GIVING FDR CREDIT WHERE CREDIT ISN’T DUE by Rafael Medoff (Part 3 of 5)
(Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, www.WymanInstitute.org and author of 15 books about the Holocaust and Jewish history.)
After President Franklin D. Roosevelt learned that Hitler was slaughtering the Jews, he created a government agency to try to rescue them–so said the new Ken Burns documentary, “The Roosevelts,” which aired on PBS earlier this month.
Burns’s depiction of FDR’s response to the Holocaust is an excellent example of something that is technically true–yet is, in fact, utterly misleading.
“When news began to reach [Roosevelt] at the end of 1942 that the Germans had moved on from mistreatment to mass murder,” the narrator of ‘The Roosevelts’ recounted in episode #6, “he joined Churchill and Stalin and ten Allied governments in exile in promising to prosecute and publish those responsible for what they called ‘this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.’ ”
Technically true, but profoundly misleading.
The president did not exactly rush to acknowledge and condemn the mass murders. In fact, when information about the killings began reaching Washington in mid-1942, Roosevelt administration officials suppressed it. When that information reached American Jewish leaders from another source, U.S. officials pressed them to hold back the news until it could be investigated further. Finally, three months later, the administration grudgingly conceded that the information was correct.
Even at that point, the White House was in no hurry to speak out. It was the British government that suggested issuing a joint Allied statement about the killings. Roosevelt’s State Department at first resisted the proposal, fearing–as one official put it–that “the various Governments of the United Nations [as the Allies were informally known] would expose themselves to increased pressure from all sides to do something more specific in order to aid these people.”
The Roosevelt administration eventually went along with the joint Allied statement, but only after watering down some of the language. For example, the proposed phrase “reports from Europe which leave no doubt” (that mass murder was underway) was whittled down to just “numerous reports from Europe.”