If Only Afghans Were Jews
By David Swanson
The U.S. and other governments are not making the priority of rescuing endangered people from Afghanistan that a consumer of Hollywood movies might imagine being made were the endangered people Jews in Nazi Germany.
Sadly, the reality in the 1940s was no different from today. Major investments went into wars, and Western officials wanted no large numbers of refugees. They opposed them for openly racist reasons, exactly as if they worked for Fox News in 2021 only worse.
If only Afghans today were Jews back then, . . . it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference. Saving human lives just does not rank up there with eliminating human lives as a national priority — not that anybody has to be reminded of that during the COVID pandemic.
If you were to listen to people justifying WWII today, and using WWII to justify the subsequent 75 years of wars and war preparations, the first thing you would expect to find in reading about what WWII actually was would be a war motivated by the need to save Jews from mass murder. There would be old photographs of posters with Uncle Sam pointing his finger, saying “I want you to save the Jews!”
In reality, the U.S. and British governments engaged for years in massive propaganda campaigns to build war support but never made any mention of saving Jews.[i] And we know enough about internal governmental discussions to know that saving Jews (or anyone else) was not a secret motivation kept hidden from antisemitic publics (and if it had been, how democratic would that have been in the great battle for democracy?). So, right away we’re faced with the problem that the most popular justification for WWII wasn’t invented until after WWII. Was WWII an accidentally just war? Or was it justified by other factors that people understood and acted on at the time, but which have become confused in the retelling? Let’s keep these questions in the back of our heads, while making sure we fully understand what’s wrong with the popular story.
Antisemitism was mainstream in U.S. and British culture at the time of WWII and in the decades leading up to it, including among elites and top elected officials. Franklin Roosevelt in 1922 had taken it upon himself to convince the Harvard Board of Supervisors to gradually reduce the number of Jews admitted to Harvard University.[ii] Winston Churchill in 1920 had authored a newspaper article warning of the “sinister confederacy” of international Jewry, which he called a “world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality.”[iii] Churchill identified Karl Marx, among others, as representative of the Jewish threat to civilization.
“Marxism represents the most striking phase of the Jewish endeavour to eliminate the dominant significance of personality in every sphere of human life and replace it by the numerical power of the masses.” That line comes, not from Churchill, but from the 1925 book, My Struggle, by Adolf Hitler.[iv]
U.S. immigration policy, crafted largely by antisemitic eugenicists such as Harry Laughlin — themselves sources of inspiration to Nazi eugenicists — severely limited the admission of Jews into the United States before and during World War II.[v] Some segment of the U.S. population is aware of this, I’ve found. The U.S. Holocaust Museum’s website informs visitors: “Though at least 110,000 Jewish refugees escaped to the United States from Nazi-occupied territory between 1933 and 1941, hundreds of thousands more applied to immigrate and were unsuccessful.”[vi]
But very few, I’ve found, are aware that the policy of Nazi Germany for years was to pursue the expulsion of the Jews, not their murder, that the world’s governments held public conferences to discuss who would accept the Jews, that those governments — for open and shamelessly antisemitic reasons — refused to accept the Nazis’ future victims, and that Hitler openly trumpeted this refusal as agreement with his bigotry and as encouragement to escalate it.
When a resolution was introduced in the U.S. Senate in 1934 expressing “surprise and pain” at Germany’s actions, and asking that Germany restore rights to Jews, the State Department stopped it from emerging out of committee.[vii]
By 1937 Poland had developed a plan to send Jews to Madagascar, and the Dominican Republic had a plan to accept them as well. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain came up with a plan to send Germany’s Jews to Tanganyika in East Africa. None of these plans, or numerous others, came to fruition.
In Évian-les-Baines, France, in July 1938, an early international effort was made, or at least feigned, to alleviate something more common in recent decades: a refugee crisis. The crisis was the Nazi treatment of Jews. The representatives of 32 nations and 63 organizations, plus some 200 journalists covering the event, were well aware of the Nazis’ desire to expel all Jews from Germany and Austria, and somewhat aware that the fate that awaited them if not expelled was likely going to be death. The decision of the conference was essentially to leave the Jews to their fate. (Only Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic increased their immigration quotas.) The decision to abandon the Jews was driven primarily by antisemitism, which was widespread among the diplomats in attendance and among the publics they represented. Video footage from the conference is available on the website of the U.S. Holocaust Museum.[viii]
These nations were represented at the Évian Conference: Australia, the Argentine Republic, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Italy refused to attend.
