“ac•qui•es•cence ( k w - s ns), n. 1. Passive assent or agreement without protest.”
“the act or condition of giving assent, agreement or consent by silence;”
“to accept, comply, or submit tacitly or passively.”
Background to the “Acquiescence”: In response to the impending Final Solution Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau approached Roosevelt in 1938 proposing the US use British Guiana as refuge for refugees but, “Roosevelt did not favor that particular proposal.” That proved one of several such suggestions rejected by the president that, along with a State Department policy commitment of barring Jewish immigration, even to providing assistance to Jewish refugees:
“Pehle’s office [in Treasury] had authorized a number of charitable groups to use funds in the U.S. regulated under the Trading with the Enemy Act to pay for food, medicine, and other aid to refugees and other civilian victims of the war in Europe. Those efforts were systematically blocked by some officials in the U.S. State Department”.
It was this systematic antisemitic policy expressed by the US government that led to three senior members of Morgenthau’s staff to charge the administration for complicity in Germany’s Final Solution to the Jewish Probem.
Treasury secretary Morgenthau received the Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews on 13 January, 1944. While we may not know how Morgenthau finally convinced the president to act, nine days later Roosevelt signed an executive order establishing the War Refugee Board (WRB). As to what the WRB achieved, its own director, John W. Pehle described the result as “too little too late.”
The story of how one branch of the Roosevelt Administration came to accuse a second of complicity in the murder of European Jewry describes systemic antisemitism supported by bureaucratic apathy absent presidential concern or leadership. But the administration was not acting in a vacuum; it had the support of a broad majority within Congress itself enjoying broad popular support from an American populace overwhelmingly antisemitic.
The Bermuda Conference: Five years after the United States and Britain agreed to a cosmetic “refugee conference” at Evian, France the two countries agreed to repeat the charade at a site inaccessible to protesters, the British colony Bermuda. American Jewish leaders asked to be allowed to attend and were declined for reasons mentioned below:
“The 12-day Bermuda Conference, which opened on April 19, 1943, grew out of concerns in the British public about news reports that the Nazis were slaughtering Europe''s Jews. The U.S. agreed to hold a closed-door conference with Britain to discuss the issue. But American delegates arrived with secret directives from the State Department to accomplish little or anything.”
But even had the US been more engaged in saving Europe’s Jews the mid-level diplomats representing the administration realized,
“that great difficulties would be presented if Nazi Germany [actually agreed and] released large numbers of Jews to the Allies.”
With Britain unwilling to open Palestine to Jewish immigration and the US for years uninterested in rescue efforts, in the end the Allies agreed to “rescue” 2000 Jewish refugees from the safety of Spain to the safety of Morocco.
While serving as Sweden''s special envoy in Budapest between July and December 1944, Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory saving tens of thousands of lives. (Wikipedia)
The War Refugee Board: On January 22, 1944 President Roosevelt, Acquiescence Report in hand performed his sole gesture towards Jewish refugees and issued an executive order establishing the War Refugee Board (WRB). From the start the WRB was hobbled: The Executive Order designated the membership of the Board which, according to the president, would consist of the Departments of State, War and Treasury. State obstructionism regarding Jewish refugees inspired the Acquiescence Report, and War, never supportive of aid to refugees, would soon be called on to care for them as “Displaced Persons” often housed and guarded in the same concentration camps from which they were “liberated.”
The president allocated just one million dollars to the Board, so a major task of its director was to locate private funding sources. In effect Roosevelt created a doomed agency, leaving it to American Jewry to fund and save European Jewry’s remnant.
“In August 1944 the WRB brought 982 Jewish refugees from Italy to a Fort Ontario… permitted to enter the United States outside the immigration laws… The board intended to create other such places of asylum, and thus also influence other countries to provide sanctuary for World War II victims. President Roosevelt, however, [refused] to establish any other havens… The board lobbied Roosevelt to publicly condemn the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis... This, however, was never done.”
Of the approximately 200,000 Jews that are estimated to have benefitted from the War Refugee Board, approximately 10,000 might have qualified as “rescued,” the remaining having been moved from one “safe haven” to another.
The lessons of the WRB are the regrets surrounding “what could have been.” Had the US and its president provided leadership in “salvation” rather than “disinterest” the issue would not have been the concern described at Bermuda “that great difficulties would be presented if Nazi Germany released large numbers of Jews to the Allies.” There could have been “safe havens” (outside the United States) as outcome of the 1938 Evian Conference, and even earlier.
Witold Pilecki volunteered for a Polish resistance operation to get imprisoned at Auschwitz in order to gather intelligence and escape. While in the camp, Pilecki organized a resistance movement, escaped in 1943 and informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany''s Auschwitz atrocities. (Wikipedia)
The problem was not that nothing could be done: the administration facile excuse that “the best way to save the Jews is by winning the war.” The problem was something beyond even apathy. The United States was, in fact, no less antagonistic towards Jews than was Europe engaged in their extermination. As reminder from last week’s article:
“1939 Roper poll [that] found that only 39% of respondents felt American Jews should be treated like all other people – 10% even believed Jews should be deported.”
“Sixty-one percent of Americans polled responded that “American Jews should [NOT] be treated like all other people. Immediately following Krystallnacht “10% even believed Jews should be deported.” Regarding the Jews, at least, popular sentiment in Germany and the United States was not that far apart. A 1944 survey found that 24.2% of Americans considered Jews “most dangerous, compared to 8% for Germans and 16% for Japanese. American soldier fighting Germany and Japan, but Americans viewed Jews “most dangerous”?”
“Anti-Semitism in the United States climbed to very high levels in the 1930''s and according to Elmo Roper, a leading pollster of that era, reached its historic peak in 1944.”
What if Roosevelt had lost the election?
This is not a frivolous “what if” question. Roosevelt was elected in the midst of the Great Depression and while he won the popular vote, Industrial America and the wealthy not only opposed his agenda for reform, but were poised to overthrow the government with an Italy-styled Fascist coup!
With the intensity of popular antisemitism across America; Corporate America’s attempted fascist-style coup d’etat against Roosevelt; American elites enthusiasm for Hitler and his National Socialist experiment in eugenics and social engineering: How would the Jews have fared had Roosevelt lost the 1940 election?
The two most popular and charismatic figures on the American stage of the day, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, were both considered possible presidential candidates by the Republican Party. And both were antisemites, admirers of Hitler and National Socialism’s program of draconian social engineering. With public sentiment strongly isolationist and opposed to involvement in the European war there is more than a possibility that the United States under either as president would at least have remained neutral in the European war. But the United States was also strongly anti-Communist. Lindbergh might have sat out a strictly European war, but would he have resisted an alliance with Hitler in the crusade against the “godless” Communists?
American eugenicists inspired and trained their German counterparts; American financiers such as the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Harrimans and others built and funded the schools and universities that trained the theorists behind the extermination of the Jews. American eugenics even preceded Germany by decades in the quest for a blond-haired, blue-eyed American gene pool, an American Aryan ideal.
If, under a Ford or Lindbergh administration the US remained “neutral” the survivability of the Jews might have been uncertain. But had the administration joined Hitler in his crusade against “godless Russian Bolshevism,” been a member of a victorious Axis alliance?
In the end the two populists chose not to run, Roosevelt was reelected and Germany declared war on the United States. In the end however we may judge the president, in the end at least the Jews survived.
Recent writings in this Series (hyperlinked):