Such an accusation was made against America in general and its leader, Franklin D. Why did not the United States let the St.
Lesson: The Holocaust: Bearing Witness | Facing History
Louis , a German ship carrying Jewish refugees to Cuba in , land at an American port when Cuba refused them admission? Also, perhaps the most frequently asked question of the last decade, why did the Allies not bomb Auschwitz and the railways that fed it?
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The people who pose these questions believe they know the answers. How much truth is there in these painful assertions? As we ask ourselves what more might have been done to save the innocent, we must frame our response in the context of the realities of World War II and the events and values of the years that preceded it. Thomas Mann, the most famous of the non-Jewish refugees from the Nazis, met with FDR at the White House in and confided that for the first time he believed the Nazis would be beaten because in Roosevelt he had met someone who truly grasped the evil of Adolf Hitler.
The German Jews numbered about , in For the most part they wanted to be thought of as Germans. AntiSemitism shadowed their lives, but they thought of Germany as their country and were deeply rooted in its existence. In the face of Nazi persecution, those who left Germany did so reluctantly, many seeking refuge in neighboring countries, from which they expected to return once the Hitler madness subsided.
In the early years many, if not most, believed Hitler and his regime could not survive. When, in , Rabbi Stephen Wise, one of the most powerful and respected leaders of the American Jewish community during that era and a personal friend and close adviser of President Roosevelt, organized a New York rally to protest Nazi treatment of Jews, he received a message from leading German rabbis urging him to cut out such meetings and which, insultingly, indicated that American Jews were doing this for their own purposes and in the process were destroying the Germany that German Jews loved.
Rabbi Wise never wavered in his belief that the only option for Jews was to leave Germany.
As the Nazi persecution intensified, as the Nuremberg Laws further degraded the Jews as had nothing before, as Hitler strove to make them emigrate and confiscated their property, the prospect of escape and exile had to shadow every Jewish family. In thirty-seven thousand Jews fled Germany, but in the relative calm of the next year, sixteen thousand returned.
Every Jewish group affirmed the right of Jews to be German, to live in and love their country; they affirmed the legal right, the moral necessity, and the religious imperative of not surrendering to their persecutors. As important as any barriers to immigration in Western countries was the desire not to leave Germany until absolutely necessary. It is crucial to our understanding of these years to remember that at the time no one inside or outside Germany anticipated that the Nazi persecution would lead to the Holocaust. The actions of the German government were generally understood by both victims and bystanders as a return to the sorts of persecutions of prior centuries, not as steps on the road toward genocide.
Kristallnacht in November changed the situation dramatically.
Huge, silent crowds looked on, The police did nothing to contain the violence. Many German Jews for the first time understood the hopelessness of their situation, and some looked west across the Atlantic. The America that elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt its President in was a deeply troubled country. Twentyfive percent of its work force was unemployed—this at a time when practically every member of that work force was the principal support of a family.
The economy was paralyzed, while disillusion after the sacrifices of the First World War fomented profound isolationist sentiments.
A formula assigned a specific quota to countries based on the population origins of Americans living in the United States in The law was aimed at Eastern Europe, particularly Russia and Poland, which were seen as seedbeds of bolshevism. Italians were targeted, and Asians practically excluded. The total number of immigrants who could be admitted annually was set at ,; the two countries of origin given the highest quotas were Great Britain 65, and Germany 25, The deepening Depression encouraged an unusual coalition of liberal and conservative forces, labor unions and business leaders, to oppose any enlargement of the immigration quotas.
The Spanish who wanted to escape a civil war that between and killed half a million people faced an annual quota of The President and Mrs. Roosevelt were leaders in the effort to help those fleeing Nazi persecution. Eleanor Roosevelt was a founder, in , of the International Rescue Committee, which brought intellectuals, labor leaders, and political figures to sanctuary in the United States.
President Roosevelt made a public point of inviting many of them to the White House. As a result the United States accepted twice as many Jewish refugees as did all other countries put together. As the historian Gerhard L. Weinberg has shown, Roosevelt acted in the face of strong and politically damaging criticism for what was generally considered a proJewish attitude.
The conference, which met in Evian, France, tried to open new doors in the Western Hemisphere. At first things went well; the Dominican Republic, for example, offered to give sanctuary to , refugees. Then came a devastating blow: The Polish and Romanian governments announced that they expected the same right as the Germans to expel their Jewish populations.
There were fewer than , Jews left in Germany and Austria at this point—a number manageable in an emigration plan that the twentynine participating nations could prepare—but with the possibility of 3. Quotas are thought even now to deter unscrupulous and impoverished regimes from forcing their unwanted people on other countries.
The Evian Conference failed to accomplish anything except organization of the Inter-Governmental Committee IGC , which was to pressure the Germans to allow Jewish refugees to leave with enough resources to begin their new lives. Schacht proposed that , Jews be allowed to emigrate, taking 25 percent of their assets with them, the rest to be impounded in a trust fund that would serve as collateral on bonds to be issued by the German state.
Never again? The Holocaust can happen again — and it’s up to us to stop it
Americans in opinion polls showed anger and disgust with the Nazis and sympathy for the Jews; nevertheless, Roosevelt remained the target of the hard-core anti-Semites in America. He fought them shrewdly and effectively, managing to isolate them from mainstream America and essentially equating their anti-Semitism with treason destructive to both the national interest and national defense.
