“To kill the Jews, the Nazis were willing to weaken their capacity to fight the war. The United States and its allies, however, were willing to attempt almost nothing to save them” (Pp 5). If we would have put half as much energy into loving the Jews as Hitler spent hating the Jews we could have made a great difference. Wyman’s book, The Abandonment of the Jews was very intriguing to me. Although I found it very thorough it left me wanting to know how something this horrible could have been allowed to happen.
Although Wyman does discuss why more was not done, I am still horrified that this was allowed to happen. Wyman proves that the US should and could have done more to help the dying Jews. I found a reoccurring theme to be that a large problem was that Jewish people had nowhere to go. No one wanted them. The book begins by giving a brief background into the setting of America at the onset of the war. It details an anti-Semitic America. It also explains most of the anti-Semitism as passive, which ordinarily would do little harm, but during a holocaust crisis became a reason for America’s inaction.
The book then jumps right into the emergence of information that became available. The first major report was the Bund report. This estimated the number of victims to already be over 700,000. This report and the ones to follow were hard to believe. The state departments skepticism kept the news from reaching the media for several months. They were convinced that the deportations were for slave labor even though this explanation has huge flaws. As more reports of the mass murders developed they were finally confirmed, 17 months after the first killing began.
One of the first steps taken was that seven different Jewish organizations came together to form the Temporary Committee. They decided on 5 steps of action and after obtaining them they dissolved the committee without much accomplished. Some of the steps included press announcements, a national day of mourning, and a meeting with President Roosevelt. The committee wanted action but had prepared no proposals. All they left with from their meeting with FDR was an agreement that the president would warn Germany of war crimes. This was the only meeting FDR granted to Jewish leaders.
In December 1942 the UN Declaration was signed by the 3 main allies and the governments of 8 occupied countries. It was a strong warning that retribution would come to those responsible for war crimes. Proposals began to arise to help save the Jewish people. For every proposal there was a reason not to attempt it. The State Department conducted investigations that were always very superficial. The American Jews pressed for action. The Bermuda conference met in 1943 mainly as a way to quiet the call for action. The conference was between the US and Britain.
The State Department limited the power so much that action was almost impossible. After a year the declaration decided at the conference still had not been endorsed. Richard Law saw this conference as a “facade for inaction. ” Wyman discusses how the government set restrictions so that even the small quotas could not be fulfilled. The Intergovernmental committee on Refugees was used to cover allied inaction. One of its leaders actually said, “We hope to operate as little as possible. ” “There is very little that can be done with regard to rescue,” was his explanation.
I do not see how a committee on refugees would hope to operate as little as possible during the holocaust. Other committees were established such as the Emergency Committee but very little was ever accomplished. In November 1943 a rescue resolution was introduced. Breckinridge Long of the State Department gave a testimony that opposed such a resolution claiming that the United States and the Intergovernmental Committee was already doing everything possible to save Jews. His testimony was full of exaggerations and lies. Wyman then discusses what we did do to help the Jewish people.
It really amounts to very little and our efforts were often too late. Wyman addresses the question of weather the Auschwitz gas chambers could have been bombed. His conclusion is that this was very possible. After reading this book several things struck me. I will use Wyman’s book to answer several questions. Why was the administration so reluctant to help the Jews? What were the excuses for the US not helping and what could have been done? Was the media a factor? How was the State dept a major obstacle in saving Jews? Little was done to help the Jews but explain what was done and why?
The administration was reluctant to help the Jews in large part for personal and political greed. A common thread throughout the Holocaust seems to be a fear of immigration. It began before the war when the US was still in the depression and had severe unemployment. This crippled the government in many ways. In these circumstances the administration may have been scared the public would not have supported action. A Gallup poll in January of 1943 asked if they believed the news that 2 million Jews had been killed in Europe since the beginning of the war.
Only 47% found this true. The majority thought it was a rumor or answered with no opinion. Later and throughout the war Roosevelt had reservations of seeming too pro-Jewish. He was afraid of charges that he was operating a “Jew deal”. Why did the administration choose not to bomb Auschwitz gas chambers? It was possible in spring of 1944 to bomb the gas chambers and the Nazis would have been too weak to rebuild. Other alternative killing methods would have been too costly. For example shooting costs bullets needed for the war effort.
Two escapees had given a layout of the camp so it would have been possible to know where to bomb the gas chambers. This was not done because it would take military away from needed elsewhere. This is a falsehood because they were bombing industry within range of the gas chambers. Wyman gave many alternatives we could have pursued. The first reason why we did not do more than we did is because of the time involved. Valuable rescue time was lost while reports came in and the governments tried to confirm what was happening. As of December 1942 some proposals were already emerging.
