Interview with Holocaust Researcher Dr. Rafael Medoff: “The reasons for the failure to bomb Auschwitz and the ways in which the Roosevelt administration misled the groups requesting such bombing, offer many lessons for dealing with today’s problems.”
“During my research I found numerous examples of behind-the-scenes remarks in which U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke about the danger of allowing Jews in large numbers to live in one specific place, or to become too prominent in various professions.
“He also promoted imposing a quota on the admission of Jewish students to Harvard in the 1920’s.
“In 1943, Roosevelt urged local leaders in Allied-liberated North Africa to limit the entry of Jews into many professions. He claimed that ‘the complaints which the Germans bore towards the Jews’ were ‘understandable’ because there were many Jews in law, medicine, and other fields in Germany.”
Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, a research and public education institute based in Washington, D.C. In 2013 he authored his fourteenth book – “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith”.
He remarks: “In 1943, Roosevelt endorsed a plan by one of his senior advisers to ‘spread the Jews thin all over the world’ so they would quickly assimilate. He also claimed, in 1938, that the Jews were too prominent in Poland’s economy, suggesting that this was the cause of anti-Semitism there. This helps explain why Roosevelt refused to allow Jewish refugees to enter the U.S. up to the limit of the existing laws. Fearful of Jewish ‘domination’ and ‘overrepresentation,’ his vision of America did not allow for too many Jews.
“Roosevelt was well known for following public opinion rather than leading it. He knew that it would have been unpopular to propose liberalizing America’s immigration quotas. Yet changing the quotas was not necessary to save Jewish refugees. All Roosevelt had to do was quietly tell the State Department – which was in charge of immigration – to allow the existing quotas to be filled. This would have been in accordance with the law, so opponents would have been hard-pressed to muster a serious argument against it.
“There were 190,000 unused quota places from Germany and Axis-occupied countries during the Hitler years. The annual quota from Germany – about 26,000 until 1938, 28,000 thereafter – was filled during only one of Roosevelt’s twelve years in office. Most other years, it was less than one-quarter filled.
“Roosevelt refused to support the Wagner-Rogers bill of 1939, which would have permitted the entry of 20,000 German Jewish children outside the quota system. Those children would not have taken away any jobs, an argument often heard regarding allowing more immigrants in. Yet only one year later, Roosevelt personally intervened to enable thousands of British children to come to America to escape the German blitz of London.
“Roosevelt could have done other things which would have saved victims of the Holocaust.
-“He could have pressured 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 the U.S. temporarily, until the end of the war.
-“Roosevelt 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 also authorized the bombing of Auschwitz or the railway lines leading to it, which would have interrupted the mass-murder process.
“The issue of the failure to bomb Auschwitz never seems to go away, because in many ways it sums up America’s refusal to make even a minimal effort to interrupt the mass-murder process. U.S. planes were flying just a few miles from the gas chambers, hitting German oil factories. Yet the administration never ordered them to drop a few bombs on the death camp.
“Previous research indicated that these requests were rejected by the Assistant Secretary of War and lower level officials. My book shows, for the first time, that those requests in fact reached all the way to Roosevelt’s most important cabinet members, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of War Henry Stimson. But they did not act.
“This issue is relevant today. Every American president faces the question of whether to use U.S. military force on behalf of humanitarian objectives in other parts of the world. President Clinton eventually intervened in Bosnia and says he regrets not having intervened in Rwanda. Neither President Bush nor President Obama intervened in the Darfur genocide. Obama did act in Libya, but has been much more hesitant regarding Syria’s slaughter of its citizens and Iran’s genocidal threats against Israel.
“The reasons for the failure to bomb Auschwitz, and the ways in which the Roosevelt administration misled the groups requesting such bombing, offer many important lessons for dealing with today’s global problems.”
Medoff concludes: “Roosevelt deserves credit for lifting 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.”
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
The writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.