World War II – Late Attempts to Save the Jewish
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Published: Wed, 20 Sep 2017
The Holocaust is a horrified event in world history. It killed over six million and left permanent scars on the Jewish population. During 1941, America engaged in the World War II. Essentially, all the resources must have been prioritized to win the war. Rescuing the Jews from the Nazis’ administration was not the first item on the list. Not until 1942, when the Americans fully had information about the mass killing of the Jews, there were two millions Jews killed by that time. The numbers kept on going until it reached to six millions people. It was an unimaginable scale of deaths. America’s government indifference and the media did not have an immediate actions towards the holocaust. The United States was a bystander during Germany’s reign and the Holocaust because the State Department wanted to suppress the news about the Holocaust as well as the media which conflicted with the Treasury Department.
The two important men that had a huge effect on the genocide were Adolf Hitler and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hitler was the “mastermind” behind the holocaust and he believed that the Jews were responsible for the spread of communism which was operating in Moscow. Based on this conspiracy, he and his most dedicated followers tried to destroy and murder every single person of Jewish ancestry. Hitler also believed in Darwinism which is a theory that races of humanity are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals – Survival of the fittest economy. In this case, the Jews were threats and Hitler had all the rights to destroy them. At first, Hitler and his followers wanted to abuse German Jews so that they would emigrate to other countries. However, after Hitler successfully invaded Poland in 1939, instead of continuing to abuse the Jews, the new policy was to put the Jews to reservations and mass killing them all. The mass murder of the Jews first happened in the fall of 1941 (McMillan, 6). Holocaust is a word originated from Greek meaning “sacrifice by fire”. Not only the Jews were the targeted group, some other groups were also the victims of the Holocaust. For instance, the Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, Slavic peoples, and other groups that were persecuted on political, ideological, and behavioral grounds were also in the systematic murder under Hitler’s rules (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Words could not describe the crimes that Hitler had put on those people.
Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt was remembered for rescuing the Jews by establishing the War Refugee Board. However, on January 22, 1944 when Roosevelt issued the Executive Order 9417 to establish the War Refugee Board, he did not have the intention to rescue the Jews and open the door to welcome the refugees to the United States. It was not an easy decision for him whether to act about that or not. At that time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the pressure of the economic depression and the problems of millions of unemployed people (Morse, 202). Moreover, the Neutrality Law was passed during Roosevelt’s presidency by the United States Congress in 1935 and he did not veto the law. The law was passed to limit U.S involvement in future war. Roosevelt’s first interest in rescue began when he invited the thirty-two nations to meet Evian, France, to discuss about the refugee situation. However, he had no intention to change the immigration regulations and so others countries. Before the establishment of the War Refugee Board, Roosevelt did not have a policy or take in any refugees. It was also a hard move for President Roosevelt to take in the refugees. President Herbert Hoover passed the quota laws after the Great Depression in 1929. This quota laws made it extremely difficult for people who were trying to obtain immigration visas. The American people did not need to give shelters for the immigrants who could not support themselves. They needed to have the financial resources to prove that they can support themselves in the United States. In addition, after the World War II began in 1939, the country was put in a different stage. The refugees needed to be screened on national security grounds which made the immigration process even harder. Moreover, the United States entered the war in December 1941, most of the American consulates had closed in most of Europe which made it nearly impossible for the refugees to escape the continent. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
