Did They Remember the Holocaust?
For nearly forty years there has been a debate among historians and activists over the conduct of American Jews during the Holocaust. Beginning with the publication of Arthur Morse’s groundbreaking While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy in 1968 and the subsequent release of other, more scholarly attempts to probe this chapter of history such as David Wyman’s The Abandonment of the Jews, the question of whether American Jews were silent while 6 million European Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis has continued to stir up hard feelings.
Just as there are those who have attempted to defend the reputation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt against the scholars and surviving actors in the drama who portrayed him as indifferent to the fate of European Jewry, there are those who seek to defend the behavior of Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Stephen S. Wise—the central figure in the drama of the failure to put political pressure on Washington to prioritize rescue. Despite the admonitions of some historians, notably the late Lucy Dawidowicz, that we not direct more anger at the Jews who did not act than the German perpetrators of mass murder, Wise has become better known for what he didn’t do during the Holocaust than for all the things he accomplished during a long life of pro-Zionist and liberal Jewish activism.
About the Author
Jonathan Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY.