American Jews and the Holocaust
To the Editor:
Adlai Stevenson in an address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors said: “The job of an editor is to separate the wheat from the chaff and then print the chaff.” This may be overstating the case, but there is a substantial element of truth in the statement.
COMMENTARY’s publication of Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s article, “Indicting American Jews” [June], without checking the most definitive source, namely myself, proves that all too often editors do what Governor Stevenson sardonically said.
Arthur J. Goldberg
To the Editor:
As we read “Indicting American Jews” by Lucy S. Dawidowicz, we feel that something more needs to be said regarding the distinguished American who chairs the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust. Whatever problems may have developed in the commission’s process, Arthur J. Goldberg is to be commended for agreeing to chair an effort to look honestly at this issue, so potentially painful to America’s Jews. He never sought to protect any special interest, even that of the organization of which he is Honorary President, the American Jewish Committee. By his own avowal, no such special interest has attempted to influence him or the commission in its deliberations, which is itself a tribute to those interests and the organizations involved.
His efforts will be remembered as another example of distinguished service in the long and proud career of a leading American Jew.
Howard I. Friedman
American Jewish Committee
New York City
To the Editor:
Discussing various responses to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews and then to the Holocaust, Lucy S. Dawidowicz writes: “Hardly any group or party along the Marxist spectrum—from the Socialists of the Second International to the Stalinists of the Third International and the Trotskyites of the Fourth International to the myriads of sectarian splinters—ever gave a passing thought to the fate of the European Jews.”
This is an extraordinary statement. It rests on no presented research or claim to research. It violates every standard of historical scruple. And it is not true.
One wonders, first of all, whether Mrs. Dawidowicz would include in her indictment the Jewish Labor Bund, a section of the Socialist International with a branch in the United States, as one of the groups on the Left that failed to give “a passing thought to the fate of the European Jews.”
Since Mrs. Dawidowicz implicated me in her charges, I decided to do a little research of the kind I suspect she did not do. I leave aside the Stalinists; I share no political community with them; let them shift for themselves. But I start with Trotsky’s writing about the European Jews and then move somewhat to the Right.
Trotsky in 1937:
During my youth I rather leaned toward the prognosis that the Jews of different countries would be assimilated and that the Jewish question would disappear in a quasi-automatic fashion. The historical development of the last quarter of a century has not confirmed this perspective. (On the Jewish Question, New York, 1973, p. 20.)
In 1937 Trotsky also wrote “Thermidor and Anti-Semitism,” an article attacking the anti-Semitism of the Stalin regime. I remember the violence with which American liberals and even leading Jewish figures assailed Trotsky for such “paranoid” accusations; I remember that some of us who in our youth admired Trotsky felt that this time he had “gone too far.” It took years before his analysis of Stalinist anti-Semitism became common property.
In 1939 Trotsky wrote that “less than I percent” of the world’s population (the Jews) “can no longer find a place on our planet. . . .” Hitler, he said, has given anti-Semitism “a zoological form, discovering the true language of ‘race’ and ‘blood’ in the dog’s bark and the pig’s grunt. . . .” (Doesn’t that sentence call into question Mrs. Dawidowicz’s claim that “Nazi racism [is] another concept absent from Marxist thinking”?)
Writings such as these—be they good or bad, wise or foolish—would seem to constitute a good deal more than the “passing thought” which, according to Mrs. Dawidowicz, Marxists didn’t give to “the fate of European Jews.” But wait.
In 1939 Trotsky wrote about “the gigantic dimension of the evil burdening the Jewish people.” (Doesn’t that sentence call into question Mrs. Dawidowicz’s claim that Marxist categories “harbored no rubric for Jews”?) Trotsky continued: “It is possible to imagine without difficulty what awaits the Jews at the mere outbreak of the future world war. But even without war the next development of world reaction signifies with certainty the physical extermination of the Jews” (emphasis in original, ibid., p. 29).
For someone who, since he was a Marxist, supposedly didn’t give “a passing thought to the fate of the European Jews,” this prediction is, I submit, rather impressive. Which is not to deny that Trotsky remains open to severe criticisms for his narrowly ideological opposition to Zionism, etc.; but at least it seems clear he was giving rather more than “a passing thought to the fate of the European Jews.”
It is interesting to compare his response with that of the editors of the Labor Zionist magazine, the Jewish Frontier, as remembered by one of them, Marie Syrkin, in the October 1982 Midstream. Miss Syrkin writes that in August 1942 she and Hayim Greenberg heard a “bewildering report” that Hitler intended to exterminate the European Jews. “We listened in numb disbelief,” writes Miss Syrkin. “But we could not take in what we heard.” Miss Syrkin and Greenberg then received a document from the Jewish Socialist Bund (those Marxists again!) in Poland reporting mass gassing of Jews. But the Frontier editors could not take this in either, so in what Miss Syrkin calls “a disgraceful compromise” they buried “the fearful report” in the back pages of their September issue.
I cite this not to criticize Marie Syrkin or Hayim Greenberg, since I believe, as I wrote in A Margin of Hope, that “to be human meant to be unequipped to grapple with the Holocaust.” I bring up Miss Syrkin’s recollection to suggest that if we are to show understanding for the failures of the Zionist leaders, as we should, of course, then perhaps Mrs. Dawidowicz might be a little more careful in what she writes about “the Left.”
I have reviewed the files, from 1940 to 1949, of the weekly Labor Action, published by the Schacht-man group which was then beginning its journey from Trotskyism to social democracy. During those years, before and after my service in the U.S. Army, I wrote for this paper. I find that there were in its pages literally dozens of articles, letters, editorials, references regarding “the fate of the European Jews.” To cite all or most of them would be impossible; let me mention a few:
June 24, 1940: “Thousands of Jews and foreign political refugees . . . have already been caught by the German troops [in France] and are doomed to certain death. Thousands of other refugees are still being kept in concentration camps . . . and it is feared they will be turned over to Hitler.”
December 9,1940: A headline—“Hitler Pleases Stalin, Hounds French Jews as ‘Trotskyists.’”
February 3, 1941: Concentration-camp inmates in France “will not fight any more; apathetic, they lie on their straw mattresses . . . waiting for the end. The camp at Gurs . . . includes the entire former Jewish population of Baden (7,500). . . .”
April 5, 1941: Irving Howe article, “The Saturday Evening Post Slanders the Jewish People.”
May 25, 1942: Lengthy report on Warsaw ghetto: “The prevailing elements in ghetto life are misery and hunger. . . . Hundreds of people die daily. . . . Even the sacredness of death is lost in the ghetto.”
June 14, 1943: Report on suicide of Arthur Zygelbojm to draw attention to plight of Polish Jews.
August 9, 1943: Editorial—“The Allied powers are practicing a form of anti-Semitism in their adamant refusal to take a single positive action in behalf of the European Jews.”
October 5, 1943: J. Kaaren attacks British government for indifference to Jewish refugees.
September 13, 1943: Robert Hart writes, “Palestine alone could have provided a haven to countless numbers of European Jews. . . . But the British government refused to modify the tight immigration quotas. The British say it would cause trouble with the Arabs.”
February 7, 1944: Headline—“No Let-Up in Nazi Torture of Jews.” Subhead—“Open Doors to Nazi Victims.”
February 28, 1944: J. Kaaren writes, “Palestine is the only country that welcomes the Jewish refugees and is the only place where the Jewish community makes provisions to integrate them into its national life. It is ridiculous to say that after the war the European Jews can go back to their native lands.”
August 6, 1946: Irving Howe article, “Terror—the Barbaric Master of Europe,” effort to understand nature of Nazi terror.
August 16, 1946: Headline—“Do Not Let Britain Finish Hitler’s Task,” over article supporting Haganah against British attempt to ban “illegal” immigration to Palestine.
September 9, 1946: A. Rudzienski writes about reappearance of anti-Semitism in Poland.
May 26, 1948: Editorial—“Open U.S. Doors to Immigration of Jewish People.”
All through the late 40′s Labor Action carried further articles concerning these themes—though not enough of them. Black on white, wise or foolish, wise and foolish, they are there for anyone to look up. I haven’t gone through the files of the Socialist Call, the weekly paper of the Socialist party, but I am certain that a check would yield similar results. Harry Fleischman, at the time an SP leader, has provided me with clippings from the 1940′s. Norman Thomas, December 8, 1944: “From 1939 we and our government did amazingly little even to try to rescue [Jewish refugees].” Norman Thomas, October 22, 1945: “It is rank hypocrisy . . . for President Truman to urge Britain to allow 100,000 Jews into Palestine while refusing to open the doors of the United States to Europe’s homeless Jews.”
Let me be clear. The Socialist Left, like (I would say) every other group on the political spectrum, should have done and said more than it did about the European Jews. As I have already said in print, a large portion of what the Socialist Left did say was rigid, sectarian, doctrinaire, and quite indefensible. Some of it now seems to me stupid. Yet a portion of the Left’s criticisms—of Roosevelt’s treatment of the refugees, of the Allies’ callousness toward European Jews, of Stalin’s anti-Semitism—remains valid.
I am not raising here the issue of whether the Left was correct in its attitudes toward the war, Zionism, the Jewish question, Nazism, etc. COMMENTARY isn’t my idea of the place in which to discuss such matters dispassionately. The issue that concerns me is Mrs. Dawidowicz’s statement that the Left hardly “ever gave a passing thought to the fate of the European Jews,” which is to say, that the Left was indifferent to their fate. The evidence shows that she has committed a slander.
How various schools of thought responded to the Holocaust and the events leading to it is a question both complex and painful. It needs to be treated sensitively, without polemical coarseness. There are enough failures and mistakes to go around, and I think that we Socialists have not been among the last to acknowledge the magnitude of our failures and mistakes. But this is not a question to be approached through narrow-spirited hatchet jobs. Least of all did one expect a historian like Lucy S. Dawidowicz to join the pack.
New York City
To the Editor:
In her otherwise brilliant article Lucy S. Dawidowicz makes an unfortunate and damaging slip in discussing “the failure of the Left in the United States” to take due cognizance of the Holocaust.
While Mrs. Dawidowicz is properly critical of a major portion of the Left, she is in error in several respects. When she states that “The Socialists . . . opposed American entry into” World War II, she generalizes too broadly. A large segment of the party favored entry, and indeed a serious split occurred over this issue. Furthermore, I fail to find evidence that Norman Thomas, the Socialist leader, was a “member of America First.” He did, to his later regret, speak at one or more of the organization’s meetings, but that is a far cry from membership.
Even worse, much worse, is the impression given by Mrs. Dawidowicz that Socialists in the United States, whom she had included in the Left, are today part and parcel of the “heartland of anti-Zionism,” and that the Left “bays loudly against ‘the Jewish establishment’ for having ‘betrayed’ the European Jews during the Holocaust.” In fact, as the most elementary research would indicate, the American Socialists, and particularly their Social Democractic wing, are now and have for some years been strongly, indeed militantly, pro-Israel and actively sympathetic to the Jewish cause generally.
American Federation of Teachers
New York City
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz has been a wise and thoughtful historian of the Holocaust. But her attack on American Socialists in her article, “Indicting American Jews,” is a shabby, unworthy, factually false charge.
She claims that “hardly any group or party along the Marxist spectrum . . . ever gave a passing thought to the fate of the European Jews.” As far as the Socialist party is concerned, her indictment is a complete lie and a libel. I was active in the Socialist party all during those years, served as its national secretary from 1942 to 1950, and can testify to the facts.
Before the fall of France in 1940, Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate for President, proposed that America should assume the responsibility, with such help as it could get from other nations, for care of the growing number of refugees. He outlined a plan and showed how comparatively modest would be its costs. Roosevelt replied that the plea touched “a most responsive chord in me” and pledged that the government would both study and give immediate attention to the whole problem. But little happened. For the most part, Thomas’s proposals were either ignored or opposed, leading him to say bitterly, “I learned first-hand how many Americans preferred to fight or have their countrymen fight for the rights of Jews in Europe than to give them asylum in America.”
Again, when Hitler announced that he planned to exterminate all the Jews, men, women and children, Thomas pleaded with Roosevelt to open America’s doors. However, at the Anglo-American Bermuda Refugee Conference in 1943, the United States refused to relax its immigration laws and Britain refused to permit Jewish children to enter Palestine. Norman Thomas again commented:
We are willing to fight Hitler, partly because of his anti-Semitic cruelty, but we have not been willing to take any bold and aggressive action to rescue Jewish refugees or even temporarily to modify our immigration laws in this historic land of asylum. Anti-Semitism is a barometer which measures pretty accurately the climate of democracy and peace.
Even after the war ended, American Socialists continued their concern for the fate of Europe’s Jews. In September 1947, the Socialist paper, the Call, condemned the British Labor government for the “heartless British policy of deporting four boatloads of Jewish displaced persons from Palestine to Hamburg, scene of Nazi atrocities, and land of horrible memories for these displaced Jews.” We urged British Labor “to keep faith with the unfortunate victims of Nazism by removing them from the concentration camps and permitting them to enter Palestine, or any other place of refuge.” While calling upon the Labor government to “repeal completely, in accord with its repeated pledges, the provisions of the White Paper of 1939 which provided for discriminatory limitations of Jewish immigration and land acquisition,” we also called upon the United States “to relax its own immigration laws along the lines of the Stratton bill and to break down immigration barriers throughout the entire world to enable the displaced of all national, racial, and religious groups to find homes in which they can rebuild their lives in security and freedom.”
I have not even mentioned the tremendous work that American Socialists did in such organizations as the Jewish Labor Committee and the International Rescue Committee to rescue Jews, Socialists, and others from the clutches of Hitler.
Lucy S. Dawidowicz should be thoroughly ashamed of the hatchet job she has perpetrated against American Socialism, and I hope she’s big enough to apologize for her canards.
Wantagh, New York
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz, in defending American Jews against charges leveled by the former Irgunists Peter Bergson and Samuel Merlin, makes an unwarranted equation between the attitudes of today’s New Left and those of the old anti-Stalinist, Socialist Left toward the Jews. She also incorrectly attributes the latter’s . . . antiwar position to indifference to the fate of European Jews, which is just as unfair as attributing it to indifference to the brutal Nazi crushing of European workers and Socialist movements, anti-Nazis in general, and conquered nations. Both attributions are false.
Attitudes growing out of the antiwar traditions of World War I were the decisive . . . factors. These succeeded in overwhelming common sense and forcing most individuals who adhered formally to official policy to be secret Marranos, to cheer privately for Allied victory but publicly avoid taking what was labeled a “social patriotic” position. This was reflected in our behavior as good soldiers in the army. . . .
In the case of Norman Thomas, it was the tradition of post-World War I pacifism that led him into coalition with America Firsters—not indifference to Nazi terror and murder. Incidentally, vey few Socialists followed him into this coalition.
Mrs. Dawidowicz’s citing of the record is partial and hence misleading. Joseph Nedava, a Zionist Revisionist historian, notes in his book, Trotsky and the Jews, that “In light of the intensified Nazi persecution of the Jews in 1938, Trotsky called upon the Fourth International to concentrate more energetically on this aspect of the political front.” Nedava quotes from the program of the Fourth International which enjoins an uncompromising struggle against “malignant” anti-Semitism and directs that this “should become part of the daily work of all sections of the Fourth International.” So much for Mrs. Dawidowicz’s charge that Marxist categories “harbored no rubric for the Jews.”
In the fall of 1938 Trotsky (murdered in 1940) worried that “between the Warta and the Volga there live seven million Jews—in the coming war they will be annihilated first.” Even without war, the next development of world reaction signifies with certainty “the physical extermination of the Jews.” His remedy in the 30′s was “direct physical resistance to the Fascist gangs.” In the United States this produced the organization of an “Anti-Fascist Labor Guard” to fight physically against the Nazi Bund, the Silver Shirts, and Father Coughlin’s followers. Unfortunately, this correct approach was not carried over to the international arena, due to the imprisoning influence of anti-imperialist World War I slogans. Stunted error but not indifference.
Flushing, New York
To the Editor:
A writer is supposed to be happy if the critics just spell his name right, so I should be pleased with Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s article. Unfortunately, that is all she got right, either about my book, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, or the larger topic, the role of the Jewish establishment in the Holocaust.
Her main targets are Samuel Merlin and Peter Bergson whom, she says, we leftists have “welcomed.” While I respect them as individuals, ideologically they have nothing in common with my independent Trotskyism. She links us to try to discredit us all via “guilt by association.” The same must be said of her further attack:
In his preface Brenner asserts that “the Palestinian people are deeply appreciative of the firm support given them by progressive Jews.” Among the six he cites are Elmer Berger, long-time executive of the American Council for Judaism, and Felicia Langer, an Israeli Communist lawyer who has represented PLO terrorists. In his text, Brenner has good words for two other Jews—Peter Bergson and Samuel Merlin—and says of them and the Irgun that they “did more than all other Zionists to help the Jews in occupied Europe.” (He does not say what it is they did.)
The preface cites the six to show the ideological spectrum among Jews who support the Palestinians. None is mentioned in the text, nor is the American Council for Judaism, and the Stalinists of that day are frequently criticized. Mrs. Dawidowicz drags Berger and Langer into the discussion to divert attention from the role of the Jewish establishment. She then artfully creates a false impression that Bergson and Merlin and the Irgun are the only Jews that I praised in the text. But I praised several—Emanuel Ringelblum, Mordecai Anielewicz, Hannah Szenes, Rabbi Michael Weissmandel, Bernard Goldstein, etc. I praised and severely criticized Bergson and Merlin. I even cited Merlin as among those Zionist-Revisionists who “admired” Mussolini—10 percent of the book is devoted to proving the fascist character of the movement—and I’m utterly hostile to the Irgun in Palestine. Readers may see for themselves:
The American Irgunists were to commit many worse mistakes when the Irgun began its revolt in Palestine in January 1944 . . . it diverted attention from the Jews of Europe to the Jews of Palestine . . . once the Irgun revolted, the committee started back down its own road to political fanaticism. . . . That the American Irgunists did more than all other Zionists to help the Jews in occupied Europe is clear. That Begin’s revolt did absolutely nothing to help those same Jews is also clear. . . . As it was, the cause of Palestine was once again a distraction.
Grudgingly, she concedes that the Irgunists “succeeded in raising the level of public awareness.” They did this via a Kurt Weill pageant, which they toured around the country in the teeth of savage opposition from the American Jewish Congress, which blocked it from being shown in several cities.
She claims I echo “the Soviet-Arab line about ‘Zionist collusion with the Fascists and the Nazis.’” Of 607 citations in the book, nine are from Stalinist sources and two are Arab. Since I seek to convince Jews, the bulk of my evidence comes from Zionist sources. I criticize the Stalinists, I condemn the Mufti as a collaborator. Her charge is vintage red-baiting, nothing more. In fact, one of my sources was Lucy S. Dawidowicz. In her Holocaust Reader, we find a June 1933 letter from the German Zionist Federation to the Hitlerites:
Zionism believes that a rebirth of national life, such as is occurring in German life . . . must also take place in the Jewish national group. . . . On the foundation of the new state, which has established the principle of race, we wish so to fit our community . . . we do not wish to falsify these fundamentals, because we, too, are against mixed marriage and are for maintaining the purity of the Jewish group. . . . Zionism hopes to be able to win the collaboration even of a government fundamentally hostile to Jews.
Mrs. Dawidowicz is correct about only one thing: the Left will use Zionism’s Holocaust record against it. I ask her straight out: didn’t the World Zionist Organization break the anti-Nazi boycott; didn’t the Haganah invite Eichmann to Palestine and offer to spy for the SS; didn’t Foreign Minister Shamir’s Stern Gang offer to go to war on Hitler’s side? She calls my book “pseudo-scholarly.” Good enough; if she fancies that she can expose me, she is welcome to try: in a debate, at Yeshiva University or any other school.
New York City
To the Editor:
It is rather troubling to read the article by Lucy S. Dawidowicz in which the American Council for Judaism is impugned, as is its founder, Lessing Rosenwald, both directly and also by association with anti-Semites, racists, and self-haters.
Mrs. Dawidowicz implies that the Council’s actions in its early days in the 1940′s were only political. The fact is that its motivation was eminently religious—it sought to protect the practice of Judaism in the apolitical and universalistic form which has been the most widely loved in America since our faith became strongly established here. She might also have mentioned that most leading Reform rabbis participated in the work of the Council. The author says the Council was a minuscule group. In fact, it was many, many times the size of the American Jewish Committee, although the Committee is now larger.
Mrs. Dawidowicz links Lessing Rosenwald’s name with America First. She does not add (I hesitate to say “deliberately withholds”) the fact that upon learning of anti-Semitism within America First, he resigned, openly and forcefully condemning the group, which had originally been formed for patriotic purposes. It should also be mentioned that Lessing Rosenwald’s record of helping Jews and serving Jewish interests has been noted by other historians either better informed or less inclined to polemics than is Mrs. Dawidowicz, and also by American statesmen.
. . . Mrs. Dawidowicz implies that the Council’s politics were extremist—Trotskyist, Communist, and common-variety terrorist. Actually, it is unlikely that any Jewish group in America was better represented at that time (or is today, for that matter) in the camp of moderate politics.
Mrs. Dawidowicz refers to Rabbi Elmer Berger, an executive director, without mentioning that he has not been associated in any way with our organization since 1968. Indicating his connection while omitting the names of those who have in fact represented the American Council for Judaism, including Clarence L. Coleman, Jr., its president since 1955 almost uninterruptedly, is a distortion of gross proportions.
Director, American Council for Judaism
New York City
To the Editor:
When Winston Churchill, on July 22, 1942, finally said no to the opening of the Second Front in France in September 1942, Commanding General Dwight D. Eisenhower thought that date “could well go down as the ‘blackest day in history,’” as Captain Harry C. Butcher, Eisenhower’s naval aide, recorded in his diary, published as My Three Years with Eisenhower. Yet Lucy S. Dawidowicz, in her otherwise incisively informative article, scorns the campaign to “Open Up the Second Front Now” as merely a Soviet machination.
Now the June 11, 1942 agreement signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Soviet Foreign Minister V.M. Molotov called for a Second Front in France in 1942. Hitler had already begun his systematic extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe, as Mrs. Dawidowicz again reports. There were very good military reasons for adhering to the agreement, for a cross-channel invasion would have lifted the pressure on the Russians, against whom the Germans launched a new offensive on June 28, 1942. Compelling Hitler to fight on two fronts could have shortened the war and thus saved lives (including Jewish ones). Not only the White House but the highest military authorities were all for it. But Churchill, having other postwar strategic ends in view, was opposed. A mission headed by General George C. Marshall and Admiral Ernest King went to London to try to persuade him to abide by the agreement and mount an offensive in France by the end of September 1942. For the war as a whole, Churchill’s veto was a setback. For the Jews it was a catastrophe. When Churchill also failed to deliver on his promise to open a front in France in 1943, the fate of millions of Jews was sealed, for in that year Hitler carried through most of his extermination program for Jews. Not until June 6, 1944 was the offensive in France begun.
Now Mrs. Dawidowicz recognizes that “. . . as a group, Jews had the greatest stake in winning the war as fast as possible. For that was the surest way to save the European Jews.” Why, then, does she dismiss the cry to open up the Second Front as merely “Millions for defense of the Soviet Union, but nothing for rescue of the European Jews”? A Second Front in September 1942 would have helped not only the Soviet Union but the whole Grand Alliance, and all the peoples of Europe, including and particularly the Jews of Europe. Here was a prime instance of the complete integration of saving Jews with winning the war—thus forestalling the State Department’s objection to plans to save Jews as interfering with the war effort. Can it be that Mrs. Dawidowicz’s tunnel-vision anti-Communism prevents her from seeing that, whatever other motivation or other beneficiaries, the opening of the Second Front in France in the fall of 1942 could have saved . . . more Jews in fact than all the pleas and plans advanced by any and all who advanced them?
It is bad enough that we who demonstrated in 1942 and 1943 for the opening of the Second Front in France were denounced as merely Soviet-inspired. But that forty years later a historian like Lucy S. Dawidowicz can merely repeat that view is a reflection on her historiography.
Morris U. Schappes
Editor, Jewish Currents
New York City
To the Editor:
I have no quarrel with Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s defense of American Jews during the years of the Holocaust, or with her response to the raucous American Irgunists; but . . . she occasionally raises my hackles. She asks rhetorically whether the United States should be reviled and repudiated because of its restrictive immigration policies and the “mean-spiritedness of consular officials.” American Jews should ponder where they would be if America had not won the war, she cautions. . . .
