Friday, April 5, 2013

Franklin Roosevelt and the Holocaust

American Jews have long considered Franklin Roosevelt to be the fourth patriarch. You know, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Franklin.

Had you asked American Jews who they would choose to conduct American foreign during the Hitler Era, they would unanimously have chosen FDR.

Convinced that Republicans were racists and anti-Semites, they were happy to entrust the fate of European Jewry to a philo-Semite like FDR.

Even today they know that if Republicans had been running American foreign policy during the Hitler years, there would have been a Holocaust of European Jews.

The belief is an article of faith. It is impervious to fact and to reason.

In 1939, for example, a German ocean liner carrying 937 German Jewish refugees tried to unload in Miami. The Roosevelt administration refused to allow it to dock, so the refugees were returned to Europe where a third of them were exterminated in Nazi concentration camps.

American Jews shrugged.

American Jews have always defended FDR. He was their man. Thus, anyone who criticized him was also attacking their judgment. We can't have that.

Despite the whitewash of FDR, many nay-sayers have always insisted that he could have done more to help European Jews. They have presented an extensive array of facts to support their position. To no avail.

So, the myths have overwhelmed the facts. It is commonly believed in the Jewish community that FDR did the best that anyone could have done under the circumstances. It is commonly held that the primary obstacle to his doing more was isolationist and anti-Semitic Republicans. And it is commonly accepted that FDR’s primary duty was to win the war, and that tactics to slow down the Nazi death machine would have diverted assets from the war effort.

Now, historian Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies has written a new book, FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith in which he argues that Roosevelt could have done much more than he did, but that he did not because he did not like Jews and did not want very many more of them in America.

It’s an incendiary charge, leveled by a reputable scholar, threatening a liberal Jewish icon. You can be sure that the media will ignore it.

In an interview with The Daily Caller, Medoff outlines his case against FDR:

He could have quietly permitted the immigration quotas to be filled to their legal limit — that alone would have saved 190,000 lives. (Instead, the administration imposed extra requirements that disqualified most would-be immigrants.) He could have pressed the British to open Palestine’s doors to Jewish refugees. He could have authorized the use of empty troop-supply ships to bring refugees to stay in the U.S. temporarily, until the end of the war. He could have permitted refugees to stay as tourists in a U.S. territory, such as the Virgin Islands, until it was safe for them to return to Europe. He could have authorized the bombing of Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it, which would have interrupted the mass-murder process.

Could allied forces have bombed Auschwitz without diverting resources from the war effort? Medoff responds:

Bombing Auschwitz would not have required any diversion of resources, because U.S. planes were already bombing targets that were less than five miles from the gas chambers, during the summer and autumn of 1944. Incidentally, one of the American pilots who flew over Auschwitz in 1944 was young George McGovern, the future presidential nominee.

Medoff continues:

All of the arguments that Roosevelt administration officials made against bombing Auschwitz were disingenuous. They claimed they had done a study that found bombing Auschwitz was not feasible; but no such study was ever done. They claimed bombing Auschwitz would require a diversion of resources; but U.S. planes repeatedly flew within a few miles of the death camp in 1944 and did not have to be diverted from anywhere else. They claimed bombing Auschwitz would provoke the Germans to take “more vindictive action”; but there was nothing more vindictive than gassing 12,000 Jews daily.

It is true that during the Great Depression, the one that the New Deal was supposed to have solved but that didn’t, there was significant opposition to any modification in the immigration laws.

Medoff explains that even under the immigration laws that were in place at the time, FDR could have done more:

It’s true that there was strong public and congressional opposition to liberalizing the immigration laws. But FDR didn’t need to start a fight with Congress over the issue. All he had to do was quietly permit the existing quotas to be filled. The quotas from Germany and Axis-occupied countries were less than 25 percent filled during most of the Roosevelt years. If FDR had allowed them to be filled — without any public controversy, announcements, or battles — 190,000 lives would have been saved. The main problem was not domestic considerations; the main problem was President Roosevelt’s desire to keep Jewish refugee immigration to a minimum.

When he asks what accounted for FDR’s failure to save more Jews from the Holocaust, Medoff responds that the great liberal icon was afflicted with anti-Semitism:

In his private, unguarded moments, FDR repeatedly made unfriendly remarks about Jews, especially his belief that Jews were overrepresented in many professions and exercised too much influence and control on society. This prejudice helped shape his overall vision of what America should look like — and it was a vision with room for only a small number of Jews who, he said, should be “spread out thin.” This helps explain why his administration went out of its way discourage and disqualify would-be immigrants, instead of just quietly allowing the immigration quotas to be filled to their legal limit.

Have a nice day!


Sam L. said...

I am not surprised. And the Jews seem to love the Dems to this day, uncritically. That I do not understand.

Veronica said...

It's no surprise, unfortunately. EVERY early-to-mid 20th century WASPy guy held Anti-Semitic attitudes. It was taken for granted. (And, having a Jewish father myself, I am certainly not excusing it.)

I will say, however, that noxious attitudes held and terrible actions taken by great men and women of the past don't necessarily invalidate the good work they did. A number of the founders owned slaves and Abraham Lincoln certainly harbored racist beliefs about black people's alleged inferiority. These facts do not invalidate the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Emancipation Proclamation, which must be judged, and may be judged favorably, on their own merits.