Australian delegate T. W. White said, without asking the native people of Australia: “as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one.”[ix]
The dictator of the Dominican Republic viewed Jews as racially desirable, as bringing whiteness to a land with many people of African descent. Land was set aside for 100,000 Jews, but fewer than 1,000 ever arrived.[x]
In “The Jewish Trail of Tears: The Évian Conference of July 1938,” Dennis Ross Laffer concludes that the conference was set up to fail and put on for show. Certainly it was proposed by and chaired by a representative of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt who chose not to make the necessary efforts to aid Jewish refugees, before, during, or after the conference.[xi]
On the Fourth of July, 1938, New York Times foreign correspondent, columnist, and Pulitzer Prize winner Anne O’Hare McCormick wrote: “A great power free to act has no alibi for not acting. . . . [I]t may devolve upon this country to save the ideas embodied in the Declaration; not by war, which saves nothing, solves nothing, is only, in the words of Thomas Mann, ‘a cowardly escape from the problems of peace,’ . . . by taking positive and practical action to solve the problems of peace. The American government is taking the initiative in dealing with the most urgent of these problems. On the invitation of Washington representatives of thirty governments will meet at Evian on Wednesday . . . . It is heartbreaking to think of the queues of desperate human beings around our consulates in Vienna and other cities, waiting in suspense for what happens at Evian. But the question they underline is not simply humanitarian. It is not a question of how many more unemployed this country can safely add to its own unemployed millions. It is a test of civilization. How deeply do we believe in our Declaration of the elementary rights of man? Whatever other nations do, can America live with itself if it lets Germany get away with this policy of extermination . . . ?”[xii]
“At stake at Évian were both human lives – and the decency and self-respect of the civilized world,” writes Walter Mondale. “If each nation at Évian had agreed on that day to take in 17,000 Jews at once, every Jew in the Reich could have been saved.”[xiii] Of course, with German expansion in the years ahead, the number of Jews and non-Jews subject to murder by the Nazis would grow to much more than 17,000 times 32 (for the 32 nations represented at Évian).
Ervin Birnbaum was a leader on the Exodus 1947, a ship that carried Holocaust survivors to Palestine, a Professor of Government in New York, Haifa, and Moscow Universities, and Director of Projects at Ben Gurion’s College of the Negev. He writes that, “the fact that the Évian Conference did not pass a resolution condemning the German treatment of Jews was widely used in Nazi propaganda and further emboldened Hitler in his assault on European Jewry leaving them ultimately subject to Hitler’s ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question.'”[xiv] The U.S. Congress also failed to pass such a resolution.
Hitler had said when the Évian Conference had been proposed: “I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.”[xv]
Following the conference, in November of 1938, Hitler escalated his attacks on Jews with Kristallnacht or Crystal Night — a nighttime state-organized riot, destroying and burning Jewish shops and synagogues, during which 25,000 people were sent off to concentration camps. The name Kristallnacht referred to the smashing of windows, put a positive spin on rioting, and likely derived from Minister of Propaganda Paul Joseph Goebbels’ favorite book on propaganda, Austrian-American Edward Bernays’ Crystallizing Public Opinion.[xvi] To his credit, Bernays declined to himself do public relations work for the Nazis, but the Nazis did, in 1933, hire a major New York public relations firm, Carl Byoir & Associates, to portray them in a positive light.[xvii]
Speaking on January 30, 1939, Hitler claimed justification for his actions from the outcome of the Évian Conference:
“It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard-hearted and obdurate when it comes to aiding them — which is surely, in view of its attitude, an obvious duty. The arguments that are brought up as excuses for not helping them actually speak for us Germans and Italians. For this is what they say:
“1. ‘We,’ that is the democracies, ‘are not in a position to take in the Jews.’ Yet in these empires there are not even ten people to the square kilometer. While Germany, with her 135 inhabitants to the square kilometer, is supposed to have room for them!