. . . Five years ago David S. Wyman in these pages [“Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed,” May 1978] carefully catalogued America’s role in refusing to bomb the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz, using the pretext that it would interfere with the primary goal of winning the war. John Pehle, director of the War Refugee Board, . . . was incredulously mouthing this official line even in the face of rescue operations which had already been conducted by the U.S. and its allies on behalf of non-Jews and which were completely separate from the primary war effort. Pehle, it seems, never extended himself to save European Jews until November 1944, when reports of those who had escaped Auschwitz were flooding his War Refugee Board, though the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and War, all members of the Board, had been aware of the situation at least six months earlier. An alarmed Pehle finally moved into action, forwarding a strong request to the War Department to bomb Auschwitz. The request was turned down again, of course, for the same reason; but by then it didn’t make much difference, since in December Himmler was already destroying the gassing facilities, and in January the Russians liberated the camp. . . .
From May to December 1944, Jews were dying at such a rate in Auschwitz that even one day’s diversion of a few dozen planes from the main war effort could have saved tens of thousands at this camp alone. But let’s not lay the blame only on John Pehle. The massacre of Jews has always been viewed as a natural disaster, like a flood or earthquake. . . .
Stanley P. Kessel
To the Editor:
The thrust of Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s article is that the creation of a Jewish commission on the Holocaust is an example of indulging in the macabre “penchant for self-castigation.” As the alleged “chief architect of the commission’s inquiry,” I am somehow identified with the anti-Semitism of the Left.
These are grave accusations, bordering on slander. Mrs. Dawidowicz, however, does not support them with anything close to reasonable standards of evidence. Rather, the malice that oozes from virtually every paragraph of her article suggests that she herself is guilty of groundless hatred toward some fellow Jews for the sole reason that they have a different view from hers of the role played by the American Jewish leadership during the Holocaust.
Because of limitations of space I must confine myself to only a small sample of her distortions and statements which are in crass contradiction of the truth.
1. Nowhere in her article does Mrs. Dawidowicz say that she read my draft of the commission’s report, yet she criticizes it. Though she writes that it was “picked apart,” revised, and edited, she is not inhibited from stating: “On June 2, 1982 the commission met to consider Merlin’s typescript” (emphasis added). This simply never happened. My “typescript” was never distributed among the members of the commission. What they received and discussed on June 2 was a text twice removed from mine—edited and reedited not by one person, but by two or three. On the one hand Mrs. Dawidowicz wants the satisfaction of telling how my draft was “picked apart” by a group of professors, specialists in the field (which is not true); on the other hand she wishes to show that “despite the editing, the report was in essence a reiteration of the old Irgun attacks on the mainstream Zionist movement and American Jewish organizations, and an effort to insure the Irgun’s place as the sole defender of the Jewish people in its darkest hour.”
This, she thinks, was my double aim to be achieved through the commission.
The “typescript” does not bear this out. The Irgun, the Bergson group, the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe are not even mentioned in my draft. On the contrary, I excluded them. In the chapter where I discuss the structure, the nature, the policies and activities of the various Jewish organizations in this country I have the following paragaph:
What is referred to as the “Bergson group,” all of them Palestinians, is a case apart for many reasons, notably that: (a) they were outsiders and had no interest in internal Jewish affairs in this country; they had no intention of becoming a part of the Jewish establishment; and (b) they operated within the framework of a nonsectarian organization whose composition was almost exclusively American and substantially non-Jewish.
2. Mrs. Dawidowicz attacks me and devastatingly criticizes my draft for the report, but never quotes it except once to prove that it had singled out the Jews of America and proclaimed them guilty. She says of my alleged draft:
The thesis [of the report], in brief, was that the European Jews could have been saved, had not the “Jewish establishment” interfered with the efforts of the Irgunists to do so. Thus on page 25, . . . the report stated that “the leadership of major Jewish organizations . . . knew enough to act or rather counteract, had there been enough compassion and a will.”
Let us see what that paragraph really says:
The governments of the democratic nations and the USSR, the international organizations of great prestige and moral power like the Vatican, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the leadership of major Jewish organizations did not need, in the late 30′s and all through the war years, to read Wyman, Braham, Laqueur, Gilbert, et al. to become informed of what was happening. They knew enough to act or rather counteract, had there been enough compassion and will.
3. Mrs. Dawidowicz is scandalized by the fact that I accepted the assignment to write the commission’s report. “Usually,” she pontificates, “a person who has been personally involved in events under investigation is expected to disqualify himself as a judge.” I was no judge, if for no other reason than that I was not a member of the commission. Nor was the commission a tribunal. In my draft for an introduction to the report, I explained the purpose of the undertaking:
. . . members of the commission were fully aware that they were not sitting as a court making final judgments. They anticipate that this report may be the object of adverse criticism. . . . Its main goal will be achieved . . . [if] the taboo and immunity which shielded the policy and behavior of the Jewish leadership from scientific and public scrutiny will have been removed. . . .
4. I believe that the Holocaust was a result of a convergence of circumstances within a specific historic context. The historical factors, conditions, circumstances, and dramatis personae have been described in hundreds of books. Yet there is one missing link: the Jews in the free countries. They were not outside that specific historic context, they were part of it—regardless of how small a part. The question of their responsibility for the catastrophe is a legitimate one for historical inquiry. To say this is not to indulge in groundless hatred.
Mrs. Dawidowicz, however, does not think so. She says:
Although he [Merlin] no longer has the same policies he did then [in the 1940's during the Holocaust], having apparently moved leftward on questions concerning Israel and the Arabs, he still retains undiminished a forty-year-old hostility to the mainstream Zionist movement and to American Jewish communal institutions.
I take it that “hostility” is a synonym for “hatred.” But these are vague words unless they are used in the context of concrete examples. Let me offer one.
During this period, Nahum Goldmann of the World Jewish Congress regularly asked to meet with officials of the State Department. We have the official records of these meetings. Frequently, he discussed with them what steps could be taken against the enemy. But incredible as it may sound, the enemy in question was not Hitler; it was Peter Bergson. One such meeting was held on May 19, 1944; according to the record Goldmann said “that the activities of Bergson and his colleagues had been a matter of the greatest concern to the official Zionist leadership and that it distressed him to see Bergson received in high places and given facilities by this government.”
At this meeting Goldmann expatiated on the pernicious and fraudulent character of the Bergson group; he emphasized the harm being caused by the close relations between Bergson and the diretcor of the War Refugee Board, John Pehle. He stated, according to the record, “that he could not see why the government did not either deport Bergson or draft him.” But why? Goldmann told the State Deparment bureaucrats that Rabbi Stephen Wise gave the answer in a conversation with Pehle: “He [Rabbi Wise] regarded Bergson as equally as great an enemy of the Jewish people as Hitler, for the reason that his activities could only lead to increased anti-Semitism” (emphasis added).
This is hatred.
Did I hate these people? Do I hate them now? The reader is free to believe me or not, but I never hated the leaders of the Jewish or Zionist organizations. I was sad, infinitely sad, not for me or our group, but for what preoccupied these people at a time of total disaster for their kin in Europe. I couldn’t understand what caused this fury of hatred, and why it took on such irrational proportions. I still don’t, as I don’t understand the irrationality of a Lucy Dawidowicz after the event.
I have cited only one example. But one has to understand it against the background of an incessant barrage of condemnations, vilifications, denuciations, and character assassination carried on for years against Bergson and his colleagues by the leadership of the Zionist and Jewish organizations.
It is worthwhile to note that we never permitted ourselves to be provoked. Out of respect for the Jewish community and its dignity we did not wish to enter into polemics of that sort. One may ransack all the archives in this country or anywhere else, and not find a single instance of a disparaging or offending document prepared by us against any Jewish organization or its leadershp.
The method I applied in writing my draft for the report was analytical and conceptual. The thrust of my paper was not to prove what the Jewish leaders, or some of them, did or failed to do, but rather to attempt to explain why they behaved in a certain way and not differently. The central theme of my draft dealt with certain “fatal misconceptions” which were a major cause of the Jewish leadership’s confusion and frustrations, and prevented the leaders from undertaking certain initiatives which might have saved lives. One need not agree with my analytical approach, but in its essence it does not contain hostility.
5. Mrs. Dawidowicz accuses me of claiming credit for things done by others: for instance, that the Madison Square Garden Rally on March 1, 1943 came about only under pressure from the Irgun. I don’t remember having said this in Laurence Jarvik’s film, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?, but if I did, it is true. There is conclusive evidence that it is not a falsehood.
In the official minutes of a meeting of the Planning Committee of the American Jewish Congress, held on December 29, 1942, we read: “The matter of holding a Madison Square Garden meeting was revived, in view of the information that the Jewish Army Committee is planning a similar meeting. [But] . . . no final decision was reached.”
Another meeting was then held and a decision was taken, but again nothing happened. David Deutsch, whose syndicated column “Heard in the Lobbies” appeared in numerous Anglo-Jewish weeklies, wrote on February 12, 1943:
. . . [Ben] Hecht is now hard at work trying to arrange a huge demonstration at Madison Square Garden. . . . What accounted for the mysterious disappearance of the “great demonstration” which was to have been held at the same Garden under the auspices of the American Jewish Congress, Church Peace Union, CIO, and AFL? The date was February 4th and the advance publicity was generous, but if you went there that night you saw a basketball game.
Something did indeed happen which forced the leadership of the American Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations (not “all,” as Mrs. Dawidowicz claims) to take the bull by the horns. On January 26, 1943, Ben Hecht had personally invited about thirty leading Jewish personalities to discuss “the organization of an all-Jewish mass demonstration at Madison Square Garden” and to do it as a joint undertaking by all major Jewish organizations. About twenty-five representatives showed up for the discussion, but the vast majority rejected not the idea of the demonstration but the proposal that it be a joint venture.
The historian David S. Wyman has described the sequence of events very tellingly:
. . . Fear now arose that the Bergsonites would move into the vacuum and seize the leadership of the flagging effort of rescue. The lethargy of the previous several weeks rapidly dissolved. Apprised of the army committee’s plan to hold a demonstration at Madison Square Garden on March 9, Wise and the American Jewish Congress quickly decided to schedule a March 1st meeting at the same location.
This mass rally, though it has since become almost canonized in Holocaust historiography, would not merit such an extensive explanation if it were not for the fact that the importance of our group has to be evaluated not only by what we did directly with the help and close cooperation of the American organizations we inspired, but also to a large extent by what the Jewish organizations did under the impact of our activities.
6. A more serious accusation is that our group took credit for the creation of the War Refugee Board (WRB). In her article Mrs. Dawidowicz rehashes the story of how Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau went to President Roosevelt on January 16, 1944, presented him with a memorandum entitled “Personal Report to the President,” and in a jiffy the President did what his Treasury Secretary asked him, issuing an executive order establishing the WRB.
However, she cannot ignore the congressional rescue resolution introduced in both the House and the Senate thanks to the activities of our group, an awkward factor she has somehow to explain away: She writes:
Two months earlier, the Irgunists had used their contacts in Congress to introduce a resolution urging the President to create a “commission of diplomatic, economic, and military experts to formulate and effectuate a plan of immediate action designed to save the surviving Jewish people of Europe.” Exploiting the coincidence in timing, the Irgunists now falsely claimed credit for the creation of the War Refugee Board [emphasis added].
It seems to me the most efficient way of refuting this accusation is to go to the source, the transcript of the hearings on House Resolutions 350 and 352, 78th Congress, 1st session on the “Establishment of a Commission to Effectuate the Rescue of the Jewish People of Europe.” The editor of the volume containing the official transcipt says in his introduction:
As the horrifying details of the “Final Solution” became known, Jewish organizations in the U.S. strove to come to grips with the unfavorable atmosphere toward efforts at rescue. The established Jewish leadership of the country, however, as represented by Rabbi Stephen Wise, leader of the American Jewish Conference, was reluctant to antagonize the Roosevelt administration, which had no desire to come into conflict with the quite vocal and influential anti-alien camp. . . .
Two Palestinian Jews, Peter Bergson and Samuel Merlin, members of a dissident terrorist organization which had been carrying on an armed struggle in Palestine against British restrictions on immigration, organized a number of public committees throughout the U.S. Their vigorous propaganda campaign succeeded in attracting the support of a large number of Senators, Representatives, university professors, and public personalities by the end of 1943.
It was this pressure which resulted in House Resolutions 350 and 352 and led to the congressional hearings of November 1943. . . .
The main thrust of the House resolution which was the subject of the hearings was to impel the Roosevelt administration to bypass current procedures and create a new administrative body which would enact emergency measures for the rescue of Jews who had succeeded in escaping from Nazi-dominated Europe. House Resolutions 350 and 352 were never passed, but the hearings and the resulting public debate in the media led to the formation of the WRB by President Roosevelt on January 22, 1944 [emphasis added].
