Whitewashing FDR’s Abandonment of the Jews

by Rafael Medoff and Stephen H. Norwood

Franklin D. Roosevelt is widely remembered as a strong leader who boldly led America out of the Great Depression and to the brink of victory in World War II. Yet when it comes to the Holocaust, some defenders of FDR’s record want us to believe he was not responsible for keeping Jewish refugees out of America—as if that was all the handiwork of the State Department, which supposedly ran U.S. immigration policy and foreign policy independently of the president’s wishes.
Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.

Prof. Daniel Greene, speaking recently at the University of Oklahoma, continued to perpetuate the implausible notion that President Roosevelt was too hapless to make his own foreign policy. Remarkably, Greene spoke for nearly an hour about America’s response to Nazism and the Holocaust, yet barely mentioned the president.

This tendentious approach is consistent with the theme of the controversial exhibit on “Americans and the Holocaust” at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for which Greene was senior curator. The exhibit has been criticized by many scholars for downplaying President Roosevelt’s abandonment of European Jewry.

Greene told his Oklahoma audience that the reason so few German Jews were admitted to the U.S. in the 1930s was because of “bureaucratic walls put in place by the State Department” —as if the White House had no occupant. 

What actually happened is that the State Department implemented Roosevelt’s policy of restricting immigration far below what the existing law allowed. The annual quota of German immigrants—about 26,000—was filled only once in FDR’s twelve years in office; in most of those years, it was less than 25% filled.

There are letters from the president himself at the time in which he acknowledged and defended the fact that visas were, as he put it, “considerably under-issued.” There are documents showing that State Department officials briefed the president on their efforts to keep refugees out.

Equally troubling was Greene’s deeply flawed description of the American response to the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938. Greene simply omitted any mention of the offer by the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands to open his territory to Jewish refugees, and FDR’s rejection of the offer. The exhibit at the museum likewise fails to mention the Virgin Islands as a possible haven for refugees.

The sad truth about President Roosevelt and Nazi Germany in the 1930s—never acknowledged by Greene or the U.S. Holocaust Museum—is that FDR consistently sought to maintain good relations with the Hitler regime prior to the war.

Under President Roosevelt, the U.S. government warmly welcomed the swastika-bedecked German warships Karlsruhe and Emden, which Hitler sent to American ports in 1934-1936 to promote good will between the Third Reich and the United States. The warships visited American Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coast ports at a critical time, when Nazi Germany was emerging as a major military power. High-level U.S. military officials openly fraternized with the Nazi warships’ officers, helping to legitimize Hitler’s rearmament program, which put all of European Jewry in extreme danger. With the assistance of Roosevelt’s State Department, the U.S. Navy even helped the Nazi warships improve their combat readiness.  In numerous speeches to American business and civic groups, the German warships’ officers aggressively promoted Nazism and Hitler’s expansionist policies.

The Roosevelt administration ignored  fierce protests by American Jews and trade unionists against the Nazi warships’ visits. The administration’s policy helped enable Nazi Germany to present itself as a respectable member of the community of nations, with many legitimate grievances. Greene mentioned none of this, nor can it be found in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibit. 

The hosting of the Nazi warships was consistent with President Roosevelt’s policy of maintaining cordial, sometimes even friendly, relations with the Nazi regime. From 1933 until the end of 1938, FDR never publicly criticized Hitler’s persecution of German Jews. He never suspended diplomatic or trade relations with Nazi Germany before World War II. And even as many Americans were boycotting German goods in the 1930s, the Roosevelt administration was helping the Hitler regime evade the boycott by allowing it to use deceptive labeling on their goods so that American consumers would not recognize their country of origin.

Toward the end of his talk in Oklahoma, Greene described how the Holocaust Museum’s exhibit was intended especially for younger audiences, so he and his colleagues polled high school students in advance. He said he was surprised when “high school students didn’t do well on the question of who was president in World War 2.” 

Sadly, neither the exhibit nor its roving spokesman is doing much to improve the situation. So long as they depict Roosevelt as the amazing vanishing president—who suddenly goes missing when the embarrassing abandonment of the Jews is discussed—how could high schoolers be expected to know any better?

(Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies; his most recent book is The Jews Should Keep Quiet: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust. Dr. Stephen Norwood is Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Oklahoma; his latest book, which is in press, is Prologue to Annihilation: Ordinary American and British Jews Challenge the Third Reich.)

REDEMPTION WATCH: As Russia Moves Closer to North Korea, The Final War Inches Closer

No can know how the events of the next few months will play out, but it has become clear that the world as we know it is ending. History is driven in stages.  According to Jewish mysticism time is a spiral and yet propels forward through a series of bubbles.  The bubble that has grown since the end of World War 2 and more accurately since 1948 wth the founding of the State of Israel, is about to burst.

The news has been reporting that Russia has decided to move its military to the North Korean border.

The video below has surfaced showing Russian forces and military equipment being transferred South to its border with North Korea.

This troop movement follows the Chinese moving 150,000 troops to its border with North Korea. With a North Korea ready to trigger another nuclear test, Donald Trump’s response could very well trigger a military response from both China and Russia.

Newsweek is reporting:

Moscow reportedly threatened to veto the motion, despite its support from all 14 other members of the U.N. Security Council, including Pyongyang ally China, over the way it was worded. The statement said the U.N. was opposed to North Korea’s decision to launch a liquid-fueled ballistic missile Sunday on the 105th birthday of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s late founder and current leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather. Amid a recent fallout between Washington and Moscow in foreign policy in Syria, Russia argued Thursday that the U.S.-drafted statement on North Korea needed to open the possibility for diplomatic talks.