“2. They assure us: We cannot take them unless Germany is prepared to allow them a certain amount of capital to bring with them as immigrants.”[xviii]
The problem at Évian was, sadly, not ignorance of the Nazi agenda, but failure to prioritize preventing it. This remained a problem through the course of the war. It was a problem found in both politicians and in the public at large. In 2018, the Gallup polling company looked back at and tried to explain its own polling:
“[E]ven though nearly all Americans condemned the Nazi regime’s terror against Jews in November 1938, that very same week, 72% of Americans said ‘No’ when Gallup asked: ‘Should we allow a larger number of Jewish exiles from Germany to come to the United States to live?’ Just 21% said ‘Yes.’ . . . Prejudice against Jews in the U.S. was evident in a number of ways in the 1930s. According to historian Leonard Dinnerstein, more than 100 new anti-Semitic organizations were founded in the U.S. between 1933 and 1941. One of the most influential, Father Charles Coughlin’s National Union for Social Justice, spread Nazi propaganda and accused all Jews of being communists. Coughlin broadcast anti-Jewish ideas to millions of radio listeners, asking them to ‘pledge’ with him to ‘restore America to the Americans.’ Further to the fringes, William Dudley Pelley’s Silver Legion of America (‘Silver Shirts’) fashioned themselves after Nazi Stormtroopers (‘brownshirts’). The German American Bund celebrated Nazism openly, established Hitler Youth-style summer camps in communities across the United States, and hoped to see the dawn of fascism in America. Even if the Silver Shirts and the Bund did not represent the mainstream, Gallup polls showed that many Americans held seemingly prejudicial ideas about Jews. A remarkable survey conducted in April 1938 found that more than half of Americans blamed Europe’s Jews for their own treatment at the hands of the Nazis. This poll showed that 54% of Americans agreed that ‘the persecution of Jews in Europe has been partly their own fault,’ with 11% believing it was ‘entirely’ their own fault. Hostility to refugees was so ingrained that just two months after Kristallnacht, 67% of Americans opposed a bill in the U.S. Congress intended to admit child refugees from Germany. The bill never made it to the floor of Congress for a vote.”[xix]
Gallup might well have noted the international appeal of fascism, which achieved political success in Spain, Italy, and Germany, but which had prominent proponents in other countries, including France, where the fascist movement was of particular inspiration to a group of Wall Street plotters who in 1934 sought unsuccessfully to organize a fascist coup against Roosevelt.[xx] In 1940, Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. alerted Eleanor Roosevelt to another such plot from New York tycoons and army officers.[xxi] In 1927, Winston Churchill had commented on his visit to Rome: “I could not help being charmed by Signor Mussolini’s gentle and simple bearing, and by his calm, detached poise in spite of so many burdens and dangers.” Churchill found in fascism the “necessary antidote to the Russian virus.”[xxii]
Five days after Crystal Night, President Franklin Roosevelt said he was recalling the ambassador to Germany and that public opinion had been “deeply shocked.” He did not use the word “Jews.” A reporter asked if anywhere on earth might accept many Jews from Germany. “No,” said Roosevelt. “The time is not ripe for that.” Another reporter asked if Roosevelt would relax immigration restrictions for Jewish refugees. “That is not in contemplation,” the president responded.[xxiii] Roosevelt refused to support the child refugee bill in 1939, which would have allowed 20,000 Jews under the age of 14 to enter the United States, and it never came out of committee.[xxiv] Senator Robert Wagner (D., N.Y.) said, “Thousands of American families have already expressed their willingness to take refugee children into their homes.” First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt set aside her antisemitism to support the legislation, but her husband successfully blocked it for years. America rejected the 1939 Wagner-Rogers bill to admit more Jewish and non-Aryan refugees, but passed the 1940 Hennings Bill to allow unlimited numbers of British Christian children into the United States.[xxv]
While many in the United States, as elsewhere, tried heroically to rescue Jews from the Nazis, including by volunteering to take them in, majority opinion was never with them. In 2015, Gallup polling looked back at a January 1939 U.S. poll:
“The basic question Gallup asked related specifically to refugee children: ‘It has been proposed that the government permit 10,000 refugee children from Germany to be brought into this country and taken care of in American homes. Do you favor this plan?’ A second question asked of a different sample was basically the same as above, but included the phrase ‘most of them Jewish’ and ended with, ‘should the government permit these children to come in?’ It didn’t matter much whether or not the refugee children were identified as Jewish. A clear majority, 67% of Americans, opposed the basic idea, and a lower 61% were opposed in response to the question that included the phrase ‘most of them Jewish.’ . . . A separate Gallup question in June 1940 . . . asked if Americans would be willing to take care of one or more refugee children from England and France in their home until the war was over. Attitudes in response to this question were more mixed, but still with a slight plurality saying they opposed — 46% against, 41% in favor.”[xxvi] Of course 46% declining to themselves host a child from England or France is a different thing from 67% or 61% opposing anybody hosting children from Germany.
