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Franklin Delaney Roosevelt's attitude towards the Jewish problem during the War. I have read and heard such contradictory accounts spanning from Jews who congratulate for his involvement to some scholars and others who criticize him for an alleged anti-Semitism. Being that this is a famous personality that we are talking about and a prominent President of the U.S.A.; I felt that enlightenment on the subject was important. I wanted to go to the source, and therefore I accessed original documents from the collections of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. These, compounded with other sources, are the results that I found.
By the 1940s, news had already reached the U.S.A. about the concentration camps which Edward R. Murrow described (December, 13, 1942),as "A horror beyond what imagination can grasp . . . there are no longer 'concentration camps' -- we must speak now only of 'extermination camps.'" (FDR AND THE HOLOCAUST)
Roosevelt had time and again been told about the horrors facing the Jews in Nazi Germany: that thousands (later it was revealed to be millions) had been sent to secluded ghettos where many died from starvation; that many had been conscripted into forced labor; that their jobs and homes had been confiscated; that they were forced to wear yellow stars which singled them out for persecution; that they were denigrated such as compelled to sweep the streets; that they discreetly gassed whilst still alive; and that others were crammed into synagogues with synagogues burnt, shot as they were roaming the streets, or mowed down in huge execution squads.
Further horrors included the infamous Kristalnacht where store windows were shattered and synagogues burnt as well as books destroyed; Jews excluded from non-Jewish territories including parks; thrown out form their professions and schools; and forbidden from attending cultural events or anything that included assimilation of Jew with non-Jew. They were forbidden, too (amongst many other laws) to ride the trams or even (later) to possess bikes. These were just a few of the German policies that oppressed and limited the life of the Jews during the Third Reich.
Roosevelt received continuous report of these monstrosities from a variety of sources that included the following: the State Department, Treasury Department, his own personal network of informants led by John Franklin Carter, private relief and Jewish organizations, and the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of the CIA). His response to all, as primary sources indicate, seems to have been muted.
Critics excuse Roosevelt's conduct saying that he believed that the surest way to destroy the Nazi regime was to focus totally on destroying it keeping American labors exclusively to that direction and not diverting it to anything lese. Extraneous issues would include that of the Jews.
In The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, Feingold (1984) says as much arguing that Roosevelt may have been willing to do far more, but was unwilling to allow himself to be distracted from the greater good which was to destroy the Nazi machine itself. Destroying that machine would save the Jews. A memo that I discovered in the President's Official File dated November 13, 1936, implies as much. There, a letter directed to Miss LeHand documented that the country's isolationism and immigration laws impeded the President from taking a more active stance in saving Jews ((President's Official File 133: Immigration, 1936-1941, Box 1).
One of the omissions that the President was most criticized for was for failing to take action to bomb the railway tracks leading to the concentration camps in general and to Auschwitz in paerticule. This was so even after the President was informed of its location.
The War Refugee Board Records (Projects and Documents File; Measures Directed Toward Halting Persecutions; Hungary No. 5, Box 42) indicates, however, that Roosevelt may have been unwilling to take this step due to diversion of resources needed to finish the War and due to the sacrifice of lives that would have occurred in the process. In 1944, War Refugee Board Director John W. Pehle made several direct appeals to the War Department for the bombing of various camps and rail lines. Then we find a July 4, 1944 letter from Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy…[continue]
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