Author: FDR failed to save more Jews during Holocaust because of his ‘vision of what America should look like’

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

Historian Rafael Medoff says Franklin Delano Roosevelt failed to take relatively simple measures that would have saved significant numbers of Jews during the Holocaust, because his vision for America only encompassed having a small number of Jews.

“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,” Medoff told The Daily Caller in an email about his new book, “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.”

“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.”

Medoff, who currently serves as director of The David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, says that there were actions Roosevelt could have easily taken that would have saved well over 100,000 Jews from Hitler’s extermination camps.

“He could have quietly permitted the immigration quotas to be filled to their legal limit — that alone would have saved 190,000 lives,” Medoff said.

“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.”

Asked to respond to the argument that it was better for Roosevelt to focus on winning the war than divert resources to bomb Auschwitz, Medoff said “[b]ombing 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.”

See TheDC’s full interview with Medoff about his book below:

Why did you decide to write the book?

My research uncovered important new information about America’s response to the Holocaust — including such critical issues as FDR’s private feelings about Jews, the Roosevelt administration’s decision to shut America’s doors to Jewish refugees and its refusal to bomb Auschwitz.

What do you think Roosevelt could have done to save victims of the Holocaust that he didn’t?

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.

Why wasn’t it a preferable strategy, as some suggest, to use all American resources to end the war quickly — and thus liberate the concentration camps earlier — than to divert resources to bomb Auschwitz?

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.

To your mind, were there any good arguments presented against bombing Auschwitz?

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.

How many lives do you think could have been saved if Roosevelt bombed the train tracks leading to Auschwitz? Do we know if the option was even ever presented to Roosevelt?

Until now, it was believed that all Jewish requests to bomb Auschwitz were handled by lower-level U.S. officials. But my book reveals for the first time that one Jewish leader brought the request directly to senior members of FDR’s Cabinet — Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of War Henry Stimson, the two Cabinet members best positioned to bring about the bombing of Auschwitz, if they had wanted to.

There are no documents showing that Roosevelt himself considered the bombing idea. But there is no doubt that the opposition of the War Department and State Department to bombing Auschwitz was consistent with FDR’s approach of never using even minimal resources to aid Jewish refugees.

There is no way to know how many lives would have been saved by bombing the railway lines to Auschwitz — but since 12,000 Jews were being gassed there every day at its peak, any interruption of the murder process certainly would have saved some lives.

You write that President Roosevelt took a very restrictive approach to Jewish immigration, even opposing a bill to permit the entry of 20,000 German Jewish children. What was his reasoning?

The Roosevelt administration claimed that if it permitted more immigration, it would be accused of allowing foreigners to take jobs away from American citizens. But those refugee children wouldn’t have taken away any jobs. In fact, just a year later, the president personally intervened to enable thousands of British children to come to America to escape the German blitz of London.

What do you make of the argument that Roosevelt was constrained by domestic considerations from doing 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.

What is the most interesting or troubling fact or anecdote you discovered researching the book?

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.

In sum, how do you think history should view Roosevelt? Historians currently view him as the greatest president of the 20th century.

FDR will always be credited, and deservedly so, for what he did to lift America out of the Great Depression and his leadership in World War II. But he was not the humanitarian and champion of “the forgotten man” that he claimed to be — at least not when it came to the Jews.

Any plans to write another book. If so, about what?

My next book, “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust,” will be published later this year. It’s a textbook for high schools, and features more than 100 political cartoons from U.S. newspapers in the 1930s and 1940s, in which the cartoonists tried to alert the American public about the Holocaust. It’s coauthored with the noted comics historian and editor, Craig Yoe. It will give students a new and interesting way to learn about the Holocaust and America’s response to it — through the eyes of cartoonists.Follow Jamie on Twitter

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