In June 1939, the St. Louis, a German ocean liner carrying over 900 Jewish refugees from Germany was turned away by Cuba. The ship sailed up the Florida coast, followed by the U.S. Coast Guard, which had been dispatched by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. to keep track of the ship in case the U.S. government could be persuaded to allow it to dock. The government was not persuaded, the ship returned to Europe, and over 250 of its passengers perished in the Holocaust.[xxvii]
As the fate of the Jews worsened in Europe, openness to accepting them into the United States did not significantly increase. One reason was fear of enemy spies. According to Time Magazine, looking back from 2019, “After the rapid German conquest of France, pervasive concerns about American security fostered a fearful and resentful climate of opinion; Roper Poll in June 1940 found that only 2.7% of Americans thought the government was doing enough to counteract a Nazi ‘Fifth Column’ operating in the U.S. German Jews were not immune from these suspicions. Some Americans thought Jews could be coerced into spying for Germany based on threats to their relatives in Germany; others, including a former undersecretary of state, thought that inherent ‘Jewish greed’ might lead refugees and immigrants to work for the Nazi cause. By mid-1941 the State Department instructed consuls to deny visas to applicants who had relatives living in the totalitarian countries of Germany, the Soviet Union, and Italy—and then Congress passed a bill directing consuls abroad to refuse a visa to any alien who might endanger public safety.”[xxviii]
In fact, in June 1940, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Immigration Breckenridge Long circulated a memo proposing that the United States indefinitely delay the admission of immigrants: “We can do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of visas.” The restrictive U.S. quotas, with millions of lives in the balance, were one thing, but 90% of the allowed places were not filled, condemning 190,000 people to their fate.[xxix] There were over 300,000 people on the waiting list in early 1939.[xxx]
Dick Cheney’s and Liz Cheney’s 2015 book, Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America, is one of countless accounts of U.S. superiority that finds the historical and moral greatness of the United States in WWII and in contrast to the Nazis.[xxxi] Featured, as is often the case, is the death of Anne Frank. There is no mention of the fact that Anne Frank’s family applied for visas to the United States, jumped through numerous hoops, found people to vouch for them, pulled strings with well-connected U.S. big-shots, produced funds, forms, affidavits, and letters of recommendation — and it wasn’t enough. Their visa applications were denied.[xxxii]
In July 1940, Adolf Eichmann, a major planner of the holocaust, intended to send all Jews to Madagascar, which now belonged to Germany, France having been occupied. The ships would need to wait only until the British, which now meant Winston Churchill, ended their blockade. That day never came.[xxxiii] On November 25, 1940, the French ambassador asked the U.S. Secretary of State to consider accepting German Jewish refugees then in France.[xxxiv] On December 21st, the Secretary of State declined.[xxxv] On October 19, 1941, former U.S. President Herbert Hoover, in a speech on the radio, said over 40 million children in German-invaded democracies were dying as a result of the British blockade. He denounced it as a “holocaust.”[xxxvi]
On July 25, 1941, the British Ministry of Information created a policy of using material on Nazi atrocities sparingly and only regarding “indisputably innocent” victims. “Not with violent political opponents. And not with the Jews.”[xxxvii]
By 1941, the Nazis had arrived at their decision to murder the Jews rather than expel them to a world that wouldn’t take them or even let them out of Europe. Time Magazine notes that “From October 1941 on, [Germany] formally blocked the legal emigration of Jews from its territories, and it called on allies and satellite countries to turn over their Jews. Most German Jews who made it through the difficult security screening in the U.S. came from neutral countries.”[xxxviii]
On July 29, 1942, Eduard Schulte, the chief executive of a German mining company, risked his life to take knowledge of the mass murder underway in German camps to Switzerland to get it into the hands of Gerhart Riegner of the World Jewish Congress. For Riegner to get it to the president of his organization, Rabbi Stephen Wise, in New York, he had to ask the U.S. diplomats in Bern to send it. The U.S. State Department buried the report, sharing it with neither Wise nor President Roosevelt. After a month’s delay, Wise received the report through the British government. He announced that Germany had killed 2 million Jews and was at work killing the rest. The New York Times put that story on page 10.[xxxix]