Recognizing the inertia at the State Department, he entrusted Sumner Welles, the Undersecretary of State and a man wholly sympathetic to Jewish needs, to be his instrument of action. Immigration procedures were complicated and sometimes harshly administered. The laws and quotas were jealously guarded by Congress, supported by a strong, broad cross section of Americans who were against all immigrants, not just Jews. Of course, there were racists and anti-Semites in the Congress and in the country, as there are today, only now they dare not speak their true attitudes.
The State Department, deeply protective of its administrative authority in the granting of visas, was frequently more concerned with congressional attitudes and criticisms than with reflecting American decency and generosity in helping people in despair and panic.
Roosevelt undoubtedly made a mistake in appointing as Assistant Secretary of State Breckenridge Long, who many allege was an anti-Semite. His presence at State was an assurance to Congress that the immigration laws would be strictly enforced. On the other hand there were countless Foreign Service officers who did everything possible to help persecuted, innocent people, just as they would today.
There was an attitude that many sanctuaries besides the United States existed in the world, so the department, controlled by a career elite, conservative and in large part antiNew Deal and anti-FDR, was quite prepared to make congressional attitudes rather than those of the White House the guide for their administration of immigration procedures. Yet, between and , 35 percent of all immigrants to America under quota guidelines were Jewish.
After Kristallnacht , Jewish immigrants were more than half of all immigrants admitted to the United States. Of course there were other countries of refuge; public opinion in democracies everywhere indicated that people had been repelled by the Nazi persecution. Great Britain, for example, after Kristallnacht granted immigration visas essentially without limit. In the first six months of , there were 91, German and Austrian Jews admitted to England, often as a temporary port en route to the dominions or other parts of the Commonwealth.
7 FACTORS THAT LED TO THE HOLOCAUST
For his part, Roosevelt, knowing that he did not have the power to change the quota system of his own country, was constantly seeking havens for the refugees in other countries. His critics severely underestimate limitations on presidential power; clearly, the President could not unilaterally command an increase in quotas. In fact, the Democratic congressional leaders, including Rep.
Samuel Dickstein, who chaired the House subcommittee on immigration, warned him that reactionary forces in Congress might well use any attempt to increase the quotas as an opportunity to reduce them. By the time the war made further emigration impossible, 72 percent of all German Jews had left the country—and 83 percent of all those under twentyone. There are many reasons why the others did not get out: Some were too old to leave; some, like the brave chief rabbi of Berlin, Leo Baeck, believed it their religious duty to stay; some were in concentration camps and prisons; some just did not know what to do.
Even after Kristallnacht nobody could foresee the events that became the Holocaust. Everyone knew that human history had been scarred by endless cruelties. Given the reality of the Holocaust, all of us in every country—and certainly in America—can only wish that we had done more, that our immigration barriers had been lower, that our Congress had had a broader world view, that every public servant had shared the beliefs of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
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Lipstadt's alarm about the increasing influence of those who claim that the Holocaust never happened that helped provoke her to write "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory. At the moment it is probably quite limited. Lipstadt completed her book, a poll by the Roper Organization found that 20 percent of United States high school students and 22 percent of adults think it seems "possible" that the Holocaust never happened. It is conceivable, of course, that some Americans would doubt the historical reality of the Holocaust even if the Holocaust deniers had never issued their tracts.
There is, after all, a certain level of skepticism, endemic in any society, about even the most settled of historical truths -- including, probably, World War II or the past existence of slavery in this country. But it seems unlikely that as many as a fifth of all Americans would have doubts that the Holocaust ever happened were it not for the strenuous efforts during the last half-century, and especially during the last 15 years, of the Holocaust deniers, who have grown ever more successful in having their arguments presented -- and heard with receptivity and respect -- in high school classrooms, on college campuses and on television talk shows.
Clearly, Ms. Lipstadt's important and impassioned work, as well as Pierre Vidal-Naquet's penetrating "Assassins of Memory: Essays on the Denial of the Holocaust," could not have come at a better time. The two books are apt accompaniments to the recent opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, which tells the story of the destruction of Europe's Jews by Nazi Germany with immense power, compelling immediacy and a stunning fidelity to the truth. Not surprisingly, attempts were made to interrupt the museum's dedication on April 22 by Holocaust deniers, who demonstrated against the museum's "Jewish lies" and handed out pamphlets.
Although those deniers would have had no interest in reading either of these books, it is good to know they are now available to people of good will who do not know what to say, or what to think, when they are told -- by demonstrators, in advertisements, in classrooms or on television -- that the Holocaust never happened. The two books cover some of the same ground but are quite different in tone, focus and organization.
Both analyze the arguments of the Holocaust deniers and demolish them thoroughly and effectively. But Ms.
Causes and Motivations
Lipstadt, who teaches religious studies at Emory University, has written a book that, unlike Mr. Vidal-Naquet's, provides a comprehensive account of Holocaust denial, particularly from an American perspective and particularly for the reader with little prior knowledge of the subject. It rigorously traces the movement's roots and development both in this country and abroad, describes the ways the deniers have managed to focus attention on their arguments in both educational institutions and the news media, and explores the susceptibility of Americans, as well as others, to their arguments.
It is, naturally, more concerned than Ms. Lipstadt's book with Holocaust denial in France, and occasionally assumes that the reader is acquainted with French intellectual currents. Though no less outraged than Ms. Lipstadt by the Holocaust deniers, Mr.