Saving the Jews: FDR and the Holocaust

Saving the Jews: FDR and the Holocaust

May 7, 2009


Grand Valley’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum hosted a presentation by bestselling author Robert Rosen.

Six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Since the 1960s, when a post-World War II generation of historians came of age, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt has increasingly been seen as, at best, standing idly by while this atrocity occurred. But is this an accurate picture? In his book, Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust, Robert N. Rosen argues that, in fact, FDR was one of the few men of his time who understood — and sought to defeat — the enormous threat Hitler posed, and that the Roosevelt Administration did all that could reasonably be done, under the circumstances, to save the Jews and other victims of Nazism.

Based on vigorous research, Rosen’s narrative and interpretive history placed FDR’s actions in the context of the time period in which they occurred — an era characterized by The Great Depression, widespread American isolationism, strict immigration legislation, and extensive anti-Semitism. Rosen revealed that, seen in this light, FDR’s achievements in battling Nazism and saving Jews were very nearly monumental. “Roosevelt did not abandon the Jews of Europe,” he writes. “On the contrary, he led the worldwide coalition against Nazism in a war that took fifty million lives.”

Rosen offered extensive evidence of FDR’s close ties to Jewish leaders, and his appointment of many Jews to high-level positions, including the Supreme Court. Rosen outlined the numerous attempts FDR made to allow Jewish refugees to enter the United States — and explained why, at weaker periods of his presidency, FDR simply didn’t have the political capital to wage these battles. He also offered a full picture of the overwhelming mood in the country — the strong desire to remain neutral regarding European affairs and the distrust of anything that smacked of internationalism. And he pointed to divisions in the American Jewish community, which had not reached a consensus as to the best policy for freeing their European counterparts from Nazi persecution. Rosen took on each of the chief accusations frequently leveled at Roosevelt with regard to his handling of the Holocaust, and demonstrated why these charges are unfair and unfounded.

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