Roosevelt, Franklin Delano

(1882–1945)
   During the war against the Third Reich, the policy of the Roosevelt administration toward the ongoing annihilation of European Jews was one of inaction. Prior to America’s entry into the war, a number of members of Congress justified restricted immigration from German-occupied territory by announcing their fears that Jews who emigrated from Germany would have their families held hostage by the Nazis, thus blackmailing them to do their bidding once they arrived in the United States. Others argued that among refugees entering the country, the Nazis would introduce a “fifth column,” that is, planting spies among the new arrivals. The Roosevelt administration did not counter these arguments. Once the country went to war in December 1941, and the president received evidence of the Nazi death camps, he told American Jewish leaders that the quickest way to save Jewish lives was to win the war.
   President Roosevelt remains a figure of controversy among historians, notably in the scholarly works of David Wyman, in regard to his criticism that President Roosevelt did not do enough to prevent the murder of millions of Jews. Wyman cites Roosevelt’s hesitancy to urge the liberalization of American immigration laws so as to allow refuge to European Jews, escaping Nazi persecution, and the refusal of the Allies to bomb Auschwitz when the president had full knowledge of the Final Solution. Roosevelt’s defenders, however, cite the political limitations facing the president that prevented him from a more activist role in the rescue of European Jewry. They point to the growing anti-Semitism in the United States, exemplified by Father Charles Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, and reinforced by Nazi propaganda, which fostered the belief among segments of the country’s population that Jews exerted undue influence in politics and were manipulating the Roosevelt administration to wage war on Germany in behalf of their persecuted European brethren. The consequence of these political realities led the president, once Germany declared war on the United States, to conclude that the support of a massive rescue operation to save European Jews would be construed by his opponents that the war was being fought in behalf of the Jews. Lastly, prior to our entry into the war, the president understood that many Americans feared that the massive influx of refugees would only compound the chronic problem of high unemployment. It was only when members of his own administration, primarily in the Treasury Department, threatened to reveal the obstructionist and anti-Semitic inaction of the State Department that prevented the limited efforts to rescue Jews, that the president created the War Refugee Board (WRB). At the time the WRB was created in 1944, millions of Jews had already perished at the hands of the Nazis. Nevertheless, the WRB has been credited with saving the lives of some 200,000 Jews.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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