Thus does a historian who has no ax to grind draw a straight line from the public campaign of the Emergency Committee to Roosevelt’s establishment of the War Refugee Board.
Mrs. Dawidowicz is so sloppy and irresponsible a reporter that she seems not to have bothered to peruse the diaries of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York. Had she taken the trouble, she could not have written, despite her fanaticism, hatred, and intellectual dishonesty, what she did. These diaries give an even more vivid picture of the political and psychological processes which led to the President’s order establishing the WRB and of the role played by the Bergson group and the Emergency Committee in the decision.
Although many historians have told the story of how Morgenthau and his assistants were outraged at the State Department for its hostility to any rescue project, what they have failed to tell, either out of ignorance or for reasons of their own, is the story of how at the beginning of January 1944, after many months of conversation at the Treasury, Morgenthau had become irritated that the discussion was leading nowhere. A suggestion had been made that he go to the President and present the true facts, handing him a memorandum on the “Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews” (written by Josiah DuBois, the most compassionate member of the group). At a meeting on January 13, the diaries show, he interrupted the discussion to say:
. . . suppose I go to the President with the most terrific document of condemnation of these people [in the State Department] and he turns to me and says, “Henry, I have never been so shocked in my life. What can I do?”
In answer, his assistants told him about the rescue resolution which had been approved unanimously in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and sent to the floor. This fired Morgenthau’s imagination.
. . . Our strongest out is the imminence of Congress doing something. . . . Really, when you get down to the point, this is a boiling pot on the Hill. You can’t hold it; it is going to pop, and you have either got to move very fast, or the Congress of the U.S. will do it for you.
Three days later Morgenthau gave a memorandum to Roosevelt stating that “One of the greatest crimes in history, the slaughter of the Jewish people in Europe, is continuing unabated,” and that “the best summary of the whole situation is contained in one sentence of a report submitted by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate . . . recommending the passage of . . . the resolution.” The memorandum concluded by warning that if the President failed to act without delay there might be a nasty scandal. The President understood; six days later he issued Executive Order 9417, creating the War Refugee Board.
Subsequently, Morgenthau, in a discussion of the WRB (March 18, 1944), asserted that it was created thanks to the Emergency Committee: “After all, the thing that made it possible to get the President really to act on this thing was the [Senate] resolution . . . hadn’t it? . . . I think six months before I could not have done it.”
After the establishment of the WRB the members of our group, especially Peter Bergson, developed friendly relations with key members of the Board, and in the course of time Morgenthau and Bergson became personal friends. Indeed, Nahum Goldmann complained to the State Department that neither he nor Rabbi Wise had succeeded in convincing John Pehle to break with Bergson, because (according to the official record of Goldmann’s conversation) Pehle “had taken the position that Bergson’s Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe had inspired the introduction of the Gillette-Rogers resolution, which in turn had led to the creation of the War Refugee Board. . . .”
Was all this just “a coincidence in timing,” as Mrs. Dawidowicz writes, between the rescue resolution in both houses of Congress and Morgenthau’s intervention with the President? Is it just chutzpah on the part of the Irgunists “falsely to claim . . . credit for the creation of the WRB”?
The proof of the accuracy of what I have told here is that everything is meticulously documented. But I also present the testimony of a witness nobody would suspect of being biased in our favor:
Shortly after the outbreak of the war, a handful of young Jews from Palestine, engaged in a campaign on behalf of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, . . . came to the United States. . . . They formed a Committee for a Jewish Army, whose leader and most dynamic personality was Hillel Kook, better known under his pseudonym Peter H. Bergson. With a flair for drama and publicity, Bergson managed to attract to his activities prominent Jews and non-Jews not before associated with Jewish causes. His dashing resourcefulness made the mainstream Zionists look apathetic and impotent, while his political extremism and organizational irresponsibility put him on a collision course with the whole Zionist movement. Nevertheless, his inventive and assertive tactics to gain public attention . . . evoked enormous responsiveness to the urgency of the Nazi threat among Jews who were beyond the reach of traditional Jewish organizations. . . .
Having abandoned the campaign for a Jewish Army, the Bergsonites now concentrated on rescue, even to the exclusion of a Zionist program. On July 26, 1943 they called a massive Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe, which then transformed itself into an Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe. . . . Bergson and his friends embarked on a campaign that enlisted the support of prominent Americans in government, the entertainment world, and the professions. With stunning success they dramatized the issue of Jewish life and death with stark boldness and rage. Being young and outsiders, untrammeled by the responsibility or prudence which inhibited American Jewish leaders, and also profoundly touched by the tragedy of the destruction of the European Jews, the Bergson group moved without regard for consequences other than their objectives. In the next six months they electrified the American public by their tactics. The Bergsonites were probably the most potent influence, seconded by Henry Morgenthau’s staff in the Treasury Department, in Roosevelt’s creation of the War Refugee Board in January 1944, the first and only substantial program on behalf of the beleaguered European Jews to which the Roosevelt administration had committed itself.
The curious may wish to know who this apologist for and admirer of the Bergson group might be. Well, this testimony was given by none other than Lucy S. Dawidowicz in an extensive survey, “A Century of Jewish History, 1881-1981: The View from America,” in the American Jewish Year Book for 1982.
New York City
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz dismisses the notion that American Jewish leaders were inactive during the Holocaust because they feared that “Jewish agitation” might increase domestic anti-Semitism. “[A]nti-Semitism did not intimidate the Jewish organizations into silence,” she asserts, adding that “when historians cite the pervasive presence of anti-Semitism during the war, they mean to underscore the relative powerlessness of American Jews,” rather than to suggest Jewish fear of arousing anti-Semites.
A glance at the writings of historians who discuss the issue seems to suggest otherwise. Henry Feingold (The Politics of Rescue) writes that Jewish leaders worked to “play down the idea of a Jewish vote or even a Jewish point of view” lest it be charged that the New Deal was “a ‘Jew Deal.’” Arthur Morse (While Six Million Died) notes that some Jewish leaders opposed tampering with the U.S. immigration quotas for fear that “increased immigration might aggravate domestic anti-Semitism.” Saul Friedman (No Haven for the Oppressed) likewise argues that the failure of the Jewish organizations to lobby for the Wagner-Rogers child-refugee bill of 1939 was partly a result of fears that they would be accused of “double loyalty.” Even historians sympathetic to the role of American Jewry during the Holocaust concede this point. Yehuda Bauer (in Midstream, April 1968) mentions the Jewish leadership’s “fear of arousing anti-Semitism if the United States were requested to act specifically in the interests of the Jews in Europe.” Naomi Cohen, in her history of the American Jewish Committee, writes that the Committee even turned down a suggestion that it sponsor an American speaking tour by Winston Churchill (in the 1930′s) because of its “fear that any known connection between Churchill and the Jews would bring charges of warmongering from anti-Semites.”
Most interesting is the position which Mrs. Dawidowicz herself took back in 1962, when the debate around American Jewry and the Holocaust was less clouded by political partisanship. “The great Jewish outcry was stifled because it was not thought politic for American Jews,” she wrote in a book review for COMMENTARY [of Ben Hecht's Perfidy, March 1962]. Among the reasons she cited for this “stifling” was that some Jewish leaders feared “for themselves, and for the good name of American Jews.”
On other points as well, Mrs. Dawidowicz’s article contrasts oddly with the views which the author herself expressed in 1962. Today she says: “American Jews . . . could certainly have done more. . . . But I am not persuaded that in the end they would have accomplished much more than they did.” In 1962, however, she argued that “there should have been marches on Washington. . . . A hunger strike of thousands of Jews around the White House and the Capitol might have had a response.”
Mrs. Dawidowicz now claims that the Bergson group “falsely claimed credit for the creation of the War Refugee Board.” In 1962, she herself wrote that Bergson’s “proposal to establish a United States Commission to rescue European Jews brought about the creation of the War Refugee Board.”
It is hard to avoid the impression that Mrs. Dawidowicz’s current deriding of the Bergson group is less an objective assessment of its activities than a partisan revulsion against its association with Revisionist Zionism. This is illustrated in particular by her description of the Haganah’s sinking of the Irgun ship Altalena. “In the battle that ensued the ship was sunk by government artillery,” she writes. Yet there was no battle; Ben-Gurion simply ordered his troops to sink the ship and shoot the survivors as they swam to shore. Eighteen Jews (“Irgun terrorists”) were murdered in this fasion. The Irgun did not shoot back.
Perhaps the most remarkable passage in Mrs. Dawidowicz’s article is the complaint that critics of the Jewish establishment ignore “the persistent efforts which the American Jewish organizations made all through the 1930′s to get Congress to enact special or emergency legislation to admit Jewish refugees.” In fact, at no time did the Jewish leadership press for elimination or even liberalization of the quotas. When Congressman Samuel Dick-stein in 1933 announced his intention to introduce a bill admitting to the U.S. “all German Jews related to American citizens,” Rabbi Stephen Wise told the House Immigration Committee that he was opposed to such a bill and to any “special amendment to American immigration laws” (New York Times, March 23, 1933). Cyrus Adler of the American Jewish Committee likewise opposed the Dick-stein bill, warning that “it will be charged that America’s Jews want to sacrifice America’s obvious and essential interests on behalf of their German co-religionists.” When Representative Emanuel Celler introduced, in March 1938, a bill exempting all victims of persecution from the quota regulations, the leaders of the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and the National Council of Jewish Women urged him to abandon the effort, which he subsequently did.
To the Editor:
There is a renewed debate within the Jewish community as to whether enough was done by Jewish leaders and organizations during the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the article by Lucy S. Dawidowicz puts critics of American Jewry into the camp of those who wish to discredit the Jewish people. The argument must be debated on its own merits without attributing evil designs to either side. I think the following information should be considered by historian Dawidowicz.
The editor of the Labor Zionist journal, the Jewish Frontier, Hayim Greenberg, himself an important officer in the Jewish establishment, wrote a bitter denunciation of the failure of Jewish leaders to confront the Holocaust on February 12, 1943:
American Jewry has not done—and has made no effort to do—its elementary duty toward the millions of Jews who are captive and doomed to die in Europe. . . . It will never be possible to explain why the chief organizations of American Jewry . . . could not at this dire hour unite for the purpose of seeking ways to save those who perhaps can still be saved.
Greenberg went on in his essay (entitled “Bankrupt”) to describe the failure of the American Jewish Congress, the one organization that was doing something. He condemned them for delegating rescue to a committee that did not meet for weeks on end and for choosing a chairman who was engaged in other activities not related to rescue work for long periods of time.
How would Mrs. Dawidowicz explain Greenberg’s accusations?
In his book, The Terrible Secret, Walter Laqueur, the distinguished scholar of the Holocaust, states:
Jewish organizations . . . Zionists, including the leaders of the World Jewish Congress, were absorbed in “postwar planning” and were paying little more than ceremonious attention to what was happening in Europe, in stark contrast to the outcries from Geneva and Istanbul demanding immediate action to save the remnants.
There is much evidence to substantiate this. Consider the democratically organized American Jewish Conference which convened in New York in June 1943. At the meeting, 123 delegates from 64 of the largest Jewish organizations joined 379 elected delegates from 77 cities and 59 regions. Their purpose was to speak as one voice on “problems relating to the rights and status of Jews in the postwar world and upon all matters looking to the implementation of the rights of the Jewish people to Palestine.” Although Rabbi Stephen Wise reminded them they had to put rescue on the agenda, the thrust of the conference was the demand for a Jewish state. Mrs. Dawidowicz must also consider the comment of Joseph Proskauer, head of the American Jewish Committee, who took the Committee out of the umbrella organization because “The Conference subordinated the rescue of European Jewry to the issue of a Jewish Commonwealth.”
Regarding Nahum Goldmann, the head of the World Jewish Congress, Walter Laqueur writes:
The problem was that despite all the meetings with the mighty and the famous, his political understanding and foresight were not really deep, less so than that of Richard Lichtheim who realized early that the one conceivable way to rescue at least a part of European Jewry was precisely to exert maximum pressure on the satellites.
Laqueur probably was thinking of the possibility of rescuing the Jews of Rumania when he wrote that. The British embassy in Ankara sent a telegram to its Foreign Office about the prospect of Jewish emigration from Rumania as early as December 1942. In early February, the New York Times ran a story on the prospect, and on December 16, the Bergson-Hecht-Irgun-related group ran a large ad pointing out that rescue was possible, yet nothing was being done. Rabbi Wise, shooting from the hip, denounced this ad as a cruel hoax and had the establishment ignore the Rumanian offer. Over five months later Rabbi Wise confirmed the Rumanian offer. . . . Congress needed approval fom both the State and Treasury Departments to release funds for use in the Nazi satellites. State procrastinated. Rabbi Wise went to President Roosevelt himself and got approval. However, State still procrastinated until late December when the deal could no longer be consummated.
