The War against the Jews Goes On

By Koch, Edward I. | Midstream, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The War against the Jews Goes On


Koch, Edward I., Midstream


The latest Palestinian violence against Israelis, and the continuing abandonment of Israel by most of the international community, inevitably bring to mind the abandonment of the Jews during the Holocaust. Just this past week, a document emerged which raises disturbing new questions about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's response to the Nazi mass murder of Europe's Jews.

The document was brought to my attention by Dr. Rafael Medoff, a Holocaust scholar and director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, D.C. Several years ago, Dr. Medoff collaborated with me on my book "The Koch Papers: My Fight Against Anti-Semitism." It was based on my writings and speeches about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, during the course of my nine years in Congress and twelve as mayor of New York City.

The document which Dr. Medoff sent me last week, concerning FDR and the Holocaust, was frankly shocking. It had to do with the Allies' occupation of North Africa, which they liberated from the Nazis in November 1942. At the time, President Roosevelt publicly pledged the Allies would do away with the anti-Jewish laws that had been in force in the region. But when FDR met in Casablanca with local government leaders in January 1943, he took a very different line. The transcript of those discussions, which Dr. Medoff cites, reveals what FDR said about the status of the 330,000 Jews living in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia:

   The number of Jews engaged in the practice of the professions
   (law, medicine, etc.) should be definitely limited to
   the percentage that the Jewish population in North Africa
   bears to the whole of the North African population ... The
   President stated that his plan would further eliminate the
   specific and understandable complaints which the
   Germans bore toward the Jews in Germany, namely, that
   while they represented a small part of the population, over
   fifty percent of the lawyers, doctors, school teachers, college
   professors, etc., in Germany, were Jews.

Hard to believe a president would say such a thing? Maybe, but the source is unimpeachable: the transcript appears in Foreign Relations of the United States, a multivolume series of historical documents published by the U.S. government itself. The Casablanca volume was published in 1968, but did not attract much notice at the time. Dr. Medoff has done a public service by bringing it to our attention again.

Fortunately, U.S. policy in occupied North Africa in the end did not follow FDR's line. When it became clear that the administration was stalling on getting rid of the old anti-Jewish laws, American Jewish leaders loudly protested. (If only they had been so vocal throughout the Holocaust years!) One of the most memorable critiques came from Benzion Netanyahu--father of Israel's current prime minister--who in those days headed up the American wing of the Revisionist Zionist movement: "The spirit of the Swastika hovers over the Stars and Stripes," he wrote. The protests eventually forced the White House to back down. North African Jews were gradually released from forced-labor camps, and the anti-Jewish quotas and other laws were rescinded.

The American Jewish community reveres the memory of FDR. He will always be remembered and rightly so for leading us through the Great Depression and for being responsible for this country not ending up in the column of fascist nations, as did Germany and Italy.

We had 25 percent unemployment in a nation of 132 million. We had Father Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh beating the drums of fascism and support of Adolf Hitler and his ideas, particularly those blaming the Jews of the world for the ills of the world. We had the German-American Bund led by Fritz Kuhn in Yorkville with signs stating "No Jews Allowed. …

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