In a recent talk at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of Gallup, and Daniel Greene, the curator of a current exhibition on American public opinion and the Shoah, spoke about the popular hostility in the 1930s and 40s to the idea of allowing Jewish refugees into the country. Among other things, they called attention to the fact that, in November 1938, 72 percent of respondents objected to opening the gates of the U.S. to European Jews. In what he believes to be an effort to protect the legacy of President Roosevelt, Rafael Medoff notes some important statistics that were glossed over:
After discussing polls from the 1930s, 1940, and 1941, Greene suddenly leap-frogged over the rest of World War II and went straight to the postwar period. [He and Newport] claimed that American public opposition to admitting refugees continued throughout the war and afterward. But the truth is that there was a very significant shift—according to a poll that Gallup itself took in 1944, in the middle of the war and in the middle of the Holocaust.
What happened is that a small U.S. government agency, the War Refugee Board, proposed to President Roosevelt in early 1944 that he should grant temporary haven to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees until the end of the war. To test the waters of public opinion on the proposal, the White House commissioned a Gallup poll in April of 1944. Gallup found that 70 percent of the public supported giving “temporary protection and refuge” in the United States to “those people in Europe who have been persecuted by the Nazis.” . . .
Gallup’s April 1944 poll was taken more than a year before the end of the war. It was late, but it was not too late, to rescue a significant number of Jewish refugees, if only President Roosevelt had shown an interest in doing so—and as the poll showed, he would have enjoyed ample public support for such action. Sadly, he agreed to grant temporary haven to just one token group of 982 refugees.
That crucial poll is omitted from the Holocaust Museum’s new exhibit, which is one of the reasons that many Holocaust scholars have criticized it. Acknowledging the wartime shift of public opinion would upset the exhibit’s underlying theme of minimizing President Roosevelt’s abandonment of the Jews. Visitors would realize that the president’s hands were not completely tied [by public opinion], after all.