The Office of Strategic Services (OSS, a forerunner of the CIA) had its own sources on the genocide in progress, as well as having been in possession of Schulte’s report. An official word from the State Department or the OSS might have moved the story to page 1, but neither said a word. Allen Dulles of the OSS — future director of the CIA — met Schulte in Zurich in the spring of 1943 but was interested in learning about the Nazis, not their victims. When German foreign service official Fritz Kolbe risked his life repeatedly to bring Dulles information on Nazi crimes, Dulles repeatedly ignored it. In April 1944, Kolbe alerted Dulles that Hungary’s Jews were about to be rounded up and sent to death camps. Dulles’ report on that meeting ended up on Roosevelt’s desk but made no mention of Hungary’s Jews or of the proposals urged by Schulte and others to bomb the rail lines to the camps or the camps themselves.[xl]
The U.S. military bombed other targets so close to Auschwitz that the prisoners saw the planes pass over, and erroneously imagined they were about to be bombed. Hoping to stop the work of the death camps at the cost of their own lives, prisoners cheered for bombs that never came. The U.S. military never took any serious action against the construction and operation of the camps or in support of their expected victims. Former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, who was a B-24 pilot during the war, and who flew missions in the vicinity of Auschwitz, testified that it would have been easy to add the camp and the rail lines to target lists.[xli]
Jessie Wallace Hughan, founder of the War Resisters League, was very concerned in 1942 by stories of Nazi plans, no longer focused on expelling Jews but turning toward plans to murder them. Hughan believed that such a development appeared “natural, from their pathological point of view,” and that it might really be acted upon if World War II continued. “It seems that the only way to save thousands and perhaps millions of European Jews from destruction,” she wrote, “would be for our government to broadcast the promise” of an “armistice on condition that the European minorities are not molested any further. . . . It would be very terrible if six months from now we should find that this threat has literally come to pass without our making even a gesture to prevent it.” When her predictions were fulfilled only too well by 1943, she wrote to the U.S. State Department and the New York Times: “two million [Jews] have already died” and “two million more will be killed by the end of the war.” She warned that military successes against Germany would just result in further scapegoating of Jews. “Victory will not save them, for dead men cannot be liberated,” she wrote.[xlii]
British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden met on March 27, 1943, in Washington, D.C., with Rabbi Wise and Joseph M. Proskauer, a prominent attorney and former New York State Supreme Court Justice who was then serving as President of the American Jewish Committee. Wise and Proskauer proposed approaching Hitler to evacuate the Jews. Eden dismissed the idea as “fantastically impossible.”[xliii] But the very same day, according to the U.S. State Department, Eden told Secretary of State Cordell Hull something different:
“Hull raised the question of the 60 or 70 thousand Jews that are in Bulgaria and are threatened with extermination unless we could get them out and, very urgently, pressed Eden for an answer to the problem. Eden replied that the whole problem of the Jews in Europe is very difficult and that we should move very cautiously about offering to take all Jews out of a country like Bulgaria. If we do that, then the Jews of the world will be wanting us to make similar offers in Poland and Germany. Hitler might well take us up on any such offer and there simply are not enough ships and means of transportation in the world to handle them.”[xliv]
Churchill agreed. “Even were we to obtain permission to withdraw all the Jews,” he wrote in reply to one pleading letter, “transport alone presents a problem which will be difficult of solution.” Not enough shipping and transport? At the battle of Dunkirk, the British had evacuated nearly 340,000 men in just nine days. The U.S. Air Force had many thousands of new planes. During even a brief armistice, the U.S. and British could have airlifted and transported huge numbers of refugees to safety.[xlv]
Not everyone was too busy fighting a war. Particularly from late 1942 on, many in the United States and Britain demanded that something be done. On March 23, 1943, the Archbishop of Canterbury pleaded with the House of Lords to assist the Jews of Europe. So, the British government proposed to the U.S. government another public conference at which to discuss what might be done to evacuate Jews from neutral nations. But the British Foreign Office feared that the Nazis might cooperate in such plans despite never being asked to, writing: “There is a possibility that the Germans or their satellites may change over from the policy of extermination to one of extrusion, and aim as they did before the war at embarrassing other countries by flooding them with alien immigrants.”[xlvi]
The concern here was not with saving lives so much as with avoiding the embarrassment and inconvenience of saving lives.
