Sunday, May 3, 2009

FDR and the Jews - the myths

I can't say that my elders would specifically tell me that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a good friend of the Jews. However, I did not meet a Jewish Republican until I was 14 or 15 years old. It was one of our neighbors who had a successful business, and his admission, I think, shocked everyone who heard it.

I do know that my father worshipped Eleanor Roosevelt but I never had a chance to ask him if it was because of FDR or her human rights record after World War II.

Personal experiences aside, there has been, among Jews, a long time fascination with FDR and his alleged support for Jewish causes.

For several years, FDR's record on the Jews has been under attack. Questions about his regard or disregard of German refugees and his failure to order the bombing of concentration camps or the rail lines leading to them have not been met with great answers.

A new book, "Refugees and Rescue: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald 1933-1945," edited by Richard Breitman, Severin Hochberg, and Barbara McDonald Stewart, published this week by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Indiana University Press "claims to “reveal” FDR’s interest in settling large numbers of Jewish refugees in Africa or Latin America in the 1930s."

Well, the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies looked at the book and in an article on its website, “New Evidence” on FDR’s Response To The Holocaust? Not New, Not Evidence debunks much of what the book claims to show--that FDR was concerned about the plight of Jewish refugees.

I think it's worthwhile to spend a few minutes reading the Wyman report on the book. Here are some abstracts from NOT NEW, NOT EVIDENCE:

What Breitman/Hochberg Claim:

“we have found some fundamentally new information about the president’s views and policies before and during the Holocaust...”
What the Historical Record Shows:

The “resettlement initiatives” cited by Breitman/Hochberg were actually revealed in other books many years ago. They are not “new evidence.” As the analysis below demonstrates, they were discussed in detail in HenryFeingold’s The Politics of Rescue (1970), David Wyman’s Paper Walls (1968), Haim Genizi’s American Apathy (1983), and in Prof. Breitman’s own 1987 book, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry (coauthored by Alan Kraut), as well as other books.

Not only are the Breitman/Hochberg claims not new, they also do not demonstrate FDR’s sincere interest in helping the Jews. Rather, they simply reiterate the well-known fact that Roosevelt harbored grandiose visions about the refugee problem that were not rooted in reality, and which he made no serious effort to implement.

1 comment:

ModernityBlog said...

I wonder if time has meant that FDR's role, passive or otherwise has become far too romanticised ?

Reading a bit over the years I get the feeling (and it is only that) FDR was preoccupied with the running of the war to be too concerned (other than lip service) with the fate of European Jews? From memory, he had an awful antisemite as Secretary of State? Cordell Hull, then there is the slowness in setting up the War Refugee Board, etc

There's a lot of material that does not present him in too good a light.

Not sure altho, I'd need to re-read more stuff to give a considered historical view.

I can't recall if Rubinstein covers FDR much in his myth of rescue. I'll have a look if I remember.