FDR fought an undeclared war against German U-Boats in the Atlantic, and stated in his Four Freedom’s State of the Union Speech of January 6, 1941, that the ultimate security of the United States would depend on an Allied victory over fascism. Aware of the public’s fear of direct involvement in the war, Roosevelt carefully avoided any open statement regarding an intention to intervene in the conflict. This combination of pragmatism and idealism characterizing this famous speech epitomized Roosevelt’s public style.
Later that year FDR met with Winston Churchill on the cruiser Augusta off Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, and authored the framework of the Atlantic Charter. This remarkable meeting and document set the course for future meetings during the war and for the eventual victory that came in 1945.
In summation, with all we know today, could the Holocaust been avoided? Could many more Jews have been saved? Who bares 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 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 states 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.
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.
FDR, His Life and Times, an Encyclopedic View, editied by Otis L. Graham Meghan Robinson Wander, 1985, GK Hall
The Making of the New Deal, edited by Katie Louchheim, 1983, Harvard Press
The Soldier of Freedom, James MacGregor Burns, 1970, Harcourt,
The Roosevelt Chronicles, Nathan Miller, 1979, Doubleday
FDR, a Biography, Ted Morgan, 1985, Simon and Shuster
Dealers and Dreamers, Joseph Lash, 1988, Doubleday
Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy 1932-4, Robert Dallek, 1979, Oxford University Press
Before the Trumpet, Young Franklin Roosevelt 1882-1905, Geoffrey C. Ward, 1985 Harper and Row
A First Class Temperment, the Emergence of Frankklin Roosevelt, Geoffrey C. Ward, 1989, Harper & Row
Franklin D. Roosevelt, A Rendezvous with Destiny, Frank Friedel, 1990, Little Brown
Comments on Michael Beschloss’ The Conquerers, by William vanden Heuval, Roosevelt Institute, March 2003 Newsletter
Article: US Jewry Faulted in Holocaust Report, NY Times, March 21, 1984
The Jewish Week-American Examiner- February 21, 1982