The U.S. government just sat on the proposal until Jewish leaders held a mass demonstration at Madison Square Garden. At that point, the State Department made plans for the Bermuda Conference of April 19-29, 1943, plans that ensured it would be no more than a publicity stunt. No Jewish organizations were included, the location served to keep people out, the conference was assigned to merely make recommendations to a committee, and those recommendations were not to include increased immigration to the United States or to Palestine. The Bermuda Conference, in the end, recommended that “no approach be made to Hitler for the release of potential refugees.” There were also some suggestions for helping refugees leave Spain, and a declaration on the postwar repatriation of refugees.[xlvii]
According to Rafael Medoff of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, “Until the Bermuda conference, most American Jews and most Members of Congress had accepted FDR’s ‘rescue through victory’ approach — the claim that the only way to aid the Jews of Europe was to defeat the Nazis on the battlefield. This long, slow strategy that included blockade and starvation — and the delay of the D-Day invasion for years — condemned large numbers to their fate and has disturbing parallels with the later U.S. practice of imposing economic sanctions on whole nations for long periods of time. But in the wake of Bermuda, there was a growing conviction that by the time the war was won, there might be no European Jews left to save.” Public activism increased significantly, to the point where it seemed possible that even the U.S. Congress might act. Before it could, Roosevelt created the War Refugee Board, which may have saved as many as 200,000 people during the last year-and-a-half of the war.[xlviii]
While the United States was failing to rescue most of the Jews of Europe, Britain was refusing to allow larger numbers of them to settle in Palestine. Given all the injustice and violence generated by the eventual creation of Israel, and the fact that a major concern of the British was Arab protests, the policy should not be simply condemned. But it was condemned by Jewish groups during World War II, and there is no question that the promise of a land in Palestine, combined with its denial, and combined with the failure of the world’s governments to follow through on numerous other possible destinations for refugees, created great suffering.
In 1942, a small ship called the Struma sailed from a Romanian port on the Black Sea with 769 refugees trying to reach Palestine. After reaching Istanbul, the ship was in no shape to go on. But Turkey refused to admit the refugees unless Britain would promise that they could enter Palestine. Britain refused. Turkey towed the ship out to sea, where it broke apart. There was one survivor.[xlix]
Opposition to mass immigration into Palestine came not only from the people who lived there, but also from the King of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, whose oil was important to the Allies, and who hoped to build a pipeline to the Mediterranean. The Saudi King preferred Sidon, Lebanon, to Haifa, Palestine, as an end-point for the desired pipeline.[l] In 1944, his opposition to Jewish immigration to Palestine was “well known” according to U.S. Secretary of State Edward Reilly Stettinius Jr. who on December 13, 1944, warned President Roosevelt that pro-Zionist statements could have “a very definite bearing upon the future of the immensely valuable American oil concession in Saudi Arabia.”[li]
Detractors of Franklin Roosevelt blame him for not doing more, arguing that he could have seen to it that Jews found safe haven in Cuba or the Virgin Islands or Santo Domingo or Alaska, or — if Jews were really unwelcome as free citizens of the United States — then in refugee camps. Of course, the same complaint can be lodged against the U.S. Congress. There were 425,000 German prisoners of war in the United States during the war, but only one camp for refugees, in Oswego, N.Y., which held about 1,000 Jews.[lii] Were Nazi soldiers 425 times more welcome than Jewish refugees? Well, perhaps in some sense they were. Prisoners of war are temporary and isolated. Here’s what Gallup says of its polling results, even after the war, even after widespread awareness of the horrors that would become the top retroactive justification of the war in decades to follow:
