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America and the Holocaust

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The Holocaust was the extermination of European Jews between the years 1941 and 1945 during World War II. Nazi Germany and allied countries used savage methods like concentration camps to murder approximately six million men, women, and children just because they were born Jewish. Winston Churchill, British prime minister from 1940-1945, said that the Holocaust “was probably the greatest and most terrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world.” This atrocity was so massive that it is impossible to completely comprehend it. Many continue to investigate in hopes to figure out and understand why the Holocaust happened. In addition to the Jewish victims, the Nazis murdered nine million non-Jewish civilians and three million Soviet prisoners of wars. With a tragedy of epic proportions like the Holocaust, the United States was heavily scrutinized for its lack of involvement and remains to be questioned in present times.

 Recently, in the PBS documentary “America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference” allegations against president Franklin D. Roosevelt and America drew heavy criticism from young American Jews towards their parents and grandparents. These young Jews condemned their elders for conforming to American society and supporting their neutral president rather than standing up to the Nazis crimes. The question “why?” still seems to be on many people’s mind. Why did the allies refuse to bomb the concentration camp, Auschwitz? Why did not the United States deny the St. Louis, a German ship carrying Jewish refugees to Cuba in 1939 entry? Could the United States have done more to save innocent lives? Many believe the answer to these questions is the American people, government, and president, “were the all too passive accomplices” an important representative on this subject wrote. However, there are also many others who solemnly believe that the United States should be praised for their role in World War II, and they fought extremely hard to end the Holocaust and Hitler’s reign. A prime example of this can be seen in the article America and the Holocaust. This article genuine appraisal for America’s response to the Holocaust and their part in ending the it.

         Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated five weeks after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933. President Roosevelt was well informed of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies, and it was no secret he disliked him and the Nazi regime. Unlike the other leaders of the world, Franklin Roosevelt stood in disagreement to Hitler from the moment he took office. When well-known non-Jewish refugee from the Nazis, Thomas Mann, met with FDR in 1935. He admitted that for the first time he believed the Nazis could be defeated because it was evident that Roosevelt truly understood the how extreme Hitler’s evilness was.

Most Americans wanted the United States to remain neutral when World War II began in September 1939. The Great Depression caused an economic disaster in the United States. Along with the commitment to stay neutral and extreme prejudices towards immigrants, most Americans were reluctant to welcome refugees. Although some Americans genuinely believed that the United States did not have the required resources to acclimate refugees, many Americans discriminated against immigrants reflected the growing problem of anti-Semitism. Business leaders and labor unions together with liberals and conservative forces opposed any increase to aid the thousands of refugees attempting to flee Europe. Instead, the US State Department applied new restrictions that made it much harder for immigrants to enter the United States. The laws and quotas were carefully protected by Congress and supported by a strong, wide-ranged section of Americans who were against all immigrants, not just Jewish immigrants. Because of the large German quota, it was much easier for Jewish refugees to enter than the Spanish who desired to escape civil war, Chinese victims of Japanese aggression, anticommunist refugees from the Soviet Union, or Armenians.

        Eleanor Roosevelt founded the International Rescue Committee, which helped bring labor leaders, political figures, and intellectuals to the safety of the United States, in 1933. The President and the First Lady put forth great effort to assist those who were escaping Nazi oppression. In fact, President Roosevelt made it a point to publicly invite many refugees to the White House. In 1936, the Nazis repossessed refugees’ personal possessions as requirement for Jewish emigration. In retaliation, Roosevelt significantly revised President Hoover’s version of the harshly administered immigration laws, thus permitting a larger amount of visas to be issued. Even though it was possible for the United States to have issued much more immigration visas during that time, more refugees fleeing Nazi Germany were admitted into America than any other country in the world.

The Evian Conference’s only accomplishment was to organize the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC). This committee was formed to pressure the Germans in allowing Jewish refugees to emigrate with adequate resources to start their new lives. Ultimately the negotiations failed because the Fuhrer never allowed them to succeed. No other republic’s reaction to Kristallnacht was stronger than the United States. Roosevelt withdrew the US ambassador from Germany and at his following press conference said, “I myself can scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization.” Americans in opinion polls revealed rage and repulsion with the Nazis and sympathy for the Jews, anti-Semites extremist in America continued to target Roosevelt. Fighting them with wise and effective tactics, President Roosevelt managed to separate these extremists from mainstream America. FDR effectively linked their anti-Semitism with treason that would result in severe damage to the national interest and national defense.

More than half of all the immigrants that were permitted entrance in the United States were Jewish immigrants after Kristallnacht. Because public opinion in democracies everywhere showed that people had been disgusted by the Nazi persecution, other countries of refuge became available. For example, after Kristallnacht, Great Britain, approved immigration visas basically with no limitation. There were 91,780 German and Austrian Jews who entered England in the first six months of 1939. Most of the time they entered as a temporary port en route to other regions of the Commonwealth. Roosevelt knew that he did not have the command to make changes to the quota system of his own country. Doing his part, Roosevelt was always looking for safe havens for the refugees in other countries. His critics severely misjudged the limitations on presidential authority; clearly, the President could not unilaterally command an increase in quotas. Rep. Samuel Dickstein, who chaired the House subcommittee on immigration, and the Democratic congressional leaders, cautioned President Roosevelt that reactionary forces in Congress could use any attempt to increase the quotas as an opportunity to decrease them. In 1939, an opinionated advocate of Jewish interests, Congressman Emanuel Celler of Brooklyn gave a speech warning “it would be dangerous at this time because of public opinion in the South and West to press for the passage in Congress of [his own] bills to give asylum in the United States to refugees and to reallot for refugees the unused quotas of various countries.”  Congressman Celler said he had been warned by representatives from other parts of the country that if he pressed his proposals, other bills “to cut the quotas in half or to stop all immigration would be introduced and probably passed.” 



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