On the evening of November 9, 1938 Nazi party operatives orchestrated anti-Jewish violence across Germany that left scores dead and hundreds of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses destroyed. The German government followed up by sending some 30,000 Jews to concentration camps. While these events, known to posterity as Kristallnacht, garnered the attention of the international media, the organized response of American Jewry was tepid. Matt Lebovic explains:
Most notably, the influential General Jewish Council insisted on maintaining radio silence following Kristallnacht. Composed of leaders from the so-called “defense” organizations, the council issued instructions in the pogrom’s aftermath [that] “there should be no parades, public demonstrations, or protests by Jews.” . . . The council also reminded American Jews that it was in their interest not to advocate for admitting more Jewish refugees into the country. [Meanwhile], most prominent American Jews were afraid of how their fellow citizens would react to “demands” from the Jewish community. Few Americans supported going to war with Hitler, and anti-Semitism was more widespread than at any other point in U.S, history. . . .
The most prominent American Jewish leader to petition President Roosevelt [to respond to Kristallnacht] was Rabbi Stephen S. Wise. With FDR reluctant to condemn the Nazi regime in public, the venerable Wise pleaded with the president to issue—at least—a statement against the violence.
In his four-sentence “condemnation,” the president did not mention the Nazis or Hitler by name. With few Americans in favor of going to war, FDR was keen to prevent anti-Nazi rhetoric emanating from his bully pulpit, even after Hitler began to carve up central Europe. . . . President Roosevelt’s Jewish advisers pressured him to make some gestures after Kristallnacht. FDR recalled his ambassador to Berlin for “consultations,” and he helped solidify the status of some Jewish refugees already in the U.S. The president refused, however, to support legislation that would have permitted an additional 20,000 German Jewish children into the country.