“After the war ended, Gallup asked several questions about the very large number of Jewish and other European refugees who were situated in the ravaged postwar Europe and seeking a home. Gallup found net opposition in response to each of the three ways the questions were worded. The least opposition was in response to a June 1946 question asking Americans if they approved or disapproved of ‘a plan to require each nation to take in a given number of Jewish and other European refugees, based upon the size and population of each nation.’ . . . The responses were 40% in favor, 49% opposed. . . . In August, a separate question invoked the name of President Harry Truman, saying that the president planned to ask Congress to allow more Jewish and other European refugees to come to the U.S. to live than are allowed under the current law. This idea did not sit well at all with the public, some 72% of whom said that they disapproved. A 1947 question localized the issue to the state level, stating, ‘The Governor of Minnesota has said that the Middlewest could take several thousands of displaced (homeless) persons from refugee camps in Europe,’ and asking the respondents if they would approve or disapprove of their own state taking about 10,000 of these ‘displaced persons from Europe.’ A majority, 57%, said no — 24% yes, with the rest evincing uncertainty.”[liii]
For those interested in more information on U.S. immigration policy and the Holocaust, there’s a section on the website of the U.S. Holocaust Museum.[liv]
In the end, those left alive in the concentration camps were liberated — though in many cases not very quickly, not as anything resembling a top priority. Some prisoners were kept in horrible concentration camps at least up through September of 1946. General George Patton urged that nobody should “believe that the Displaced person is a human being, which he is not, and this applies particularly to the Jews who are lower than animals.” President Harry Truman admitted at that time that “we apparently treat the Jews the same way as the Nazis did, with the sole exception that we do not kill them.”[lv]
Of course, even were that not an exaggeration, not killing people is a very important exception. The United States had fascist tendencies but did not succumb to them as Germany did. But neither was there any all-out capital-R Resistance crusade to save those threatened by fascism — not on the part of the U.S. government, not on the part of the U.S. mainstream. Many made heroic efforts, with limited success, but they were in a minority. A Dr. Seuss cartoon showed a woman reading her children a story called “Adolf the Wolf.” The caption was: “. . . and the wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones . . . But those were foreign children and it really didn’t matter.”[lvi]
In July 2018, with anti-immigrant sentiments less acceptable but still raging, the singer Billy Joel told the New York Times, “My father’s family left Germany in ’38, after Kristallnacht, but they couldn’t get into the United States. There was a quota on European Jews, and if you couldn’t get in here, you were shipped back, then you were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz — which is what happened to my father’s family. They were all killed at Auschwitz, except my father and his parents. So this anti-immigration stuff strikes a very dark tone with me.”[lvii]
Was WWII a just war by accident because it ended before all the Jews had been killed? That’s a tough case to make, since efforts could have been made, in combination with the war or instead of it, to save millions who died. In fact, it wouldn’t have taken much effort, just a willingness to say “welcome” or, perhaps to say something like this:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Perhaps WWII was a just war; but we’ll have to find another reason why. The popular notion of a war to save Jews is fiction. The variation in which the war is justified simply because the enemy killed Jews is weak if the war was not aimed at stopping that evil. The political or propagandistic nature of popular myths and misconceptions can be easily illustrated by a couple of facts. First, the victims of the Nazi concentration camps and other deliberate murder campaigns included at least as many non-Jews as Jews; these other victims were targeted for other reasons, yet are sometimes not even mentioned or considered.[lviii] Second, Hitler’s war efforts were aimed at killing and did kill many more people than the camps killed. In fact, numerous nations in both the European and Pacific wars killed many more people than were killed in the camps, and the war as a whole killed several times the number killed in the camps, making the war an odd cure for the genocide disease.[lix]