Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Response to Special Wyman Issue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Response to Special Wyman Issue

Article excerpt

The J.E.S. special issue on David S. Wyman's The Abandonment of the Jews (vol. 40 [Fall, 2003]) raised important questions about President Franklin Roosevelt's policies toward Jewish refugees during the 1930's and 1940's. As a lifelong Democrat, including having served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, I always revered F.D.R. His New Deal rescued America from the Depression. His leadership in World War II rescued the world from Nazi conquest, but, as we learned from Wyman and other scholars, his record on rescuing Jews from the Holocaust was deeply disappointing.

In the Brooklyn district that I represented, as in most Jewish communities, probably ninety percent of Jewish votes went for Roosevelt each time he ran. That is hardly surprising. On domestic issues, Jews overwhelmingly supported the New Deal. On foreign policy, Roosevelt was the one criticizing Hitler and preparing our country for war, while the Republicans were generally isolationists.

By 1944, there was some awareness in the American Jewish community that the Roosevelt administration had not taken substantial action to rescue European Jews. However, 1944 was also the year that F.D.R. established the War Refugee Board, a U.S. government agency for rescuing refugees, and permitted nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees to enter the U.S. outside the quotas, to be sheltered in upstate New York. Even though the War Refugee Board was created very late, and even though that shelter in New York was the only such haven Roosevelt created in America, Jewish voters naturally asked themselves whether a Republican president would have done even that much. …

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