FDR had known from late 1942 on that the State Department was stonewalling rescue. Jewish organizations had been petitioning the President before and during the Bermuda Conference held in the spring of 1943 for a committee with full diplomatic powers to rescue Jews under the Nazi heel. The Bermuda Conference turned out to be a fiasco, and the Bergson group decided to put pressure on the President through the United States Congress, having its close friends, Senator Guy Gillette and Congressman Will Rogers, Jr., sponsor bills urging the establishment of a War Refugee Board. The idea was to play down immigration to Palestine which both American generals and the British Foreign Office opposed for fear of an Arab revolt. Among the opponents of the resolution was Rabbi Wise who insisted that it must contain a call for Britain to open the gates of Palestine. With over four million Jews dead and no response from FDR other than the usual Rosh Hashanah greetings, Rabbi Wise testified on November 19, 1943 before the House:
If the President were to say, “I cannot appoint such a commission,” he would state it in such terms that would live in the hearts and minds of Americans, and we, the Jewish population of America, would accept any statement made in entire good faith.
Mrs. Dawidowicz is correct in saying that Josiah DuBois and his friends in the Treasury Department, who were instrumental in embarrassing Roosevelt into establishing the War Refugee Board with their “Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of This Government in the Murder of the Jews,” were moved by their own outrage at State’s perfidy, not by outside petitions. I spoke with DuBois a number of times in the process of arranging an award for him from the Philadelphia chapter of the American Jewish Committee. He told his boss, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., that if Morgenthau did not go to Roosevelt with the report, or if Roosevelt did nothing, he would release the contents of the report to the press. Doesn’t Mrs. Dawidowicz know that the Gillette-Rogers resolution created a political climate which influenced Roosevelt’s decision?
It would be unfair to say that American Jewish leaders and organizations were completely bankrupt, as Hayim Greenberg did; however, they certainly did not move heaven and earth to save their brethren.
To the Editor:
It is entirely natural that historians—people with definite political and philosophical bents—will fashion the reporting of events according to their own versions—and the truth be damned. Lucy S. Dawidowicz obviously is driven by the same sort of impulses shared by ideologues like Alexander Cockburn of the Village Voice or Lenni Brenner, whose book is a paean to Trotsky’s great work in saving Jews from the Holocaust. The truth is that Mrs Dawidowicz’s hero, Rabbi Stephen Wise, orchestrated an intense day-to-day campaign during the war years against the Bergson group instead of mobilizing public opinion for a U.S. agency that would deal specifically with rescuing Jews from Hitler’s Europe. Mrs. Dawidowicz uses the favorite device of historians and journalists alike—ignore it, don’t mention it—even though the FBI, the State Department, and the Immigration Service documents are there for all to see. . . .
I don’t know what is behind her bitter and inaccurate attacks—perhaps she’s a Bundist with a grudge, but who cares? The point is that she is trying to suppress history by charging that others are trying to rewrite it. So she vilifies anyone critical of the wartime Jewish and Zionist establishment . . . on the Left and on the Right. She totally ignores the many other critics of Stephen Wise, Nahum Goldmann, and company—the entire spectrum of the Orthodox, for example. The march of the rabbis, which she so contemptuously dismisses, was staged by the Bergson group in cooperation with Agudath Israel; and world Mizrachi leader Rabbi Meir Berlin praised the Bergson group while attacking Wise and the rest of the leadership. Israeli scholars like Michael J. Cohen and Zvi Ganin—neither of whom is right-wing or left-wing so far as I know—have given credit to the Bergson committees for their wartime work.
How dare Mrs. Dawidowicz smear every critic of the Jewish establishment? . . . It is not surprising that inquiries into the actions of the wartime Zionist and Jewish leadership have inspired defensive actions by those who believe that the establishment did all it could. The defenders use various red-herrings to dismiss criticism, labeling critics as “guilt-ridden” if not “self-hating” Jews who are hell-bent on blaming Hadassah for the Holocaust while letting the Nazis off the hook. But Mrs. Dawidowicz and other historians like Bernard Wasserstein with a political ax to grind are doing nothing but harm by their distortion of history.
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s “Indicting American Jews” shows that historical articles can be written without factual proof. . . . By citing only a few examples, all that the space of a letter to the editor allows, I will endeavor to refute her theories. . . .
On September 23, 1933, at a meeting of the American Jewish Congress, Rabbi Stephen Wise declared that the Zionists take the position that “nothing can be done” to help European Jews. The Zionist leader Louis Lipsky repeated this statement many times. . . . Even in 1939, when the situation was much more critical, Dr. Abba Hillel Silver was against such help because “It would result in Palestine getting the short end of the bargain.” . . . David Ben-Gurion, in a speech to Hadassah on February 23, 1939, said that to separate the problem of the refugees from the issue of Palestine “is dangerous from the Zionist point of view.”
In October 1939, after the start of the war, Recha Freier, founder of Youth Aliyah, begged for $10,000 to help get 1,000 children out of Germany. Hadassah denied this help because the organization could provide help only if the children were in Palestine. On October 16, Mrs. Freier sent a telegam which said: “Special immigration a matter of life and death.” The record of the Hadassah board meeting states: “The board agreed that were it possible to consider the matter simply on humanitarian grounds, the correct formula for supporting the project might be found. . . .” At the same time, however, $25,000 was approved for an advisory committee . . . , $5,000 was voted for aid to the victims of a Turkish earthquake, . . . $12,500 for a band and private limousines in addition to the cost of the World’s Fair pavilion, $150,000 for the Jewish National Fund, etc., etc. In the meantime, the children perished.
President Trujillo of the Dominican Republic wanted at least 100,000 Jews to settle in his country, in a place called Sosua. He asked American Jewish organizations for help. An editorial in Congress Weekly, February 21, 1941, stated: “Sosua is not a Jewish project. . . . It does not belong to the scheme of Jewish things. It is not a Jewish enterprise.” The minutes of Hadassah report that the board decided not to help settle some childen in Sosua because Trujillo refused to guarantee that the children would be sent to Palestine after the war. . . .
On November 23, 1941, at an Inter-American Jewish Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, Archie Bennett said:
I have listened to sixteen or eighteen hours of oratory, some Zionist addresses, the kind I heard twenty or thirty years ago, . . . a number of speeches dealing with the remote past and remote future, but scarcely any dealing at all with the realities of the present moment. . . . A day of reckoning will come, perhaps after the war is over. . . . We expect to be asked, “What have you done?”
After this speech, Nahum Goldmann called an adjournment and announced a lunch discussion “on specific problems of anti-Nazi activity.” It is not reported in the minutes if anything was discussed while the delegates ate lunch. . . .
Mrs. Dawidowicz mentions Gerhart Riegner, but Riegner said to me that “with a little imagination, a slight bending of the laws, tens of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of Jews could have been saved even during the war.”. . .
Mrs. Dawidowicz also mentions Nahum Goldmann. Goldmann wrote in his autobiography: “I sometimes found more understanding [about the Holocaust] among Gentile leaders then among Jewish leaders.” And in my discussions with him he emphasized that he was a foreigner in the United States and as such was unable to do what he believed he should have done.
In 1944 Ira Hirschmann, on a mission for the War Refugee Board, made a deal with the Rumanian ambassador to dissolve the camp in Transnistria and 5,000 children were saved. The Rumanian ambassador said to him, “Why didn’t you come sooner?” On February 4, 1972 Hirschmann wrote me:
So defeatist and fearful was the general climate among the leading Jews before I left for Turkey that there was hardly a single individual who did not attempt to dissuade me from my mission. . . . I can say without qualification that had I or someone else penetrated the polite façade of the State Department and the Roosevelt administration a year earlier many thousands of Jews could have been saved.
I could add to this list the testimony of many other witnesses who seriously question and even accuse Jewish organizations and their leaders. . . .
Closter, New Jersey
To the Editor:
I would like to clarify several points concerning some incorrect statements made about me in Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s article.
First, Mrs. Dawidowicz claims, referring to me, that “. . . the young man had already found American Jews guilty. . . .” I have never taken any such position. In fact, any serious reading of the articles which I have written regarding American Jews during the Holocaust would reveal my contention that the Jewish leadership misled the Jewish people into focusing their energies upon all sorts of activities that did not necessarily deal with the issue of rescue.
Second, I was never the commission’s “principal researcher,” as pronounced by Mrs. Dawidowicz. Although I lent advice and materials to various people connected with the commission, my six months on the commission were spent chiefly in archives, which I utilized as primary sources in helping to verify and clarify some difficult topics concerning the Jewish leadership in the Holocaust. Let me emphasize that my contract with the commission was drawn for six months; my contract thus was fulfilled and “terminated” only on the agreed-upon terms.
Just as a side note, I would like to add that, from the start of this commission, I expressed to Seymour Finger on several occasions my opinion that it would be almost impossible to deal publicly with the explosive subject of the American Jewish leadership during the Holocaust. I was very much aware of the immense difficulties while discussing the topic with my professors (including the “non-Jew” mentioned in the article) and while carrying out research at the various archives. Sadly, my early skepticism proved to be well founded.
As for my own current interest in the area of the Jewish leadership, I am in the process of compiling a manuscript on the subject.
Forest Hills, New York
To the Editor:
I was disappointed that Lucy S. Dawidowicz, in her acount of Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?, seems to have misperceived the focus of the film, which was simply an attempt to raise some pertinent questions about the reaction of both the American government and the American Jewish leadership to the Nazi extermination program during World War II.
Instead of providing a well-documented survey of the period, Mrs. Dawidowicz chooses to attack my integrity and the trustworthiness of my film. Indeed, her essay seems to imply that it was a propaganda film on behalf of Peter Bergson and Samuel Merlin, and that I started out with preconceived notions of what the research would reveal. She falsely claims I did not visit the National Archives of the United States or the FDR Library in Hyde Park, New York. In fact, when my research began, I knew nothing of the work of the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe; it was only after David S. Wyman, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts and author of the COMMENTARY article “Why Auschwitz Was Never Bombed,” suggested to me that I interview Bergson and Merlin that I began to investigate their activities. Also, Mrs. Dawidowicz implies that no attempt was made in the film to present the views of other Jewish leaders, which is simply untrue. Nahum Goldmann was president of many of the major Jewish organization in the United States during his life, had worked closely with Rabbi Stephen Wise, and had been in Washington during the period covered by the film. He was the only major Jewish leader who agreed to be interviewed by me on camera. One example of the response to my inquiries was that of Justice Justine Polier Wise, who graciously met with me to explain many historical details about her father, but who declined to appear on camera to talk about Rabbi Wise.
Mrs. Dawidowicz questions the emphasis given to Merlin and Bergson. The film was supposed to cover events of the period and not “the meetings at which Jewish leaders sat day and night” which impress Mrs. Dawidowicz. Mrs. Dawidowicz attacks Merlin and Bergson’s activism, and says that the criticism of the rabbis who demonstrated in Washington—they were called “not representative of the most thoughtful elements in Jewry”—was “not an ungenerous way of describing them.” Despite opposition to the demonstration, the rabbis were received on Capitol Hill by the Vice President and by members of Congress in conjunction with the Gillette-Rogers resolution to establish a special commission to rescue European Jews. This resolution was opposed by Rabbi Wise and other Jewish leaders. Mrs. Dawidowicz even goes so far as to defend the sorry record of the American government during the extermination period. “Is the United States to be reviled and repudiated on this account?” she ask rhetorically.
This attitude permeates the entire article. Mrs. Dawidowicz insinuates that the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust and my film have “much in common besides subject matter.” She never says what. Mrs. Dawidowicz tries to imply that the film is part of an anti-Israel movement on the Left. However, my co-producer James R. Kurth has supported Israel in a variety of ways and has testified before Congress in support of Israeli positions and in opposition to arms sales to Arab countries. It is strange that in her summary of the Alexander Cockburn article in the Village Voice she omits Yitshaq Ben-Ami, mentioned prominently in the piece and the author of Years of Wrath, Days of Glory, which criticizes the failures of the American Jewish leadership even more strongly than my film; Ben-Ami is still actively involved in Zionist activities on behalf of Israel. Mrs. Dawidowicz also omits mention of the many scholarly articles appearing in journals ranging from the National Archives’ own Prologue, to Midstream, to the Los Angeles Times, which discuss the work of Bergson and Merlin and the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe and contrast their activities with those of the Jewish organizations. Mrs. Dawidowicz fails to mention that Nahum Goldmann requested the State Department to deport Bergson and told the Department that Rabbi Wise felt Bergson was an equal to Hitler as an enemy of the Jews.
It is saddening indeed to read Mrs. Dawidowicz’s excuses for the failures of the American government and Jewish leadership and her attempts to revile and repudiate a group of political activists who attempted to get American power involved in rescuing the Jews from the Nazis. Mrs. Dawidowicz herself has credited the Bergson group with helping to establish the War Refugee Board in her other writings, and it is disappointing that she has chosen to attack them along with the commission and my film.
Finally, a word about Mrs. Dawidowicz’s conclusion that “it is Jarvik and his companions on the Left who have turned the Holocaust into a stick with which to beat the Jewish community for its ‘sin’ of supporting Israel.” There is not a shred of evidence for her claim. I do not have one word about Israel today in the film; I have never claimed nor do 1 think it is a “sin” to support Israel, and I most certainly do not “beat the Jewish community.” Further, Mrs. Dawidowicz says “the Holocaust’s bitter history is now being transformed into a vehicle of anti-Semitism. . . . The anti-Semites of the Left blame it on the Jews,” as if this comment somehow applies to my film. Yet neither my film nor I have ever done any such thing as “blame it on the Jews.”
I spent years researching and preparing a film about efforts to rescue Jews from the Nazis and the political forces in America which led to these efforts. I attempted to detail the tragic dynamic by which men of good will were trapped by institutional and ideological constraints which failed during the crisis. I made the film in the hope that lessons might be learned to help prevent a similar tragedy in the future. It is indeed ironic to be characterized in COMMENTARY as one who “blame[s] it on the Jews.”
I only ask that readers see Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die? and judge for themselves.
Santa Monica, California
To the Editor:
As a scholar involved for nineteen years in the area discussed by Lucy S. Dawidowicz, allow me to make two observations: (1) Mrs. Dawidowicz’s article should be recognized as a very biased response to the issues with which it deals. (2) Mrs. Dawidowicz dismisses Laurence Jarvik’s statement that Jewish organizations refused him access to their files. While it is true that the American Jewish Committee and several other Jewish organizations are cooperative in this regard, it is also true that the American Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress, and the Zionist Archives have allowed only a very few privileged researchers to work with their basic archival material.
David S. Wyman
University of Massachusetts
To the Editor:
In “Indicting American Jews,” Lucy S. Dawidowicz herself makes an unfair and inaccurate indictment of the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust.
Mrs. Dawidowicz makes much of the term “commission,” stating that commonly a government creates a commission. Her point would apply to a totalitarian state, where non-governmental organizations exist only by sufferance or subterfuge. In the United States, nongovernmental groups have long played a significant role and often have names like commissions, congresses, committees, and councils, notwithstanding the fact that there is an official U.S. Congress, a National Security Council, congressional and executive-branch committees, and official commissions. There are, for example, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Synagogue Council of America, the Commission to Study the Organization of Peace, and the Commission for the Ratification of the Genocide Convention. Justice Goldberg himself has headed many such non-governmental organizations, characteristic of a healthy democracy. He was President of the American Jewish Committee, 1969-70 and has since served as Honorary President; is Honorary Chairman of the American Friends of Hebrew University; was Chairman of the United Nations Association of the U.S.A., 1968-70 and has since been Honorary Chairman; was Chairman of the Board of the Synagogue Council of America, 1969-71, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, 1965-69, and of the International Education Association, 1969-70; and has served with great distinction in many other non-governmental organizations, including the United Steelworkers and the AFL-CIO. His record of service in the wartime OSS, and as Secretary of Labor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and Ambassador-at-Large is well known and respected. In a democracy, both governmental and non-governmental organizations have their place. That Mrs. Dawidowicz should attack a man with such an exemplary record of public service without even bothering to interview him to determine the validity of allegations is astonishing and deplorable.
She also attacks my credentials. With a minimum of inquiry or research, she could have ascertained that I have authored or edited four scholarly books since 1975, served on or managed a number of panels like the commission, written many chapters for scholarly books edited by others, and published numerous articles in academic journals including Orbis, International Organization, the American Journal of International Law, and Middle East Review. While I have not previously written on the Holocaust, I have had first-hand experience with its consequences during my wartime service in Europe and my subsequent Foreign Service assignment in Germany issuing visas to survivors. In 1971 I received the Humanitarian Award from the American Committee for the Rescue of Iraqi Jews for my work on their behalf while serving as an Ambassador at the U.S. Mission to the UN. In April I testified in Newark, along with Professor Raul Hilberg, in the trial of a Baltic-American charged with . . . having participated in the murder of hundreds of Jews. I am also a consultant to a number of American Jewish organizations.
On the prehistory of the commission which, she says, “I have had (without other corroboration) from Finger himself,” Mrs. Dawidowicz is grossly inaccurate. Perhaps that is because our only discussion of the subject was in a brief telephone conversation in February 1983. She never bothered to interview me in person in preparation for her article, nor did she even telephone Justice Goldberg, let alone see him. I did not turn the task of writing the proposal over to Samuel Merlin, as she alleges; I did it myself.
I did commission Merlin to do much of the research and prepare a preliminary draft. After all, he has been deeply immersed in the subject and accumulating files for over forty years. I was also impressed by his knowledge and thoroughness when we had worked to gether on Middle East subjects. I was fully aware of his former Irgun connections; however, I knew that he had broken with Begin three decades ago. Moreover, the members of the commission, including Justice Goldberg, were identified with every Jewish-establishment group in the country; consequently, I was confident that any bias on Merlin’s part would be counterbalanced by the commission and my own editing.
As an additional precaution, we added an Academic Review Committee. My communication of November 2, 1981, to which Mrs. Dawidowicz refers, did not indicate that “something had gone wrong,” as she alleges. This was only a month and a half after the commission’s first meeting and our work had scarcely begun. The suggestion of an Academic Review Committee came from one commission member, a respected friend of mine, and I accepted it because it made sense and provided an additional guarantee of objectivity. Incidentally, her statement that I invited her to be a member of the Academic Review Committee is not true. I challenge her to produce a letter or any other evidence of such an invitation.
Justice Goldberg did in August 1981 invite her to become a member of the commission. Jack Eisner’s office, which was handling the replies, informed me (apparently erroneously) that she had accepted; consequently, I included her name among prospective members in a preliminary list made up in early September. When she telephoned me to protest that she had not accepted, I apologized and immediately deleted her name. She knows this is true because the New York Times of September 23, 1981, to which she refers in her article, did not list her among the members. We would have welcomed her, criticism and all, but the panel of thirty-four members is sufficiently knowledgeable and distinguished as it stands.
Mrs. Dawidowicz is also grossly inaccurate with respect to the preliminary draft submitted to the commission for the June 2 meeting. It was no longer Merlin’s draft; I had revised it three times, in response to suggestions from the Academic Review Committee and the chairman. It was certainly not “an effort to insure the Irgun’s place in history as the sole defender of the Jewish people in its darkest hour,” as she alleges. In 76 pages there was only one paragraph about the Bergson (Irgun) group, indicating that they were Palestinians and, consequently, not one of the American Jewish groups to be studied.
Another error is the statement that Merlin resigned because he felt he was insulted at the June 2 meeting. In fact, he had resigned a month earlier because of the pressure of other work to which he was committed. His letter of resignation had been circulated to members of the commission before the meeting.
“As a consequence,” she writes, “Eisner (who, it turned out, was a strong Merlin partisan) stopped the flow of money.” This, too, is inaccurate. Eisner had been behind in his commitments since January. Moreover, for more than two months after the June 2 meeting and his subsequent conversation with Goldberg that day, he kept promising to provide further financing. When I phoned him August 19 to inform him of Goldberg’s decision to dissolve the commission because we were no longer in a position to meet our commitments, Eisner said: “You would have had a check tomorrow.” All of this information, except Eisner’s comment on August 19, was in my “lengthy recapitulation” to the members of the commission of February 1, 1983, to which Mrs. Dawidowicz refers and of which I sent her a copy, at her request. But she chose to ignore any facts in the memorandum which did not fit in with her prejudgment. (Incidentally, our agreement with Eisner stipulated that he would have no control over the content of the report.)
As a further indication of her attitude, Mrs. Dawidowicz asked me in her one phone call during the past eighteen months why her favorite member had been dropped (no member has been dropped); he had been invited to the February 9 meeting and had been sent all documentation.
One final comment on the peripheral issues to which she devotes almost all of her comments on the commission (with the dubious accuracy indicated above). Our first communications, in September 1981, referred to the Jack P. Eisner Institute on the Holocaust and cooperation with it. This was done for two reasons: (1) the Institute had planned for an October conference on the actions of certain governments, including the American, during the Holocaust. Eisner had been reluctant to provide $10,000 to finance it until I persuaded him that it would be helpful to the work of the commission; (2) I intended to rely on the Director of the Institute for advice and, in fact, did so.
Much of Mrs. Dawidowicz’s article deals with two phenomena that have nothing to do with the commission: i.e., Laurence Jarvik’s film, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?, which was produced before the commission was organized and the Lenni Brenner book, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, which I find detestable. Her effort to link us with them smacks of McCarthyism.
But the most remarkable part of the article is Mrs. Dawidowicz’s failure to deal with the substance of the commission’s work—which should be the most important consideration. She received in February a copy of Justice Goldberg’s interim draft (84 pages), prepared with my assistance. Since she failed to deal with the substance of that draft, I shall briefly quote its main conclusions: the American Jewish community then had nowhere near the influence it has now; American Jews did more than is generally realized and far more than other ethnic groups; and even a prompt action by American Jewish leaders could have saved only a tiny fraction of the six million Jews doomed by Hitler when there was a Congress opposed to loosening immigration quotas and a President preoccupied with the war.
I should like to know which of these tentative conclusions Mrs. Dawidowicz finds inaccurate or misguided, and why. Meanwhile, the thirty-four members of the commission, who are identified with every major American Jewish organization, were invited on February 9, and again a month later, to submit written comments and suggestions. Two of them, identified with B’nai B’rith, stated that we had not given adequate attention to the activities of their organization. We have since assigned a researcher to delve into the B’nai B’rith files and conduct interviews in order to supplement our information. Other researchers are preparing papers, initially commissioned last year, on the American Jewish Committee, the American Joint Distribution Committee, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Labor Committee, Orthodox Jewry, and the coverage by the American (non-Yiddish) press of the Holocaust. None of these organizations has criticized Justice Goldberg’s draft nor, with the exception of the aforementioned suggestions about B’nai B’rith, has any member written any critical comments. Moreover, a number of major Jewish organization officials have praised the draft, (I should also mention that all of the papers are being done by reputable, experienced scholars, none of whom has any connection with the Irgun, the Revisionists, the leftists, Merlin, or the Institute for Mediterranean Affairs.)
Yes, the work of the commission is going forward. Unlike Mrs. Dawidowicz’s article, its conclusions will be carefully weighed, thoroughly researched, and devoid of malice or bias.
Seymour Maxwell Finger
Director of Research
American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust
New York City
To the Editor:
After reading Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s disclosures in “Indicting American Jews,” I looked over the New York Times and other press reports on the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust. The clippings brought to mind my early reactions to the panel’s formation: designed to examine the behavior of Jewish organizations, it appeared to me to be more of a fault-finding than a fact-finding expedition.
Press reports of the commission contained all the . . . credibility-damaging implications so popular these days with biographies and autobiographies designed to debunk images of the past. . . . The printed word acts as a primary tool of double-think and double-speak. We take it for granted that print journalism is more in the business of selling newspapers than committed to investigating the facts behind the facts. When a historian of Mrs. Dawidowicz’s reputation addresses the record in relation to a new set of biographers, she presents the “investigation” in a clearer perspective.
Martha S. Cherkis
New York City
To the Editor:
I congratulate COMMENTARY on its publication of Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s article attacking Peter Bergson and Samuel Merlin for their malicious and continuing efforts to charge that American Jews were indifferent to the plight of the victims of the Holocaust.
During those tragic days I left newspaper work in Cleveland to become actively involved in the American Jewish Conference—the organization headed by Henry Monsky of B’nai B’rith—as its executive director. That organization’s 501 delegates, representing the American Jewish community, voted overwhelmingly for the establishment of a free and democratic commonwealth in Palestine. There were only 4 negative votes and 19 abstentions. But this pro-Zionist vote did not mean that American Jews were indifferent to the urgent need for measures to rescue European Jews. One of our three commissions, the Commission on Rescue, was actively engaged on a day-to-day basis in recommending proposals to rescue endangered Jews.
