According to its curator, a new exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum titled Americans and the Holocaust aims to show—among other things—that “even the U.S. president faces constraints.” Yet to Rafael Medoff, the exhibit goes one step further and seems to exonerate Franklin D. Roosevelt for his indifference to the plight of Jews in Hitler’s Europe:
The exhibit defends FDR’s refusal, from 1933 to 1938, to criticize Hitler’s persecution of the Jews publicly. A text panel claims that “the accepted rules of international diplomacy obliged [the U.S. government] to respect Germany’s right to govern its own citizens and not intervene on behalf of those being targeted.” [But] Presidents Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, and Ulysses S. Grant protested the mistreatment of Jews in Syria, Switzerland, and Romania, respectively. Theodore Roosevelt protested the persecution of Jews in Romania. The U.S. government, under President William Taft, canceled a Russo-American treaty to protest Russia’s oppression of Jews. Woodrow Wilson inserted clauses protecting minorities in the Paris Peace Conference agreements [following World War I]. There was ample precedent for Franklin D. Roosevelt to speak out; he chose not to. . . .
In any event, the president could have aided Jews [trying to escape Europe] without provoking a public controversy by quietly allowing the existing quota [for immigrants from Germany] to be filled. However, FDR permitted that quota to be fully utilized in only one of his twelve years in office, and in most of those years it was less than 25-percent filled. More than 190,000 quota places from Germany and Axis-occupied countries were left unused from 1933 to 1945. . . .
The exhibit [also] does not mention that clergy, professors, and students could have been admitted without regard to number. Nor is there any mention of the proposals for admitting refugees temporarily to U.S. territories such as Alaska or the Virgin Islands.
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