The War Refugee Board was established on January 22, 1944 by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The board was headed by John Pehle. The board came to work immediately. Their mission was to aid the victims of Nazism while pressing the Allies and neutral nations including Turkey, Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, and Sweden to take diplomatic action and create free ports to take in refugees. These free ports would only take in refugees temporarily and give them shelters until they could be sent back to their original countries. This idea of “free ports” came up by Samuel Grafton, a popular columnist of the New York Post. In addition, the War Refugee Board pressured against the Axis satellites. They reminded them that if they kept mistreating the Jews, the mistreatments would not go away and it would have terrible consequences. However, this action was not approved by the State department. They thought that these undiplomatic messages were placing the neutrals in an uncomfortable position. On the contrary, these warnings did have a positive effect to rescue the Jews. For instance, the Rumanian officials feared the threats and agreed to evacuate the Transnistrian concentration camps (Morse, 317). This effort mostly succeed by the help of Ira Hirschmann – an ambassador in Ankara who was determined to rescue the Jews after his visit to Evian. Hirschman persuaded the Rumanian government to issue transit visas so that thousands of Jews can go the sanctuary in Palestine. Also, he requested the Rumanian government to empty the Transnistrian camps which had only 48,000 survivals out of 185,000 Jews. Even when the United States was late in rescuing the Jews, the efforts were still counted. For instance, the War Refugee Board expedited the transmission of funds to Switzerland to pay for the Red Cross relief supplies and other rescue operation (Morse, 330). Sadly, the victory came rather late. More than 4,000,000 Jews were already in ashes (Feingold, 85)
The conflict between the State department and the Treasury department made it hard for the Americans to rescue the Jews. It all started when Gerhart Riegner – the representative in Switzerland of the World Jewish Congress – tried to send a message to Rabbi Wise who was the president of the World Jewish Congress to know about the plan of physically annihilate the Jews of Europe in August, 1942. However, Riegner message did not go to Rabbi Wise immediately. It was suppressed by the State Department’s Division of European Affairs with general agreement that the facts had not yet been verified. The message did not reach Rabbi Wise until August 28 through the London branch of the World Jewish Congress. In the final months of 1942, the stories about the mass murder of the Jews in Europe shocked the Jewish community. There was an opportunity for the Jews in Rumania to survive. Riegner also attempted to forward the information to the America about rescuing the Rumanian Jews when their government was willing to co-operate to transfer seventy thousand Jews to any refuge selected by the Allies but his message ended up in the State Department’s telegram number 354 of February 10, 1943 (Morse, 73). His second part of the message was asking the money to rescue the children in French concentration camps and the United States government must give the license to transmit the funds. However, the State Department did not believe Riegner message and they procrastinated to give Riegner the answer. Until December 23, 1943, the State Department issued the license to Riegner to rescue the Jews in Rumania and France (Morse, 86). The wait time to authorize Riegner the license was eight months in total.
Moreover, on March 2, 1944, the War Refugee Board prepared a message to send to the Red Cross. However, this message was shot down by the State Departmentdue to the regulations of U.S – British blockade of Europe. The message from the Board was sent on March 23 and not until April 29 the message was delivered (Morse, 326). The International Committee of the Red Cross had remained silent in the face of Nazi murder. The Board tried to reach out to the Red Cross from time to time and request them to take action and obtain humanitarian treatment for the helpless Jews in German. However, it never went through. The representatives from the Red Cross said they had no legal rights to force German to improve the treatment of the Jews. Their only concern were the prisoners of war and civilians. The War Refugee Board wanted the Red Cross to urge the German and its satellites to treat Jews on a status equal to the prisoners. If they turned this down, the Red Cross should demand the right to ship and distribute food packages to inmates of the German camps. With constant pressuring the Red Cross from the War Refugee Board and the help of Prince Johannes Schwarzenberg who was an anti – Nazi aristocrat, they found a way to provide food for the Jews in the camps.
In addition, the racial conflicts in the government was one of the motive that suppressed the rescuing of the Jews within the State Department. Breckinridge Long – the chief architect of the State Department – held a grudge against the Jews. As he saw the fight against the refugees as a battle against Jewish Communist agitators who were trying to ruin his political career. One of his tactics to downplay the rescue projects was to call the Jews “political refugees” even though the problem was only about the Jews in Europe. Also, the racial discrimination was proven by a conversation that was heard by a friend of Josiah Dubois – a Treasury Department official. “That Jew Morgenthau and his Jewish assistants like Dubois are trying to take over this place” (Morse, 324). Even when Mrs. Ruth Shipley who headed the Passport Division asked if all the employers in the Board were American. John Pehle was surprised by the question and asked why would Mrs. Ruth Shipley asked that. Mrs. Shipley simply said:
“Well, I’ve never read cables like those your people send. They just aren’t worded like our cables” (Morse, 324)
The racial discrimination was deep-rooted in the State Department. It was one of the barriers to help the helpless Jews out of Nazi’s rules.
