How the Roosevelt Administration Decided That Helping Jews Escape Hitler Was a Betrayal of the “National Interest”

In 1942, a German mining executive got a message to Gerhard Riegner, a lawyer working for the Jewish World Congress in Switzerland, with concrete information about the mass-murder of Jews in Poland. Riegner rushed to the American consulate to convey the information to the U.S. State Department and to American Jewish leaders. But, as Sol Stern writes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s State Department “had been turned into a vipers’ nest regarding the plight of the European Jews,” and its initial reaction was to keep the information secret:

In the years before America entered the war, the Roosevelt administration ruled out political protest on behalf of Jews facing mounting persecution in Germany, because it wasn’t deemed to be in the “national interest”—that is, in the economic interests of a country still mired in the Great Depression. Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, an admirer of Mussolini and a known anti-Semite, then became the administration’s point man in charge of refugee policy. Long erected a maze of bureaucratic barriers (“paper walls,” as the historian David Wyman later called them), which made it impossible to fill even the very restrictive immigration quotas established by Republican administrations in the 1920s. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing the Nazis were effectively blocked from entering the United States.

In December 1940, the State Department disrupted an underground rescue network, led by the gallant journalist and Harvard literary editor Varian Fry, that helped over 1,000 Jewish artists and scholars escape the Nazis through southern France. Intent on maintaining proper diplomatic relations with France’s collaborationist Vichy government, the department viewed Fry’s unauthorized operation as a political nuisance. It refused to renew Fry’s passport and then requested the Vichy police to arrest him in Marseille and force his return to the U.S.

After the U.S. entered the war, the Roosevelt administration convinced itself that efforts to aid Jews trapped in occupied Europe would divert resources from the military campaign against the Axis powers. Thus when the Riegner cable arrived at the State Department on August 10, 1942, it was treated not merely with appropriate skepticism but also downright obstructionism. . . . Long [even] falsified documents about the extermination and then lied blatantly in public testimony about the total number of visas the department had granted to European Jews.

After examining this sorry history at length, Stern concludes with an “essential lesson” for America:

There can be no American greatness if there is no American moral leadership, a leadership that commands the United States to sometimes take risks, even at the expense of narrow definitions of the “national interest.” As we memorialize Auschwitz, we should honor the imperative in the question [posed by the novelist Dara Horn], “why didn’t everyone become Denmark?” and ask of ourselves—if not America, who?

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Dara Horn, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Holocaust, State Department

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf