United States


United States
   The U.S. response to the Holocaust can be divided into two phases. The first is the period between 1933 and 1938, when American immigration policy was governed by the provisions of both the National Origins Act of 1924, which limited the number of immigrants to 2 percent of the 1890 census, and the law’s modification in 1929, which placed a ceiling of 150,000 immigrants, with 130,000 visas allocated to northern and western Europe. Unfilled quotas from western and northern Europe were not transferable to immigrants from other parts of the world, including eastern and southern Europe. Because of the rigid enforcement of the immigration laws by the State Department, the United States has been accused of taking in fewer refugees than it was capable of absorbing.
   Historians have offered many reasons for the failure of the United States to become a sanctuary for European refugees fleeing political persecution. As the plight of Jewish refugees unfolded in the years from 1933 to 1938, the Roosevelt administration found itself caught between those who strongly advocated help for Adolf Hitler’s victims and those who warned against liberalizing the immigration laws, lest an influx of refugees jeopardize recovery from the economic depression. President Franklin Roosevelt was also aware of polls that showed that as late as 1938, 60 percent of the American people believed that the persecution of the Jews was entirely or partly their own fault. Pressure on the administration was also exerted by the strong current of anti-Semitism that was being fanned by such personalities as Father Charles Coughlin, Gerald Winrod, and Gerald L. K. Smith. In fact, anti-Semitism in the United States reached its peak in the years between the outbreak of the Great Depression and World War II.
   Absorbing large numbers of refugees was also complicated by a law that required that immigrants not become a public charge and prove that they had an “adequate means of support.” Most American Jews lacked the financial resources to sponsor their European brethren. Those Jews, therefore, who obtained visas were among the fortunate minority who had relatives able to provide the necessary financial support. This financial requirement limited the number of German Jews who were admitted into the United States, although less than a third of the German quota was filled.
   The liberalization of the immigration laws was not helped by the attitude of the State Department, which was directly responsible for enforcing the immigration laws. Much has been written about the apparent anti-Semitism of Undersecretary of State Breckinridge Long, who was in charge of implementing immigration policy. Did Long’s personal dislike of Jews influence the rigid manner in which he enforced the law? As for the president, although he made several speeches that showed concern about victims of Nazi persecution, he was also careful not to identify them as Jews. Roosevelt was mindful that any display of support for the Jews would be used by anti-Semites to support the argument that the Roosevelt administration was under the influence of the Jews. Prior to the outbreak of the war, President Roosevelt did convene the Evian Conference in July 1938, in an effort to deal with the intensifying refugee crisis following Germany’s annexation of Austria, but he made it clear that the United States did not contemplate any changes in its own immigration laws.
   The second phase, from 1939 to 1945, was marked by news of the escalating German atrocities against the Jews. The government, at first, disregarded this information as exaggeration, ever mindful of the British propaganda campaign about German atrocities that permeated the American media during World War I. But even after the Roosevelt administration was convinced of the Nazi plan to implement the Final Solution, Allied policy militated against the rescue of the doomed Jews in German-occupied Europe. Rather, the Allies insisted that the best way to save European Jewry was to defeat Nazi Germany. The creation of the War Refugee Board (WRB) in 1944 was a grudging concession to this policy.
   When Henry Morgenthau Jr., secretary of the Treasury, threatened to release to the press a report that accused the Roosevelt administration of covertly acquiescing in the murder of European Jews, the president responded. The creation of the War Refugee Board was a case of too little and too late. Although the government agency was active in saving Jews in war-torn Europe, the reality was that millions of Jews had already been exterminated by the Nazis. Furthermore, the WRB suffered from a lack of cooperation from the State Department and the War Department. The source of disagreement between the government agencies stemmed from both the State Department and the military’s suspicion that the WRB would agitate for special bombing missions to destroy the installations and railway tracks leading to Auschwitz. Ever responsive to the currents of anti-Semitism, President Roosevelt was sensitive to the political risk of being accused of risking the lives of American soldiers to save Jews. Even when American pilots flew bombing missions only a few miles from Auschwitz, the policy to destroy specific military targets precluded any mission to bomb the railroad tracks leading to the death camp.
   Similarly, the Allied war strategy of demanding an “unconditional surrender” from Germany militated against the United States entering into negotiations with the Nazis on behalf of the Jews. Thus, the response of the U.S. government to the Holocaust was to maintain that the best way to save the lives of the Jews was through victory over Nazi Germany.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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