Re "What FDR said in private," Opinion, April 7
As an American and a Jew, I found Rafael Medoff's criticism of Franklin D. Roosevelt for his private comments about Jews most unfair. FDR understood that the best way to end the Holocaust was to defeat Hitler, which he did at the cost of hundreds of thousands of American lives.
In singling out FDR, Medoff also ignores the squeamishness of America's modern presidents in dealing with genocide. Jimmy Carter, a human rights crusader, did nothing to prevent Pol Pot from exterminating as much as 20% of Cambodia's population. Bill Clinton took several years to respond militarily to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia and also never confronted the mass killings in Rwanda. George W. Bush and Barack Obama employed little more than empty words to condemn the atrocities in Darfur.
Historically speaking, Roosevelt comes off rather well.
Medoff's revelations regarding Roosevelt's private statements about Jews are indeed shocking. But they still don't explain Roosevelt's failure to act against the Holocaust earlier in the war.
Both Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln set aside their racist views toward African Americans to argue that slavery was unjust and should be abolished. And Harry Truman had anti-Semitic views, yet he recognized the state of Israel.
As David S. Wyman documented in his book, "The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945," by late 1942, our leaders knew that some 2 million Jews had already been murdered by the Nazis and that millions more were in imminent danger. Yet we refused to take any serious action until 1944, after millions more had been killed.
Even bigotry fails to account for this unconscionable moral failure.
Stephen A. Silver
While we're indebted to Medoff for illuminating one of history's dark corners, his dismissal of the Roosevelt administration's fear that admitting high numbers of German Jews to the United States posed a security risk because they could be used as spies deserves a response.
Fearing a refugee with a loved one in totalitarian Europe would be susceptible to extortion by fascist fifth columnists in America was far from "absurd" at the time. It wouldn't have justified exclusion based on what we now know of the Holocaust and the limited Axis intelligence assets in Allied nations, but none of the Allies knew how much they'd been penetrated.
Roosevelt can be criticized for bigotry, as his internment of Japanese Americans attests, but decisions then were informed as much by the fog of war as by bigotry.
When I arrived here in 1936 at the age of 12, FDR was the closest thing to a deity to this Jewish refugee from Germany. I felt that FDR personally was responsible for rescuing me from Hitler's Nazi hordes.
Many years later I learned that my hero had anti-Semitic views. I transferred my admiration to his amazing wife, Eleanor.
When FDR ran for a fourth term in 1944, I excitedly voted for him. I was 21 and a new citizen, and to vote was the greatest privilege life in the U.S. could afford me.
I ask myself today whether I would have voted for FDR had I been aware of his views. Sadly, even after all these years, I cannot answer that question.
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