As these forces draw close to one another the great global game of control, the stakes have risen to the point that there is no turning back. The coming Korean war is not just an Asian war, it is the bursting of the bubble that is the barrier between the world as we know it and the world that is meant to come next.

There is tremendous fear in the world.  Fear is the tool of the forces of evil.  We are moments before the final battle and we have no need to fear for a moment.  Rebbe Nachman says joy is the true way to serve G-D.  Joy leads to prophecy and true connection to the Almighty.  Joy brings our prayers to fruition and it is prayer that ultimately changes the reality we experience.

The world is shattering before us.  We must be joyful that the world that is to come is the rectified experience we have been yearning for.

The Day Dachau was Liberated by Native Americans

Located in Oklahoma City, the 45th Infantry Division, disbanded in 1968, was originally a part of the Oklahoma National Guard and saw action in both World War II and the Korean War. Composed of soldiers from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma the 45th was established in the early 1920s; its soldiers were natural fighters, marksmen and people of the land. Some of them were Native Americans whose families had come to the region from Tennessee and the Carolinas in the brutal Trail of Tears.

Ironically, the 45th Infantry Division in 1924 chose the Swastika as their symbol. The Swastika was a Native American symbol. In 1939, with the rise of Nationalist Socialism in Germany, members of the 45th Infantry Division replaced their insignia with a Thunderbird, another Native American symbol, designed by Oklahoma native Woody Big Bow.

During World War II, the division engaged in heavy fighting against the Nazis in Italy, displaying great bravery and resolve, despite serious losses. They would be the first Allied troops to reach the Vatican. After Italy, they entered into France and Germany, capturing several key cities and eventually crossing the Danube River. On April 29th, 1945 the 45th was sent to liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp.

Upon witnessing the horrors of Dachau, soldiers of the 45th mowed down Nazi soldiers who had already surrendered, Cherokee Indian 1st Lieutenant Jack Bushyhead personally ordering the execution of almost 400 SS troops. In the eyes of the Native American soldiers of the U.S. Army, Nazi soldiers in concentration camps were not ordinary enemy soldiers deserving of protection as prisoners of war; they were simply murderers. Those liberated Jewish inmates that still had enough strength to take vengeance joined the 45th in this act. Jews, White and Black Americans and American Indians taking revenge together on Nazis is something that binds. The Jews also killed some kapos. This was not the direct business of the American soldiers, but they did help.

Lt. Jack Bushyhead
Lt. Jack Bushyhead (left) at the Liberation of Dachau, 1945.

Immediately before entering the Dachau Concentration Camp, the soldiers of the 45th found thirty nine railroad boxcars containing two thousand skeletal corpses and brain tissue scattered about from smashed in skulls. According to eyewitness reports, the battle toughened soldiers were not at all prepared for the sight and, in concert with the stench of decaying corpses, could not hold their emotions back. They vomited, cried and entered a state of rage that cannot be understood by those that have never experienced such horrors.

At that point Nazi tower guardsmen started to shoot on the American soldiers and the fighting resumed, but not in full force. It seems that many of the SS guards, the camp commander and others had fled the camp just before its liberation, leaving hundreds more strewn and tortured bodies for the 45th Infantry Division liberators to find. Still, the Nazis had 560 SS soldiers left in the compound, many of them Hungarian Waffen SS troops, others were inmates of the SS conscripted prison system which was also housed in Dachau.

There is much dispute as to what really happened at the camp, how many Nazi Soldiers were actually killed and under what circumstances. In his 1986 book, Dachau: The Day of the Avenger, an Eyewitness Account, first lieutenant and medical corps office Howard Buechner writes that U.S. forces killed 520 Nazi soldiers, 346 on the orders of the Cherokee Indian, Jack Bushyhead. Other eyewitnesses dispute this and still others confirm.

Alleged execution of SS troops in a coal yard in the area of the Dachau concentration camp during its liberation. April 29, 1945
Alleged execution of SS troops in a coal yard in the area of the Dachau concentration camp during its liberation. April 29, 1945

After the liberation, accusations of war crimes were hurled at the American forces. As such, getting to the truth of the episode is difficult. No matter the true number of executed Nazis, during a United States Army investigation into the occurrences, General George S. Patton dismissed the charges. Deputy Judge Advocate, Colonel Charles L. Decker, wrote: “in the light of the conditions which greeted the eyes of the first combat troops, it is not believed that justice or equity demand that the difficult and perhaps impossible task of fixing individual responsibility now be undertaken.”

What is not denied is that the American soldiers gave guns and tools to the Jewish inmates that still had strength enough to take revenge on the Nazi soldiers still in the complex. And take revenge they did, killing and butchering several Nazis as well as Jewish kapos.

Jewish Inmate Beating SS Guard
Dachau inmate prepares to beat a guard to death with a shovel

These occurrences, of course, of Jewish inmates taking revenge on Nazi soldiers were never considered immoral or wrong. They were understandable to all, probably to the Nazi soldiers as well as the Jewish kapos themselves.

The question then must be asked. Is it not enough to see and to internalize or must one actually fall victim first? The Cherokee Jack Bushyhead knew oppression and the murdering of innocents in his family from the Trail of Tears, the mid nineteenth century forced walk of several Indian tribes and Black Americans from the Southeastern United States to the Oklahoma territory. It is estimated that approximately 2000-6000 Cherokee Indians died on the vicious and brutal journey.

Having internalized his own people’s narrative, this Native American hero was perhaps doubly moved to act on the pledge: Never Again.