“A 1939 Roper poll found that only 39% of respondents felt American Jews should be treated like all other people – 10% even believed Jews should be deported.”
Introduction: By the time the first cattle cars off-loaded their victims on 26 May, 1940 the decision to not bomb Auschwitz was nearly ten years old. The only thing missing in 1933 were the gas chambers, crematoria, and an excuse.
When Roosevelt assumed office in 1933 antisemitism was about as widespread and intense in the United States as in Europe. When the Nuremburg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship Roosevelt’s response was that the United States does not interfere in “internal matter” of a foreign government. When the Nuremburg gave way to the deadly 1938 Kyrystallnacht pogrom Roosevelt’s response was limited to a rebuke, and the recall of his ambassador for “consultations.” When in 1939 the SS St. Louis sat for days off the coast of Miami with its 900 Jewish refugees desperately seeking refuge the president responded with a Coast Guard cutter positioned between the refugee ship and the shore. Running low on fuel the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, and its passengers to the Holocaust. When word of the systematic murder of Jews in Poland by Ordnung Polizei in 1939 appeared in the press the White House was silent. And when the full extent of the Germany’s murder campaign was public knowledge Roosevelt’s State Department created a “paper wall,” refused even to issue even the limited allotment of visas for Jews allowed under the anti-Jewish 1924 Immigration Restriction Act.
If the living were not worth saving before Auschwitz, what hope for the condemned?
Popular antisemitism: well-spring of indifference
My reading of Roosevelt’s indifference to Germany’s unfolding Final Solution will occupy my next submission. For the present I return to the background supporting his administration’s indifference (Treasury Secretary Morgenthau, a Jew, the only influential exception) to the plight of the Jews trapped by the Holocaust.
Antisemitic sentiment in the United States during the years preceding, during and following the Holocaust was about as pervasive and intense as it was in Europe. This is clearly demonstrated in a series of polls of American attitudes towards American Jews over this period. One poll, for example, indicated “that 35-40 percent of the population was prepared to accept an anti-Jewish campaign.” A 1938 poll found that Jews had, “‘too much power in the United States,’ a figure that rose to 58 percent by 1945.
“In 1939 a Roper poll found that only thirty-nine percent of Americans felt that Jews should be treated like other people [so the vast majority, 71%, felt Jews should not be treated like other people!]. Fifty-three percent believed that ‘Jews are different and should be restricted’ and ten percent believed that Jews should be deported[this just months after Krystallnacht, etc]. Several surveys taken from 1940 to 1946 found that Jews were seen as a greater threat to the welfare of the United States than any other national, religious, or racial group.
“Political anti-Semitism also was high during the war years, with 23 percent of respondents in one 1945 survey saying they would vote for a congressional candidate if the candidate declared "himself as being against the Jews …"
The latter poll, taken in 1945, was taken against the backdrop of daily news reports about Auschwitz gas chambers and the extermination of the Jews.
What did the administration know, and when did they know it?
Much controversy surrounds what and when the president learned of Germany’s plan to exterminate all Jews within reach. Earlier I pointed at a paper trail indicating Hitler had announced his intention openly in his 1922 interview with Josef Hell. But that might be dismissed as the mad ramblings of a megalomaniacal ideologue. In fact there is evidence that Roosevelt would have been aware of the murder campaign in 1939, from British reports of German radio intercepts describing einsatsgruppen activities during and after the invasion of Poland.
Ordnungspolizei conducting a raid (razzia) in the Krakow ghetto, January 1941 (Wikipedia)
“The British SIGINT service, then known as GC&CS, and their French counterpart
broke into German police ciphers in 1938, a year before the war began,” (From US National Security Agency publication).
“Prior to the German attack against Poland on 1 September 1939 the Polish intelligence service for several years had decoded some German military radio messages transmitted after encryption by the Abwehr’s Enigma machine. In July 1939, because of concerns about German military intentions, Polish intelligence handed over to the British and French intelligence services the secrets of their capability – a Polish manufactured replica Enigma machine. This paved the way for British intelligence to begin regular decoding of German secret radio traffic throughout the Second World War.”
In other words the British were tracking the progress of German Order Police units hunting and murdering Jews from the earliest days of the Final Solution.
But were they sharing the information with the US administration? According to the US Center for strategic Intelligence research, as early as 1937 Britain and the US were already exchanging intelligence regarding the Japanese in the Pacific.
“While this type of operational intelligence exchange may have already been occurring on a limited basis between the U.S. Asiatic Fleet and the British China Fleet, the offer to begin formalizing some of these intelligence exchanges was a key step in the process of expanding intelligence cooperation between the two countries.”
It is safe to assume that such exchanges would not have been limited to the Pacific.
“In fact, the reports came early in the war, they were not just ‘anecdotal,’ and they were verified by the Roosevelt administration. Less than a year after the United States entered the war, the administration confirmed that the Germans had embarked upon the systematic annihilation of Europe''s Jews, and had already murdered some two million of them…”
Recent writings in this Series:
1. The United States and the Holocaust, 2: Roosevelt before Auschwitz