At our first convention, Marie Syrkin and I drafted the resolution that was adopted. For many months, the Conference pressed our government to open the gates of the United States as well as of Palestine. The Conference sent delegations to Washington for sessions with John Pehle of the War Refugee Board, with State and Treasury officials, and with Congressmen. We attacked the State Department, denouncing Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long’s labored defense of U.S. immigration procedures. Professor Ben Halpern made a major contribution to that statement.
I drafted a statement for Rabbi Stephen Wise for presentation to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in which we favored opening Palestine as the most feasible sanctuary, but in which we also urged our country to open it own doors. The claim that we did not want the United States to let in Jewish refugees because we feared that this would somehow obstruct our drive for a Jewish state is an absurd and malicious canard that has been circulated by anti-Zionists, King Hussein, Arab propagandists, and the Neturei Karta. It was belied by the resolutions and activities which we undertook in 1941, by our formal congressional testimony, and by top officials who dealt with the issue at the time, Pehle and the veteran George Warren of the State Department.
We never relaxed our activities for a moment. We helped to fill Madison Square Garden with mass demonstrations many times. We sponsored the tragic memorial meeting marking the first anniversary of the revolt in the Warsaw ghetto, where my father died. We appealed for food and supplies for Jews in the occupied territories. We insisted that our government pressure the Britsh to open Palestine and to clear escape routes. We urged cooperation with the underground to help in smuggling Jews across borders. We appealed to neutral and satellite countries to provide havens. We called on the administration for psychological warfare to encourage the Hungarians to shield Jews and to warn the Nazi war criminals that they would be punished. Washington agreed, and we brought some 50,000 Jews to Madison Square in New York to hear the administration’s warnings in the effort to save the threatened Jews of Hungary.
Of course we were deeply concerned with the plight of Europe’s Jews. As early as 1940, Rabbi Wise sent a message to Cleveland, an activist community. His telegram was considered at a meeting of the Jewish Community Council, of which I was a member. Some of our people expressed fears that American Jews would be accused of interfering with the war effort. But I then called for a show of hands and a majority approved the call for a demonstration. It brought 12,000 people to the Cleveland auditorium.
Throughout this time we were constantly under fire from the Revisionists—Bergson, Merlin, and Eri Jabotinsky—who took it upon themselves to rescue Jews and who never abandoned their propaganda impugning the sincerity and integrity of the Jewish Agency and the major American Jewish organizations. They were showmen. They held conferences and established a series of paper organizations stressing the need to rescue the Jews of Europe, accusing American Jews of failure and unconcern. I was reluctant to enter into a public debate, but Bergson and his aides never ceased their denunciations.
In an absurd climax, in May 1944, the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation opened an “embassy” in Washington to act as the “trustee for the Hebrew nation.” At this point, major Jewish organizations struck back. In my statement for the American Jewish Conference I categorized the Hebrew Committee for National Liberation as an “irresponsible adventure” which lacked a mandate from the Jewish National Assembly in Palestine. We charged that its ideology would fragment the Jewish people. But the non-Jewish press could not understand this strange internal conflict and the World Telegram dismissed our press release with five words: “One Jewish Group Hits Another.” . . .
Judging from recent developments, Messrs. Bergson and Merlin have reactivated their efforts and seem determined to deprecate the role of American Jews and to divide them.
I. L. Kenen
Near East Research
To the Editor:
As one who saw the film Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die? and who was also minimally involved with the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust, I agree wholeheartedly with Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s criticism of both endeavors. . . .
I have been an active member of the Jewish Labor Committee [JLC], serving on its national executive board and as its representative on the National Advisory Council of Jewish Community Relations Councils. In addition, I chair the JLC’s Holocaust Committee. The JLC was formed during the years covered in Mrs. Dawidowicz’s article for the express purpose of saving Jewish lives, particularly of those who were active in the labor and trade-union movements. The newly founded organization succeeded in bringing to these shores many Jewish Socialists, Bundists, and trade-unionists. Today, the JLC serves as a conduit between the labor movement and the Jewish community, explaining trade-union issues to the community and Jewish concerns to the trade-union movement.
Among the moving spirits in the formation of the JLC were B. Charney Vladek, David Dubinsky, and Isaiah Minkoff. All of them have now died, though Minkoff died only recently and was involved in what I have to relate. . . .
When I first learned about Jack Eisner’s funding of a commission to study and report on American Jewish efforts to save victims and potential victims of the Nazis, I contacted the president of the City University Graduate School and told him that in my judgment Isaiah Minkoff had a contribution to make and ought to be added to the commission. He referred me to Professor Finger of his faculty, who was heading the project, and who said he would see what could be done. Some few weeks later, I learned that Minkoff had been invited to participate in the work of the commission.
I asked Minkoff, after he had attended his first meeting, about the progress being made. To the best of my recollection, his answer was (although I cannot vouch for each and every word): “Nothing will come of it. There are members who want to use the report for political purposes, to condemn and embarrass mainline Jewish organizations, and to establish that only the Revisionist followers of Jabotinsky were sincerely active and interested in saving Jews.” . . .
I tell this story now only to indicate how early in the work of the commission a politically knowledgeable and astute person was able to foresee the developments which Lucy S. Dawidowicz so ably describes in her article.
New York University
New York City
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s incisive and timely analysis . . . justifiably criticizes Laurence Jarvik’s film, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die? Just prior to showing that film at the Chicago International Film Festival in November 1981, Jarvik published a “Personal View” on the op-ed page of the Chicago Sun-Times (subsequently published elsewhere, including the Los Angeles Times). The article is like the film, which Mrs. Dawidowicz accurately characterizes as “more propaganda than truth.” In the article Jarvik claimed that during the Holocaust period, American Jewish organizations “dismissed some serious offers to free Jews without making even a cursory investigation of their validity.” The article also described the frustrated efforts of Peter Bergson of the Irgun to set up a rescue program, and asked why those Jewish organizations who were critical of Bergson “didn’t set up their own equivalent rescue organization.”
In a letter published in the Sun-Times on November 29, 1981, I responded that such an organization did exist—the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee [JDC] which maintained its worldwide rescue operations throughout the Hitler period, as documented by Yehuda Bauer of the Hebrew University in his book, American Jewry and the Holocaust: The American Joint Distribution Committee 1939-1945. My letter cited the still little-known example of Raoul Wallenberg’s heroic rescue of 100,000 Hungarian Jews which was almost entirely financed by the JDC through its Swiss representative, Sali Mayer.
As for Jarvik’s false claim that Jewish organizations refused to consider any ransom offer, I pointed out . . . Mayer’s negotiations in 1944 with top Nazi officials, with the participation of the War Refugee Board, which prevented the deportation of thousands of Jews of Budapest and helped make possible the survival of 12,000 to 17,000 Hungarian Jews already in deportation. . . .
At the film festival I called to Jarvik’s attention some of the facts about JDC’s rescue efforts and gave him a copy of my letter to the Sun-Times. His reply to me stated:
I certainly appreciate the efforts of the Joint Distribution Committee during World War II, and by no means intend to disparage the Joint’s activities, then or today. What the film was investigating was the role of public political pressure and its effect on government policies. Since the Joint was and I presume still is a nonpartisan charitable organization, its activities were not the focus of the film. . . .
Nevertheless, in the February 9, 1983 report on the Jarvik film in the New York Times . . . Jarvik castigated the JDC as one of the Jewish organizations which refused his request for help with research. . . .
It was disappointing that the only apparent reference in Mrs. Dawidowicz’s article to JDC’s extensive wartime role was that, among other major omissions in the Jarvik film, there was nothing about “the money and supplies sent via direct and indirect channels to the beleaguered Jews of Europe.” This is not to imply that Mrs. Dawidowicz is unaware of JDC’s role. On the contrary, in her remarkable, now classic, book, The War Against the Jews 1933-1945, there are several specific references to JDC’s emergency aid in Hitler-occupied Europe, especially in Poland and the Warsaw ghetto. Furthermore, she graciously acknowledges JDC’s cooperation in making its files available to her.
Still, one would have hoped that, even within the space limitations of a COMMENTARY article, JDC’s historical accomplishments—omitted from the Jarvik film, and thus far publicly by the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust—would have been brought directly to the reader’s attention.
JDC’s reputation is such that it may not need this kind of publicity, but it seems high time for the world to know these facts and especially about the men and women of JDC’s European staff, many of whom were murdered by the Nazis, as they remained at their posts until the end. . . .
James P. Rice
To the Editor:
While I am far from cheered by the information, I still would like to thank Lucy S. Dawidowicz for providing the answer to a question posed by one of my sons a few months back. Why, he asked, was there no mention of the Holocaust in Page One, a collection of reproductions of about 300 New York Times front pages covering “major events” from 1920 through 1978? In looking through the collection, I saw the expected reports of war, floods, and famine, along with references to John Dillinger (of bank-robbing fame) and the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson, whose troubles merited a three-line headline, but I found absolutely no coverage of the fate of European Jews. Not when the death camps were liberated and not even in the reports of the Nuremberg trials, in which the Times reporter wrote of “. . . testimony of the unprecedented horrors precipitated upon the world through the Nazi hierarchy. . . .” Auschwitz without Jews!
Having read Mrs. Dawidowicz’s article, I no longer fault the editor of Page One for omitting a front page on the Holocaust. Clearly there wasn’t one to include, the devastation of European Jewry being a non-event or at best a non-major event by Times’s standards.
Worse yet, I am not convinced that the Times has changed all that much. For weeks the paper’s front pages carried stories on the Hitler diaries. Second-rate forgery and first-class greed are investigated and reported, and will probably appear in the next edition of Page One, along with an article on the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the expulsion of Jews from Nicaragua (a Judenrein nation in our own hemisphere!) barely rates an inside paragraph and the recent destruction of the Jewish business quarter in Salonika by anti-Semitic arsonists was never even mentioned. Not quite all the news that’s fit to print. . . .
Maxine L. Wolf
To the Editor:
I would like to commend Lucy S. Dawidowicz for her intelligent critique of the current trend among some self-appointed “researchers” and special-interest groups to indict American Jews for their lack of response during World War II.
As one who grew up during the Hitler era, and experienced the cruel anti-Semitism of neighbors and former friends in the late 30′s, I remember all too clearly the Nazi-inspired ravings of soapbox orators in my quiet, lower-middle-class neighborhood in Queens and the “We Serve Christians Only” signs in the windows of stores my mother had shopped in for a decade. The same fear of bodily injury and loss of position which motivated those tradesmen to accept those signs became part of the Jewish psyche as well. Although mass meetings protesting the Nazi horrors were organized in every community, a Jewish movement “to storm the White House” is a possibility which could only be dreamed up in retrospect.
Further confirmation of the political motivation rather than the historical authenticity of the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust comes from the picture of anti-Jewish activity in Florida during the late 30′s and 40′s, . . . based on research into the Jewish community of. greater Miami. In addition to the social and residential discrimination against Jews, . . . overt pro-Nazi and actual Nazi propaganda was widespread. Vile leaflets were distributed by the Silver Shirts and White Front, and the German Society of Miami expressed its notion of ethnic pride by displaying a swastika at its March 1936 meeting. The activities of the anti-Semitic, fascist, semi-military White Front were . . . finally slowed in 1939 when its leader was convicted for disorderly conduct and breach of the peace.
Only strong community pressure on the part of the Anti-Defamation League, the AFL, the Seaman’s Union, and other labor unions prevented the Hamburg American Line from establishing a ferry service between Key West and Havana in 1938. Previous experience had shown that whenever German ships were in Miami harbor, the area was filled with swaggering German sailors and flooded by anti-Semitic literature. In addition to local distribution, these subversive hate publications were sent to libraries all over the country by the German Library of Information, which operated with great success until it was shut down by presidential order in June 1941. It was only then that the University of Miami library removed the German Library of Information materials from general circulation. . . . Even as the United States entered the war in 1941, the Ku Klux Klan was engaged in distributing in Miami the discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as published in the Dearborn Independent in the 1920′s. The war years saw a diminution of overt anti-Semitism, but as an editorial in the Jewish Floridian put it, for the Jewish community “it pays to be vigilant.”
