Letter to the Editor

FDR: Anti-Semite or friend of the Jews?

Richard Cohen [“An indelible stain on FDR’s legacy,” op-ed, March 12] wrote, “FDR supported programs that did . . . save 100,000 Jewish lives.” That figure is based primarily on the number of European Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s.

But those immigrants were not the beneficiaries of some special plan by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to rescue the Jews from Hitler; they came here within the framework of existing U.S. immigration laws, as did immigrants from all over the world. In fact, they entered the country despite an array of bureaucratic obstacles that the Roosevelt administration imposed to discourage refugees.

A maximum of 25,957 German citizens were permitted, by law, to enter the United States each year during that era. (The number increased slightly, to 27,370, after Germany annexed Austria in 1938.) Yet the extra requirements and restrictions imposed by U.S. officials ensured that the quota was filled only once during FDR’s 12 years in office. In most years, the German quota was left three-fourths unfilled. Between 1933 and 1945, a total of about 190,000 spaces from Germany or Axis-occupied countries were never used.

If Roosevelt had been sincerely interested in aiding the Jewish refugees, he could have simply instructed the State Department to quietly permit the quotas to be filled as the law permitted.

Rafael Medoff, Washington

The writer is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

Richard Cohen may be right in condemning President Franklin D. Roosevelt for not doing more to help Europe’s Jews escape Hitler, but to accuse him of “genteel” anti-Semitism is way off the mark. Henry Morgenthau was hardly FDR’s only Jewish friend and close associate. He relied on the advice and support of Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter,Samuel Rosenman, David Lilienthal, Barnard Baruch, Nathan Straus, Herbert Lehman, Benjamin Cohen and David Dubinsky;the list could go on.

As Howard Sachar writes in “A History of the Jews in America,” “Four or five thousand Jews operated at various echelons of government during the 1930s,” a complete change from the past. Roosevelt encouraged the recruitment of Jewish talent, and he was often vilified for it. I remember his being called “Roosenfelt” by the true anti-Semites of his time. No wonder Jews supported him overwhelmingly at the polls.

Everett Mattlin, Potomac

Richard Cohen wrote: “The war in Europe was not won, as we all once thought, primarily by the United States” but rather primarily by the Soviet Union.This is simply untrue — even absurd.

The United States and its allies liberated North Africa and Western Europe, and they could have gotten to Berlin first. The Soviets defeated Germany only on the Eastern Front. This was done with $11 billion in U.S. Lend-Lease aid that the Soviets gratefully acknowledged publically (until the Cold War began).

Also, the United States defeated Japan without Soviet help. The United States was fighting a two-front war, in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, all along, while the U.S.S.R. fought only the Nazi Germany and did not enter the war with Japan until Aug. 9, 1945.

Len Latkovski, Frederick

Richard Cohen argued that President Franklin D. Roosevelt “did nothing much” to aid Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, it was even worse than that. There were instances in which the Roosevelt administration obstructed efforts to rescue Jewish refugees. The experience of my father, the late Hiram Bingham IV, a U.S. diplomat who rejected the administration’s orders, is a case in point.

As an official in the U.S. Consulate in Marseilles, my father surreptitiously worked with U.S. journalist Varian Fry to help smuggle more than 2,000 Jewish refugees and anti-Nazi activists out of Nazi-occupied France. In late 1940, German and French officials complained to the Roosevelt administration about what Fry, my father and others were doing as part of the Emergency Rescue Committee’s efforts. Secretary of State Cordell Hull instructed the U.S. ambassador in Paris to insist that Fry halt all “activities evading the laws of countries with which the United States maintains friendly relations.” (At that point, the Roosevelt administration was maintaining “friendly relations” with Nazi Germany.) When Fry and my father refused to desist, the State Department in early 1941 revoked Fry’s passport and transferred my father out of France.

The most extensive and successful underground and unsanctioned effort by U.S. citizens in Europe to rescue Jews and other anti-Nazi refugees came to an almost complete halt — at the insistence of the Roosevelt administration with the collusion of Congress.

William S. Bingham, Salem, Conn.

As despicable as was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ambivalence to the plight of Jews in Europe, a deeper stain to his legacy was his acquiescence to putting Japanese American citizens — citizens! — in concentration camps at the beginning of World War II. I served in the Army in California in the 1950s with some of these victims of official racism, and I agreed with them then and still that Roosevelt should never be ranked with such truly courageous presidents as Washington, Lincoln and Truman, the last for racially integrating the military services despite a looming and difficult presidential election. 

John Morton, Jessup

 
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