Kristi said...

Except, Veronica, it would be helpful if FDR had done something that could be judged favorably on its own merits.

Veronica said...

Stuart mentions the admiration many Jews hold for FDR, despite, or perhaps in ignorance of, his anti-Semitism. One of the things I've found occasionally unnerving as a woman (specifically a feminist woman) and as a person of some Jewish background is the realization that many historical figures whom I admire or would want to have dinner with would probably look at ME with a jaundiced eye. I think that experience of viewing history as a member of historically disliked groups sometimes forces one into more nuanced views of historical figures and events - a dynamic I find fascinating,

Kristi, I think you've definitely raised the relevant question - though I will say I'm not here to defend FDR. I'm here for the antifeminism, which I find interesting combined with Stuart's Miss Manners love. An interesting, counterintuitive dynamic!

JP said...

"So, the myths have overwhelmed the facts. It is commonly believed in the Jewish community that FDR did the best that anyone could have done under the circumstances."

It's pretty obvious now that he could have done much more than he did.

However, he did manage to keep the United States together during the 1930's, which was the most important thing.

However, he certainly disliked Jewish people.

I compare FDR with someone like Ulysses S. Grant, who made one order that was distinctly anti-Jewish, but other than that really didn't seem to dislike Jewish people.

I really don't like FDR, but I think that he did the job that he needed to do.

So, I'm fine with putting him down in the "overall positive contributor to civilization" column.

Also, that being said, a lot of Jewish people died because of FDR's actions and inaction and there was no reason or excuse for these deaths.

I'm not sure that anyone other than FDR could have maintained the integrity of the United States during the great depression.

Anonymous said...

Monday morning quarterback.

Hindsight fallacy.

Psychologist's fallacy.

Personal bias.

These are terms I contemplate when reading essays like this one.

Anonymous said...

Purely by cooncidence, I am reading a review essay of the book "I See Satan Fall Like Lightning," by Rene Gerard.

Gerard apparently originated what is being called Mimetic Theory to apply to the interpretaton of literature and history.

In the Mimetic Theory of Gerard, as I understand it, the Jewish prophets represent the effort to empathize with the scapegoat victims. This breaks with the mythology in which the transfer of powerless suffering to a scapegoat is justified by the stories and sacrifice rituals of societies.

The Jewish prophets (and Jews) thus become the object of contempt for those who have contempt for victims.

In the review essay, David Lyle Jeffrey writes, "Hitler's goal was to root out of European culture the concern for victims."

This essay is about the psychology of concern or lack of concern for victims, in my opinion, and what people do with that psychology. It is not about FDR per se.

Sam L. said...

Thanks, Veronica, for that last comment.

David Foster said...

Anon 9:50 AM..."the Jewish prophets represent the effort to empathize with the scapegoat victims. This breaks with the mythology in which the transfer of powerless suffering to a scapegoat is justified by the stories and sacrifice rituals of societies. The Jewish prophets (and Jews) thus become the object of contempt for those who have contempt for victims.

In the review essay, David Lyle Jeffrey writes, "Hitler's goal was to root out of European culture the concern for victims.""

Interesting thoughts. But Hitler and other Nazis were quick to paint GERMANS of various things/people/forces (the Versailles treaty, the mythical "traitors" of 1918, the Jews, British capitalists, etc)....I don't think they were trying to root out empathy for victims so much as constrain the universe of people to whom empathy should apply.

Anonymous said...

I am Anon 8:01 and 9:50. Alice Miller makes a case for repitition of violence under the phrase compulsion to repeat. Here is an essay that is onlone regarding how Adolph Hitler could morph into a monster:

The "in-group" would be anyone who also has contempt for the former child in oneself and others. The scapegoat could be any group. The idea expressed by Gerard about the Jews is that those who have an urge to find scapegoats are going to be at odds with the message of the Jewish prophets which condemns the compulsion to blame scapegoats.

Veronica said...

David Foster, Brilliant and fascinating comment! I will be pondering that for a while.

Anon, I tend to think Alice Miller is spot on. Norman Mailer's fictionalized biography of the young Hitler ("The Castle in the Forest") blames a combination of his authoritarian father's harsh methods and his mother's overly indulgent love. But I suspect it's the abuse, not love no matter how indulgent, that creates a monster, and people willing to follow a monster.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

One slight correction to anon's last comment: the concept of repetition compulsion comes from Freud.

Be that as it may, the best book about the origin of Hitler is Ron Rosenbaum's Explaining Hitler. Rosenbaum goes through all the psychological and sociological theories that have tried to answer the question of what made Hitler what he was.

It's an excellent book.

Veronica said...

Will read!

Anonymous said...

I wrote Anon 8:01, 9:50, and 6:13 above. Here is a very well written essay about the challenges we all face on the "Drama Triangle:"

There is a challenge resolving the pain of the past to make better use of emotions within the ability to reason in the present.

Psychology is a strange profession because in childhood the victim cannot afford to pay for a rescuer. If both the therapist and clients are former victims, the roles are reversed in therapy, the client is expected to pay for help from a rescuer and the therapist is potentially an egotist who gets a payoff from keeping his or her patients in psychological "debt."

In other words there are thousands of ways to re-enact dysfunctional parent-child relationships. In general we call these re-enactments "civilization."

Amparo said...

This is cool!