Not only did it pay, it was essential. We dare not distort history by reading into American Jewry of the 30′s and 40′s the self-assertiveness and strength which characterize the American Jewish community today. One could hardly expect the same kind of reactions from the traumatized, fearful Jewish community of . . . the late 30′s and 40′s that we witness today, thirty-five years after the founding of the state of Israel. Certainly the current indictment of the American Jewish response during World War II is as historically questionable as the misuse of the Holocaust is morally reprehensible.
American Jewish Committee
New York City
Lucy S. Dawidowicz writes:
My thanks first of all to Martha S. Cherkis, I. L. Kenen, Jules Kolodny, James P. Rice, Maxine L. Wolf, and Gladys Rosen for the reinforcement of history, reminiscence, and corroboration which their letters have given to my article.
In response to my critics on the Left, and in the light of Irving Howe’s evidence from Labor Action, I admit that it was wrong to say “hardly any” leftist group “ever gave a passing thought to the fate of the European Jews.” I should have said: “Some leftist groups gave a passing thought to the fate of the European Jews.”
Of the eleven wartime items Irving Howe cites to show the solicitousness of the Schachtmanites for the Jews, none recorded the news about the mass murder of the European Jews which first became known in June 1942.
Yes, Mr. Howe, the editors of the Jewish Frontier put the news of Hitler’s plan to annihilate all the European Jews in the back pages, but they filled the front pages of their journal with reports of the actual killings—in contrast to the Socialist groups who did not pay attention at all. As for the Jewish Labor Bund, I had supposed that Mr. Howe knew it was not an American Socialist organization but an émigré group whose existence was inextricably bound up with the fate of the Jews in Poland. Many Jewish Bundists whom I knew during the war held rather unflattering opinions of the American Socialists.
Charles Cogen has caught me in an error, which I’ll gladly correct. Noman Thomas never became a member of the America First Committee, though he had been invited to join. But he spoke under its auspices more than once. Wayne C. Cole, the historian of American isolationism during World War II, in his book, America First: The Battle Against Intervention 1940-1941, writes that Norman Thomas “spoke at meetings sponsored by America First and made broadcasts and college-speaking tours which were financed, at least in part, by funds secured through the Committee.”
Harry Fleischman demands my apology for having besmirched the memory of Norman Thomas. Instead, I’d like to quote a passage from Fleischman’s own work, Norman Thomas: A Biography, which deals with Thomas’s attitude toward Charles Lindbergh. At precisely the time most liberals and anti-Nazis considered Lindbergh an apologist for Hitler’s Germany, “Thomas was convinced,” Mr. Fleischman tells us, that Lindbergh “was a patriotic American who was the victim of an unscrupulous smear campaign.” Even after Lindbergh made an openly anti-Semitic speech at an America First meeting on September 23, 1941, Thomas remained staunchly pro-Lindbergh, though of course he repudiated Lindbergh’s anti-Jewish charges. Here’s how Mr. Fleischman explains it: “Nevertheless, Thomas remained convinced that Colonel Lindbergh was not guilty of intentional anti-Semitism [sic] and resented the ‘character assassination’ in which many ‘liberals’ indulged.”
The defense which Messrs. Howe and Findley offer on behalf of Leon Trotsky is touching. They cite Trotsky’s seemingly prophetic phrase of 1939 about a future annihilation of the Jews. Trotsky died before the Third Reich had begun its systematic murder of the European Jews. Do Messrs. Howe and Findley really believe he had been vouchsafed a mystic fore-glimpse of Germany’s Final Solution of the Jewish Question? I’m inclined to attribute that phrase of Trotsky’s not to his extrasensory grasp of politics, but to his penchant for apocalyptic rhetoric.
Lenni Brenner denies that he echoes the Soviet-Arab line about “Zionist collusion with the Fascists and the Nazis.” Maybe it’s the other way around, and the Soviets echo his line. Just lately, in any event, Izvestia, the Soviet government newspaper, not customarily well-disposed to Trotskyites, gave Mr. Brenner’s book a rave review. It was captioned: “Zionist Collaborationists: A Journalist Unmasks Dirty Deal with Nazi Chiefs.”
Stanley P. Kessel’s letter shows how history can be distorted by rage. In a fury against John Pehle (which he never explains), he writes that in November 1944 “reports of those who had escaped Auschwitz were now flooding his [Pehle's] War Refugee Board.” “Flooding”? Escaping from Auschwitz was. no everyday affair, and successful escapes were rare. Two Slovakian Jews who had managed to escape from Auschwitz in April 1944 and to return home wrote a detailed, documented account of the killing operations. Transmitted from Slovakia through underground channels, that report took a long time to reach the United States and the War Refugee Board. That was the only report—in summary and in toto—that “flooded” the War Refugee Board.
Some of my other critics, and most particularly Samuel Merlin, having discovered that I once thought better of the Irgunists than I do now, tax me for changing my mind. But I’d like to assure them it’s not mere fickleness on my part. Further research and new evidence led me to a more accurate rendering of the past than the one I wrote when I had relied more fully upon Messrs. Bergson and Merlin for their version of those events.
Rafael Medoff and his cohorts are predators of history, who plunder the historical storehouse for just those “facts” which fit their political needs. But when they try to create historical evidence out of their “facts,” they falsify history.
Take the Dickstein bill, for instance, which Mr. Medoff cites to support his claim that “in fact, at no time did the Jewish leadership press for elimination or even liberalization of the quotas.” Mr. Medoff is right that the Jewish organizations opposed Dickstein’s bill and asked him to withdraw it. But everything else Mr. Medoff says is wrong. Disentangling his account of that bit of history requires more space than the episode itself warrants, but it’s instructive to see what the true story was.
To begin with, the Dickstein bill, introduced on March 22, 1933, had nothing at all to do with the quota system. It wasn’t an immigration bill. In fact, it wasn’t even a bill. It was just a congressional resolution. Congress was to ask the State Department to waive instructions which it had issued to American consular officials back in 1930, during the Hoover administration, advising them of the unemployment situation in the United States and requesting them to withhold visas from aliens likely to become public charges. Dickstein’s resolution, offered barely two months after Hitler had come to power, was intended to expedite the admission to the United States of relatives of American citizens who were victims of “religious and political persecution” by persuading consular officials that such aliens who had “close family ties” to Americans were not likely to become public charges. (Pace Mr. Medoff, Dickstein’s bill was not drafted on behalf of “all German Jews related to American citizens.” You don’t have to be a constitutional lawyer to realize that such language goes against the grain of American law.) Still, public hearings were required before Congress could pass even such a toothless resolution.
The Jewish leaders believed that public debate at that time would hinder rather than help the Jewish interest. In their view, the State Department instructions of 1930 could be more expeditiously annulled through an executive order issued by the President or the State Department than by congressional intervention. It was a matter of tactics, not policy.
Philip Rosen challenges me to explain Hayim Greenberg’s accusations against the Jewish leadership for its inability to act effectively and unitedly on behalf of the European Jews. I can do no better than to call as witness Marie Syrkin, Greenberg’s colleague and friend in those days. In her article, “What American Jews Did During the Holocaust” (Midstream, October 1982), describing her own feelings and actions during the war, Miss Syrkin analyzed Greenberg’s indictment. Unlike those who have exploited it by using only those passages which conform to their politics, Miss Syrkin sees it whole. After Greenberg had castigated all the Jewish organizations (including the Irgunists) as “bankrupt,” he concluded with a lament of helplessness: “I confess that I am unable to draw concrete, practical conclusions from the above. If it is still objectively possible to do anything, then I do not know who should do it and how it should be done.”
Greenberg’s indictment of American Jewry was in fact, according to Miss Syrkin, “a searing confession of impotence.” But that impotence was not produced by indifference to the fate of the Jews.
David S. Wyman refers to the nineteen years he has labored in the historical vineyards. In these nearly two decades he has produced one book and has a work still in progress. About two years ago, he read a paper based on that work, from which Mr. Merlin is understandably pleased to quote; and no wonder, for Mr. Wyman mouthed the Irgun line whole. As Laurence Jarvik informs us, Mr. Wyman is a booster for the Irgun version of American Jewish history. How ironic that he’s the one to charge me with bias.
Mr. Merlin, having failed to answer the fundamental question I posed regarding the six-month silence of the Irgunists after news of the murder of the European Jews became known, resorts to name-calling and tiresomely rehashes the Irgun line. He may be disappointed to know that I am familiar with the Morgenthau diaries. Indeed, a close reading of those records started me on the search that led to the Cox papers which are at the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park. That’s how I discovered that Oscar Cox, then in the Lend-Lease administration, and Milton Handler, who worked with him, had been involved in these matters. It was their draft of an executive order to establish a War Refugee Board which Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. took to President Roosevelt on January 16, 1944, and which Roosevelt approved after suggesting one change. I believe that these Cox papers constitute satisfactory evidence that the Irgun-sponsored resolution was not linked to the creation of the War Refugee Board. Before I found these records, our sources were only the immodest claims of the Irgunists.
Seymour Maxwell Finger’s letter overflows with irrelevancies and in-consequentialities. One personal matter: he misquotes me and then says I lied. I never wrote, as he claims, that he invited me to join the Academic Review Committee; I wrote: “I was invited.” The invitation had been extended on the phone by the director of CUNY’s Institute for Holocaust Studies, who was also the senior member of the Academic Review Committee.
That “a number of major Jewish organization officials have praised the draft” is an astonishing piece of information, even more astonishing than Mr. Finger’s claim that none of the organizations criticized the draft. The letters from Messrs. Rice and Kolodny surely challenge this bluster. Other agency officials I know have been outraged by the report.
Mr. Finger is also reticent about developments within the commission. Item: One member of the commission, a distinguished attorney, resigned weeks before my article was published on the ground that he was unwilling to sign a report whose contents and documentation he had no time to review. Item: Three months ago, an eminent lawyer, not a commission member, who had himself been involved in the events under review, submitted to the commission a lengthy and highly critical analysis of the report, to which Mr. Finger has not, as of now, responded. Item: A member of the commission who is an official of a Jewish agency resigned from the commission because Mr. Finger failed to act on his recommended changes in the scope and emphasis of the commission’s research plans.
Mr. Finger now appears to be transforming the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust into a historical society. But the most recent version of the draft report which he defends lacks historical substance as well as chronological coherence. It has a long way to go before it can claim to be a systematic presentation of the relevant events set in the context of the times.
Last spring Mr. Finger sent me, at my request, a list of research papers which he had commissioned. Seven were studies of Jewish organizations, one of the Bermuda Conference, and another of “prominent Jews.” The researchers had recently completed doctoral dissertations or published articles on their assigned topics. Thus Mr. Finger is acquiring a large body of recycled research. Three other studies, to be prepared by Israelis, belong to the What-Might-Have-Been school of history: could the Jews have been rescued from Rumania, Hungary, and Slovakia?
An experienced historian would have commissioned a critical review of the existing literature. But that wouldn’t have sufficed either. Doing history, even by committee, is more than commissioning papers. To begin with, one needs to conceptualize the subject under study. On the assumption that Mr. Finger has discarded Mr. Merlin’s original premises about the passivity and indifference of American Jews, one is curious indeed to know what are his working hypotheses.
The absence of a conceptual framework accounts for the failure to take up a number of fundamental issues. For instance, charges have been frequently leveled against the Jewish organizations for their lack of unity. Mr. Finger’s studies of individual agencies won’t provide the answer to that question. Perhaps he should commission a paper on the cooperative body called the Joint Emergency Committee on European Jewish Affairs which existed during the most critical months of the period under review and of which he seems ignorant.
Another example of Mr. Finger’s failure to conceptualize his subject matter is the absence of material on the political, economic, and social climate in the United States and the impact on the Jewish community of unemployment, xenophobia, isolationism, neutrality, anti-Semitism, anti-Communism, and even pro-Nazism in some parts of the country. After all, the Jewish leaders and their organizations did not live in a vacuum.
Then there’s the question of periodization. What time span is under review and how is it to be subdivided? Clearly the goals, resources, problems, obstacles, and options of the Jewish leaders and their institutions varied from one time segment to another. Immigration policy, welfare and relief, refugee care, and finally political action for rescue have different timetables, all of which need to be correlated not only with the rapidly deteriorating situation of the European Jews but also with national and world events, including the course of the war.
Finally, a matter of philosophic import. Mr. Finger hasn’t grasped the fundamental difference between the nature of legal judgments and the nature of historical ones. The historian makes implicit and explicit moral judgments as he orders his evidence to construct an account of the past. In that process, he assigns responsibility to his historical actors. But such moral assessments do not qualify him as a hanging judge.