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November 22, 1985 - Image 34

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-11-22

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34

Friday, November 22, 1985 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

U.S. Failures During Nazi Era

Continued from Page 2

put every obstacle in the way ...
which would postpone and post-
pone the granting of the visas."
On July 3, 1940, a writer and
teacher named Varian Fry wrote
Eleanor urging that someone go
to France to help "intended vic-
tims of Hitler's chopping-block"
leave the country. She relayed
Fry's letter to FDR, who replied
the same day: His suggestion
may have all the merit in the
world but it most certainly can-
not be authorized or abetted by
the Government of the United
States." Fry left for Marseilles
and set up the Emergency Re-
scue Committee, which managed
to get about 1,500 refugees out of
France with forged passports
and other less-than-legal methods
before he was arrested and de-
ported in August 1941. It was a
notable example of private initia-
five at a time when the govern-
ment dragged its feet, though the
State Department did announce
on July 14 that children under 16
fleeing war zones would be given
visitors' visas.
On Sept. 12, 1940, FDR gave
$240 to the U.S. Committee for
the Care of European Children,
which was intended to cover the
cost of transportation for the
children of a Jewish family
named Klein, whom his cousin
Muriel Martineau had brought to
his attention. But that was one
family. In the overall struggle the
refugees were losing ground. The
president's committee was prod-
ding the State Department to
facilitate visas for intellectuals
and political refugees, submitting
567 names, but Long sabotaged
their efforts. Fewer than forty
were granted visas.
Eleanof intervened on Sept.
28, writing FDR that James G.
McDonald, chairman of the advi-
sory committee, was "so wrought
up about it . I am thinking
these poor people who may die at
any time and who are asking
only to come here on transit
visas."
FDR agreed to see McDonald,
but Long got to him first, on Oct.
3, and used the security gambit
on him. Rabbi Stephen Wise, he
said, had been urging him to give
visas to two officials of the World
Jewish Congress, whom Long de-
scribed as political agitators re-
sponsible for the overthrow of a
government in Rumania.
The President agreed that
such persons were undesirable,
and, as Lonc' put it, "expressed
himseff as in 3ntire accord with
the policy wnich would exclude
pers.ms about whom there was
any suspicion that they would be
inimical to the welfare of the
United States no matter who had
vouchsafed for them and irres-
pective of their financial and
other standing. I left him with the
satisfactory thought that he was
whole-heartedly in support of the
policy which would resolve any
doubts about admissability of
any individual."
A few days later, when
McDonald's turn came and he
began criticizing Long, FDR told
him not to "pull any sob stuff."
The consuls on the spot should
have final say on the visas and
pass on each case individually.

Eleanor Roosevelt

With FDR backing up Long's
stonewalling, another means had
to be found. It came through
Harold Ickes, who as secretary of
the interior had the Virgin Is-
lands under his jurisdiction.
Ickes discovered that nonimmig-
rant aliens could be admitted to
the Virgin Islands without visas.
This loophole, designed for vac-
ationers, could be applied to ref-
ugees. In November, Ickes had
the governor of the Virgin Is-
lands issue a proclamation ad-
mitting refugees on their appear-
ance at a port of entry. After a
short stay and an affidavit that
they were bona fide residents,
they could proceed to the United
States.
Long was frantic. There were
12,000 refugees in Portugal,
among them many German
agents, he was sure, and here
was a pipeline to siphon them
into the United States. He
warned the President, who was
"a little perturbed" and asked
him to talk to Ickes. But Long
found Ickes sarcastic and obsti-
nate. When he tried to explain
that the consulates were a sieve
through which the refugee appli-
cants could be strained, Ickes re-
plied that the holes in the sieve
were too small. Long got back to
the President, who was, he re-
corded, "still more provoked and
said he would send an order sus-
pending the proclamation."
On Dec. 18, Ickes got the
President's "cease and desist"
order, with FDR explaining that
"the Virgin Islands ... present to
this Government a very serious
social and economic problem not
yet solved ... I cannot ... do
anything which would conceiva-
bly hurt the future of present
American citizens. The inhabi-
tants of the Virgin Islands are
American citizens." In other
words, he did not want
thousands of refugees competing
for jobs with backward islanders.
Thus was another avenue of
escape blocked. Thousands of
course did reach the United
States, but thousands more were
shut out. In 1938, for example,
when Jews could still leave Ger-
many, there were 150,000 applica-
tions for visas, while the annual
quota was 27,370. Hull reported
that in the .six-month period be-
tween July and December 1940,
which was the time of greatest
demand, they had issued a total
of 22,508 visas. In addition, from
the 1,224 names submitted by the
advisory committee, 402 had been

