An Old Battle's Fresh Wounds

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By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 3, 2006

Holocaust history is not a field for academic sissies. It takes a certain sang-froid even to approach the topic. And never mind the crackpots and deniers; even among serious scholars there are epic clashes over who really could have derailed Hitler's Final Solution but did not: Pope Pius XII or Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Ordinary Germans or American Jews?

Now, a book defending FDR and a television documentary about Hitler's brand of Darwinism have thrown patriotism and evolution into the mix, and the debate is turning vicious.

Fifty-five historians have signed a letter protesting the new book about Roosevelt because, they say, it impugns the patriotism of scholars who think the United States should have bombed Auschwitz, admitted more refugees and taken other steps to lessen the Nazi genocide.

In "Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust," author Robert N. Rosen contends that "from Roosevelt's perspective, everything was done that could reasonably be done for European Jewry." FDR's critics, he writes, are indulging in "America-bashing" and promoting an "anti-American" version of history.

In their Aug. 29 letter to Rosen's New York publisher, Thunder's Mouth Press, the 55 historians from universities in the United States, Canada and Israel say that Rosen's "name-calling and invective" are "deplorable, false, and have no place in serious discussion of the Roosevelt administration's response to one of the greatest moral crises of the Twentieth Century."

And that's the polite response to Rosen's book.

The Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which recently moved to Washington from suburban Philadelphia, has issued a scathing 33-page rebuttal to "Saving the Jews" that not only takes issue with Rosen's arguments but also accuses him of plagiarism. It lists 21 passages that appear in the book "without quotation marks to indicate that they are another author's words rather than his."

In all cases, however, Rosen does give proper credit to the prior authors in footnotes -- something the Wyman Institute's report neglects to mention.

"People should be careful about throwing around a charge like plagiarism," Rosen said in a telephone interview. "This is a very emotional debate, for them and for me. But we can disagree like gentlemen, I would think."

The Wyman Institute is named for historian David S. Wyman, the author of a 1984 critique of Roosevelt's wartime record, "The Abandonment of the Jews," that is often considered the definitive indictment of U.S. inaction.

Rosen said it's no wonder he is under fierce counterattack, because his book takes on some of the most influential scholars and institutions in the field, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

"I'm glad it has generated some controversy. That was the point of it," he said.


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