The media, specifically the New York Times failed to cover the fate of the Jews from 1938 to 1945. It passed many chances to inform the public about the unimaginable scale of murder of the Jews in Europe under Hitler’s command. The genocide happened in the same time with the war in Europe on September 1, 1939 to nearly six years later 1945, the New York Times and other media suppressed the stories and treated the mass murder as a secondary story.
According to Leff, the media did publish some of the stories about what was happening to the Jews, an average of 17 stories in a month in the Times. However, throughout the years in war, the destruction of the Jews only made the Times front page just 26 times. In those 26 times, only six stories portrayed the Jews as the victims of the mass murder. The stories are never appear back to back and the paper rarely highlighted the problems in the News of the Week or the magazine section. For instance, the Times first story on the mass slaughter was on page five of the paper. On that same paper, the story of the deaths of some civilians appeared on the front page.
Some may say that the New York Times did not have enough information to write stories or the good sources. Conversely, the Times had a good idea of what was happening to Europe’s Jews. Even after the Allied governments confirmed the truth of the Holocaust in December, 1942, the paper did not change its coverage. There are three main explanations to this matter. The first one was the overwhelming demands of covering a world war. The World War II involved two groups of countries which were the Axis Powers and the Allies. There were total twelve countries that were involved in the war. Comparing that to the small minority group such as the Jews in Europe might make it hard to recognize the suffering they had to endure at that time. The second reason explained why some journalist found it hard to believe the authenticity of the sources. In World War I, there were a lot of fake stories about the death factories and mass gassings which was too horrific to be believed. When World War II happened after two decades, the journalists became more experienced and skeptical. Moreover, some of the journalists did not believe the information simply because it was too horrible. The last reason for the lack of coverage for the horrified large scale murder was the United States’ government. The press mainly based their news on what the government did or said and since the government did little action on the matter of rescuing the Jews, it was considered not important. In addition, the papers were afraid it would bring too much attention to the public that the America was trying to win the war to rescue the Jews. These three reasons help explain why the press downplayed the news of the Holocaust. However, during all those times, not all the front page covers were about the war. The New York Times printed twelve to fifteen front -page stories every day and only half of these were about the war. Moreover, the comparison between the numbers of deaths between the victims of the war and the extermination of the Jews were not fair. As Leff stated in her book, the murder of the Jews was not just “collateral damage”. It is safe to conclude that “the Jews alone were singled out for complete eradication in a systematic and purposeful program” (Leff, 6).
As stated in the website uhsmm.org, very few reports about the Holocaust included photographs. Only after May 1945, the final days of the war and the victory of the Allied, there were more visual evidence of Nazi atrocities in American newspapers and magazines (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).
In conclusion, many choices were made during the crisis which did not base on human concerns. The conflicts within the America’s government, between the State Department and the Treasury Department delayed the rescue missions. The War Refugee Board went over and beyond to help the victims running from the death camps. However, since it was established in 1944, it rescued thousands of Jews but it was too late to rescue millions (Feingold, 262). Moreover, the New York Times and other mass media at the time did not efficiently inform the Americans about the Holocaust. Most of the Americans did not know about the Holocaust as it was happening. Additionally, the media treated the mass murder of millions of Jews as secondary news. According to Leff, the New York Times was unique in the information and other American press too cues from the Times. If the mass media was able to bring the facts and the stories about the extermination of the Jews to the public, many more Jews would have been saved and survived from the Nazi’s rule (Leff, 358).
Works Cited Page
Dwork, Deborah, and R J. Pelt. Holocaust: A History. New York: Norton, 2002. Print.
Feingold, Henry L. Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust. Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1995. Print.
Leff, Laurel. Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.
McMillan, Dan. How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust. , 2014. Print.
Morse, Arthur D. While Six Million Died; a Chronicle of American Apathy. New York, Random House , 1968. EBSCOhost, 0-search.ebscohost.com.lasiii.losrios.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat01047a&AN=lrois.b1019655&site=eds-live&scope=site.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The United States and the Holocaust.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.
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