accepted. In 1941, the combined
German-Austrian quota was
37,000, and, according to Long,
refugees were still getting out —
the Germans were charging $485
a head, which he called "a sinis-
ter traffic."
Doubtless more could have
been done. But the plight of the
refugees was low on the
President's list of priorities. He
had to turn- around a nation
tempted by isolationism. He had
to get Lend-lease and conscrip-
tion and military appropriations
passed. He had to prepare the
country for war. He had to deal
with the isolationist wing in Con-
gress and the isolationist press.
In 1940, he had to get reelected.
Refugees did not vote. They had
no political clout, except for the
private groups that rather timor-
ously spoke up on their behalf.
There was no lobby acting on
their behalf. Even Jewish leaders
in Congress advised FDR that it
was not feasible to change the
quota.
FDR listened with a receptive
ear to the arguments of Breckin-
ridge Long. He was sensitized to
subversion, seeing daily evidence
in intelligence reports of espion-
age and sabotage. He tended to
believe the argument that among
the refugees there would be a
proportion of spies. He tended to
accept the link Long made be-
tween Jews and international
Communism. For a number of
reasons, he thought, it was better
to be cautious than to fling open
America's gates to every refugee.
To have Breckinridge Long in
charge of refugee matters was
like putting a right-to-life advo-
cate in charge of family planning,
but nothing was done to have
him transferred.
In 1941, FDR could almost
forget the entire refugee problem.
Hitler had taken it off his hands.
Many American consulates in
occupied Europe had closed their
doors. The Jews who had not
gotten out were in hiding or were
caught and sent to camps. In
France, the collaborationist Pre-
mier Pierre Laval promised to
deliver every Jew into Nazi
hands. Four thousand Jewish
children were snatched from
their parents and deported to
Germany. The Nazis boasted that
the city of Rouen was now juden-
rein, free of Jews. With every cat-
tle car that rolled eastward, there
was less of a refugee problem.
It's a long quotation proving the
charges of FDR's indifference that under-
lined rescue efforts. It needs remember-
ing for the sake of the factual record,
and it also helps add to the compliments
for Ted Morgan's biography, proving he
did not pull punches in his treatment of
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Chaim Weiznabb's meeting with
FDR is recorded. The anti-Zionist British
position is mentioned. Long's anti-
Semitism is at issue here. Roosevelt's
final compassionate act in establishing
the War Refugee Board is outlined. This
long but necessary evaluation of the
tragic experiences is an obligation. Ted
Morgan reveals many hitherto unknown
facts in the following:

It was also just at the time of
the deterioration in his health
that Roosevelt was faced with a

crisis on the Jewish refugee
question. Saving the Jews had
not been a high priority on his
agenda. It was not even dis-
cussed at the summit confer-
ences, absorbed as the Allies
were in military plans. Congress
was opposed to opening up the
quota, and the State Department
stalled on all rescue plans.
When FDR first heard about
the Final Solution in September
1942, he refused to believe it, tel-
ling Felix Frankfurter that the
deported Jews were simply being
employed on the Soviet border to
build fortifications. The first OSS
report called information about
German extermination plans "a
wild rumor inspired by Jewish
fears," though later OSS reports
described the deportation of
Jews to death camps in Poland.
On Dec. 7, Rabbi Wise and
other Jewish leaders gave the
President a 20-page paper on the
Nazi "Blue Print for Extermina-
tion," and FUR assured the
group that efforts would be made
to save the Jews and punish
those who had committed the
crimes.
Breckinridge Long wrote in
his diary that "Rabbi Wise and
others like him might lend color
to the charges of Hitler that we
were fighting this war on account
of and at the instigation and di-
rection of our Jewish citizens."
In April 1943, there was an
Anglo-Ameircan conference on
refugee problems in Bermuda, in
which Long played the key role.
Not surprisingly, according to a
British participant, it was "a
facade for inaction."
On May 7, Cordell Hull as-
sured the president that there
was plenty of room under exist-
ing quotas to accommodate large
numbers of Central European
refugees. Enlarging the qxfotas,
he ,said, would only anger Con-
gress, "where there is a prevail-
ing sentiment for even more
drastic curtailment of immigra-
tion." FDR agreed, replying on
May 14 that "I do not think we
can do other than comply strictly
with the present immigration
laws."
In June, the president saw
the Zionist leader Chaim Weiz-
mann. Escorting him to the White
House on June 12, Sumner Welles
was sympathetic, saying that Ibn
Saud had been writing letters
demanding a stop to immigration
in Palestine, "which of course is
childish." The British policy was
that there should be no more
Jewish immigration after March
31, 1944.
Weizmann told FDR that
Jews had a right to Palestine.
The President said the Arabs had
done very badly in this war, and
that they had not developed their
vast territories. Perhaps the Jews
might help with the development.
In any case, he believed that the
Arabs could be bought. Weiz-
mann said the 500,000 Jews in
Palestine felt trapped, and that
Jews must be assured they had a
future there. In fact, Roosevelt
did not intend to take any stand
on this question, wanting to re-
main on good terms with his
British ally and Arab leaders.
It was because of State De-

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