Some of the most heard were to provide havens for refuges, send food and medical supplies, and appeal from UN to people in occupied countries to aid and shelter jews and help with escape efforts. So if as early as December 1942 these plans were being created how come the American Jewish Congress didn’t act upon them? First of all the cooperation of the non-Jews was very small. Second fear that marches might give wrong impression deterred those plans. Third the organization was trying to do too many things with too few resources. No ships could be spared for non-military reasons.
Yet for non-refugee reasons it could always be found. For example Portuguese and Spanish passenger ships were only ? full. Greece. A common heard rally was that best way to save Jews is to hurry and win war. Cannon from the state department did not support a proposal to send 300,000 Jews form Rumania to Syria and Palestine. His reasons were that the US would have to take in people next and the US was not ready to “tackle the whole Jewish problem. ” The media kept the public from persuading the leaders to take action. The newspapers left much of the holocaust out of the publics view.
When the Bund report was made public it was found deep within the papers. The large meetings and demonstrations, such as the one in Madison square garden, made the newspapers but any information on mass murders was omitted. For the most part Jewish newspapers printed more information than non-Jewish newspapers, although still not adequately. In Noember1942 the Jewish Frontier’s paper with black borders, informed of the “systematic murder of innocent civilians”. It closed with a call to, “do whatever may be done to prevent the fulfillment of this horror.
” This very vague call to action represented the way things were at this time. The state department was a major obstacle in the effort to save Jews. In August of 1942 when the first Bund report came in and others were arriving, the State Department was very skeptical and kept the reports out of the media until November losing several precious months. Once it was brought to the public it did not confirm these reports saying they were not based on reports by the departments own representatives. This lack of endorsement definitely made the public skeptical.
The State Department also hindered possible aid to Jews at the Bermuda conference. Before arrival the committee was given objectives and prohibitions by the State Department. They were not allowed to make any commitments of use of transatlantic shipping space for refugees. They were given no power to change immigration laws. They were not allowed to talk of sending food through the blockade. Because of these strict guidelines it was almost impossible to be able to help any of the Jews. The conference ultimately became a meeting about 5,000 Jews in Spain rather than how to help and continue helping the millions dieing.
As Rabbi Israel Goldstein said, “the job of the Bermuda Conference apparently was not to rescue victims of Nazi terror, but to rescue our State Department and the British Foreign Office. ” The State Department also provided huge barriers hindering refugees from obtaining visas. The process included written tests and screening to check for espionage. The process on average would take 9 months, which could not be expedited if there was immediate danger. These strict guidelines insured that the small quotas were never full.
The quotas were mandated by the law but the restrictions were the work of the State Department. In 1942 only 19. 2% of the quota was fulfilled and this percent continued to drop. In 1945 only 7. 9% of the already small quota was filled. These were relaxed somewhat after the Treasury Department lawyers made the following conclusions: If anyone were to attempt to work out a set of restrictions specifically designed to prevent Jewish refugees from entering this country it is difficult to conceive of how more effective restrictions could have been imposed then have already been imposed on grounds of “security”?
(pp 133). This was enough to somewhat relax the restrictions but quotas were still not near full. US help to the Jews seemed to be too little and too late. One of the first actions the US took in 1942 was to warn the Axis of “fearful retribution” for war crimes. The American Jews pressed for something to be done. For the most part meetings were called and warnings were given but very little action took place. As previously discussed the UN Declaration was signed in December of 1942. But this also seemed to be little more than another statement warning of retribution.
Over a year later in January of 1944 the War Refugee Board was created. It should have led the way to a powerful rescue campaign but it did not receive the backing it was supposed to. It very often relied on private funds. The War Refugee Board spread warnings through Europe. They spoke over neutral radios, wrote pamphlets and airdropped leaflets. The board also helped bring 1,000 Jews to Fort Ontario. This was the first time the US took refugees with out the usual visas red tape. The plan was to keep them in the camp until the end of the war and then send them back to Europe.
The board hoped to be able use this as an example and as a bargaining tool to convince other countries to do the same, but the small effort did not convince anyone. The War Refugee Board may have saved as many as 200,000 Jews, but it was in no way as effective as it should have been. The two biggest downfalls were that it was not funded properly and it was established too late. The sad fact is that during the time when humanity needed our help the most we let red tape, fear and greed keep us from helping. Wyman suggests many options that were available to help that would not have harmed our military effort yet we refused to try.
We are now stuck with this burden of not knowing. Unfortunately they were not American nor were they British. Even worse they were not only foreigners but also Jews. Wyman suggests this is a huge reason why we were not willing to save them. After reading this book the conclusion to a pageant meant to inform Americans of the Nazi atrocities has stuck with me. The corpse of a people lies on the steps of civilization. Behold it. Here it is! And no voice is heard to cry halt to the slaughter, no government speaks to bid the murder of human millions end(pp91).
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Topic: Abandonment of the Jews
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