Charles Lindbergh, famed aviator and American icon, addressed an overflow crowd at a rally in Des Moines on September 11, 1941. Representing the isolationist, antisemitic, and popular America First organization, Lindbergh responded to president Roosevelt’s order that the United States Navy must shoot on sight any German submarines interfering with Allied convoys.
Historian Howard M. Sachar states that Lindbergh warned: “The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jews and the Roosevelt Administration... Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences... The greatest danger to this country lies in [the Jews] large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”
“The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jews and the Roosevelt Administration... Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences... The greatest danger to this country lies in [the Jews] large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”Charles Lindbergh, according to Howard M. Sachar
The cheers of the audience – despite the claim of the America First leaders afterward that their organization had no animus toward Jews – revealed Lindbergh’s antisemitism and the popular libel that a cabal of influential Jews was pushing the US to war against Nazi Germany. The terrible irony is that weeks later the Germans invaded the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and murdered 34,000 Jews on September 29 and 30 at Babyn Yar, a partially wooded ravine on the outskirts of the conquered city.
Sir Martin Gilbert, in his history of the Holocaust, describes the mass murder of Jews outside of Kyiv. The watchman, a non-Jew, at the old cemetery near Babyn Yar, recounted the horrors after the war of what he witnessed at the ravine. Ukrainian policemen “formed a corridor and drove the panic-stricken people towards the huge glade, where sticks, swearing, and dogs, who were tearing the people’s bodies, forced the people to undress, to form columns in hundreds, and then to go in the columns in twos towards the mouth of the ravine.”
The watchman continued with his account. “[The Jews] found themselves on the narrow ground above the precipice, 20 to 25 meters in height, and on the opposite side, there were the Germans’ machine guns. The killed, wounded and half-alive people fell down and were smashed there. Then the next hundred were brought, and everything repeated again. The policemen took the children by the legs and threw them alive down into the Yar.”
If only Lindbergh had been right at the rally in the American heartland. If only Jews had the power of conspiracy to save their brothers and sisters from genocide. After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the fate of millions of Jews was sealed. Most Americans, only months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, did not want to fight another war on foreign soil.
The libel that American Jews pushed for war with Germany
THE GREAT War – World War I – was enough. But long before World War II, the libel that American Jews were pushing for war against Germany found many sympathetic ears. Like Lindbergh, his friend and American icon Henry Ford, accused international bankers – code words for a Jewish cabal – of driving America into war against the Kaiser’s Germany. While we are haunted today by Jew hatred on college campuses and in the US Congress, the reality of Ford and Lindbergh’s America was one of xenophobia, especially when the foreigners were Jewish immigrants.
One wonders if America would ever have entered the war against the Nazis if it had not been for the Nazi declaration of war against America after the Japanese sneak attack on the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Sir Martin Gilbert writes, “Unknown at the time either to the Allies or to the Jews of Europe, Roosevelt’s day that would live in infamy was also the first day of the Final Solution.’” On that day, 700 Jews were deported to the death camp at Chelmno in Poland. The primitive murder of the machine gun was being replaced by the more efficient technology of the gas van and gas chamber.
While Roosevelt did support Britain and the Soviet Union with badly needed military equipment through lend-lease before America entered the war, his recall of the American ambassador to Germany after Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938, was a tepid response to the German destruction of hundreds of synagogues in the Greater Reich.
His abandonment of the Jewish refugee ship St. Louis in May 1939 was only a harbinger of his later refusal to bomb, Birkenau, the death camp of Auschwitz in the spring and summer of 1944. Whatever his personal sympathy was for Britain and its plight during the war, the reality of American isolationism during his presidency would only crumble when America was attacked and war was declared against his country.
Yes, December 7, 1941, will live on in infamy – as will September 11, 2001. Rather than engage in speculation about whether America would not have entered World War II if there had been no sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, let us remember that mass murder of Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators took place as Charles Lindbergh accused Jews of being too powerful. In the end, American liberators – including my father – arrived in Europe just in time to rescue the third of European Jewry that survived the Holocaust. Would that remnant not have survived had America not fought Nazi Germany?
For the Jews, there were many days of infamy. We remember the American dead and the heroes of Pearl Harbor and World War II. We remember Jews murdered at Babi Yar and Birkenau, those who died and those who survived, those who fought and those who witnessed.
The writer is a rabbi at Congregation Anshei Sholom in West Palm Beach, Florida.