FDR pushed to get Jews to safety in 1930s

FDR has been viewed by some as having exerted no effort to save European Jewry from the Nazis. However it appears that this may not be the case.

A historian named Richard Breitman writes about James G. McDonald, who was chairman of Roosevelt’s advisory committee on refugees. Apparently McDonald met Hitler and became convinced that he intended to wipe the Jews out.

This USA Today article has some interesting information:

Breitman says McDonald’s papers soften that view, showing that in 1938, Roosevelt:

• Cut red tape that kept immigration quotas from being filled, allowing entry for 27,370 Germans — most of them Jews.

• Hoped to resettle millions of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe to other countries, mostly in Latin America. He called an international conference to line up money and support.

• Promised to ask Congress for $150 million to help resettle refugees if Britain allowed more Jews into Palestine and private funds could be raised.

Roosevelt’s efforts, including the conference in Évian, France, failed. Most countries refused to admit Jews amid a depression and anti-Semitism, Breitman says. Opposition also was strong at the State Department and in Congress, which voted in 1939 not to let in 20,000 German Jewish children.

Breitman says Roosevelt is unfairly criticized for not supporting the bill and refusing to admit 900 Jewish refugees on the St. Louis, which sailed from Germany 70 years ago this month. Cuba, the U.S. and Canada turned away those on the “voyage of the damned,” and the ship returned to Europe. Hundreds of passengers died in the Holocaust.

Roosevelt “made a decision to go for big results,” Breitman says, adding that the president viewed letting in small numbers of Jews as “a gesture, not a solution” to the larger refugee problem.

In 1940, after the start of World War II in Europe, Roosevelt’s priorities turned to national security, Breitman writes.

Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman Institute, which studies America’s response to the Holocaust, says the book won’t absolve Roosevelt. He says FDR failed to take “concrete steps” such as giving Jewish refugees temporary haven in U.S. territories such as the Virgin Islands.

I have to think about this one a little bit, 900 refugees is not insignificant. Still, if this is all true it is worth reconsidering our thoughts about FDR.