FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman, Allan J. Lichtman
Nearly seventy-five years after World War II, a contentious debate lingers over whether Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned his back on the Jews of Hitler's Europe. Defenders claim that FDR saved millions of potential victims by defeating Nazi Germany. Others revile him as morally indifferent and indict him for keeping America's gates closed to Jewish refugees and failing to bomb Auschwitz's gas chambers.
In an extensive examination of this impassioned debate, Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman find that the president was neither savior nor bystander. In FDR and the Jews, they draw upon many new primary sources to offer an intriguing portrait of a consummate politician-compassionate but also pragmatic-struggling with opposing priorities under perilous conditions. For most of his presidency Roosevelt indeed did little to aid the imperiled Jews of Europe. He put domestic policy priorities ahead of helping Jews and deferred to others' fears of an anti-Semitic backlash. Yet he also acted decisively at times to rescue Jews, often withstanding contrary pressures from his advisers and the American public. Even Jewish citizens who petitioned the president could not agree on how best to aid their co-religionists abroad.
Though his actions may seem inadequate in retrospect, the authors bring to light a concerned leader whose efforts on behalf of Jews were far greater than those of any other world figure. His moral position was tempered by the political realities of depression and war, a conflict all too familiar to American politicians in the twenty-first century.
Richard Breitman is Distinguished Professor in the Department of History at American University.
Allan J. Lichtman is Distinguished Professor in the Department of History at American University.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 2: FDR Returns
A partly paralyzed FDR eased back into New York politics by endorsing Al Smith for governor in 1922. Smith had lost his governorship in the Republican landslide of 1920 and faced stiff Democratic opposition from publisher William Randolph Hearst. In a nifty maneuver, FDR also backed for Senator Dr. Royal S. Copeland the author of a medical column for the Hearst newspaper syndicate. Both Smith and Copeland won the Democratic nomination and the general election. Still, Hearst never quite forgave Roosevelt for backing Smith.
In the midterm elections of 1922, the Democratic Party gained an extraordinary 74 House and 6 Senate seats, coming close to recapturing control of Congress. Then in 1923, the “Teapot Dome” scandal exposed high officials in the Harding administration as profiting from the illegal sale or use of government property, including federal oil reserves at Elk Hill, California and Teapot Dome, Wyoming. After Harding’s death in August 1923, the untainted Vice President Calvin Coolidge stepped in as a surprisingly popular president at a time of peace and prosperity. Republican confidence rose and Democratic prospects for 1924 plummeted.
As the capstone of his abbreviated term, Coolidge and the Republican Congress culminated efforts to restrict immigration. In 1924, Congress limited permanently European immigration to nationality quotas of two percent, based on the census of 1890. Jewish leaders protested discrimination against U.S. citizens who had arrived since 1890, but they also endorsed restrictions based on the mental and physical fitness, moral character, and political ideology. “My associates and I are very vigorously opposed to unrestricted immigration,” prominent social worker and fundraiser Jacob Billikopf testified before the U.S. House of Representatives. He said, “We are opposed to the type of immigrant whose physique and mentality are impaired; to the immigrant with criminalistic tendencies; to any man or woman who comes with ideas and ideals which are not in harmony with the ideals governing our own country.” In their testimony, Jewish leaders avoided identifying Jews as a distinct race. Jews, they said, belonged to the “white race,” unlike unassimilable non-white Asiastics, who were not eligible for naturalized American citizenship.
FDR and the Jews 4.3 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
Having read "Those Angry Years," by Lynne Olson this book details many more of the actions and issues that were occurring prior to WWII and during the war. The fine lines of diplomacy as well as the antisemitism still stings when you think of the horrible toll that transpired. I continue to hope that lessons were learned by all.
More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be too long and tedious to read. After reading the book, I did feel FDR was not antisemitic. But I felt just as strong that he did not do enough, soon enough for the Jews during WWII. In fact, as I read this book, I felt angry reading how politics, oil and re-election was then and now more important than human life.
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